To lose one President is a pity, to lose 4 in one go?!! Well, that is the union’s fate. Our outgoing President, Maria Ryan, advised our ADC of her promotion to AP. Also promoted in the weeks leading up to ADC were former Presidents, Valerie Behan and Patricia Tobin. Add to that the news that former President, Rhona MacSweeney, intends to retire before ADC 2018 and we are looking at a loss of energy, commitment and leadership on a grand scale. Also, promoted in the run-up to ADC was our former Chair. of the Standing Orders Committee, Mary O’Donohoe. I want to say a few words about these inspiring women.
Of the five, I know Rhona the longest. She and I were delegates to my first union ADC, both of us at the time representing the Education Branch. When Rhona became President at the turn of this century, she followed in the footsteps of one of her early inspirations, the late Nabla McGinley, in becoming what was, up until then, the rarity of a woman President. Rhona has always been colourful, charismatic and strong-minded. She brought those attributes to her union work and was a role model to many of the women who followed her as President. She brought also the attributes of decency, common sense and intelligence and used all to the benefit of members.
Patricia followed Rhona as President. While Rhona was forceful, Patricia is, by nature, calm and reflective. I knew Patricia long before she became an EC member. The attributes that I witnessed in her Branch involvement in the Department of Social Welfare, as it then was, of intelligent, rational thoughtfulness were ones that she used to full effect as President. They are invaluable skills that were brought to bear on behalf of our members, not just while Patricia was President but also in her more than 20 years as an Executive Committee member. Combined with easy geniality and dedication to the people that she represented, Patricia brought the full range of her quiet skills to use for this union.
Friendly, warm and irrepressibly optimistic, Valerie loved every minute of her Presidency, even though it coincided with a tough period, during which hard choices were made and debate spilled sometimes into ugliness. Valerie’s obvious interest in people and her sincere manner helped to defuse many a situation, as did her enthusiasm and obvious commitment, qualities that are often under-estimated in a leader. Valerie maintained her union work after her Presidency through membership of the Standing Orders Committee right up to this year’s ADC. Valerie followed her dad into membership of this union (and her son has joined the Civil Service recently), so she is immersed in the concept of public service. Valerie brought a calm intelligence to her various roles in the union, at a time when this was just what was required.
Maria’s career in the Customs service has made her clear-headed, practical and willing to stand her ground. Her many, many years of union involvement in this and other unions, including a period on secondment to our union Head Office, has given her a great understanding of issues, of people and of the ways and means by which unions advance members’ interests. Maria has the distinction of having served on the Executive Committee of 3 different unions. She has combined that knowledge with a steely determination to do the right thing for those she has represented and with a very human sympathy for those requiring our help. She has been a formidable advocate for and friend to our members. She also enjoys the distinction of having completed the ADC agenda in its entirety at both ADCs chaired by her, a testimony to her no nonsense but sympathetic chairing skills.
I know Mary least of all the five. She came to us when the Taxes grades were integrated into the General Service in Revenue in the early 2000’s but I knew her first when, subsequently, she was a member of our Social Protection Branch Committee and, even more so, as a member of, and Chair of the union’s Standing Orders Committee. Those who know me will recognise my inability to submerge myself in the arcane world of rules, standing orders, procedures etc. I view people like Mary as I view teenagers tootling effortlessly through new technology. It is fascinating to witness what one is incapable of understanding! Yet, I accept, reluctantly I suppose, that such processes are a necessary organisational tool and I am not just incredulous, I am appreciative that people like Mary are willing to give their time and effort to such thankless, mundane, but, undeniably, essential work on behalf of our members.
Finally, all of the women mentioned have in common their commitment to try to make people’s lives better. Each brought their own, personal, characteristics to the task. Trade unions require such selfless volunteerism. This union requires also that we maintain our history of strong women representatives. Each of the women concerned is a role model in her own right. They are an inspiration to me and, I hope, to women members who might consider becoming more involved in our activities, as a result. On behalf of all members, I wish all five every success and happiness for the future.