Women holding the scales of justice
Senior roles including DPP, Chief Justice and Attorney General now held by women
Acting Garda Commissioner Noirín O’Sullivan: took over in March after the resignation of Martin Callinan. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times
Justice is depicted by a woman holding scales in one hand and a sword in the other. Following Frances Fitzgerald’s appointment as Minister for Justice, women now hold the balance of power in Ireland when it comes to the most senior legal positions.
Ms Fitzgerald will be dealing with a female Attorney General, DPP, Chief State Solicitor, acting Garda Commissioner and Chief Justice.
Barrister Máire Whelan became the State’s first female Attorney General when she was nominated by Taoiseach Enda Kenny in March 2011. Claire Loftus also made history when she became the first female Director of Public Prosecutions in the same year. She was previously the chief prosecution solicitor in the office of the DPP. Another former chief prosecution solicitor is Eileen Creedon, who became Chief State Solicitor in January 2012.
In 2011 Ms Justice Susan Denham was appointed the 11th chief justice by president Mary McAleese. Other women holding senior positions in the courts include Supreme Court judges Ms Justice Mary Laffoy and Ms Justice Elizabeth Dunne.
For several years Noirín O’Sullivan has been tipped as the woman most likely to become the first female Garda Commissioner and in March the deputy commissioner became acting commissioner when Martin Callinan quit.
While it welcomed the high number of women in senior positions in the justice system, the National Women’s Council said the State still had a long way to go to achieve equality in senior positions.
Its director Orla O’Connor said women still accounted for only 16 per cent of local authority representatives while they made up just over 15 per cent of Dáil representatives.
“I would think it is unusual for a country to have so many women in senior positions but it’s also unusual for a country to have such a low representation in policy making in general,” she said. “So the Government needs to do a lot more to change that.”
Ms Fitzgerald was a previous chairwoman of the National Women’s Council, as was solicitor Maura Butler, who is now chair of the Irish Women Lawyers’ Association. She said the high number of women in senior legal positions reflected the fact there were so many talented women in the justice system.
Women now accounted for half of Law Library members and some 60 to 70 per cent of solicitors are female. Ms Butler added the long working hours deterred some women from the law but others were challenging the need for such working hours and were finding their own work-life balance.