State funding to the National Women's Council of Ireland (NWCI) will continue, Minister for Equality Roderic O'Gorman has said, amid concerns over Government criticism of the organisation after no female Government TD or Senator was invited to speak at its upcoming Dáil rally.
The NWCI rally calling for "political leadership and action on women's equality" is to take place outside the Dáil on March 5th. Among the speakers at the event are Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald, Labour TD Ivana Bacik, Social Democrats co-leader Róisín Shortall and People Before Profit TD Bríd Smith.
Female members of Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Green Party have criticised the council over their exclusion from speaking at the rally, with Minister for Justice Helen McEntee on Wednesday saying the situation was "regrettable".
There was also controversy after Fine Gael Senator Regina Doherty told RTÉ radio that she took issue with an organisation that is largely State-funded, and with a mission statement to empower women, deciding to exclude some women, describing the NWCI decision as "juvenile" and "counterproductive". Ms Smith subsequently described the references made by Ms Doherty about the council's funding as "sinister".
Speaking in the Dáil on Thursday, Ms Smith sought assurance from Mr O’Gorman that no funding to the NWCI or other non-government organisations who “take a view that is different to the Government or take a decision that the Government don’t like” would have their funding cut or threatened.
In response, Mr O’Gorman said his department had given €611,000 in funding to the NWCI this year, a 10 per cent increase on last year.
“We will continue to fund the NWCI and look to continue to grow the level of funding for the NWCI,” he said.
Mr O’Gorman said his department regularly meets with the NWCI “on a wide range of issues, as does many colleagues across Government, and we value that working relationship with the NWCI”.
In relation to the rally row, the NWCI itself said the council was “mandated to represent the views of our members across Ireland to achieve true equality for women and girls”.
“This work involves bringing people together and working alongside Government, but sometimes it also includes protest and calling out Government inaction,” it said.
“We engage with Government politicians every day and have had numerous events every year where Government Ministers are opening the event and Government TDs and Senators were speaking on panels. This is one moment of protest, and we hope all politicians, including those representing Government parties, attend and hear what needs to change for women.”