01 Oct 2022

'We are all activists within our own lives and the community is so essential to that' - MEP Maria Walsh

MEP speaks to Kilkenny People's Siobhan Donohoe

"We are all activists within our own lives and the community is so essential to that. If we are not looking after it or protecting it, then everything falls short." - Maria Walsh

Maria Walsh was born in Boston and raised on a family farm along the Mayo-Galway border in Shrule.
In 2014, she was crowned the International Rose of Tralee. In the week following her coronation, Maria revealed that she is gay.
Up until July 2019, Maria served as a member of the Irish Reserve Defence Force in the First Armoured Cavalry Squadron, based in the Curragh in Co Kildare.
Maria was elected as a Member of the European Parliament for the Midlands–North-West constituency at the 2019 European Parliament elections. She is a member of Fine Gael and sits in the European People’s Party political group.
Maria is a full member of the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs and a substitute member of both the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs and the Fisheries Committee.
Maria is also the Irish EPP representative on the Delegation for relations with the United States and for the African, Caribbean, and Pacific Group of States.
She voted and her ballot was in the key state of Pennsylvania. Siobhan Donohoe caught up with Maria immediately after the inauguration of America’s newest President.
Here is a glimpse into Maria’s world…
Maria, will this inauguration will go down as a groundbreaking day in history?
Yes it will and it also has that sigh of relief that former President Trump has moved on and we have a new anchor in place in President Joe Biden, who will hopefully drive positive change.
January 20, 2021 had a lot of firsts, with glass ceilings been smashed right, left and centre which is always an exciting day!
I’m 33 and I grew up as an Obama baby and that great value based political leader always inspired me. So the inauguration ticked a lot of positive boxes for me.
In Biden’s speech he promised to ‘think not of power but of possibilities’, and reminded us that ‘our children and our children’s children will judge us’. Even the analogy of the father staring at the ceiling, worrying at night. He chose his words well.
From all his speeches to date and the team that he has built in the last coming weeks, you can see a great structure to it all.
You can see that he is an emotive speaker and he always has been. He has over 50 years working in the political life, so he is used to that and that’s the type of personality I have seen of him in all of his interviews.
What I was really enamoured about, was that it was simplistic. There was no waffle; instead it was a journey. It was an understanding that there are a lot of hardships to come. He was been transparent and really passionate.
We missed that in politics and I am not just saying that because of the past four years in America with President Trump. I think we’ve missed that throughout the world – that honesty, looking you in the eye, even if it’s looking down the camera lens and trying to inspire people.
We are all activists within our own lives and the community is so essential to that. So if we are not looking after it or protecting it, then everything falls short.
In my house I am known as a cold spirited person but there was a few tears shed, especially seen Vice President Harris.
Have you ever met either of them?
Not yet, but I always like to put some good affirmations out there that I will!
I’ve been fortunate enough to have met two past American Presidents. Randomly I met President Clinton as a student in Dublin and as the International Rose of Tralee in 2014. I met President Obama in the White House on St Patrick’s Day.
These people are changemakers, value based emotive leaders and I am as inspired by them as much as what is on our doorstep here.
Do you believe Biden’s Irishness? Does it come from the heart?
Absolutely. I was watching news briefings with him after he became President-Elect and a reporter had asked about the United Kingdom, trying to get the English slant from him. Biden made it clear to the reporter ‘I’m not English, I’m Irish’ and that was a clear definition from him.
I know he has been on holidays here many times, in particular in Mayo. The impact of him being the first Catholic President with Irish links since JFK will have huge drives for us even with tourism.
Every time I hear him speak he drops so much James Joyce, Irish literature and poetic voices than I remember reading in secondary school!
Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post once described Trump as ‘a heckler in chief and a conspiracy theorist with the biggest megaphone in the world.’ Do you think Trump is an anomaly and will he disappear now?
I would never say he was an isolated moment. On a daily basis, I learn in the European Union there’s this populist ‘them and us’ divisiveness. Throwing out a quick tweet to get a reaction, versus actually looking at the diplomatic and democratic voice and trying to put your best foot forward.
That is growing. We see it in Hungary, Poland and in we certainly see influences with Russia on line. The insurrection on the State Capitol earlier this month is testament that there are pockets of that Trumpism everywhere.
I hate giving it that name (Trumpism) as it’s giving him more super power, but it’s the easiest way to describe it.
I don’t think he is going to go away. I imagine from his goodbye speech that we will see another run from him. My team is always giving out to me for saying this, but I think we will see a more right wing conservative group spring from the Republican Party and that will be led by Trump.
That fire will continue to inflame if we don’t get people to understand that everything is built on compromise and negotiation and that’s how the world goes around. If we are inciting hate, that’s all that will stem from it.
Women made history on the steps of the Capitol last week – VP Harris and Amanda Gorman’s incredible speech. You made history too winning the Rose of Tralee in 2014 and coming out about your sexuality a week later. Was that planned or did you feel you had to declare that you are gay?
That’s a big stretch but I appreciate that, even to be in the mix of those names!
For me I had been living as a gay woman for many years and I always wanted to participate in the Rose of Tralee. I didn’t really dawn on me that I would even get selected. I was working for a fashion label in Philadelphia and I went to the Rose of Tralee to have some fun. I blew my 10 days annual vacation on it and I promised my boss I would be back.
A lot of people say that my face dropped when I won, but my immediate reaction was ‘oh my God, my boss is going to kill me!’
It was only the next day that the sexuality potential issue even dropped with me. The Sun newspaper asked me to make a comment, they wanted to make it positive. I thought absolutely but there was an element that I wanted to control. For me I was an older gay woman and I never wanted to be known as the gay Rose.
I do a lot of different things, I’m mad about GAA football, I volunteer, I worked in fashion, I have tattoos, I am a pioneer. There’s a lot of different facades to everyone regardless of their orientation and I didn’t want it to be limited.
Luckily the Sun came on board with that mindset and the rest is history. I was welcomed into many rooms with open arms and I didn’t break the Festival which is always positive!
What do you hope history will say about Maria Walsh?
This is probably the hardest question. I would hope history would write in a very small by-line somewhere that I showed up authentically with curiosity.
I think when you have both – authenticity and the curious brain – your awareness is continuously growing and you are never limiting yourself to always sitting on one side of the fence. You are constantly trying to challenge yourself and those around you.
Also it would be nice if history said I was kindhearted and passionate about Mayo GAA sportsmen and women. That I did an okay job in supporting people. Maybe it might say that I made one to two people comfortable in their own skin along the way.
You can watch Maria’s full interview with Siobhan on the Kilkenny People Newspaper YouTube Channel. They talk about Maria’s time as a Rose, her time in the military, the MEP life and raising mental health awareness.

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