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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: March 8, 2012 @ 10:07 am

    The Gender Challenge

    Mary Minihan

    UPDATE 16.38: Our man in Limerick, David Raleigh, reports that around 150 “proud sluts” marched through Limerick City today in their quest to reclaim the derogatory word ‘slut’ and make it a term of empowerment for women. Personally I’d be with my colleague Anthea McTeirnan when it comes to the “slut walk” phenomenon, but each to their own I suppose http://bit.ly/zmDKTh 

    UPDATE 16.25:

     Andrew MacDonald

    @AndrewMac81 reacts to Joan Burton: “rubbish! you cannot operate democracy on satisfying quotas. She should closely examine her philosophies!”

    UPDATE 15.40:  @kimleonard4 expressed scepticsim about gender quotas at Cabinet via twitter

    @minihanmary whilst I support more women in politics,gender quota at cabinet?should it not be based on who is the most qualified4 the job?


    UPDATE 15.35: Plently of speculation about Joan Burton’s leadership ambitions on twitter…

    Ciarán Mc Mahon 

    CJAMcMahon @jonnyfallon @minihanmary yeah, that’s what it was about – gender balance. And that’s what her knife-sharpening is about too, gender balance

    UPDATE 14.45: Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton made some very interesting remarks at the Women’s Day lunch. She said some people may have suspected she was disappointed with the role she was awarded when the Cabinet Ministries were distributed, “but my real disappointment was that it wasn’t a Cabinet of 50/50″ men and women.

    “We are breaking a lot of glass ceilings but there’s no doubht that in politics we don’t have a critical mass of women which would lead to an, if you like, rainbow Cabinet in Ireland”. She said women and men in roughly equal numbers at Cabinet would allow Ministers to bring a variety of experience to the table.

    RTE presenter Miriam O’Callaghan introduced the Minister, pointing out she would be interviewing her on television tonight. Ms O’Callaghan joked that she was being “nice me” now but would turn into “mean me” later.

    UPDATE 14.40: The L’Oreal International Women’s Day lunch organised by An Cosan took place in the Shelbourne Hotel, Dublin this afternoon. Below are the guest lists…

    Women's lunch guestlist

    Women's lunch guestlist 2


    UPDATE 14.10:Journalist Olivia O’Leary has told the Women for Europe event in the Mansion House, Dublin, that the number of women elected to the Dail in Ireland was “disgraceful” and called for a gender quota at Cabinet. She said since the State came into being 4,700 men had been elected to parliament while just 260 women were successful.She criticised the Labour Party for not appointing Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton to an economic ministry, pointing out that when the late Seamus Brennan of Fianna Fail was given that ministry he was widely described as having been demoted.

    Ms O’Leary welcomed the Government’s proposed legislation to introduce a 30 per cent gender quota, but said the Coalition should go further. “We need to start talking about a requirement for Government to have at least 30 per cent women politicians at Cabinet.”

    Referring to childcare, she said presenteeism bedevilled politics. Teleconferencing should be utilised, she added.

    Ms O’Leary said women in general tended to “run away” from knowedge of financial matters. That had to stop, and women also had to stop regarding power as something masculine.

    Olivia O'Leary at the Women for Election event


    Gemma Hussey

    UPDATE 11.40: Former Fine Gael minister Gemma Hussey has predicted an “Irish spring for women” on twitter @GemmaMGHussey, where she describes herself as a “Former Govt Minister (Fine Gael) Feminist; Author; Commentator; Grandmother of 7″:

    “Happy Women’s Day to all! So much is stirring….are we on the brink of an Irish Spring for women? See you all later at various locations.”

    UPDATE 11.30: Given that Leaders’ Questions was conducted through Irish yesterday we thought there might be a possibility that women TDs could have asked (and fielded!) questions today, but it was not to be. Paedar Toibin, rather than Mary Lou McDonald, stepped up for Sinn Fein. Fianna Fail (who as noted have no women TDs) put forward Dara Calleary. A big hint that he will be appointed the new deputy leader of the party following the departure of Eamon O Cuiv…


    UPDATE 11.10am:

    Taoiseach Enda Kenny poses with women TDs and Senators

    Taoiseach Enda Kenny posed for photographs with women TDs and Senators on the plinth outside Leinster House to mark International Women’s Day. Blessed was he amongst women, as my journalistic colleague Maria Shannon remarked on twitter.

