Normal Cabinet service resumes with jobs for the boys . . . again

 

OPINION:The manner in which Joan Burton was treated exposes the hypocrisy of politics

THE SHAFTING of Joan Burton proves it. We have gender apartheid in Irish politics. The country is once again to be run by Irish men with brass necks and brass balls.

Burton should have been made Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. She was not. Why? Because a man wanted the job.

Not a better qualified man. Not even an equally qualified man. Burton, an accountant, has been Labour’s finance spokeswoman for nine years. She is tough, not least because she’s taken part in far too many meetings at which she was the only woman. Brendan Howlin has no significant experience of finance, but he’s a man. A safe pair of balls.

Smug Leo Varadkar shrugged off questions about the abysmal gender imbalance of the new Cabinet, claiming that the problem was there weren’t enough women from which to choose. The percentage of women on the Government benches is 17 per cent. The percentage of women as Ministers is worse, at 13 per cent, two women out of 15. Just four out of 15 junior ministries have gone to women.

Róisín Shortall is a seasoned politician and got a huge vote in the election. Jan O’Sullivan has been impressive as Labour’s health spokeswoman but both have been given junior rather than senior ministries. Why? Because there were bearers of balls who wanted the big jobs.

The appointment of Frances Fitzgerald as a Minister is welcome, and it is important that we start taking the rights of children seriously. Asked if it wasn’t stereotypical, Ruairí Quinn said lamely that “women know more about children than men because they spend more time with them”.

Yes, we do. Our Constitution still states that women’s duties are in the home. Women were banished upon marriage from paid employment until the EU insisted in 1974 that this stop. We campaigned for decades to get access to contraception.

Successive governments which have never been less than 86 per cent male have maintained a system that has the lowest state support for childcare in the developed world, which offers no paid paternity leave and in which women are paid less than men. Childcare workers are poorly paid, and mostly women. So, yes, Ruairí, we do.

For that matter, women are the primary users of health services and women make up a majority of frontline health workers. Jan O’Sullivan the health ministry? More women than men are teachers. Did Quinn demur in favour of a woman when offered Education?

In 2009, an Oireachtas report clearly delineated the exclusion of women from Irish politics and the measures needed to bring about change. The political parties agreed that such change was necessary. Yet in 74 per cent of constituencies, Fianna Fáil put no women candidates forward, in 65 per cent Fine Gael put none forward, and in 58 per cent, Labour put none forward.

The Cabinet of the 31st Dáil was chosen by men who, whatever their protestations, are biased against women. It was jobs for the boys all over again.

The National Women’s Council will campaign to ensure this never happens again. We could do with a minister for women’s equality but for now, we welcome Kathleen Lynch as the Minister of State with responsibility for equality. She will be well able for the men with brass necks and brass balls. She will have to be.


Susan McKay is director of the National Women’s Council

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