Mary Minihan: New gender quota rule will cost sitting male TDs their seats
The threat to reduce funding was the only way to ‘concentrate the mind’, Phil Hogan said
‘John O’Mahony said he was being treated as a “movable feast” to ensure Fine Gael complied with the legislation. He was asked by Fine Gael headquarters to transfer to Galway West ahead of the election, leaving Michelle Mulherin (above) to contest in Mayo along with Kenny and Michael Ring.’ Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times
Senior politicians keep pretending the new gender quota law will not result in sitting male TDs losing their seats in the upcoming general election.
“I don’t accept that there will be a culling of male TDs,” was the assessment of Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan last week.
But if the Government’s controversial legislation is to be successful, that is exactly what will happen.
A general election is not a gentle junior school sports day where everybody gets a prize so no one feels left out.
In the bloodsport that is national politics, there can only be winners and losers.
There simply is not room in Leinster House for everyone, especially when the total number of TDs in the next Dáil will reduce from 166 to 158.
Political parties must ensure about one-third (30 per cent) of their candidates are women, or face steep cuts in valuable State funding.
The measure was introduced by then minister for the environment Phil Hogan early in this Government’s term.
Quotas had not been mentioned in the programme for government, although there was reference to public funding for political parties being tied to the level of “participation by women as candidates those parties achieve”.
This echoed a passage in the Labour Party manifesto, with one significant difference: that document had spoken of “public representatives” instead of “candidates”.
In the event, Hogan decreed public funding for parties would be cut in half unless they hit the 30 per cent gender target, and said the figure would rise to 40 per cent in future polls. The threat to reduce money was the only way to “concentrate the mind”, he said at the time.
As elected representatives and aspiring politicians prepare for selection conventions, the implications of this political experiment are hitting home. We heard a claim last week that the cull has already begun in Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s backyard.
As a number of observers have noted, geography rather than gender probably tops O’Mahony’s list of problems. Boundary revisions saw a swathe of his base lost to the neighbouring constituency, while the number of seats in Mayo has been reduced to four as part of the aforementioned overall drop in the number of TDs.
But the fact he has chosen to highlight the gender issue is indicative of the previously unspoken disgruntlement felt by many male deputies about the measure.
The perfectly understandable reality is that men who have toiled in the political field for many years, often at great expense to their family life, are none too happy about the prospect of being replaced with women who may have less direct experience of politics. A younger generation of men seeking to place a foot on the national political ladder also feel aggrieved.
Fine Gael councillor Barry Ward believes himself to have been the first “victim” of gender quotas.
He went before a party selection convention in Dún Laoghaire ahead of the 2011 general election at which Seán Barrett topped the poll in a secret ballot.
Asked for her version of events, Mitchell-O’Connor said: “My primary focus at the moment is selection, election.”
Ward is a self-professed feminist and admirer of Mitchell-O’Connor, but he derides the quota move as a “nuclear option” when milder initiatives aimed at improving gender balance in Leinster House have not even been trialled.
The current Dáil has just 27 women TDs. Fianna Fáil has no female deputies. In the constituencies where that party is now without Dáil representation, it could arguably be easier for Fianna Fáil headquarters to convince local organisations a fresh start is needed and to give a woman candidate a chance.
Labour and Sinn Féin have a decent track record of putting forward women candidates. Securing their election is another story, of course.
There has lately been talk of female “sacrificial lambs” being added to Fine Gael tickets to ensure compliance.
These women, effectively tagged on to incumbent male TDs and perhaps without strong support in constituency organisations, surely have little chance of taking a seat.
Mary Minihan is on the political staff Twitter: @minihanmary