    It was all vision no sound though. Mr Kenny will take questions at an event at the Custom House later.



    Good morning. A few thoughts on a recent development to begin. At the recent Fianna Fail ard fheis, a motion opposing the 30 per cent gender quota requirement for elections proposed by the Government was passed. The motion was in direct defiance of the stated position of the leadership.

    When the Government published last December the Electoral Amendment Political Funding Bill 2011, which will halve State funding to parties unless 30 per cent of their candidates at the next general election are women, Fianna Fail welcomed it but was quick to commit itself to ensuring women account for 30 per cent of its local election candidates in 2014. This was the view of environment spokesman Niall Collins, strongly supported by leader Micheal Martin.

    In its ard fheis brochure, Fianna Fail outlined what it saw as “the gender challenge”. It stated that the 2011 election had left the party without a woman TD and with just two women senators, Averil Power and Mary White.

    “We have a strong track record in the area of equality but we must do more to involve women in our party and to ensure that more women are selected as candidates in 2014 and at the next General Election. Considerable work is underway in this regard.”

    Yet the motion, “That this ard fheis oppose the 30 per cent gender requirement for elections announced by the Government”, was supported. The specific motion was proposed by a cumann in Sligo-North Leitrim, while related motions had been put forward from Laois and Limerick City.

    What is Fianna Fail policy on gender quotas now?

    After the General Election, the party’s state funding dropped from just over €5 million per annum to approximately €2.8 million. Can the party afford to take the financial hit that will accompany failing to implement a gender quota?

    • JOD says:

      Personally I wouldn’t want anyone to be able to say I was afforded preferential treatment based on my gender anymore than I’d want to be afforded discriminatory treatment for the same reason. Others may feel differently and prefer to claim advantage based on the fall of the Chromosome. Reckon the old Greek was right who said Let them govern those whom govern best.

      From what we’ve seen so far and over the past 12 years it might seem we’d be as well off having species quotas in Irish politics too. Perhaps time to elect a quadruped Consul or Minister. Or a simian. They’d hardly do worse. A horse, a horse, my kingdom for an horse…

    • JOD says:

      Just wondering how gender quotas fit in with putative ”Republican” ideals of equality? We should have Protestant quotas too perhaps (‘cherishing the children of the Nation &c.). Red head quotas. Skin tone quotas. Non-Irish citizen quotas whups forgot non-Irish citizens can’t go into Irish politics.

    • Noreen Byrne says:

      I am so sick of the tired old argument about preferential treatment for women when quite clearly until now that is what men are doing for men; If it was a case of let the best person win, at least 50% of those women who have stood for public office since the formation of the State would have been elected.

      Women are slightly more than 50% of the population, should this reality not be reflected in the area of political representation? What are the opponents of quotas so afraid of? I suspect that there is a bit of misogny in the reaction against gender quotas which after all is a temporary tactic.

    • cockspur says:

      Surely the two worst performers in the last cabinet were women, Harney and Coughlan. Talk of quota when the country is on it’s knees, or any time, is ridiculous.

    • JOHN says:

      Gender Quotas amounts to legalised sexual discrimination. You cant argue in favour of sexual equality in one breath and demand special treatment in the next. The only relevant quota is the electorate itself which is evenly divided between the two sexes; who they decide to vote for is their own business.

    • JOHN says:

      I would be very interested in learning the figures for how many female candidates stood as independents in recent general elections. If this was higher than the figures who were nominated by parties it would suggest some bias in party selection. If there isn’t a difference it would suggest that the difference is due to a lack of women willing to run for office; whether they have party backing or not.

