Joe McHugh

Joe McHugh
Minister of State for the Diaspora and
Overseas Development
Assumed office
19 May 2016
Taoiseach Enda Kenny
Preceded by Jimmy Deenihan
Minister of State for Gaeltacht Affairs and Natural Resources
In office
July 2014  May 2016
Taoiseach Enda Kenny
Preceded by Dinny McGinley
Succeeded by Seán Kyne
Teachta Dála
Assumed office
February 2016
Constituency Donegal
Teachta Dála
In office
May 2007  February 2016
Constituency Donegal North-East
In office
September 2002  May 2007
Constituency Administrative Panel
Personal details
Born (1971-07-16) 16 July 1971
Carrigart, Donegal, Ireland
Nationality Irish
Political party Fine Gael
Spouse(s) Olwyn Enright
Children 2
Alma mater NUI, Maynooth

Joe McHugh (born 16 July 1971) is an Irish Fine Gael politician and a Teachta Dála (TD) for the Donegal constituency. He previously served as a TD for the Donegal North-East constituency between 2007 and 2016, and as a senator in Seanad Éireann between 2002 and 2007.[1] From 2014 to 2016, he was appointed Minister of State with responsibility for Gaeltacht Affairs and Natural Resources at the Departments of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and Communications, Energy and Natural Resources.

Early life

Born in Carrigart, County Donegal, McHugh was educated at Umlagh National School and the Loreto Convent, Milford. He attended the National University of Ireland, Maynooth, where he received an honours degree in economics and sociology, and a higher diploma in education. A keen sportsman, McHugh has been a member of the Carrigart Boxing Club, has played soccer in the Donegal League with Cranford F.C. and Bonagee United F.C., and has also been a Gaelic footballer. McHugh taught geography and mathematics at the Loreto Convent Secondary School, Letterkenny from 1993 to 1995. From 1995–96 he taught A-level economics in Dubai, during which time he helped establish the first GAA club in the United Arab Emirates. In 1996, he returned to Ireland and became a youth worker in the Ballyboe area of Letterkenny.

Political career

Donegal County Council

Selected by Fine Gael to run for a Donegal County Council seat in the Milford Electoral area, McHugh was elected on 11 June 1999. In 2001, he introduced a motion to establish a youth council for the county, which led to the formation of the Donegal Youth Council, the first democratically elected youth forum in Ireland. He also worked closely with Young Fine Gael, helping to establish the first branch in the county in March 2004. While a member of the council, he was appointed chairman of the cross-border body ERNACT (European Region Network for the Application of Communications Technology), where he made the provision of broadband in border areas a priority.

Seanad Éireann

He was elected to Seanad Éireann by the Administrative Panel in 2002, where he served as spokesperson on Community, Rural, Gaeltacht and Marine Affairs. McHugh set up a full-time constituency office in Letterkenny. When Fine Gael chose him as its Donegal North-East candidate for the Dáil, he moved into a new constituency office, which was officially opened by Fine Gael party leader Enda Kenny on 6 October 2006.

Dáil Éireann

After a surprise poll-topping victory in Donegal North-East, where he captured 22.6 percent of the first preference vote, McHugh was elected to Dáil Éireann at the 2007 general election.[2] His wife Olwyn Enright also won re-election to the Dáil, making them the third married couple to be elected to sit in the same Dáil.[3] McHugh was appointed party deputy spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and the Department of the Taoiseach with special responsibility for North-South Co-operation in October 2007. McHugh was re-elected to the Dáil at the 2011 general election, attaining 19.3% of the first-preference vote.

