Mary Mitchell O’Connor: ‘Power doesn’t just come in a pinstripe suit’

Demoted Minister accuses Varadkar of not promoting gender diversity in the Dáil

Mary Mitchell O’Connor said Ireland is placed 25th out of 28 in the EU in terms of women’s representation in the lower or single house of national parliaments.  Photograph: Dave Meehan/The Irish Times

Mary Mitchell O’Connor said Ireland is placed 25th out of 28 in the EU in terms of women’s representation in the lower or single house of national parliaments. Photograph: Dave Meehan/The Irish Times

 

Minister of State Mary Mitchell O’Connor has accused Taoiseach Leo Varadkar of not “leading by example” on the issue of diversity in Government and failing to show real commitment to creating a gender balanced Dáil.

Mary Mitchell O’Connor was last week demoted to “super junior” Minister of State for Higher Education by the new Taoiseach, meaning she has a seat at the Cabinet table but does not have a vote.

Speaking at the Women’s Executive Network (WXN) Ireland’s Most Powerful Women awards this week, Ms Mitchell O’Connor accused the new Taoiseach of failing to meet international standards of gender diversity and highlighted the State’s low ranking in world tables of female representation at government level.

“Today, WXN called on our new Taoiseach to get behind the diversity cause and to put government resources and commitment to it, and I am conscious that the government itself is not leading by example,” said Ms Mitchell O’Connor at Thursday’s event.

“I am just one of the seven women in a government team of 34 ministers, just over 10 per cent. Only 18 women have ever served as ministers since the foundation of this State.

Ireland is the 76th place in the world tables of women’s representation in the lower or single house of national parliaments. That’s a fact. Ireland is placed 25th out of 28 in the EU.”

Two female Ministers - Helen McEntee and Catherine Byrne - were retained in last week’s reshuffle while former minister of State Marcella Corcoran Kennedy lost her job. Fine Gael has 11 women among its 50 TD with three senior ministers: Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald, Heather Humphreys and Regina Doherty.

Ms Mitchell O’Connor said while many people don’t like the idea of gender quotas, last year’s general election proved the introduction of gender quota legislation could bring real change to government structure.

“In an ideal world, we should never ever have quotas. But you know what? We don’t live in an ideal world.

“The majority of countries with more than 30 per cent female representation in parliament have implemented quotas. In other words, waiting for political parties to see the light and to promote more women into the parliamentary ranks doesn’t work.

“The only thing that quotas have going for them is that they work. And as a result, the 2016 election saw 35 out of 158 women elected to Dáil Éireann, the highest number of women ever elected-that was 22 per cent.”

“Power and success doesn’t just come in a pinstripe suit,” Ms Mitchell O’Connor told attendees at the awards. “So, to conclude, by quoting another strong woman, Margaret Thatcher: “If you want something said, ask a man. If you want something done, ask a woman.”

The accomplishments of 25 Irish women from across the arts, sports, entertainment, business and public sector sectors were celebrated at Thursday’s WXN awards.

This year’s winners included Gate director Selina Cartmell, writer and actor Sharon Horgan, Communicorp Chairperson Lucy Gaffney, ESB Networks Managing Director Marguerite Sayers, Leicester City Football Club SEO Susan Whelan, Sugru founder Jane Ní Dhulchaointigh and European Courts of Human Rights Justice Síofra O’Leary.