    • Aoife O'Leary says:

      That picture with Edna Kenny and all the female TDs and Senators is nothing more than a photo op. Last week the Government replaced two Supreme Court Justices. They were one man and one woman. They were replaced with two men. We now have a Supreme Court of eight men and one woman. If I was being tried for a serious crime and the jury was men to women in that ration I could have any conviction overturned as unconstitutional as the jury was not a jury of my peers. But yet I am supposed to have faith in the Supreme Court to potentially decide the constitutionality of any new abortion legislation we get and yet that is a procedure which can only be carried out on adult women (leaving aside the question of baby/foetus). If Edna Kenny was serious about removing barriers to female success he would do so and not just pose for eye-catching photos. I am also really disappointed that the reduction in the ration of women to men on the Supreme Court generated absolutely no journalistic comment, at the very least it needs to be acknowledged today of all days.

    • ABD says:

      Good comment Noreen – I carried out a college assignment/report a few years ago dealing with the fact that only 13 female TD’s represented us in the Dail. The questionaire part of the report asked if leglislation should be introduced to increase quotasfor women, allowing them, at the very least, an equal chance to put themselves forward to represent the people of Ireland in what is a male dominated environment at the moment.

      Amazingly, on a 50/50 male, female basis, between the ages of 18-50, most of the respondants said NO-they would not be in favour of introducing equal quotas.

      Other counteries, like Norway, have successfully introduced a more equal quota system over the years, allowing for a more balanced male/female representation, which can only be a more positive move considering the many challenged ahead for of us in the future.

    • JOHN says:


      The above website gives complete figures for gender balances across all candidates in 2011 general election.

      Overall 15% of candidates were female and 14.5% of the current Dail are female. This would seem to show that the average voter is fairly blind as to whether a candidate is male or female as proportions of female TDs elected is almost exactly the same as the proportions for the candidates. It would also suggest that female voters are no more likely to vote for a female candidate as a male candidate.

      Interestingly only 8% of independent candidates were female which is half the rate for party candidates so clearly party selection is not the only issue at play here.

    • JOD says:

      There’s no misognyy from this opponent of quotas. Quite the opposite, I’m thinking of the sort of hairy-eared red-faced shweaty ignoramus that abounds in Irish politics who’d be delighted to be able to put down his female opponent with some high-handed dismissal of her as ”just a feckin’ token female” in the event of their being gender quotas, and perhaps even make trouble claiming he was discriminated against by ”de wimmin”..

      Whereas if there aren’t, and he’s beaten fair and square by a female opponent who outclasses him on objective merits, well all he can do then is slink away growling.

    • Desmond fitzGerald says:

      I’m at a loss to think of a single elected rep at any level or any party or none, ever, who is any different to the type of men who get through selection conventions to be candidates.

      So who is to decide who the women who get the ‘nod’ from head office going to be – there are no shortage of women dullards and if all we’re going to do is replace a portion of the dullard men with dullard women just so we can say 50% of the candidates are women then what’s the point and what if 50% of candidates are women but the public don’t want to elect them – are the public, of whom 50% are women, to be denied the right to choose who they want even if it means they want male dullards.

      Also, who is it puts barriers in front of those women who want to stand, it’s not men it’s women. The fact of the matter is all the women who claim childcare is an issue have husbands and partners so when they are complaining they are ‘expected’ to have a dinner on the table etc who is it doing the expecting and why can’t their partner do the dinner or the washing or hire a nanny.

      bottom line is you can’t have it all. If you want a successful career in any area you need to ivnest time and effort into it and you can’t be going home at 4pm. Same for politics and while the way politics is carried out needs to change from being a 19th C gentlemen’s club attitude the reality means it will still require being ‘at the office’ until later a lot of evenings so those people with children should think on and accept that means they won’t be at every event and the sky won’t fall in if they are not – for a child the important thing is that when you are at home that you give them your full attention and don’t promise to be at things you can’t make and get a grandparent or aunt or uncle to go so there’s someone there.

      I want to see more details about how having more women will make any difference to the calibre of politicians because those women who have been elected so far are no better than the men and we are in dire of ‘better’ whatever gender they are.

      So women, stop judging other women. If you choose to be a housewife that’s great and if you choose a career that’s great too but you can’t be both and both are equally valid choices. If you are a housewife don’t belittle the career and if you have a career don’t belittle the skill it takes to create a home.

      If you want a career in politics be different and accept you can’t have it all and lose the chip on your shoulder about the ‘sacrifices’ it requires as the sacrifices are no worse than most other people have to make. In fact they are less.

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