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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: March 13, 2011 @ 10:16 pm

    Butcher, Baker, Cabinet-Maker

    Deaglán de Bréadún

    It’s an unlikely prospect, but if any TDs in the Government parties feel they were excluded from Cabinet because of either being too young or a female, a legal case could theoretically be taken against the Taoiseach and Tánaiste.

    The recent encounter betweeen Michael Noonan and Joan Burton on the Pat Kenny radio show gives a clue as to why she failed to get one of the Finance ministies. It was clear from that broadcast that the Fine Gael TD from Limerick was not a great fan of his Labour counterpart from  Dublin West.

    It has been clear for a long time that Eamon Gilmore is a big fan of Joan’s at a political level. He has often spoken of his admiration for her tireless work as Finance Spokeswoman. But it does appear as if Noonan and Burton in the same building in Merrion Street could have been a  difficult political marriage,  with the grand partnership of Fine Gael and Labour ending up on the rocks in fairly short order.

    That, rather than any gender discrimination, was probably the issue. Having said that, however, there should be more women in Government. There should also be more women in the Dail. And women, who make up half the population, should in my humble opinion (along with progressive-minded males) make a point of voting for women candidates. By the same token, when female TDs retire, they should  seek to bring other women on in their place rather than backing a male family relative (as should progressively-minded male Deputies.)

    As for the age thing, yes, this Cabinet leans a good bit towards the “senior” side. It would have been refreshing to see some newish faces at the table. But young-ish doesn’t necessarily mean good and if this lot can get a  handle on the economic situation nobody will care if they have as many bus-passes as Methuselah.

    • BB says:

      Yes, Deaglán, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head there, re who got what ministry revolving around the unfeasibility of a Noonan/Burton finance alliance and that was my instinct also.
      As I remember it, Ms Burton when in opposition was very outspoken (in her own inimitable way) about the cuts to social welfare in the now historic Brian Lenihan budget (which under the circumstances were absolutely essential) and the same Ms Burton was particularly vociferous in her condemnations re abolishing the Christmas bonus – accusing the then minister of cancelling Christmas. I wonder just how festive the Festive Season will be come Christmas 2011 for “the poor” in our society now that Minister Burton is pulling those particular purse strings and having set herself up as a champion of “the poor” when in opposition.
      Btw anyone know if there’s a crèche anywhere in the Houses of the Oireachteas?

    • In this context, this piece by my colleague Mary Minihan in today’s paper makes interesting reading: http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/ireland/2011/0314/1224292062260.html

    • Ben Tonra says:

      In view of Mary’s article, I am still struck by how easily Eamon Gilmore was ‘rolled’ by the Labour big beasts – Howlin, Quinn etc. I am less convinced that Gilmore bowed to the personality preferences of Michael Noonan, than to a sense that Gilmore felt somehow insecure.Insecure in cabinet without Old Labour figures or else insecure in his party leadership if he had faced down these figures and excluded them from cabinet. Just bemused really.

    • Someone said to me that Burton needs to be a Captain, a head of her Deptartment, that she would be wasted watching the till as Noonan rang up the numbers, so Howlin’s been put in there to “mark” Noonan. Noonan or another, I’m happier to see her in charge of a full ministry than forced to mind her mouth around the Limerick bruiser. I am a fan of hers but part of my appreciation is that she has not been deferential and indeed has been headstrong and confident in her analyses, which she ought to be. Should Noonan ever need replacing for whatever reason, I would hope for her being slotted into Finance with Bruton marking her.

      On women and elections I think the innate conservatism of Irish society is pretty evident from one aspect, that surprised me: the number of female independent candidates who ran. Here there is self-selection for candidates, no male-dominated selection conventions or party organisations. The numbers (I totted them up from Candidate Watch.ie) are woeful:

      164 male Independent candidates ran to 17 female.
      15 out of 181 elected: 13 men and 2 women.
      Women are slightly more likely to be elected than men although that number of candidates is so small that it’s really not a meaningful difference.They got 14% more first preferences per candidate than men. There’s nothing negative about being a female independent. Yet they don’t run. Catherine Connolly is one of the few female independents that ran after not being selected by her party (Labour) and she polled very very strongly. But she’s an exception: its not as though there’s dozens of female candidates being denied the chance to run. ONE sole female independent candidate ran in any of the Dublin Constituencies (Maureen O’Sullivan and she was elected). It’s appalling. Where are the female Shane Rosses, Dylan Haskins, Mannix Flynns, Finian McGraths. There are plenty of qualified women in law, eductation, finance, journalism, why won’t any of them run?

      In an election where unprecedented numbers of non-party candidates went forward and where a large number were returned thanks to an +6.8% swing in share of first preferences over 2007, female candidates did not seek office independently of parties. Maybe I’m making too much of Independents but the numbers were striking enough for me to tot them up.

