Burton describes Dáil as ‘a men’s club’

Women’s Council calls for respectful behaviour among members of Oireachtas

We spoke to Irish politicians yesterday about what women want at the launch of a report by the National Women’s Council dedicated to creating a more women-friendly Oireachtas.

Wed, Mar 5, 2014, 01:00

Irish society continues to treat women as second-class citizens, according to a

report dedicated to creating a more women-friendly Oireachtas.

The A Parliament of all Talents: Building a Women-friendly Oireachtas report by the National Women’s Council of Ireland has called on Dáil Éireann and the Seanad to create an Oireachtas that encourages women to see politics as a viable career option.

Launching the report yesterday, Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton described the Dáil as “a man’s club”, a situation she thinks will only change with the addition of more women politicians.

“The Oireachtas is the symbol of our democratic life and should become an inclusive symbol, one that all women can feel ownership over,” the report states.

“Irish society is built by men, for men,” it says, adding that the representation of women in Dáil Éireann has never exceeded 15.8 per cent. The current 16-member Cabinet consists of two women and 14 men, and only 14 women have been appointed to the Cabinet’s 197 positions since the foundation of the State. “Ireland’s low representation of women in politics is a symptom of a society which has structurally excluded women,” it adds.

“We need change so that women can see politics as a viable option,” said Orla O’Connor, director of the council. “We need a parliament fit for the modern day, and the Irish parliament currently is not that.”

The problem, notes the report, is the Oireachtas has very little work-life balance. Members are expected to continue work-related conversations outside the Dáil chamber, often on weekday nights in the pub, and members cannot take breaks for maternity or paternity leave. It says the “unrealistic expectation” of politicians to sacrifice their family life to succeed is to the detriment of politics.

Among the recommendations in the report are creating a family-friendly working space, which would include maternity and paternity leave; working more days aligned with normal business hours; discontinuing all-night debates; and introduction video conferencing and remote voting. The report also recommends establishing a 40 per cent gender quota for women at cabinet level, conducting a gender audit in the Oireachtas and promoting cross-party solidarity of women by creating a women’s caucus.