The National Women’s Council of Ireland has defended a forthcoming women’s rally after female members of the Government said they were being excluded from speaking at the event.
The rally is being held outside the Dáil on March 5th to call for “political leadership and action on women’s equality”. Speakers are to include Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald, Labour TD Ivana Bacik, SocDems co-leader Róisín Shortall and People Before Profit TD Brid Smith.
Fine Gael TD Jennifer Carroll MacNeill said she was surprised by the decision to invite only women from the Opposition to speak at the event.
“The Women’s Council is entitled to do whatever it wants to do, of course, but when I saw it I was a bit surprised. If you look at the politics of it, it is led with Opposition female TDs. So it is political. So when I saw that, I was just a bit disappointed.”
The director of the National Women’s Council, Orla O’Connor, defended the event, and said that Government members could participate along with the crowd.
“The National Women’s Council is neither pro- nor anti-Government, but pro-women’s rights and equality. We are a membership organisation, with a diversity of members across Ireland working on crucial issues in women’s lives. We know that the pace of change for women’s equality is just too slow.
“Our No Woman Left Behind rally is calling for a public and affordable childcare model, for women’s refuges in every county, for accessible and local abortion services. We welcome Government TDs to participate in the rally alongside crowds of women from throughout the county and listen to what women and our members have to say ahead of International Women’s Day.”
However Ms Carroll MacNeill said it was creating an “us versus them” narrative amongst women.
“To me it felt like the first time that we were moving into a ‘them and us’ when my experience working with the women’s council and with women right across the Dáil and Seanad has been exceptionally collaborative.”
She said female politicians in the Oireachtas from all parties work week to week on different issues, including justice issues, gender equality-related issues, Covid-19 and women’s healthcare.
Fianna Fáil Senator Erin McGreehan also said she found it strange that there were no Government women in the line-up. “The work done by women in all the Government parties is making real changes,” she said.
Fine Gael Senator Mary Seery Kearney said some women were being left behind “solely on the basis of party affiliation”.
“The decision completely overlooks the work of Fine Gael in tackling gender-based challenges and striving for real gender equality.”
She said “Fine Gael has three female Cabinet Ministers, half of the total number ”....and “three MEPs out of the party’s total of five”.
“At local level 65 Fine Gael councillors are women, who serve their communities right across the country.”
The council is funded by grants from government and agencies. The latest annual report for 2020 shows that nearly €670,000 was paid to the council from the Department of Justice, Pobal, the Department of Education and the Department of Housing.