Jan O'Sullivan

Jan O'Sullivan
Minister for Education and Skills
In office
11 July 2014  6 May 2016
Taoiseach Enda Kenny
Preceded by Ruairi Quinn
Succeeded by Richard Bruton
Minister of State for Housing and Planning
In office
20 December 2011  11 July 2014
Taoiseach Enda Kenny
Preceded by Willie Penrose
Succeeded by Paudie Coffey
Minister of State for Trade and Development
In office
10 March 2011  20 December 2011
Taoiseach Enda Kenny
Preceded by New office
Succeeded by Joe Costello
Teachta Dála
Assumed office
February 2011
Constituency Limerick City
Teachta Dála
In office
March 1998  February 2011
Constituency Limerick East
In office
February 1993  July 1997
Constituency Administrative Panel
Personal details
Born (1950-12-06) 6 December 1950
Clonlara, Clare, Ireland
Nationality Irish
Political party Labour Party
Other political
Democratic Socialist Party (1982–91)
Spouse(s) Paul O'Sullivan
Children 2
Alma mater Trinity College, Dublin,
University College Cork
Religion Church of Ireland

Jan O'Sullivan (née Gale; born 6 December 1950) is an Irish Labour Party politician. She is a Teachta Dála (TD) for Limerick City constituency,[1] and was Minister for Education and Skills between 2014 and 2016.

Personal life

O'Sullivan was born in Clonlara, County Clare and educated at Villiers Secondary School, Limerick, where her father was a journalist. After graduating from Trinity College, Dublin, she took a Higher Diploma in Education at University College Cork. After working as a teacher for a short period of time, she studied as a Montessori teacher[2] while living in Canada. After returning to Ireland, in the late 1970s, O'Sullivan helped to run Limerick's Family planning clinic.

A member of the Church of Ireland, she married a Roman Catholic, Paul O'Sullivan, with whom she has one daughter and one son.[2] She chose to spend time at home while having her children and once they were in school she ran a playgroup in the mornings, spent time with the children in the afternoon and did political work in the evenings.[3]

Political career

Democratic Socialist: 1982–90

O'Sullivan entered politics in 1982 by joining the Democratic Socialist Party (DSP), a small party founded by Limerick TD Jim Kemmy, who had previously been a member of the Labour Party. There had been no political tradition in her family—her parents had supported different parties—and her choice of party was based on her support for Kemmy's anti-nationalist stance on Northern Ireland, and his advocacy of family planning services and a pro-choice approach to abortion.[3]

O'Sullivan was elected to Limerick City Council in 1985, and also served as a member of the Mid-Western Health Board from 1991 to 2003.[4]

Labour: 1990s

O'Sullivan joined the Labour Party when the DSP merged with Labour in 1990, having been one of the DSP's negotiators in the merger discussions.[3] At the 1992 general election, as the running-mate of the DSP's founder Jim Kemmy, she narrowly missed winning a second seat for Labour in Limerick East.[5] In 1993 she was elected to the 20th Seanad on the Administrative Panel, and became leader of the Labour group in Seanad Éireann.[2]

From 1993 to 1994 O'Sullivan was Mayor of Limerick, and her religion twice became an issue in 1994 when she was prevented from opening a Christian Brothers school and from reading a lesson at a mass for Limerick's civic week. However, her religious denomination was not the only issue. Family planning was deeply controversial in Ireland from the 1970s to the 1990s, particularly in Limerick where Kemmy had lost his Dáil seat at the November 1982 general election after being denounced by the Catholic Church for his opposition to the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution of Ireland. Those such as O'Sullivan who were involved in the family planning services which Kemmy had helped found were labelled "Kemmy's Femmies".[2]

O'Sullivan was unsuccessful again at the 1997 general election,[5] but after Kemmy's death in September 1997 she was selected as the Labour Party candidate for the by-election in March 1998. She held the seat in a close three-way contest, becoming the first female TD from County Limerick since Kathleen O'Callaghan in 1921. Both the Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael candidates in the by-election were also women.[6]

Labour: 2000s

O'Sullivan was re-elected at the 2002, 2007 and 2011 general elections, and at the 1999 local elections became Limerick's first alderwoman (as well as its last, since the title was abolished by the Local Government Act 2001).

