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Holly leaving behind her ‘girls’ to blaze a trail in Leinster House

February 17th, 2020 8:22 PM

By Emma Connolly

Holly Cairns, right, with her Social Democrats colleagues outside the Daíl on Wednesday. From left: Jennifer Whitmore, Cian O'Callaghan, Cathrine Murphy, Roisin Shortall and Gary Gannon. (Photo: Paul Sharp/SHARPPIX)

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‘MONUMENTAL’ is how Holly Cairns described her election in Cork South West where she dramatically unseated FG for the first time in 63 years.

She has the further distinction of being the only female elected in all of Cork in the general election – and is only the second ever female elected in Cork South West, after FF’s Margaret Murphy O’Mahony.

Just over 3,000 transfers from SF’s Paul Hayes saw Holly surge past FG Tim Lombard to take the last seat close to 4am on Monday – and even her car not starting when she left the count centre didn’t wipe out the realisation that she had just made history.

Heading to Dublin on Wednesday to meet with the five other newly-elected Social Democrats, the 30-year-old didn’t rule out going into government with Sinn Féin.

She said it was their responsibility to be open to discussions, and that it was more helpful to see what can be achieved through collaboration rather than focussing on a party’s history.

Holly admitted the past nine months had been a ‘whirlwind’ since she was elected by a single vote to Cork County Council last May.

‘I’ve gone from not being engaged in politics to now being a TD. One thing just led to another – I never decided to go into politics, but it’s been an amazing journey.’

She doesn’t feel daunted by being Cork’s sole female representative, but does feel it’s a ‘real shame.’

Neither does she feel overwhelmed at the possibility she could have a large role to play within her small party. She said ‘100%’ she’d ‘jump at the chance’ to have an agriculture portfolio.

‘I’m from a rural area and I know the challenges that small farmers face. My own family had to diversify – we were a dairy farm and had to move into beef, dry stock and seed production,’ said Holly, who has a masters in organic horticulture from UCC. Farmers are living on the bread line and need more support, she insisted.

She’s still working out the logistics of moving to Dublin and leaving behind her ‘girls’.

‘I live next door to my mum on the family farm so she’ll be looking after my dog Hei Hei (named after a chicken in Disney’s Moana) and my cat Blaze. I love West Cork but my dad is originally from Dublin, so I’m looking forward to spending time with my grandparents and my cousins,’ she said.

Describing her family as ‘interesting’, she has an older sister Autumn, two half-sisters (Zoe and Moya) and two step brothers, one of whom sadly died last year.

Making the trip to Dublin with her is her boyfriend and fellow new TD, Christopher O’Sullivan. Their relationship has – not surprisingly – attracted plenty of interest and when Christopher was added to the Fianna Fáil ticket, she said it was like ‘being in a bad rom-com’ movie.

She joked that since the election ‘it had gone from bad to worse and was a bit mad really’.

‘I know people are interested in this human interest story, but it is hard to know where the relationship ends and politics begin, or the other way around. I do avoid talking about it and don’t want it to be story of the election, which is about a first-time candidate taking a FG seat.’

She said she hoped it got old soon: ‘We’re in a unique situation and if we start talking about our private lives, we’ll never get them back,’ she said adding she was looking forward to working with both him, and Independent Michael Collins.

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