Educated at the Louis Convent, Carrickmacross, Co. Monaghan, Barnes unsuccessfully contested the 1981 general election in the Dún Laoghaire constituency, and after a further defeat at the February 1982 general election she was elected to the 16th Seanad on the Labour Panel.
She was first elected to Dáil Éireann at the November 1982 general election and retained her seat until losing it at the 1992 general election. She was re-elected at the 1997 general election and retired at the 2002 general election.
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