Gemma Hussey, 
Minister for Education writes about her time in the Cabinet

At least twice a week we gathered in the Cabinet room and often it was more frequently. I would climb into the State car at home at about 10 a.m., with several heavy black briefcases, and use the few minutes drive to Merrion Street to bone up once again on the arguments and figures surrounding the latest Education crisis or other urgent Government business.

My private secretary, the ever efficient and loyal Peter Baldwin, waited for me in the Communications Room directly across the corridor from the Cabinet room, with whatever urgent files he or the Department officials felt I must see before disappearing into Cabinet.

I would have a list of messages, requests and requirements which had accumulated from whatever functions or meetings I'd been at the night before and from the stream of early morning phone calls at home. Finally, with Peter's assistance, I got myself and the several briefcases through the double doors into the Cabinet room.

... It was a Cabinet which had to deal with a massive financial crisis at a time when no political consensus existed; it was therefore tense and difficult as Labour came under fierce pressure from their left wing - who never gave, and still don't give the impression of being able or willing to undertake the responsibilities of Government.

Those of us in high-spending Ministries were put under particular strain therefore, and faced weekly Dáil storms from Fianna Fáil as well as constituency unpopularity and continual public controversy in every county in Ireland.

So sometimes the Cabinet room, understandably, represented a haven or place where we all understood why we were doing what we were doing and sympathised with whichever colleague was having a rough time (that frequently seemed to be me ...).

Of course the main problem was that Ministers for Finance rarely agreed to any spending proposal and fought the battles at full Cabinet, while the Taoiseach was always so concerned to allow such full freedom of speech that Cabinet meetings took too long.

Gemma Hussey, At the cutting edge: cabinet diaries 1982-1987, Dublin, 1990, p.3.


  1. What kind of source is this?
  2. What was the purpose of the author in writing this book, in your opinion?
  3. Evaluate the extract above as historical evidence for Ireland in the 1980s.
  4. The Cabinet met ______ a week in the _______________. Gemma Hussey was in a Cabinet which had to deal with a massive _________ . The Taoiseach allowed such freedom of _______ that _______ meetings took too long.
  5. List three problems she mentions of being in Cabinet at that time.
  6. Why were high-spending departments, like Education, under 'particular strain' at that time?
  7. Why did the Labour Party come under 'fierce pressure,' in Gemma Hussey's opinion?
  8. Why, according to Gemma Hussey, did Taoiseach Garret Fitzgerald let Cabinet meetings take so long?


  1. Compose a diary entry Gemma Hussey might have written after a Cabinet meeting where she had a 'rough time.'
  2. Research the experience of any other woman minister or TD and compare it with that of Gemma Hussey.
  3. Interview a woman member of the Oireachtas.
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