Hogan says gender balance proposals could change face of politics forever


SEANAD REPORT:GENDER BALANCE provisions, linking State funding of political parties to candidate selection at elections, had the potential to change the face of politics forever, Minister for Environment, Community and Local Government Phil Hogan said.

He was initiating debate on the Bill aimed at achieving greater gender equality in terms of parliamentary representation.

The Electoral (Amendment) (Political Funding) Bill 2011 proposes that parties which do not select at least 30 per cent female candidates at the next general election will face losing half of their State funding for the lifetime of a Dáil.

The potential impact of non-compliance could be gauged from the payment of a total of €5.38 million to five qualified political parties in 2010, Mr Hogan said. The gender balance provisions were “robust”, but he would reject suggestions that they might be unconstitutional. They represented a proportionate response to address a significant weakness in our democratic system.

The Bill also sought to more than halve the maximum amount that could be accepted as a political donation, Mr Hogan said. “There will be greater openness, with significant reductions in the thresholds for public declaration of political donations.”

Strongly criticising the approach being taken to achieve gender balance, Rónán Mullen (Ind) said he did not think it was a good idea for a national parliament to engage in social engineering of this kind.

“You do not foist your own particular ideological and political views on other parties. I do not think this is good legislation in terms of advancing the interests of women. In fact, I think it invites scepticism and cynicism among the public about the quality of women’s participation, that people should feel that the only way you get women into parliament is by this kind of attempt at a discriminatory mechanism.”

Aideen Hayden (Lab) said Mr Mullen complained about a discriminatory approach, yet he did not seem to appreciate that the restricted educational choice offered to parents as a result of the dominant position of the Catholic Church amounted to a form of social engineering.

Fiach Mac Conghail (Ind) called for the Standards in Public Office Commission to draw up requirements for the use by Independents, such as himself, of leaders’ allowances.

Martin McAleese, a nominee of the Taoiseach, asked if the decision not to maintain a resident ambassador to the Holy See was a political decision or was based on the recommendation of the secretary general of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.