Women in the Dáil: Gender quotas vindicated

A platform to build a new dynamic and a new coherent voice

 

In writing a few years ago about mandatory gender quotas – of which she did not approve – former Fianna Fáil minister Mary O’Rourke was not pretending women had it easy in politics.

She recalled her rage at taoiseach Albert Reynolds’s 1992 dismissive put-down of Nora Owen – “That’s women for you!’’

“I was sitting nearby,” she wrote, “ and I thought to myself: ‘That’s Longford for you’, but I didn’t say anything.”

Ironically her former constituency Longwhere a candidate was controversially placed on the Fianna Fáil ticket by heford-Westmeath was one of those in this election adquarters to meet mandatory gender quotas.

The decision to select Connie Gerety-Quinn outside of convention split the party at local level. Although she came close, she was eliminated after a recount.

Elsewhere, however, 30 per cent gender quotas required by the Electoral (Political Funding) Act 2012 have had the desired effect.

The result is solid albeit not revolutionary progress – 24 constituencies are now represented by 35 women, three of them by women for the first time. And 19 newcomer women arrive in the House.

Women’s representation in the Dáil has risen from 15 to 22 per cent on 2011, after a doubling of the number of women candidates.

First preference votes for women have risen from 15 to 26 per cent of votes cast – a total of 533,092.

“When women are on the ballot paper, they get elected,” the Women’s Council argues. It hasn’t been easy, though.

Parties imposed quotas on reluctant constituencies in the knowledge that the penalty for not doing so would be a significant cut in their funding from the State.

Local parties were split. Some male careers were inevitably shortened; egos bruised. One thwarted Fianna Fáil candidate unsuccessfully went to court.

“If we didn’t have gender quotas would Fianna Fáil have ended up with six female TDs? I don’t think so,” new Fianna Fáil TD for Galway East Anne Rabbitte argues very plausibly.

The same is true of other parties. And the women who have stood and been elected, whether or not beneficiaries of quota politics, are by no means “token” – of the 19 newly elected women TDs, 16 are sitting councillors and two are Senators.

But the proof of the pudding, to use an unfortunate metaphor in this context, will be in the eating.

Individual women TDs have in the past made outstanding contributions to the Dáil and its work, not least but certainly not exclusively, on what could loosely be described as women’s issues.

And, yes, they have often brought a different style to political cut and thrust.

But, divided into rigid political families, there has yet to be a cross-floor coherence or cohesiveness to their intervention.

The challenge and opportunity of a new Dáil, and the new politics it supposedly ushers in, is to create a new dynamic and a new coherent voice from those new members.

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