      I’m betting the figures are a lot better within parties, but I’m also betting that female participation within parties isn’t pushing anywhere near parity. Do female candidates just think that being an independent TD isn’t worth pursuing by comparison with being a party TD? I’d love to see some good research on attitudes.

      I support quotas, not necessarily because parties need remediation in their selection but because there isn’t a political culture on either side of the gender divide encouraging women to run. That kind of apathy is not in anyone’s interest. It allows the room for misogyny to fester.

    • robespierre says:

      There is an old (not particularly funny) joke about Abraham, father of the Jews, Muslims and Christians, who lived to be 180. He had to be a lawyer or accountant as only lawyers and accountants charge that many hours.

      There is an element of being around the clock (more than once) in the cabinet. My main concern is whether or not politicians that are capable of understanding the modern economy and how Ireland can not just re-position for growth but potentially be the single best place to drive the cloud-enabled revolution from.

      If Brendan Howlin wants to save public expenditure, one very large part of the answer lies in e-government and the cloud. Will he get this? I have little faith that he will. He will deal with political consequences of automating jobs that are no longer needed and fudge.

      As to the gender issue, they could have chosen otherwise. Gilmore could have with little overall impact on what was brought to the table at cabinet. He choose not to. Labour have far more “contenders” for office that are female than FG have. Many of them have been named widely in the press. Gilmore chose to go down the club-tie route. Leadership means making unpalatable decisions. He choose to include Pat Rabbitte and Ruairi Quinn and Brendan Howlin. Are they the best people for their briefs? Is Rabbitte actually technologically fluent? I have never heard him talk about net neutrality.

      Gilmore’s decision whether based on friendship, realpolitics, backroom deals or (very unlikely) chauvinism is above all else extremely conservative.

      I had hoped for a Lemass-like commitment to getting things moving and reforming. I think Joe Lee used the phrase “an old man in a hurry” to describe Lemass. I had hoped that this cabinet would adopt that spirit.

      Sadly they have gone down the Aristotelian rather than Platonic route in deploying female talent. Aristotle thought they were (barely) for baby making, Plato that they were as important to a republic as a warrior’s right arm. That is a 2000 year old argument. Plus ca change….

    • sonykopines says:

      I gave my No. 1 to a female and No. 2 to her male running mate in the election just gone. First time for everything and I voted for both Sinn Feiners on a single principle, which I’ve banged on about long enough now. Wouldn’t care if they’d each of them three heads and a balaclava on all six they had my vote ‘cos they’re the only party still promising to close down a certain moral and karmic suppurating national chest wound down round Shannon way. Enuf of that. Point is I also gave first preference to the (younger, less experienced) female candidate because I do in fact think women are under-represented in Irish politics. Begs a question driven also by the middle sentence in your penultimate para above, Deaglan. If confronted by 2 candidates, one female of unproven ability and tender years, one male of proven ability and experience, ought Mná na hEireann (and any Fir na hEireann who want to see the gender balance realigned) vote for the woman on principle? I believe so even though I also believe the old Greek was right when he said ‘Let them govern those who govern best’.

    • Tittlecat says:

      Mary Minihan’s piece is depressing – a ‘senior Labour source’. So now they’ve taken to briefing against one another, ‘it weren’t me, it were him!’ style? Has anyone told these people that there’s a real crisis going on out there? That there is no alternative to the government that’s been formed? That their responsibility to the hundreds of thousands of voters who cast their first preference for Labour and to those who campaigned for them is not to make an unseemly disgrace of themselves at the first opportunity that arises? The display of vanity and sense of entitlement on display over the past few days is cringemaking. It doesn’t augur well for the success of this government. This isn’t about gender; it’s about ego.

    • Cathal says:

      Minihan’s peice is unsubstantiated gossip Deaglan and nowhere have I heard it said that Quinn ‘demanded’ a senior ministry. All this background sniping seems to be emanating from the same sources I would reckon.
      In all of this it is ignored that Gilmore of 11 positions in his gift gave 5 to women (incl AG) and that 50% of Labour Juniors are women.

      Enda of his 20 spots (9 Seniors, 9 Juniors, 1 CC & 1 Chief Whip) gave only 2 spots to women.

      Problem here isn’t Labour.

    • Joanna Tuffy says:

      I don’t agree with your suggestion that women should vote for women candidates because they are women. Men represent women and men and women represent women and men. We are all human beings at the end of the day and women vote just like men do, for the candidate, male or female, they prefer most. We do need more women in politics, from the grassroots up, but that is a separate issue to the Leaders of our Government picking the right person for the job, and in this case the right women were passed over in favour of men at the last minute it seems, which can’t therefore, on the face of it, have been for the right reasons.

    • sonykopines says:

      Wouldn’t envy Joan Burton her new role. For someone of her principles presiding over what’s going to be done to the level of social protection here …will be the hardest thing for her to swallow and to sell. Rather think she has een setup there. Others in government there are who’d be more suited to taking the knife to the vulnerable perhaps.


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