2004 - 2011


Minister for Education and Science September 2004-2008
Minister for Social and Family Affairs 2008-2010
Minister for Tourism, Sport and Culture 2010-2011
Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation January-March 2011

‘I used to canvass the nuns in primary school, so I think I was always heading for some sort of political life.’

Minister for Education and Science September 2004-2008

Key achievements include the development of an Action Plan for Educational Inclusion: DEIS which has been noted by ERSI research as having improved outcomes, attainment and progression.

Introduction of National standardised testing of Literacy and Numeracy Standards. Publication of School Inspector’s Reports to enhance transparency of School’s Performance.

Establishment of the Teaching Council on a statutory basis. Establishment of the National Council for Education of Children with Special Needs.

Development of Strategic Innovation funding for Higher Education. Development of New Model of School Patronage to reflect the changing culture in Ireland.

Introduction of graduate entry to study Medicine.

Minister for Social and Family Affairs 2008-2010

Introduction of Welfare to Work linked payments for young people. Developed a National Pensions Strategy. Minister for Tourism, Sport and Culture 2010-2011

Promotion of Imagine Ireland, 2011 an extensive programme of cultural events in the USA. Commenced planning for The Gathering.

Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation January-March 2011.

International trade missions to attract investment and to promote Irish products. Promotion of Irish craft and design. Support of Women in Business.

Minister for Children 2000-2002. Minister of State at the three Departments of Health and Children, Justice, Equality and Law Reform and Education and Science.

Development of the National Children’s Strategy, a 10 year plan to coordinate the services for children and give them a voice on issues that affect them.

The foundation of the National Children’s Parliament: Dáil na nÓg and local Comhairle na nÓg.

The introduction and negotiation of passage of legislation to establish the Office of Ombudsman for Children.

The National Council for Special Needs Education.

DEIS School Scheme for socially disadvantaged pupils – which showed an increase in pupils going on to 3rd Level.

Political Career timeline

  • Fianna Fáil National Executive 1980 (first elected as Ógra representative).
  • Vice-President of CENYC European Youth Council 1981-1983.
  • Robert Schuman silver medal for services towards European Unity, 1983.
  • Fianna Fáil Committee of Fifteen (directly elected by all the delegates at the Ard Fhéis).
  • Councillor, Rathmines Ward, Dublin City Council 1985-1991.
  • Fianna Fáil TD for Dún Laoghaire in 1997-2011.
  • Joint National Treasurer of the Fianna Fáil party. 1993.

Robert Schuman silver medal for services towards European Unity, 1983.

Government Minister from 2000-2011

  • Minister for Children 2000-2002 Minister of State at Department of Health and Children, the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Department of Education and Science.
  • Minister of State at Department of the Taoiseach and Department of Defence (with responsibility for the Information Society) 2002-2004.
  • Government Chief Whip 2002-2004. The first woman to hold this position. Organised and coordinated Government Business in the national parliament, managing the passage of legislation from line Departments through the Houses of the Oireachtas.
  • Minister for Education and Science 2004-2008
  • Magill Politician of Year Award 2005 and 2006.
  • Tatler Woman of the Year (Public Service) 2006.
  • Minister for Social and Family Affairs 2008-2010.
  • Maynooth University Alumnus of the Year, 2009.
  • Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport 2010-2011.
  • Vice-President of Fianna Fáil (one of five) 2011.
  • Deputy Leader of Fianna Fáil January - March 2011.
  • Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation January - March 2011.
  • Member of the OECD Governance Team promoting the participation of women in politics in the MENA region (Middle East/North Africa) from 2012.
  • Councillor for Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown 2014 (representing Blackrock Ward).

In 1985, Mary was proposed and seconded for the local Dublin Corporation Fianna Fáil selection convention in Rathmines

In 1985, Mary was proposed and seconded for the local Dublin Corporation Fianna Fáil selection convention in Rathmines. She was added to the ticket and elected. Seen here with Carmencita Hederman.

Councillor Mary Hanafin with actor Daniel Day Lewis

In 1989, Mary wanted to run for the Dáil in Dublin South East

In 1989, Mary wanted to run for the Dáil in Dublin South East. Charlie Haughey wanted her to run in Dún Laoghaire instead, where she was a teacher, but as she recalled she ‘knew it all’ and did not do as Haughey requested. She ran and wasn’t elected.

