Diversity is ‘not just about gender’, says Varadkar

Taoiseach says seven out of 12 female TDs who support govt are ministers

An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, during a photo opportunity with the Ministers of State. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill / The Irish Times

An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, during a photo opportunity with the Ministers of State. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill / The Irish Times


More than half of the 12 female TDs who support the Government are ministers, the Taoiseach pointed out on Friday in response to criticism of the gender makeup of his administration.

Speaking during a press conference in Brussels where Leo Varadkar was attending a European summit, he said that he would like to see more women in cabinet, adding: “Of the 12 women in the Dáil who support the Government, seven are ministers”.

“Diversity is not just about gender,” Mr Varadkar added. He said the cabinet had people of different religious backgrounds, people “from Donegal down to Wexford”, members of the LGTB community and “people from all sorts of backgrounds”

Minister for Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform Paschal Donohoe similarly calculated earlier that 55 per cent of female Fine Gael TDs are office holders. However, he said Mr Varadkar knew more needed to be done to encourage the participation of women in politics.

Mr Donohoe also said Mr Varadkar was “very much aware of the personal consequences” for politicians who found themselves in a different role after the recent reshuffle.

He was reacting to criticism from former senior minister Mary Mitchell O’Connor who was demoted to “super junior” level, meaning she has a seat at the Cabinet table but does not have a vote.

She told WXN Ireland’s Most Powerful Women conference the Government was not leading by example when it came to gender balance, and said “power and success doesn’t just come in a pinstripe suit”, according to the Irish Independent.

Mr Donohoe was asked about Ms Mitchell O’Connor’s comments after he gave details of AIB’s Initial Public Offering (IPO) at his Department on Friday.

“My view is that it was a tremendously difficult decision for Leo, as it is for any Taoiseach, to make decisions in relation to who he’s going to put into Cabinet,” he said.

“He’s already acknowledged the difficultly of the choices for both Minister and Minister of State and he’s very much aware of the personal consequences of that for people who are not chosen or who see themselves in a different role.

“In relation to gender mix within our party I point to the fact that we are the party that introduced gender quotas into our country to make the kind of progress that we know needs to be made in improving participation in Irish politics and that of all of the female TDs within our parliamentary party 55 per cent of them are now office holders.

“But all that being said as the Taoiseach has indicated we know of the need to do even more to encourage the participation of women in our political system and that’s something that will continue to drive the Taoiseach in the decisions that he’ll make.”

Fine Gael has 11 women among its 50 TDs, and three of the 11 are senior Ministers: Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald, Heather Humphreys and Regina Doherty.

Former minister of State Marcella Corcoran Kennedy lost her job on Tuesday and two female junior ministers were retained: Helen McEntee and Catherine Byrne.

The other four Fine Gael women TDs are first-time TDs and Mr Varadkar let it be known in advance he would not promote anyone from the “Class of 2016”.

Independent Katherine Zappone has been retained as Minister for Children and Youth Affairs.

Former attorney general Máire Whelan has been replaced in the role by Seamus Woulfe. Ms Whelan is now a Court of Appeal judge.

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.