Pauline O’Reilly is a successful local Senator, former lawyer and head of the Green Party in Ireland. As a working mum, she combines a dedication to politics with a dedication to education and family life. She expertly balances these tasks with professionalism and she is also chair of the Steiner School in Knocknacarra. She spoke with Aoife Burke for an interview about herself, her life in politics and the Steiner schools.
“No time to waste and every day counts”
She explains briefly her decision to join the Green Party after many years of campaigning on local and national issues; she wanted to get behind building up a political force in Galway to bring about environmental and social change nationwide. She tells Galway Pulse; ”We really have no time to waste, and every day counts.”
Senator O’Reilly lives locally in Highfield Park with her family and loves every aspect of community life. She’s been involved in diverse projects such as starting a school, running playgroups, supporting women’s healthcare, the Repeal referendum and being on the board of local and national organisations in the Arts, Education and the Environment.
She completed an Arts degree at UCD in Spanish and Sociology. After that, she worked and travelled, before studying law at the Law Society of Ireland and becoming a solicitor. She said she is not currently practicing, but was a solicitor prior to entering politics and found it very rewarding. She says it’s important to take the role of a politician seriously and it is a full-time job. The training, she continues, has helped her well in politics due to the scrutiny of legislation. She has also put forward many of her own laws, such as solar panels for schools, election poster reform, breastfeeding and references in sexual assault cases.
“Passionate about education”
Galway Steiner School is very important to her and Senator O’Reilly said she felt “Ireland needed more options in education for children”. As a working mum, she is very passionate about education.
“With that in mind, I’ve thrown my support behind starting and being the chair of a new school in Steiner Education in Knocknacarra, which does not have a religious ethos – Cuan na Gaillimhe. The school took many years to get off the ground and now the first group of children is due to graduate sixth class in 2023. I’ve also been very supportive of Educate Together, and indeed the many schools that have Green Schools initiatives. These days many schools take such an innovative approach to education.”
Green Party Spokesperson
Senator O’Reilly is also the Green Party spokesperson for Education and Higher Education. She says that her interest in education is very wide-ranging as she has been chair of the Home Education Network, chair of a school board, and sat on the board of the University of Galway. She believes in an education system that is more fit for modern life, less focused on exams and is about real equality.
She spoke about a typical week as a senator and her role.
“The Seanad and the Dáil both sit from Tuesday to Thursday. I also have an office in Galway which I share with our three Galway councillors. In the Seanad, because there are much fewer senators that TDs, we tend to speak a lot more than the Dáil. We vote, put forward our own legislation, and raise wide-ranging issues. I am also on a number of committees.”
“I’m vice-chair of the Gender Equality committee and a member of the Education and Climate committees. Each committee has 14 members. I also have an international brief and sometimes engage in election monitoring in other countries, particularly where democracy may be under threat.”
She is chair of the Green Party and is the leader of the Green Party in the Seanad, where they have four senators. What many people don’t realise is that legislation has to go through both the Dáil and Seanad; as a senator, she keeps an eye on what goes through the Seanad for the Green Party, as well as questioning Ministers to the Seanad on national issues.
Another part of her role is to encourage people to run for the Party, and, she says, she is always happy to talk to anyone who is considering becoming a member.