Financial institutions were crumbling to their knees, representatives of the IMF and the ECB flew to Dublin for crunch talks and the government were preparing to deliver one of the harshest budgets in Irish history as Sinn Féin Deputy Pearse Doherty was made spokesperson for finance within days of being elected to Dáil Éireann in the Donegal South-West by-election on November 25, a year ago this week.
Pearse became Sinn Féin’s first Senator when he was elected to the Seanad Agricultural panel in 2007. He was a member of Donegal County Council from 2004 to 2007.
Following a baptism of fire it comes as no surprise that the Gaoth Dobhair man describes his first year in Dáil Éireann as “a rollercoaster.”
“My first year in Dáil Éireann can only be described as a rollercoaster. I could probably describe it as being very eventful and very frustrating as well. It was also a great honour to be nominated to the Dáil by the people of Donegal with such a huge vote,” he said.
Pearse won the by-election by a substantial margin, earning 39.8 per cent of the first preference vote. He was re-elected to the Dáil in the 2011 general election last February. He topped the poll, attaining 33 per cent of the first preference vote. Doherty’s total of 14, 262 first preference votes was surpassed nationally only by Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny in Mayo.
“I was no stranger to being in Leinster House but the fact that literally within days of being elected I was nominated party spokesperson on finance, left me with a huge responsibility and within hours I would be one of the first to deliver a 45 minute speech on one of the harshest budgets in Irish history live on TV. There is no doubt about it you have to think on your feet,” he said.
When Deputy Doherty entered the Dáil for the very first time following the by-election he joined three other party colleagues. His next election saw himself and 13 other Sinn Féin public representatives win and regain their seats in a move that reflected a tidal change of thought within the realms of the Irish electorate.
The dark haired engineering technician admits that speaking in the Dáil for the first time was a nervous occasion for him.
“I have spoken in front of 40,000 people at rallies but speaking in Dáil Éireann is different, you have to think of all the great people that have spoken there before you like Eamon de Valera and Micheal Collins. It is a very humbling moment but also a nervous one,” he said.
Despite the fact that the deputy admits that he was a little nervous ahead of his budget speech he also relished the occasion.
“I wanted to speak and represent the people who elected me as well as I could. I didn’t want to be knocking on doors in Donegal in the future and for people to say that they didn’t know me. I wanted to let the people know that I wasn’t a silent man,” he said.
The portfolio as spokesperson for finance has dictated a huge amount of work for the deputy who has no background in economics or business. He built his understanding of the current climate on the stories he heard on the doorsteps during his canvassing.
“People are hard-pressed, people have lost jobs, people who are still in employment, everyone is finding it hard. During my time up here I have not wasted one second in defending these people. I genuinely feel we have made a difference. I have no doubt that our contribution has changed the Government’s direction. If it weren’t for us cuts would be a lot, lot deeper,” he said.
The responsibility of being a spokesperson on finance in opposition has presented a huge responsibility for the 34-year-old.
“There has been a huge responsibility over the last number of months to show the Government that there are alternatives to septic tank and water charges, to cutting child benefit and to closing community hospitals. I have to hold the Government to account on behalf of the people who will be affected by these and other measures. I am performing as best as I can to limit the effect on the constituencies,” he said.
He believes that Sinn Féin is the only voice in opposition as he believes that the Fine Gael/Labour Government are only implementing the policies of Fianna Fáil.
“People are beginning to realise that the FG/Lab Government are only implementing the policies that Fianna Fail began. Sinn Féin is the only voice in opposition. We are certainly holding the Government to account,” he said.
Deputy Doherty does not view politics as a profession.
“I do not like being a TD. It is not something that I take personal enjoyment out of. I know that there are politicians who love it. Someone has to give the people a voice. Somehow, I have fallen into that. I know that I let myself be put forward and that for some reason that I can articulate things but to be honest I would be just as happy putting up posters. If I didn’t regain my seat and I had to bow out of politics. I would never leave Sinn Féin,” he said.
Those who know the deputy, know him as a kind hearted young man who feels passionately about what he believes in. The Gaoth Dobhair man feels a strong bond with his home and readily admits that should he fall from the higher echelons of politics he would be happy to start his own business, work in a local shop or work for someone in his area.
“I would be working in a wee shop or working for somebody. I would be happy going out to work at six o’clock and coming home to have dinner with my family at six o’clock. I would not go into engineering,” he said.
His greatest fear at present is that at some point in the future he will regret not spending more time with his family. “My greatest fear in life is that I will turn around and wish I spent more time with my family. I am lucky that I have a job and earn the industrial wage. I know other people who travel to Dublin every day to work, other people who have to go to London to work, so I realise that there are other people are in worse situations than me,” he said.
The Irish tradition of children going into politics is one that he hopes will not be followed in his household.
“No, would be the answer, if they are lucky enough to find someone to share their life with, it would be hard on that other person. If they want to, of course they can as long as it is not Fine Gael,” he said.