Womanly cheer as a man challenges gender monopoly


If, for no good reason, the earth moved for you, too, on Monday evening, if you heard a band of celestials chorusing in the background and with it heard a deep, inexplicable and universal sigh of relief, do not worry. Neither was it your menopausing hormones arriving early and behaving badly. It happened to every woman I know.

Quite simply, it heralded the 11th-hour inclusion of Derek Nally in the race for one of the best paid jobs in the country - the seven-yearly stint where you can do pretty much what you like. And you get to live rent free in a white house. You can even behave a bit like a royal - waving a lot and smiling joyously from the back seat of a big chauffeur-driven car.

The reason for the relief about Nally is that he is a man, and up until Monday the only people actively seeking the job were an all-woman Gang-of-Four. They were like luvvies trapped in a cocoon where they were either speaking a common language riddled with words like warmth, love, empathy, sitting over (or under) rainbows (Mary McAleese, Dana Scallon, Adi Roche) or hardly speaking at all (Mary Banotti). And there was the prospect that this carryon would carry on for another four weeks.

Could the country live with McAleese ("you too can sound like me if you kiss enough legal tomes")? Could she keep all the natural, ice-cold arrogance out of her voice for the next four weeks? She could.

Anything and everything would be thrown into the pot for the stint in the white house which you would leave with a healthy pension of half your salary - in Mary Robinson's case, £56,000 index-linked for life.

As a feminist and away from all of this for several months, when I surfaced a few weeks ago I could not believe we were back to jobs for genders again; except that this time it was women who have been whingeing for years for equality in the workplace, who had gone along yet again with what the boys in power had decided. As a sex we had sold ourselves short again for short-term gain.

How could any woman go along with the scam to suit the male-dominated parties? The parties, as usual, were looking for the easiest way out of the nuisance of an election. So, with their usual lack of imagination, they all reckoned that since Mary Robinson had created a new, winning mould with what she had done in the job, a course such as hers should be replicated - as far as possible.

Ergo, they all went for healthy, middle-aged women who could acquit themselves well getting on and off planes, who would wear Irish-designed clothes at State dinners and banquets and who had biddable husbands who would be convenient consorts and chaperones, if necessary. (Not good to have herself caught kerb-crawling while on some foreign jaunt).

None of this applies to Mary Banotti, who has been her own woman for far too long. Singly, she has been there, trawling the high roads and by-roads for votes. Singly, she has shuttled around Europe. Singly, she has brought the news from Aix to Ghent (Athens to Glasthule?) and back again. Okay, so she gets well paid for it but from what I've seen when covering the European Parliament in Strasbourg or at Brussels things, she more than earns it. As the days have gone by, it seemed that with the lack-lustre line-up - until Derek Nally's nomination - she had more than a chance of getting the job. But would any seasoned politician want to win in such a way? Like taking lollipops from toddlers?

So, thankfully, but without a spit of a protest from any women politicians at this lack of democracy, it seems that Derek Nally's last-minute inclusion in the campaign will force McAleese and Roche to drop the dead donkeys and maybe then something like real horsetrading will begin.