Fianna Fáil’s renewal plans are for the birds only in one way

Opinion: Women on a ballot paper are nearly always exceptional – for even getting there

‘Out of Fianna Fáil’s 14 Senators, “up to one-third” are women. Well, two: Averil Power (above) and Mary White.’ Photograph: Eric Luke

‘Out of Fianna Fáil’s 14 Senators, “up to one-third” are women. Well, two: Averil Power (above) and Mary White.’ Photograph: Eric Luke

Thu, Mar 27, 2014, 12:48

Last July, Fianna Fáil announced its five-year Gender Equality Action Plan (GEAP). I don’t know why its plans always have to be five years long. I’ll take it as a given that Fianna Fáil isn’t basing this time period on the theory of productive forces in Marxism, but you never know. After all, it’s a socialist party, lest we forget. Or at least one that appreciates socialising. Preferably in tents surrounded by horses.

Recently, I had a very pleasant conversation on Newstalk with Mary O’Rourke about feminism. When it came to women in politics, O’Rourke said she didn’t agree with gender quotas. She is entitled to that opinion, but a gender quota is the very thing Fianna Fáil’s GEAP is trying to achieve: having women make up at least 33% of the party local election candidates.

The plan was the result of the Taskforce on Female Participation in Fianna Fáil, chaired by Senator Averil Power, who is the most intriguing thing to come out of the party since SSIAs. But Fianna Fáil is a lonely, lonely place for women.

Conspicuous absence
Of the party’s 20 TDs, “up to one-third” are women. And by up to one-third, I mean none. Zero. Zilch. Nada. Of its 14 Senators, “up to one-third” are women. Well, two – Power and Mary White. Its three MEPs are men. Of Fianna Fáil’s 349 councillors around the country, 56 are women, “up to one-third” at 16 per cent. Fianna Fáil is fielding a whopping 420 candidates in the locals, but the party has admitted that “less than” 20 per cent of those running in the local and European elections will be women.

There was more likelihood of the missing Malaysia Airlines aircraft turning up at the Fianna Fáil ardfheis in Killarney at the weekend than the party actually keeping the gender commitment it made last year. However, the party’s failure to even come close to its promise is a colossal embarrassment. And it probably indicates that Fianna Fáil’s so-called renewal will be closer to more of the same than any actual reform. Its aspirations are for the birds – but only the feathered kind.

When political parties do actually make a concerted effort to rustle up some women, give them support and encouragement, lo and behold, it works. Labour Women have nearly managed to hit their 30 per cent target two years ahead of schedule. 29.7 per cent of candidates in the locals will be women. That didn’t just happen. They worked at it.

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