Rejection for Bruton, even for altruistic reason, is still rejection

Analysis: Fine Gael faces more local rebellions over strict gender quota rules

Minister for Jobs and Enterprise Richard Bruton became collateral damage in a row between the local organisation and party headquarters on Thursday over a gender quota directive. Photograph: The Irish Times

Minister for Jobs and Enterprise Richard Bruton became collateral damage in a row between the local organisation and party headquarters on Thursday over a gender quota directive. Photograph: The Irish Times

 

If the level of political embarrassment was colour-graded, Fine Gael would be scarlet after its shambolic convention in Dublin Bay North on Thursday night.

The party’s leading deputy in the capital, Minister for Jobs and Enterprise Richard Bruton, became collateral damage in a row between the local organisation and party headquarters over a gender quota directive.

The directive was stark. One male and one female candidate only were to be selected in the new five-seat constituency which combines two former three-seaters: Dublin North Central and Dublin North East.

With Terence Flanagan having flown the coop, Bruton was the only sitting TD. The edict from Mount St meant the party could not run two male candidates.

For Naoise O Muirí, a popular councillor, former lord mayor, and a candidate in the last general election, the implications of the directive were blunt: he had to put his ambitions on hold.

His career has been leading to a tilt at national politics - he was the last unelected candidate standing as Bruton’s running mate in Dublin North Central in 2011.

If Fine Gael had a marginal chance of winning a second seat in Dublin Bay North, he reckoned he was best-placed. Stephanie Regan, who was unsuccessful in the local elections, was chosen as the female candidate.

O Muirí’s supporters convinced delegates at Clontarf Convention that should he get the nod at convention, Bruton would be added to the ticket by the party’s national executive. This happened at on lunchtime on Friday.

In his speech O Muirí is said to have told the meeting if he were not to succeed, his chances of getting added to the ticket were minimal.

A Fine Gael member who attended the meeting told the Irish Times delegates agreed with his argument, had huge sympathy for his plight and voted tactically: “People were ticked off that we were being used as headquarter’s experimental laboratory for too long.”

While the vote was non-personal with party HQ (personified by general secretary Tom Curran) in its sights, the optics were still bad for Bruton. His woes were compounded by reports that Regan came second in the first count, relegating him to third. Rejection, even for altruistic purposes, is still rejection.

The problem here as in other constituencies stems from the new rules on gender quota. Each party must have a minimum of 30 per cent female candidates, otherwise it will lose significant State funding. The rules introduced by Phil Hogan have proven to be controversial within parties. Experienced and ambitious male politicians resented being excluded by a stroke of a pen rather than by a vote of their peers in constituencies.

Fine Gael has 11 women TDs among its 71-strong contingent in the Dáil. As of now, none of its Deputies has indicated they will be standing down after the next election.

To satisfy its gender quotes that party will have to field 90 candidates or more. It will mean that virtually all of its new candidates will be women.

The problem is most manifest in constituencies where there is a single male deputy in situ and the convention is told to select one male and one female. It means delegates are left with a Hobson’s choice - of backing or rejecting the sitting Deputy.

This has happened already in other Dublin constituencies. In Dublin West, Cllr Kieran Dennison withdrew with some protest after a one male candidate directive: Leo Varadkar is Fine Gael’s sitting TD there.

Senator Catherine Noone, who had no connection with Dublin West, was chosen as the female candidate. Similarly in Dublin Bay South, Kieran Binchy had to take on sitting TD Eoghan Murphy for the single male slot - Cllr Kate O’Connell won the other place in a contest with Linda O’Shea Farren.

A lot of ire is being directed at party headquarters but its task is not easy. The quota imposes onerous burdens and there is a clear desire to field female candidates who have chances of winning seats - not just token add-ons.

But it very unpopular with local organisations, especially when there are strong male candidates who have spent years toiling in the fields.

A senior party source said that conventions will always throw up anomalies - in Galway West in 2011 sitting TD Pardaic McCormack failed to get through convention and stood down. In fact the party ran four candidates then.

And with John O’Mahony moving into Galway West, it looks like it may have to run four again to satisfy gender quotes (the three TDs - O’Mahony, Sean Kyne and Brian Walsh - as well as Sen Hildegarde Naughton).

The next two Fine Gael conventions scheduled are for Tipperary on May 8th and Dublin South West on May 25. Tipperary has two sitting TDs so that should not be a problem, while it has no TDs in Dublin South West since Brian Hayes became an MEP. Neither should lead to controversy but others may cause some ructions.

Fine Gael’s national executive will decide on Friday afternoon to add Richard Bruton to the ticket. Three candidates in a complex new constituency does not look like a smart strategy.

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