Shortage of female candidates in elections restricts choice for voters, says Senator

Mon, May 14, 2012, 01:00

Voters are being short-changed and having their choices limited by the lack of women candidates in elections, Senator Ivana Bacik told the second annual Countess Markievicz School at the Teachers’ Club on Dublin’s Parnell Square on Saturday.

“Some 60 per cent of constituencies had no women candidates in the 2007 election. This is restricting voter choice.”

The election of Constance Markievicz to the Westminster Parliament in 1918 had promised to be a breakthrough for women’s political involvement. It was not, however, said Ms Bacik. The election of Mary Robinson as president of Ireland in 1990 had also looked like a “breakthrough”, she said. At that time, Ireland was ranked 37th in the world for women’s political involvement.

“We weren’t on an upwards trajectory, and we are now ranked 80th. Countries that have taken positive action to get more women into parliament, such as Belgium and Spain, have left Ireland trailing,” she said.

Addressing the need for constitutional change, former Supreme Court judge Catherine McGuinness told delegates that Article 41 of the Constitution, which recognises the life of a woman within the home and says “that mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labour to the neglect of their duties in the home”, angered even the most “mild-mannered” Irishwomen. Women were badly served by the use of constitutional amendments, she said, “with the exception of divorce”.

Noting the Fine Gael-Labour Coalition commitment to holding a constitutional review this year, she told delegates “we need to look at whether the agenda will be as wide as promised”.

Senator Katherine Zappone joined activist Cathleen O’Neill and UCD Professor of Equality Studies Kathleen Lynch to condemn cuts to community services hitting women and children hardest. “Remember, one in five children lives in poverty.”