More women in Cabinet is changing ‘dynamic’, says Tánaiste

Only 22 per cent of Dáil members are female, conference in Tralee hears

Tánaiste and Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald  says young women today are shocked when they visit the Dáil to see how few women are TDs though the percentage, at 22 per cent, is the highest ever. Photograph: Cyril Byrne / THE IRISH TIMES

Tánaiste and Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald says young women today are shocked when they visit the Dáil to see how few women are TDs though the percentage, at 22 per cent, is the highest ever. Photograph: Cyril Byrne / THE IRISH TIMES

 

The rising number of women holding Cabinet positions is helping to change the “dynamic” of Government, Tánaiste and Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald has claimed.

However, she said “we still have a long way to go to get to that critical mass” which was necessary to change the way politics was done.

Speaking at the International Business Women Conference in Tralee, Ms Fitzgerald said said: “At Cabinet we have gone from three women to four and now five out of 15. It make a difference. The interaction is different as all of you know.

“In getting the dynamic of men and women working together, you get the best for Irish society,” she told the 300 delegates at the conference which coincides with the Rose of Tralee festival.

The five women women TDs who sit at cabinet meetings are Ms Fitzgerald, Heather Humphreys, Mary Mitchell-O’Connor, Katherine Zappone and the chief whip Regina Doherty, although the latter is not formally a member of cabinet.

Ms Fitzgerald pointed out that women now occupy the positions of Garda Commissioner, chief justice, Director of Public Prosecutions, attorney general and chief state solicitor in the State “quite uniquely among countries”.

She recalled visiting the Dáil 25 years ago and being shocked by the underrepresentation of women.

She said young women today are shocked when they visit the Dáil to see how few women are TDs though the percentage, at 22 per cent, is the highest ever. “That means the other 70 plus per cent are not women. We still have a long way to go to get to that critical mass.”

Female participation in politics does not happen by accident, she suggested, and she reaffirmed her strong support for gender quotas.

Ms Fitzgerald said role models were critical in encouraging other women. “If I hadn’t been exposed to women like Nuala Fennell and Monica Barnes, I might not have been in politics. They were very inspiring for me.

“If I hadn’t seen Helen Keogh, who was a friend of mine going for the Seanad, I’m not sure I would have done it.”

She said Ireland’s engagement with Europe as members of the EU has been “nothing but positive” for Irish women for the last 40 years.

Ms Fitzgerald praised the rise in the number of high-potential start ups run by women. The percentage of female-led businesses supported by Enterprise Ireland increased from 7 per cent in 2011 to 22 per cent in 2015. “By any standards that is a fantastic achievement.”

She also announced that €11 million will be made available in September for applications for an EU funding programme aimed at women returning to the workforce and those wishing to getting involved in an entrepreneurial fund.

A line-up of 29 expert speakers are taking part in the daylong event which is now in its second year and is sponsored by Enteprise Ireland.