Cork's only female TD Holly Cairns says: Judge me on my ability, not on my boyfriend 

Cork's only female TD Holly Cairns says: Judge me on my ability, not on my boyfriend 
Newly elected TD, Holly Cairns (Soc Dems) in the Schull Harbour Hotel with her team to celebrate her election to the 33rd Daíl. Picture: Andy Gibson.

HOLLY Cairns has asked to be judged on her ability and work ethic after she was repeatedly referred to as the girlfriend of Fianna Fáil's Christopher O'Sullivan during the election campaign.

Ms Cairns, a Social Democrat, is the only woman elected from Cork to the 33rd Dáil following her stunning victory in Cork South West in the early hours of yesterday. 

Her election campaign gained international attention because she was running in the same constituency as her partner, County Mayor Christopher O'Sullivan. Both have been elected to represent the constituency. 

Holly said it was frustrating being referred to as Mr O'Sullivan's girlfriend. 

“It was really frustrating [being referred to as his girlfriend]. Many left out the fact I am a councillor. Sometimes I was the only candidate with my title not listed.

“He was never referred to as my boyfriend in most of the coverage. I don’t think this was intentional, it is just so ingrained.”

Ms Cairns, who took the third and final seat in Cork South West, said she was sick and tired of political football.

“One thing I would love to bring to West Cork is a new style of politics that is all about transparency and being honest and not saying things for the sake of votes but because it is the right thing to do,” she said.

The farmer, who has an MSc in Organic Horticulture from UCC, said the recent Bantry Hospital pledge was a glowing example of nonsensical rhetoric.

Election candidates were asked to sign a pledge, saying they would walk out of any government unless there was a legally binding agreement to protect services at Bantry General Hospital.

Newly elected TD, Holly Cairns (Soc Dems). Picture: Andy Gibson.
Newly elected TD, Holly Cairns (Soc Dems). Picture: Andy Gibson.

Ms Cairns said the pledge could not possibly be honoured by candidates.

“So I didn’t sign it, it is dishonest, it is an empty promise,” she said.

“Every other candidate signed the pledge, but we need honesty, not political football to gain votes with empty promises, I think people are sick and tired of that.”

The Social Democrat, who overcame a battle for the final seat with Fine Gael shortly before 4am yesterday, said it was a monumental victory to take the seat in the Fine Gael heartland of West Cork.

She hopes to support West Cork to reach its potential in the tech industry, tourism, fishing, and farming.

“There is so much opportunity for meaningful employment in West Cork.

“I left West Cork during the recession and so did most of my friends and I was lucky enough to have my family business to move home to, but that is not the case for everyone and there is an enormous opportunity here for meaningful employment. We just need better supports for all of these industries.

“I feel very excited about all that. West Cork has so much to offer, we just need to provide supports for people to move here, come home to here and stay here. It’s not always easy.”

She is excited to be a part of the Social Democrat movement which she thinks is going to be a very influential in a new era of politics in Ireland and in Cork. She is inspired by the story of Erin Brockovich and her unrelenting persistence for change.

“She is a strong woman who stood up for her principles, regardless of obstacles.”

Ms Cairns will be Cork’s only female representative in the Dáil.

She replaces outgoing TD Margaret Murphy O’Mahony, who failed to get re-elected.

She said the results for women had been “disappointing so far”.

“Margaret Murphy was the first-ever female TD to be elected to Cork South West, which was an amazing achievement.

Picture: Andy Gibson.
Picture: Andy Gibson.

“Obviously it’s an amazing feeling for myself, but we do need more women in politics.”

The newly-elected representative says there are barriers for women entering local politics, as well as a lack of representation.

“In Cork County Council, there are only 13 women councillors. There are no female chairs of any of the Strategic Policy Committees.

“I am the only female leader of a party within the council, by virtue of the fact I am the only member of the party in the council.

“It’s no wonder there are so few women being elected. There’s also no such thing as maternity leave for councillors. There are so many barriers in place which prevent women from getting into councils.”

Ms Cairns believes there is a need for the bigger political parties to improve their female representation.

“The main parties aren’t really succeeding in getting more women elected.

“One of the main reasons I joined the Social Democrats was because they have equal representation of men and women.

“Also, if an event is organised by the party, free childcare is provided. This means there isn’t a barrier for women.”

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