General Election
Feb 9, 2020

Higher Education Minister Mary Mitchell O’Connor Loses Seat

The former minister for higher education finished just 500 votes behind Fianna Fáil's Cormac Devlin.

Cormac WatsonDeputy Editor

Former Minister for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor has lost her seat tonight, having been eliminated on the eighth count.

Running in the Dún Laoghaire constituency, Mitchell O’Connor finished just under 500 votes behind Fianna Fáil’s Cormac Devlin. People Before Profit’s Richard Boyd Barrett, Fine Gael’s Jennifer Carroll MacNeill and the Green Party’s Ossian Smyth took the other three seats in the constituency.

On Twitter, the former minister said she wanted to thank “all the people who opened their doors to me, all who discussed their concerns and hopes with me”.


Mitchell O’Connor, who was appointed Minister for Higher Education in 2017, has had a chequered time in the job, having presided over a worsening higher education funding crisis, with little sign of it abating.

Over the course of the past three years, Mitchell O’Connor has focused her attention primarily on the amalgamation of institutes of technology into technological universities, as well as placing a greater emphasis on gender equality in higher education.

This year, the minister announced 20 new women-only professorships – including two in Trinity – as part of the first phase of a new initiative designed to improve gender balance at the top levels of third-level education. In 2018, Technological University Dublin was created as an amalgamation of Dublin Institute of Technology, Institute of Technology Tallaght and Institute of Technology Blanchardstown.

However, her tenure was overshadowed by a crisis in higher education funding, and by the government’s indecision on what route the government should take in funding the third-level sector, drawing ire from students and college administrations alike.

Provost Patrick Prendergast has not shied away from criticising the government’s approach to higher education in recent years. Last week, during a debate in Trinity in which Mitchell O’Connor was participating, Prendergast was unambiguous in his assessment of the “crisis” facing the sector. “We have the resources”, he said, in an arch opening statement. “But do we have the leadership?”

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