Lack of female Ministers is a ‘missed opportunity’, women’s groups say

Campaigners link appointment of only four women to senior Cabinet positions to broader issues

The appointment of only four senior female Cabinet Ministers is a “missed opportunity” directly linked to the lack of women candidates put forward in winnable seats across the State, women’s rights groups have said.

Women still face systemic barriers in politics, said Ciairín de Buis, chief executive of Women for Election: “It is disappointing that once again a Government has missed the opportunity to appoint a balanced Cabinet.

“Just 22 women have held full Cabinet ranks since the foundation of the State. That’s not good enough. It’s not enough to say there aren’t enough women in the Dáil to appoint a balanced cabinet.

“This isn’t inevitable, it’s not like the sun setting every evening – there aren’t enough women in the Dáil because of systematic barriers to their full participation in Irish political life.


“We need political leadership to see change across all levels of politics; this was a missed opportunity to see more women at Cabinet level. And while it is very welcome that two women have been appointed as ‘super juniors’, I’ve no doubt that both women and many others would have been more than capable of serving in a senior Cabinet role.”

Ms de Buis said that the fact that nine of the Taoiseach’s 11 Seanad appointees are women is a “positive development, but it also shows up the gaps in Irish politics because if there was no problem finding those nine women to take those roles, it would make you question why the same can’t be done elsewhere”.

She said the programme for Government contained “vague” commitments to increasing female representation in local politics.

“We need quotas at a local level. We need more women, in all our diversity, across all levels of politics.

“All of the women appointed to the Seanad this weekend are very capable. But if the Seanad is the only arena where there is full female representation it won’t ripple out across all levels of politics. We know the local elections are in the calendar and the Government should begin planning for this.”

‘Really disappointing’

The National Women’s Council of Ireland (NWCI) also expressed disappointment at the “repeatedly low number of women in Cabinet”.

They said this is a direct consequence of the two main political parties “failing to run sufficient numbers of women on electable seats during the last general election”.

“It is really disappointing that in 2020 we will still only have four women as Cabinet Ministers,” director of NWCI Orla O’Connor said.

“The current make-up of the Cabinet is a direct result of the missed opportunity by the two main political parties to run sufficient numbers of women on electable seats during the last general election.

“Four women do not even meet the current quota of 30 per cent where we can begin to address gender balance, let alone the desired 50/50 split that has been achieved in many other countries across the world.

“It will be crucial now that all Ministers promote women’s equality over the next Dáil term. The decisions they make in both appointments to senior decision-making bodies and the policies they implement must show a renewed commitment to advancing women’s rights.”

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times