Claim Varadkar’s appointments are based on merit ‘very offensive’

Corcoran Kennedy says gender balance does not appear to be factor in ministerial choices

 Marcella Corcoran Kennedy: she said Mr Varadkar told her he wished he could retain her, but there were not enough jobs and he needed to make room for his supporters

Marcella Corcoran Kennedy: she said Mr Varadkar told her he wished he could retain her, but there were not enough jobs and he needed to make room for his supporters

 

The insistence of the Government spokesman that all Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s ministerial appointments were based on merit was “very offensive”, one of the women he had demoted has said.

Marcella Corcoran Kennedy, a supporter of Mr Varadkar’s rival Simon Coveney in the recent Fine Gael leadership race, was Minister of State for Health Promotion until the reshuffle on Tuesday.

She said she knew her number was up when Mr Varadkar promoted only three new people to Cabinet, “and I knew that those of us who supported Simon Coveney would have to be looked at”.

Ms Corcoran Kennedy said gender balance did not appear to be a factor in the Taoiseach’s selection of his ministerial team. Mr Varadkar told her he wished he could retain her, but there were not enough jobs and he needed to make room for his supporters.

“It’s clear that it’s not a factor, which is a shame because we did bring in the gender quotas legislation. From a gender perspective, it’s very hard to see the numbers [of women] declining in terms of the Cabinet.”

However, she said what really stung was the comment from the Government spokesman that all ministerial appointments were based on merit. “It’s very offensive to say it’s on ability.”

Fine Gael only has 11 women among its 50 TDs, and three of the 11 are senior Ministers. Two female junior ministers were retained on Tuesday, with Helen McEntee given the high-profile European Affairs role.

Former attorney general Máire Whelan has been replaced in the role by Seamus Woulfe. Katherine Zappone has been retained as Minister for Children and Youth Affairs.

Mr Varadkar issued a “newcomers need not apply” diktat ahead of his announcement of junior ministers, meaning no one elected for the first time in 2016 would receive preferment. That ruled out one of his key supporters, the very able Josepha Madigan, who seconded his nomination as taoiseach.

Class of 2016

The remaining “class of 2016” women backbenchers were all Coveney supporters: Maria Bailey, Hildegarde Naughton and Kate O’Connell. Ms Bailey is said to have particularly impressed Mr Varadkar.

Minister for Culture Heather Humphreys offered her personal perspective. “Leo respects me as a colleague and he respects me as an equal, regardless of gender. And I certainly can’t say that of all the men I’ve dealt with in politics.”

When asked to name names, she said: “That would take a while.”

Ms Humphreys said the fact that there were still five women at the Cabinet table sent an important message.

Mary Mitchell O’Connor is now a “super-junior” Minister of State for Higher Education, with no vote on Cabinet decisions.

Positive discrimination is always difficult. While the situations are not directly comparable, without positive discrimination the numbers of Catholics in the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) would have remained hopelessly low.

With a total of 34 jobs to distribute, when the Attorney General position and the talent pool in the all-male Independent Alliance Dáil line-up are taken into account, Mr Varadkar gave seven positions to women.

Opportunity

Mr Varadkar has, therefore, declined an opportunity to emulate politicians he admires such as Emmanuel Macron and Justin Trudeau, who have prioritised women at cabinet level.

The French president named a gender-balanced cabinet last month, while the Canadian premier created Canada’s first cabinet with an equal number of men and women in 2015.

Mr Varadkar has been criticised by Sinn Féin’s Kathleen Funchion and Catherine Martin, deputy Green Party leader and founder of a cross-party women’s caucus. During the Fine Gael leadership hustings, Women for Election called on the candidates to commit to appointing a Cabinet that was 50 per cent female.

When that did not happen, the organisation called it a “missed opportunity”, and urged Mr Varadkar to ensure greater focus on gender balance when selecting his junior ministers. That did not happen either.

The director of the National Women’s Council of Ireland, Orla O’Connor, said she was disappointed. “New Cabinet, same old gender imbalance.”