A little about Joe.
I was reared on a small family farm in Carrigart, which my Dad farmed while my Mum was a public health nurse. Growing up on a farm I have first-hand experience of the challenges facing farm families and of how much everyone in the household is involved. This helped me to develop an appreciation for hard work. We ran a farm house B&B where everyone chipped in – there were no dish washer in those days.
The 12th July was always a big date in our house with the mass exodus of people from Northern Ireland. I had an early insight as a young person to the many different traditions of Northern Ireland. In more recent times this helped me keep a balanced perspective as Chair of the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement.
I attended secondary school in Milford, and obtained an Arts degree and HDip. in NUI Maynooth. Like many young students today, I spent the summers during college working on building sites in the US and London to help fund college the following year, with some help from the parents too!
I started my career in the public service early, returning from university to teach Busines studies, geography and maths in Loreto Convent Letterkenny in 1993. I then taught abroad for a year, and in 1996 I changed direction as I always had a deep interest in community work. I worked as a Fas Supervisor with Glenboe Action Group, Letterkenny and then as a Community Youth Worker with Glenwood Park Youth Project in Letterkenny and a VEC advocacy worker with Youth Reach in Gortahork. I also had a small business facilitating training with the VEC, FAS and Teagasc and to businesses.
My work in community development meant I saw at first hand the needs of people in the community and this sparked my interest in politics. In 1999 I was asked by the local Fine Gael organisation to run for Donegal County Council and I was elected that year. I want to thank both the members of Fine Gael and the people of the area for placing their faith in me then, and for their unwavering support since.
I was elected to Seanad Eireann in 2002, immediately opening an office in my political base of Letterkenny. I have run this office on a full time basis for the last 14 years, recognizing the hub that the town has become for the county, indeed for the region. In 2007, after 10 years without a Fine Gael TD in the old Donegal North East constituency I was elected to Dail Eireann.
My experience at all levels of political life has given me a real understanding of the issues facing the people of Donegal and I have worked hard to solve issues – both large and small in that time. After the 2011 election I was honoured when An Taoiseach Enda Kenny asked me to Chair both the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and the British Irish parliamentary Assembly. This gave me the opportunity to work closely with our friends and neighbours in Northern Ireland to find shared solutions for the Ulster region in areas such as health, transport and infrastructure. Some of the projects I worked to keep progressing included the A5 road which has received a €110 million commitment from Irish Government and the Radiotherapy services at Altnagelvin. This has received a €19 million investment from Irish Government in a project that overall is costing €90 million. It is opening this year and will be a huge relief to cancer patients and their families allowing them receive radiotherapy locally with a minimum of 30% of beds reserved for Donegal patients.
In July of 2013 An Taoiseach again approached me to ask me to serve as a Minister of State in his Government, appointing me Minister of State with responsibility for the Gaeltacht and the Islands as well as Minister of State at the Department of Energy and Natural Resources with special responsibility for Natural Resources. My time as a Minister has given me the opportunity to develop deep relationships with my ministerial colleagues and to ensure the needs of the people of Donegal are to the fore in decision making. This has helped ensure that issues such as the radiotherapy services and A5 are being delivered on.
I live in Carrigart with my wife Olwyn, and three children –Darragh who is 6, Aedín who is 5 and Oisín who is 3. It’s a busy noisy home between lifts to playschool and school, getting to rugby training in Letterkenny, football in Downings and soccer in the community centre. I love to spend what time I have with my family and we try to make the most of the beautiful natural facilities the county has to offer, cycling in Glenveagh or Ards, climbing Muckish or Errigal, or taking a more leisurely walk on Tramore beach. We are fortunate to have such fantastic facilities on our doorstep in Donegal.
I have also had the opportunity to go on a personal journey of discovery re-learning the Irish language. I have started down a path that has no destination and I’m fulfilling a life-long ambition to have a conversation in my native tongue. If you wish to get a glimpse or an insight into this journey to date, I have provided below a link to an article I wrote recently for the Irish Times, or I have also included a link to an interview I did with RTE, one year in the job.