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.