In 1991, she lost her Dublin Corporation seat, ‘I did not know where I was going or what I was doing politically’. Over the next two years she took a legal studies diploma in DIT in the evenings to ‘occupy the time and energy she had been giving to the Corporation.’ In 1993, she decided to run for Fianna Fáil treasurer and contest it at the Ard Fhéis ‘ which was unheard of at that time.’ She pushed the incumbents including Bertie Ahern to the poll. She toured the countryside, getting huge support and was elected joint treasurer with Bertie Ahern. Bertie Ahern encouraged her saying she needed to join the Cumann in Dún Laoighaire, get involved and run.

She went for selection at the convention in 1997 but did not get through but was later added to the ticket and elected that year. ‘That election was in June which suited me perfectly because it came at the end of the academic year. I was a full year out knocking on doors and I had a great team of women with me.’ She was a member of Dáil Éireann from 1997 to 2011.

She was elected a Councillor for Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown in 2014 representing the Blackrock Ward. In 2017, she was appointed to a Forum on Parliamentary Privilege established by the Ceann Comhairle.


Mary Hanafin was born in June 1959 in Thurles, County Tipperary. Her father was from Thurles, her mother was from Clonmel. She was the elder of two, her brother John was a Fianna Fail Senator from 2002 to 2011.

The Hanafin family were active in Fianna Fáil, her grandfather John Hanafin having been a founder member. Her aunt, Binkie Hanafin, her father’s sister, was a councillor and chairman of the county council in North Tipperary.

Her father was elected to the Seanad in 1969 when Mary was ten. She grew up in a political household. She later stated: ‘My mother was as much of a politician as any of us.’ She recalled travelling with her mother during her childhood, travelling great distances, on one occasion visiting Sligo, Leitrim, Roscommon and Mayo campaigning for her father.

She boarded at the Presentation in Thurles for the last three years of her schooling because her father was the Fianna Fáil party fundraiser and her parents were away a lot. The sister in charge, Sister Áine, used to let her go out to Cumann meetings in the town. The meetings used to take place in Hayes’. She later recalled: ‘I think she thought they took place in Hayes’ Hotel but they took place in Hayes’ the Arch bar.’ While women were involved in political groups, she was involved in youth organisations. ‘I went directly from being young to being a TD and bypassed the whole women’s organisation thing.’

Mary joined Ógra Fianna Fáil in 1974 and spoke at her first Fianna Fáil youth conference in 1976. She spoke on the same platform with Mary Harney, ‘I was young but I was hugely impressed by these Trinity students, as they were at the time.’

Mary went to University in St Patrick’s College Maynooth (BA, HDip.Ed). She set up the first Cumann in Maynooth University. She had to get special permission from Cardinal Ó Fiaich who was President of the University. Fine Gael and Labour immediately followed suit. Mary led the Cumann in doing research and polling and brought guest speakers.

An award winning debater, Mary was the winner of the Gael Linn Irish Times Debating Final in 1978, 1979 and 1980. She was a team member with the writer and philosopher John O’Donoghue and Michael O hÉanaigh. In 1982, she won the De Valera Public Speaking Competition – the best speaker in Irish.

Mary was elected as a youth member of the Fianna Fáil National Executive in 1980

Mary was elected as a youth member of the Fianna Fáil National Executive in 1980 at the age of 21 and served as a member of the Committee of Fifteen. She was a Treasurer of the Party and then a front bench member.

Mary taught at the Dominican College at Sion Hill, Blackrock. She was a teacher of Irish and History from 1981 until 1997.

Mary was 21 when she first met her husband Eamon Leahy, 23, who was a Barrister. They met at an Ógra Fianna Fáil event in University College Dublin and thereafter at various conferences. As she later described ‘My whole circle was Fianna Fáil.’ The couple married in 1985. He was an active participant in policy-making and speech writing. She later recalled his support as: ‘very much the man behind the woman.’

A Senior Counsel and chairman of the Legal Aid Board, Eamon died suddenly in 2003. She was on the way to a conference in South America when she got the news. Mary later said: ‘to have it snatched away like that, that’s something you never get over.’

Mary's father, Des, was a member of the Seanad in 1969 - 1993 and again between 1997 and 2002.

In January 2012, she appeared as a judge on TG4 television show An G-Team.

She served as visiting scholar at the Notre Dame University, South Bend Indiana, USA, in 2012.

Mary was awarded a Master’s Degree in American Studies by the Clinton Institute in University College Dublin in 2014.