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Image / Agenda

Minister of State Pippa Hackett on the challenges of being a woman in politics


by IMAGE
14th Sep 2020
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Photograph by Catherine Kearns

Beef farmer, Green Party member, and Minister of State Pippa Hackett talks with Kate Kearns about the challenges of being a woman in politics


On a rainy Monday morning I arrive to the light-filled atrium at the Keadeen Hotel, Kildare, to meet Minister of State in the Department of Agriculture Food and Marine, Pippa Hackett. She welcomes me, smiling widely. She’s totally at ease and asks me if I’d like coffee and scones. The treats arrive. She says, “I’ll only have one.” She devours two.

Pippa grew up in an old converted schoolhouse in Ballindine, County Mayo. Her artist parents moved there in the 1970s. Both attended art school in Belfast. Her father later worked as a sign writer graphic designer. Pippa remembers big 8×4 sheets of plywood around the house, getting painted and at different stages of drying. Her mother would occasionally paint scenes and horses. Though, mostly, she’d take care of the family.

I’ll give politics as long as I feel I’m getting something out of it. If I can effect some change, I’ll be delighted, but I won’t stick at it relentlessly if I’m not having any effect

While there’s no history of farming in Pippa’s family, her connection with nature and animals began early. Her parents encouraged her and her siblings to explore, to go out for walks across the fields, where they’d see newts and bullrushes and look for frogspawn. There were dairy farms surrounding their home. The neighbour’s cows looked over the fence. “We’d enjoyed looking at them.”  She laughs and says, “They’d eat all the lawn clippings.”

Her love of horses began when the family got a couple of ponies. At 17 she went to Wales to study equine science. While later studying for a second degree in agriculture, she met her future husband. After graduation, he returned to Ireland to farm. Pippa followed.

She’d never had a grand career plan but decided in the last three years “that we have to reinvent ourselves every five or 10 years.” She’s only been politically active about four years and says, “I’ll give politics as long as I feel I’m getting something out of it. If I can effect some change, I’ll be delighted, but I won’t stick at it relentlessly if I’m not having any effect. I think I’ll have to focus on something else. I’m not in it for the career. I’m in it to get something improved.”

Doing it for themselves

Men hold 77% of the ministerial posts.

She says women in politics are still hitting the glass ceiling. On International Women’s Day, she’d danced around her kitchen to Lennox and Franklin’s Sisters are Doing It for Themselves. “I was really sort of fired up because even politically we’re poorly represented in national and even in local governments here.”

She was only one of two women on her local county council out of 19 members. When she couldn’t find a woman to co-opt her spot, she’d to replace herself with a man, her husband. She says the song is relevant today. Women are still trying to do it for themselves, still hitting walls and glass ceilings, especially in politics.

She mentions Ireland’s low rate of female representatives in the Dáil. Men hold 77% of the ministerial posts.

Pippa says politics is far more intense than she’d ever imagined. She thinks if people knew how intense it is, they might not consider it. “You’re really not prepared for the number of interactions with constituents and the number of meetings.” She says the Seanad was intense because it was a big learning curve.

If we take climate and biodiversity breakdown seriously, we need significant land use change.

Passion for politics is key, she says. “Otherwise you wouldn’t do it.” “Politics has killed everything. It’s been the most consuming thing. My poor vegetable garden” she laughs.  But “it’s worth it because I’m determined to bring about significant change.”

Land use change and the reduction of carbon in the agri-sector are her priorities. She wants a move towards more organic farming, which produces less methane. “If we take climate and biodiversity breakdown seriously, we need significant land use change.”

She thinks we humans are our own worst enemy. “We have a weird and wonderful way of just wanting to get bigger and more profitable. I think it’s just our natural way. Humans!”

She questions if we are just set to self-destruct in some shape or form and wonders if we’ll end up destroying our planet so much that we can’t actually live on it. “I’ve a feeling that Mother Nature will breathe a big sigh of relief and say, thank goodness that lot is gone. I can get back to doing what I do best, and she will regenerate, regrow, and nurture the planet like she intends to,” says Pippa. “You have to work with her!”


Related: Mary Lou McDonald: ‘When some sense of normality resumes I’ll treasure small moments all the more’

Related: Frances Fitzgerald: ‘COVID-19 has really highlighted the gender differences in our society’

Related: Mary Robinson: ‘Covid-19 will exacerbate the problems of inequality and conflict’

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