‘Trailblazer’ former Fine Gael MEP Mary Banotti has died

Taoiseach Simon Harris says former Fine Gael presidential candidate was ‘smart, wise and funny’

President Michael D Higgins has led tributes to former Fine Gael politician Mary Banotti, who has died.

Ms Banotti, who was 84 and had been unwell, was a Member of the European Parliament for Dublin from 1984 to 2004, and a Fine Gael candidate in the 1997 presidential election.

“Mary Banotti made a very significant contribution to Irish life, both in her 20 years of service to the people of Dublin as a Member of the European Parliament, and through the many important causes which she played such an active role in supporting over the course of her life,” said President Higgins.

“I had the privilege of personally knowing Mary over a number of decades and had the deepest respect for her principled positions on these important issues.

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Ms Banotti, the eldest of six from Clontarf, Dublin, worked as a nurse abroad before becoming a politician. A former TV presenter and a co-founder of Women’s Aid, which opened Ireland’s first women’s refuge, she also served as chairperson of the Rutland Centre for Drug Abuse and had a strong interest in healthcare and women’s rights during her political career.

“May I extend my deepest sympathies to Mary’s daughter Tania, to her sister Nora Owen and to all of her extended family, and to her many colleagues and friends across Ireland, Europe and beyond,” said the President.

An Taoiseach Simon Harris has said it was with great sadness that he has learned of the death of Ms Banotti.

“Mary was a talented politician, a trailblazer and a joy to be around,” Mr Harris said. “She was smart, wise and funny.”

She also took a strong interest in the environment, helping to raise the profile of the issue of the environment in European politics, the Taoiseach noted in a statement.

“Another area she broke new ground was in her work supporting parentally abducted children in the EU, the first person to hold the official role,” Mr Harris said.

“Mary did so much with her life and had so much to be proud of, but she was humble. Her energy was boundless and she always had a nugget of wise political insight or a witty observation.”

A grandniece of Michael Collins, she was a sister of Nora Owen, one time deputy leader of Fine Gael.

“She was enormously proud of her daughter Tania and my heartfelt thoughts are with Tania, Nora and wider family,” the Taoiseach said.

“Mary wrote once that her mother grafted hard to put her six children through education, that she was highly ambitious for them, and that she wanted her children to come out of the top drawer and make something of themselves, Mr Harris said. “Mary Banotti did that, and then some.”

Fine Gael MEP Frances Fitzgerald, in a statement, said she was very sad to hear of the passing of Ms Banotti.

“Mary was a wonderful person and an upstanding and fearless representative for Dublin and Ireland in the European Parliament for 20 years. She made an enormous impact,” she said.

Fine Gael TD for Louth/East Meath, Fergus O’Dowd, said Ms Banotti “cared about people and believed in a fairer and more just society. May she rest in peace”.

Born Mary O’Mahony in Clontarf, Dublin, in May 1939, her mother Kitty was a niece of Michael Collins and moved to Dublin after the family home in Woodfield, Co Cork, was burned by British forces in 1921. Her father Jim, a bank clerk and sometime actor, died when she was 10.

She left Ireland in the mid-1950s to train as a nurse in London. Four years later, she moved to the United States and lived in New York, Canada and Kenya, where she worked as an aid worker.

She met and married an Italian doctor, Giovanni Banotti. The couple lived in Rhodesia but eventually moved to Rome, where her daughter Tania was born. After the marriage broke up, Ms Banotti and her daughter returned to Dublin in October 1970.

She got a job as a nurse with Irish Distillers, at the same time throwing herself into numerous social causes. Having failed to get elected to the government in a 1983 by-election, and in a bid for the Seanad, she was first elected to the European Parliament, representing the Dublin constituency, in 1984. She came second to former president Mary McAleese in the 1997 presidential election.

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