“IT was the most difficult decision of my life.”
That is how Cork South West TD and Minister of State for Mental Health and Older People Jim Daly sums up his recent decision to stand down from politics.
It was a surprise to many people, as the 46-year-old represented the Fine Gael Party as County Councillor, Mayor of the County and TD in Dáil Eireann, topped the polls nationally and locally, and never lost an election.
“It has torn me apart,” admits Jim. “I was wrestling to make the decision to resign at the next general election for a long time.
“In the end, it was a personal decision, so that I can spend more quality time with my family.”
Jim says he loved the job and he was highly honoured to represent the people of West Cork and the Fine Gael party.
“While I didn’t succeed in changing the world, the countless times I was privileged to change someone’s world remains the greatest honour of my life,” adds the Minister, from Drinagh who lives in Clonakilty.
He has five children, four sons and a daughter, ranging in age from 6 to 16, and adds: “It came to the point that the kids wouldn’t come to a match with me, go into town with me or go to a show with me.”
He was never off duty, his constituents always expecting him to be on the job.
“People would come up to me all the time when I was out and about at home,” says Jim. “They made a bee-line for me.
“It was always lovely to interact and have a chat with everyone, but the kids got fairly tired of it!”
His life in the volatile world of politics involved spending five days in Dublin, commuting home five hours to Cork, then wading through emails and correspondence, taking calls from constituents, attending funerals and events, as well as having to tackle endless paperwork.
“The endless commuting and the long working hours eventually took their toll,” admits Jim.
“I was snowed under all the time and it proved really challenging.”
And he still had to be dad all the time.
“It doesn’t seem that long ago when Daniel was two weeks old,” says Jim, referring to his eldest son.
“Now, at 16 and six feet two, I don’t know how that happened!
“The next 10 years are important for me and for my children; it’s as much about me as them.”
Is Jim, a former school principal, looking forward to doing the school runs?
“I don’t envisage going back to teaching,” he says. “I’m going to take a few months off and yes, I’ll do the school runs.”
He always envisaged himself going into politics.
“It was both brave and foolish,” says Jim, who was a pub and restaurant owner. “Foolish because the area of politics is so volatile. But it was a huge interest I had.”
He also has a huge interest in the future welfare of our older people and in the progress in mental health policy in Ireland, area covered by the ministerial post he has held for morew than two years..
“My proudest achievement after taking office in June, 2017, was succeeding in establishing a fully online service for mental health services and for shifting State policies on elderly people away from nursing homes to more independent small retirement villages,” he says,
It was a proud day for Minister Daly when his brother, Diarmuid O Dálaigh, proprietor of Oaklodge, Churchtown South, launched plans for a new dementia Memory Care Village in East Cork, where residents can enjoy a home-from-home atmosphere, taking part in activities such as baking in the kitchen and gardening outside.
Jim is very much in favour of his brother’s initiative in response to the scheme, marking the first major nursing home programme in Ireland to be built in accordance with his 40 point plan in housing options for our ageing population.
“I think it is a fabulous idea and a great initiative from my brother,” says Jim, who is familiar with the limited services for older people in rural Ireland.
“Nursing homes was the only option available to older people. There was nothing else there; no housing options for older people. It would be great to see the creation of these Care Villages up and down the country.”
Jim’s own parents are hale and hearty.
“They are alive and well, thankfully,” says Jim. “It will be nice to spend more time with them now too.”
He knows he won’t get that time back.
“That is so true,” says Jim. “I remember so many times being in a hotel room in Dublin and calling my children on their birthdays. For 10 years, I was never at a school play.”
Now things will be different when Jim is able to clock out, and his priority shifts from spending time helping his constituents to spending quality time with his family.
What will he miss?
“You know, there is nothing like the satisfaction you get when someone is devastated having lost their medical card. Seeing the delight and relief on their faces and the difference it makes to their lives is wonderful. For them, it’s like winning the Lotto.”
And he lets me into a secret.
“I loved politicians!”
He’s going to make up for lost time.
“The hope is to get to spend more time with my children and to be there for them. I’m delighted with my decision, and very happy.”
He’s delighted with all the goodwill directed towards him after his decision to stand down.
“I was genuinely shocked by the amount of goodwill and well-wishers who were so understanding of my decision,” says Jim.
“I got thousands of communications from people around the country.”
What did his boss say?
“Leo Varadkar is a very humane man,” says Jim. “Yes, he was a bit stunned. He wished me all the best.”
Jim is looking forward to the best years of his life with his family.
“It is a weight off my shoulders. The kids are my priority now.”
He has a policy going forward.
“I’m not going to sweat the small stuff.”