Female politicians want gender quota


HAVING MORE women in politics should be more than an aspiration – their presence must be backed up by law, a Dáil sub-committee was told yesterday.

Former Fine Gael minister for education Gemma Hussey told the Dáil sub-committee on Women’s Participation in Politics she was “not starry-eyed” about voluntary quotas for women.

“We’re talking about getting hands on power, not a garden party . . . voluntary doesn’t work,” she said.

Former Labour minister for education Niamh Bhreathnach said she could understand the reluctance of the Dáil to introduce quota legislation but only because it was like “asking turkeys to vote for Christmas”.

Former PD minister of State Liz O’Donnell said there was never a more important time for women to participate in Irish politics.

All three women addressed the sub-committee, which is to examine how best to increase the percentage of women in Irish politics. They were supported by a gallery of female politicians past and present as well as former Supreme Court judge Catherine McGuinness.

Only 23 out of 166 Dáil deputies are women, making Ireland 87th internationally for female representation.

Ms Hussey said when she entered politics in the 1970s women’s lives were “extraordinarily controlled” by church and State.

“We have not shaken off the legacy of those years . . . if we had we would have 50 per cent women in politics,” she said.

The critical mass of 30 per cent of women had been achieved in other countries through legislation on quotas.

“We have to be stronger than just exhortation . . . it’s not enough, we need to back it up with laws, the time has passed for aspiration,” she said.

Ms Bhreathnach said the French model of a quota system with penalties for parties who failed to comply had worked, though some parties had paid penalties rather than having women on the ballot.

She said the Labour Party had worked hard to develop a quota of female candidates. Some 35 per cent of Labour TDs were women, she said. They had identified the obstacles to political involvement as “cash, connections, confidence, children, culture and career”.

Ms O’Donnell said parties had to embrace the fact that without women in politics, our democracy was unfinished. “Many of the decisions taken at the highest levels in Ireland are made without women and therefore lack democratic credibility,” she said.

Both Fianna Fáil deputies Noel Treacy and Seán Connick confessed to being nervous and unsure about quotas. But Ms Bhreathnach pointed out that only 7 per cent of their party in the Dáil were female.

“If we keep going at the pace your party is going, it will be the next century before we achieve parity,” she said.