Ministers and gender equality


Sir, – The absence of representatives from a particular group of people in a democracy is a problem.

Anne Phillips, in The Politics of Presence, contends that female political representation is essential for the advancement of interests that are of particular importance to women.

That does not mean that women are better or worse at representing women than men. It means that without a significant number of both sexes then it is not representative of a properly functioning democracy. Candidate-selection gender quotas are used not as preferential treatment; rather they are an attempt to remedy problems of deep-rooted male advantage. Male norms abound in the Irish political system.

The merit argument is often advanced as a reason to oppose gender quotas, ie that the best person for the job should be chosen irrespective of gender. The assumption is that merit is the only criterion which influences the election of a candidate at present. This is simply not the case. There is a significant literature outlining the additional obstacles that women face more than men. The division of labour when it comes to unpaid care work being one.

Leo Varadkar said, when he was a minister in the previous government, “if merit were the only criterion governing the election of politicians, then the Dáil would not be composed of 16 per cent women”. Now Mr Varadkar as Taoiseach continues the tradition of Irish male leaders who talk the talk but don’t walk the walk.

Ireland is a signatory to the UN convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women. One of the commitments of repeated Irish governments has been to improve the gender balance of political representation. However, progress on voluntary gender quotas implementation by the political parties in Ireland has been a dismal failure.

The passing of the Electoral (Amendment)(Political Funding) Act in July 2012 was a recognition by the mostly male Dáil that progress on gender equality would not be advanced without a financial penalty to the political parties.

This problem of gender inequality is not a women’s issue, it is a societal issue.

It is an issue between people who accept that the system is stacked against women and those who benefit from the status quo.

The politics of presence does not only apply to women but women are by far the biggest group that are under-represented in Irish politics. – Yours, etc,


The 50/50 Group,

Glasheen, Cork.

Sir, – Why should anyone think that they have a right to receive a ministerial post or any job simply because they belong to a particular gender? Merit and suitability should always take precedence over gender or any other physical characteristics of job candidates. Where two candidates are deemed after exhaustive examination to be exactly equally qualified, then the choice should be made via the best of five tosses of a coin. At least the latter would avoid discrimination and, like many other things in life, would come down in the end to good or bad luck. – Yours, etc,


Rathfarnham, Dublin 16.

Sir, – Gareth P Keeley (June 23rd) refers to politically correct box-tickers and to gender equality being a red herring. What a privilege it must be to be in a position to reduce issues of equality, for which people have died, to mere phrases.

Nobody is equal until we are all equal. – Yours, etc,



Co Wicklow.