If you went in search of a more proud Kenmare man, you’d be hard pushed to find someone more passionate than Sen-ator Mark Daly.
Local issues and campaigns have forged his political career since his late teens, but his love of his home town stems from something much more than politics – rather a real sense of belonging and pride in what he calls one of the real gems of Kerry.
Back in June, Mark was appointed Cathoirleach of Seanad Éireann – becom-ing the first ever Kerry politician and the youngest ever Fianna Fáil Senator to hold the office. Some might say it was just re-ward for 13 diligent years in the Senate and it’s a role Mark says he is honoured to accept.
“It’s a great honour, being the first person from Kerry and the youngest of my par-ty to ever hold the office, but I am well aware it’s a daunting task because it’s one of the few jobs described in the Consti-tution,” he tells Connect. “On a day to day basis, it involves a lot of setting legisla-tion and the business of making laws in parliament, so that’s very important. The Senate basically acts as a safety check on legislation that gets through the Dáil.”
He is well aware that his role and deci-sion making at such a high level impacts on the lives of the ordinary people, with Mark outlining the Senate’s key functions:
“You’re basically deciding whether or not amendments being submitted fall within the rules of the House and with-in the Constitution,” he explained. “People are putting amendments into legislation and you have to decide whether or not to allow those to go forward. Making laws which affect and impact people’s lives is the im-portant work of the Dail and the Senate so that’s a role that requires the scrutiny that it deserves. Those amendments can have a huge impact on people so you need to make sure the laws that are passed are done so in a way that benefit the wider community.”
Mark was first elected to Seanad Éireann in 2007, but his political interest began much, much earlier than that – again with Kenmare very much to the forefront of his career, as he explains:
“I suppose it started off as early as my Leaving Cert year when I was involved in the 75th anniversary celebrations of the 1916 Rising. We also established a Fian-na Fáil Cumann in Kenmare in or around 1992, which was involved in a number of local campaigns – so my political career started a long way back really.”
He then went on to work with former MEP Brian Crowley on various campaigns for several years, before eventually decid-ing to run for the Senate himself in 2007. Asked why he chose the Senate and not the Dáil, Mark said it was all about timing – and of course political party decisions.
“Back in 2007, the candidates on the tick-et for the party were Tom Fleming and John O’Donoghue, so quite simply there was no space there,” he explained. “But I felt there was space for a Fianna Fail Sen-ator for Kerry and it’s just the way things worked out in terms of the party decision in how they were going to select candi-dates.”
It was a decision that he would never look back on, and 13 years later Mark says he is very proud of the work he has done and the committees and campaigns he has been involved in and spearheaded. Among these,
he says, was the launch of the first ever report in the history of the Dáil or the Senate of uniting Ireland.
On a more local level, Kenmare and south Kerry has of course been to the forefront:
“On a Kerry basis, being involved in the Kenmare Hospital Action Group and fi-nally getting that over the line after nu-merous decades of promises was a stand-out moment,” Mark said. “And Valentia Coastguard Station, of course. Twice the government tried to close it and twice, along with the community, we fought to keep it and succeeded and now it’s bring-ing badly needed employment into the area.”
But Mark did dabble in other careers be-fore committing to a life in politics – none more notable than his stint in reality TV. He laughs when he is reminded of his appearance on Treasure Island in 2002 – but reveals it brought un-told, and quite unexpected joy to
his nan, Peg Daly in Tralee.
“Ah yes, that was quite something, but it was the very early days of reality TV,” he reluctantly recalls. “But I have to say, there were two standout highlights that came from that – the first was making the front cover of RTE Guide, which was BIG. My granny used to buy the RTE guide every week for her grandson to make the cover was just huge.
“But nearly as big as that – in fact bigger I’d say – was in that year, and because we’d just finished the show, I was invited to the Rose Ball and I brought with win-ner and other competitor with me. I got my granny into the VIP viewing stand for the parade and myself and the other two led the parade. While none of her grand-daughters were ever contestants in the festival, the fact that her grandson led the parade was one of those interesting high-lights of the reality TV days.”
Mark also spent some time working with his father Sean in the family’s auction-eering firm after college, but was always drawn to politics and committed himself fulltime following his election in 2007.
“I did work in auctioneering with my fa-ther for a while, but if I’m honest I spent more time involved in football back then and was chairman of Kenmare GAA Club at the age of 26, so that was a good lesson in the art of politics,” he laughs.
But despite his impressive rise in political life in the capital, home is undoubtedly where Mark heart still lies…and always will. He has the fondest memories of growing up in Kenmare and is quite proud of “My father’s side, the Dalys, are from Traee and my mother’s side, the O’Connors, are from Kenmare. So O’Connor’s Bar in the town was started by my great grandfa-ther many years ago and my uncle Tim and cousin Jimmy run it now. It’s one of the oldest bars in Kenmare in terms of be-ing established and run by the same fam-ily,” he explained.
“My uncle Denis, who has passed away since, was the local doctor for many years and lived on the top of Main Street. My father Sean and mother Eileen were, and still are, very involved in Kenmare – from Tidy Towns, sport, the chamber of com-merce and other community activities and campaigns, which is how I got in-volved. We don’t always succeed we defi-nitely always try.”
Mark says he loves to come home every weekend and can usually be found at some local sports club or another cheer-ing on the next generation!
“I get home every weekend and more often than not go straight to the football field,” he admits. “I love to watch all my nieces and nephews in action – they play all sorts of sports from Gaelic to soccer or some level of sport and I love being there to see that. I love to come home to Ken-mare. It is still a relatively a small town but it’s one of the real gems of not only Kerry and not only Ireland.”
In his new role as chair of the Senate, Mark says that laws and amendments relating to Covid19 are obviously taking centre stage, but during his tenure he is also very committed to creating a greater understanding of how the Senate works and its vital function.
As Cathaoirleach, my ambition is to open it up to the people and see what it does and what its function is. If any errors are made in the first drafting they can be caught in the Senate. That’s one of the key elements, but it also raises issues of concern to people. Its purpose is to act as a second chamber – a second opinion on legislation if you like – and I’d like to focus on that. Basically, to explain the job public representatives are doing for the public and make them understand.”
Asked finally if he had any Dáil ambi-tions down the line, Mark was remarka-ble forthright: “Well yes, if an opportuni-ty comes along – and hopefully at some stage that might happen,” he admits. “But more often than not, especially with a po-litical party, that’s beyond your control.”