Former tánaiste Mary Coughlan rules out contesting the next general election

Appointment of Ms Coughlan to new role has led to speculation she could make a return to national politics

Former tánaiste Mary Coughlan has said she will not contest the next general election saying she has made her contribution to political life and has “moved on to greener pastures”.

Her appointment as the chairwoman of the National Conference on Women in Farming led to speculation that the former Fianna Fáil minister could make a return to national politics.

Ms Coughlan served as minister in various departments – including agriculture – during the governments led by Bertie Ahern and Brian Cowen.

She lost her Dáil seat for Donegal as part of Fianna Fáil’s disastrous 2011 general election performance following the economic crash.


Last month she was elected as the chairwoman of Fianna Fáil’s Donegal county executive. She said on Tuesday that this role is to help win seats for Fianna Fáil at the next local and general elections.

“That’s exactly what I will do and... I’m going to get out of it as quick as I got into it.”

Asked if she could be a running mate for Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue at the next general election she replied: “No. I have made my contribution to political life in Ireland… I have moved on to greener pastures so I’m going to continue to do that.”

She was speaking at a press conference in Dublin to launch the National Conference on Women in Farming which is taking place on St Brigid’s Day, February 1st.

Ms Coughlan said she hopes the initiative will “give greater impetus” to the recognition of women’s role in farming and be a forum for new policies to encourage participation of women in the sector.

Minister of State Pippa Hackett – who is a farmer herself – said that anecdotally visitors to farms run by women still ask to speak to the boss when greeted by a woman.

She said things are changing, “but certainly there’s still a cultural shift needed I think among society”.

Mr McConalogue said that traditionally there have been “unacceptable cultural barriers” that have led to few women being farm owners.

He cited the practice of handing down farms to sons and nephews rather than daughters and nieces.

Mr McConalogue said: “Agriculture is still largely a male dominated sector and the crucial role women play is often not fully understood, appreciated, or recognised.”

He said that in 2016 some 71,000 people working on farms were women, but less than one-quarter of those were the holders of farms and just 12 per cent of herd numbers are held by women.

He said around 30 per cent of farms across Europe are managed by women.

Mr McConalogue said there are measures in the next Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) designed to support greater gender equality including a 60 per cent grant aid scheme which is available to all women farmers.

The minister also announced that the Cabinet has approved the legislative process for the creation of a new Agri-Food regulator.

He said the new watchdog “will be an office with real teeth that will be a strong advocate for farmers, fishers and all food producers”.

The regulator will have the power to impose fines of up to €10 million on retailers and food producers who engage in unfair trading practices with farmers and other suppliers.

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn is a Political Correspondent at The Irish Times