Ireland: Women address need for their critical mass (50/50) in Government ranks Print E-mail

 Dublin ¬ Thursday, March 8, 2012

Call for gender balance in Cabinet

Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, with TDs and Senators from all parties on the plinth at Leinster House after a breakfast to celebrate International Women’s Day. (Alan Betson/The Irish Times)


Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton has told an International Women’s Day event that the Cabinet should have a 50/50 gender balance.

Speaking at the An Cosán lunch in the Shelbourne Hotel, Dublin, Ms Burton described as “disappointingly low” the total number of women in the Dáil and in the Seanad.

“People have speculated that I might have had a little disappointment this time last year, but actually my real disappointment on joining the Cabinet was that it wasn’t a Cabinet of 50/50,” she said.

Ms Burton was referring to her appointment as Minister for Social Protection, instead of being elevated to an economic ministry as had been widely predicted.

“There are about 17 people who sit around the Cabinet table and just three of those are women: two women members of Cabinet and one minister of state [Jan O’Sullivan]. We also though have a woman Attorney General [Maire Whelan], the first,” she said.

“So women are breaking a lot of glass ceilings but there’s no doubt that in politics we don’t have a critical mass of women which would lead to, if you like, a rainbow Cabinet in Ireland with much stronger representation of women and men.”

Ms Burton said in that case, to quote former US president Bill Clinton, “you wouldn’t always be bean-counting”. She added: “You would just see women and men there in roughly equal numbers representing all of the experience that both have to bring.”

Earlier, journalist Olivia O’Leary, speaking at the Women for Election event in the Mansion House in Dublin, said “we need to start talking about a requirement for Governments to have at least 30 per cent of females in Cabinets”.

Ms O’Leary said to encourage more women into politics, they needed to see more role models.


 Dublin ¬ Friday 09 March 2012

Unacceptable for women to collude with State's gender apartheid any longer

OPINION: If women demand a fair share of boys’ sweets, we could end up with some blood on the floor, writes ANTHEA McTEIRNAN 

‘WHAT THEY said about the flaming red hair speaks appropriately for her fight for Cork.” Was Enda Kenny’s recent gaffe on Minister of State Kathleen Lynch’s red hair just condescending cheese? Or should some of us ladies get a life and lighten up?

Journalist Olivia O’Leary was certainly in no mood to cut the Taoiseach any slack. “There’s more to her than her red hair,” said the fiery (brunette) MC of the recent How to Elect More Women conference in Dublin.

It was an inspirational day. We were reminded of facts that should shock us, but don’t. As a society, we seem to be immune to the humdinger of gender discrimination still staring at us.

The statistics rattle off the tongue. Women hold a mere 25 of the 166 seats in the 31st Dáil. That’s 15.1 per cent. Of the 4,744 Dáil seats filled since 1918, only 260 have been held by women. Only 91 women have been elected TDs since the foundation of the State, half of them part of a male electoral dynasty. Ireland stands in 79th place in the global gender electoral league table. So 78 countries are doing better. Globally, the average for elected female representatives is 20 per cent. In Europe it’s 22.3 per cent.

Those damned statistics are meant to show how unreconstructed we are in Ireland. But all they do is show that gender inequality is truly a planet-sized problem.

One of the biggest obstacles to redistributing power is that no one likes giving away half their sweets. Anyone who’s ever been in possession of a packet of Rolos will tell you that. But that’s what the lads are going to have to do.

The recent Electoral (Amendment) (Political Funding) Bill 2011, which requires that 30 per cent of election candidates must be women by 2016, means we ladies can apply to be in the shake-up for a Rolo when one becomes available in 2016. We’re not guaranteed a share of the boys’ sweets, of course; we can merely put ourselves on the list for a grab at some electoral confectionery before they grip the top of the bag even tighter.

All the parties have begun to try to fill the cavity caused by the dearth of women partaking of their electoral pick’n’mix. Fine Gael general secretary Tom Curran was honest when he told the How to Elect More Women conference that implementing the quotas would present a “huge challenge” for all parties.

“The reality is there’s going to be blood on the floor,” he said. If the boys fail to select enough – or any – women on a local ticket, the party will step in and add female candidates, Curran said.

Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore went further. Quizzed on whether he would be prepared to stand aside for a woman candidate at the next election, he said: “To be honest, personally, I’d be very happy to pass it on to someone who’s willing to take it on.” Applications on a postcard, please, to . . .

A box of Celebrations to him for telling it like it is. Some men will have to step down. Men who are committed to creating a society where everyone has a say will have to take one for the team.

Opponents of quotas say men are elected because they are better candidates. We need to ask whether this is true. Meritocracy in the Irish electoral system is a myth. A woman is as capable of representing the electorate as a man. Have any of our male politicians covered themselves in glory? We should be more afraid of the status quo than of change.

When the Irish electorate is actually given the choice of voting for women, women are elected in equal measure to men. Nothing to be afraid of, then, for male politicians. Oh, wait a minute . . .

A wise Irishwoman (okay, Mary Robinson) once said “a society that is without the voice and vision of a woman is not less feminine. It is less human.” It is unacceptable that we collude with this gender apartheid any longer. We’ve been basking in our aptitude for powersharing on this island. It was a challenge met. Now we must meet it again.

It’s time for some of the men in our political parties to give up their seat for a woman. As long as it’s not on a bus, we’ll take it.

Anthea McTeirnan is an Irish Times journalist.