In the 28th Dáil she was the Labour Party spokesperson on Justice and Equality and a member of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Equality and Women's Rights.[2] In the 29th Dáil (2002–2007) she was Vice-Chair of both the Dáil Select Committee on Education and Science and the Joint Committee on Education and Science,[1] as well as her party's spokesperson on Education and Science.[4]

After Labour's disappointing performance at the 2007 general election, Pat Rabbitte resigned as leader and the outgoing deputy leader, Liz McManus, did not seek re-election. Eamon Gilmore was elected unopposed as leader,[7] and in a frontbench reshuffle on 16 September 2007 moved O'Sullivan to the high-profile role of spokesperson for Health.[8] O'Sullivan stood for the Deputy leadership, and was narrowly defeated by Dublin West TD Joan Burton, by 1480 votes to 1276.[9]

Government: 2011–16

On 10 March 2011 she was appointed as Minister of State for Trade and Development. On 20 December 2011 she was appointed as Minister of State for Housing and Planning.[10]

In July 2014 she was appointed Minister for Education and Skills.

In March 2015 the Government, with O'Sullivan the minister responsible, confirmed it would lock away for 75 years any statements it received from victims of child sexual abuse (almost twice the normal length). This decision was criticised by survivors.[11]

Opposition: 2016–present

O'Sullivan retained her seat in the Dáil following the 2016 general election, though only six of her Labour colleagues did likewise and the party returned to the opposition benches. O'Sullivan retained her position as Minister for Education and Skills until talks on government formation had concluded and her successor, Richard Bruton, was appointed. She earned €30,295 in that time.[12]


  1. 1 2 "Ms. Jan O'Sullivan". Oireachtas Members Database. Retrieved 10 January 2008.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 McNamara, Maedbh; Mooney, Paschal (2000). Women in Parliament: Ireland 1918–2000. Dublin: Wolfhound Press. ISBN 0-86327-759-4.
  3. 1 2 3 "Deputy Jan O'Sullivan". European database: Women in decision-making. 2001. Retrieved 10 January 2008.
  4. 1 2 "Jan O'Sullivan TD". Labour Party website. Retrieved 10 January 2008.
  5. 1 2 "Jan O'Sullivan". ElectionsIreland.org. Retrieved 10 January 2008.
  6. "Limerick East by-election, 11 March 1998". ElectionsIreland.org. Retrieved 10 January 2008.
  7. "Gilmore declared new Labour leader". RTÉ News. 6 September 2007. Retrieved 11 January 2008.
  8. Elaine Edwards (19 September 2007). "Gilmore names new front bench". The Irish Times. Retrieved 11 January 2008.
  9. Piaras Murphy (14 October 2007). "Burton elected Labour deputy leader in a tight contest". The Irish Times. Retrieved 8 January 2008.
  10. O'Sullivan was described as a "Super junior" minister at this time, because unlike other Ministers of State, she attended cabinet meetings. "Jan O'Sullivan named 'super junior' minister". RTÉ News. 20 December 2011. Retrieved 20 December 2011.
  11. Ó Cionnaith, Fiachra (4 March 2015). "75 years: Abuse files to be secret". Irish Examiner. Archived from the original on 9 March 2015. Retrieved 4 March 2015. The decision not to make the files publicly available [...] was put forward yesterday by Jan O'Sullivan, the education minister, and will see the files withheld for almost twice as long as State papers are normally kept.
  12. McGrath, Meadhbh (6 May 2016). "Revealed: The salaries TDs pocketed over 10 weeks of government talks". Irish Independent.
Civic offices
Preceded by
Joe Quinn
Mayor of Limerick
Succeeded by
Dick Sadler
Preceded by
Jim Kemmy
(Labour Party)
Labour Party Teachta Dála for Limerick East
Constituency abolished
New constituency Labour Party Teachta Dála for Limerick City
Political offices
New office Minister of State for Trade and Development
Mar.–Dec. 2011
Succeeded by
Joe Costello
Preceded by
Willie Penrose
Minister of State for Housing and Planning
Succeeded by
Paudie Coffey
Preceded by
Ruairi Quinn
Minister for Education and Skills
Succeeded by
Richard Bruton
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