Shared Island meeting to hear calls for more diverse representation

Need for quotas among ideas to give greater voice to women, minorities and LGBT+

Senator Eileen Flynn, the first Traveller to be nominated to the Seanad. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Senator Eileen Flynn, the first Traveller to be nominated to the Seanad. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

There will be calls to bring about greater representation of women, people from ethnic minorities and the LGBT+ community in politics north and south of the Border at the latest meeting of the Government’s Shared Island initiative.

Participants in Monday’s online dialogue will raise concerns about misogyny, homophobia and racism as they make suggestions on how equality can be improved across the island.

Speaking of his hopes for the event, Minister for Equality Roderic O’Gorman said he wanted to “emphasise a common approach across the two jurisdictions to the protection of the human rights of the most vulnerable people, following Brexit and Northern Ireland’s departure from the European Union”.

Danielle Roberts of Here NI, a group representing lesbian and bisexual women in the North, will speak of how women make up 36 per cent of the MLAs in the Northern Ireland Assembly and half of the Executive, including departing First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill.

However, she will also outline how four constituencies returned no women at all in the 2017 election, how there are no MLAs from a black, Asian or ethnic minority background and just two who are openly LGBT+.

She will raise concern about barriers to political participation but also culture within political institutions, and argue that comments made during recent debates on gay conversion therapy and abortion access “could be described as homophobic and misogynistic”.

Embrace quotas

Dr Salome Mbugua, chief executive of migrant women’s network Akidwa, will tell the equality dialogue about the need for gender and diversity quotas in politics.

There are gender quotas for general elections in the Republic but none in the North, and no requirement for parties to field candidates who have disabilities or come from ethnic minorities and disadvantaged backgrounds.

Ms Mbugua will say that it’s important quotas are embraced.

She says people from the migrant community and diverse backgrounds need to be encouraged to enter politics and be seen as “successful role models”.

She suggests there could be financial incentives for parties that encourage gender and diversity inclusion and penalties for those that don’t.

Senator Eileen Flynn will blame “racism and discrimination” for the 80 per cent unemployment rate in the Travelling community.

She will also speak of higher suicide rates and lower life expectancy among Travellers compared with the rest of the population.

Ms Flynn, the first Traveller to be nominated to the Seanad, says the Oireachtas “can be a place that all of us are represented that includes people with disabilities, the Traveller community, migrants, refugees and just people from working-class communities.”

She says minorities should have “an equal voice in society at a political level”, north and south. She will tell the meeting: “My message today is that this island is for every one of us.”

The Shared Island initiative, spearheaded by Taoiseach Micheál Martin, aims to develop common policies and projects that can be pursued by both jurisdictions in Ireland.