In January 2011, McHugh called for a monument, funded by the government, in Donegal, dedicated to the founding of the Ulster Volunteer Force in 1912.[4] McHugh was criticised by Eileen Doherty, a sister of Donegal County Councillor Eddie Fullerton, who was assassinated by loyalists in 1991. Doherty claimed McHugh and other Fine Gael councillors in Donegal had snubbed a number of commemorative events and opposed the building of a monument in Fullerton's memory in Buncrana. Fullerton was the third elected official in the Republic of Ireland to be assassinated.[5]

In Manchester in October 2011, McHugh became the first Fine Gael TD to address delegates from the British Conservative Party. He described it as an "opportunity."[6]

On 15 July 2014, he was appointed as Minister of State with responsibility for Gaeltacht Affairs and Natural Resources at the Departments of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and Communications, Energy and Natural Resources.[7] His appointment was met with criticism as his knowledge of the Irish language was at a basic level,[8][9] although he subsequently received praise for his efforts to improve his language skills to the point where he could conduct lengthy interviews in the language.[10] RTÉ Radio 1 created the radio documentary Fine Gaeilgeoir, narrated and produced by Máire Treasa Ní Cheallaigh, following McHugh's efforts to improve his Irish over the course of a year.[11] The appointment of a non-Irish speaker to a Gaeltacht ministry has since become known as a "Joe McHugh moment", with Shane Ross having written of as having his own in May 2016.[12]

In February 2016, McHugh was heavily criticised for allocating 93% of Gaeltacht grants to the Donegal Gaeltacht, which is located in and beside his constituency. This revelation led to calls for McHugh to appear before the Public Account's Committee of Dáil Éireann, in order to explain such a disproportionate allocation of funding.[13]

At the 2016 general election, after a redrawing of constituency boundaries, McHugh was elected to the new five-seater Donegal constituency on the 11th count.[14]

The following May, he escorted Charles and Camilla around Donegal during their day visit to the county.[15]

Personal life

In July 2005, McHugh married Olwyn Enright, who served as a Fine Gael TD for Laois–Offaly from 2002 to 2011. They have two children.[16][17]

See also


  1. "Mr. Joe McHugh". Oireachtas Members Database. Retrieved 1 October 2009.
  2. "Joe McHugh". Retrieved 1 October 2009.
  3. Michael O'Higgins and Brigid Hogan-O'Higgins both served in the 16th Dáil, 17th Dáil and 18th Dáil, and Alexis FitzGerald, Jnr and Mary Flaherty both served as members in the 23rd Dáil.
  4. "Deputy McHugh Leads Campaign to Mark 100th Anniversary of UVF". Donegal Today. 9 January 2012. Retrieved 11 January 2012.
  5. "Sister of Murdered Councillor Writes Open Letter to Fine Gael Over Plans for Commemoration". Donegal Today. 12 January 2012. Retrieved 10 January 2012.
  6. "Fine Gael TD to address Conservative conference". BBC News. 4 October 2011. Retrieved 4 October 2011.
  7. "Simon Harris among new Ministers of State". RTÉ News. 15 July 2014.
  8. "New Gaeltacht affairs minister Joe McHugh books Irish language course". RTÉ News. 15 July 2014. Retrieved 16 July 2014.
  9. "Gerry Adams and Enda Kenny's 'as gaeilge' stand off over Joe McHugh's Irish". The Journal. 15 July 2014. Retrieved 16 July 2014.
  10. ""An incredible inspiration": Gaeltacht minister Joe McHugh on learning Irish from a New Yorker". The Journal. 30 August 2015. Retrieved 29 February 2016.
  11. "Fine Gaeilgeoir". RTÉ. Retrieved 29 February 2016.
  12. Ross, Shane (8 May 2016). "Finally face to face with those who suffered my most fierce criticism". Sunday Independent.
  13. "Gaeltacht minister 'should explain' allocation of grants". RTÉ News. 11 February 2016.
  14. Moriarty, Gerry (28 February 2016). "Donegal count: Independent Thomas Pringle takes final seat". The Irish Times. Retrieved 29 February 2016.
  15. Prince Charles and Duchess begin Donegal visit
  16. Sheahan, Fionnan (3 November 2009). "FG's Olwyn celebrates baby with TD husband". Irish Independent.
  17. "Fine Gael couple's joy at birth of second child". Irish Independent. 16 December 2010.
Preceded by
Cecilia Keaveney
(Fianna Fáil)
Fine Gael Teachta Dála for Donegal North-East
Political offices
Preceded by
Dinny McGinley
Minister of State for Gaeltacht Affairs and Natural Resources
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