Debate told of challenges facing women in politics

Mon, Mar 5, 2012, 00:00

FEMALE PARTICIPATION:WOMEN FACED the same challenges as young people of both sexes in political parties, Senator Averil Power told the ardfheis.

“Politics is often a closed shop and it is difficult to break into,” she added.

Ms Power was speaking at a debate on the participation of women in politics.

Currently Fianna Fáil has no female TD in the Dáil, a fact which was referred to by a number of delegates.

Ms Power said the absence of a female TD was partly because people had not been given a choice in the last general election.

Asked during the debate when Ireland would see a woman Taoiseach, Ms Power said the National Women’s Council had estimated it would take 370 years before half the Dáil was female.

She hoped it would not take that long.

Noreen Butler (Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown) said she had been chairwoman of the party’s first women’s group in the 1980s.

She said that while it had been successful in the recruiting of women, it had failed to increase the representation of women in elected office.

“All we achieved was to get equal rights for the female members of political dynasties,” she added.

Ms Butler said she had reached the conclusion that to attract women and young men into politics a revolution was required. “And the revolution has to start in Dáil Éireann,’’ she added.

“It is an old-fashioned gentlemen’s club with subsidised food and drink, where they can have sessions into the night.”

She said the Dáil was not family-friendly.

For some women and young men, she said, involvement in politics was a question of personal time.

Ms Butler said many members of the Dáil were teachers and farmers because they had the time required for politics.

Dublin city councillor Deirdre Heney said Fianna Fáil had always been a policy-driven party.

“As well as being a pragmatic party, and taking into account the needs of societal change, and also what people are saying . . .” she added.

“We need to listen to what they want us to do.’’

University College Cork lecturer Fiona Buckley said new female election candidates should surround themselves with family and friends, “honest brokers who you know will always be on our side when things get tough”.

She said there was an onus on political parties to offer support to women candidates.

Ms Buckley said that women should be involved in policymaking and in leadership positions.

Irish Times columnist and barrister Noel Whelan recalled working as a secretary to a women’s group when he was an employee of Fianna Fáil headquarters.

He said that while he agreed that the Dáil should be changed from being a “gentlemen’s club’’ , quota systems were also necessary.