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Una Mullally: Fine Gael makes a clumsy grab for female voters

Enacting policies that address women’s concerns is needed, not a fluffy online campaign

It’s International Women’s Day, which means the world and its mother is looking for ways to shoehorn feminism into various messaging. This year, my award for the finest piece of corporate nonsense that circles this date, is a voucher a taxi app offered with a 14.4 per cent discount for an essential journey, highlighting Ireland’s gender pay gap.

Another approach at targeting women in recent months has come from Fine Gael. Thankfully, the party seems – for the moment – to be laying off the infantile and irrelevant “content” it spent 2020 pumping out across social media. Perhaps it is nursing its neck after the whiplash caused by switching between nasty, populist attack ads and fluffy FG-as-BFF mode with videos of politicians swimming, pouring coffee, making scones and generally being just so nice.

While it’s depressing to think that a political party believes this is a route to the hearts and votes of women in Ireland, it does appear that Fine Gael knows it needs women voters, and that this is a demographic to chase. But will it work?

Such rotten and sexist recent episodes are at odds with Fine Gael's pastel-blue push towards 'The Woman Voter'

The party has been pushing a webinar based around a new book, Proud to Serve: the Voices of the Women of Cumann na nGaedheal and Fine Gael. “Women have been hidden in our history and many of their achievements are ignored,” the tweets from Fine Gael’s official party account read. They remind me of some other tweets from a then Fine Gael national executive member, Barry Walsh, who in 2016 called Sabina Higgins a “vile woman”.


He also attacked author and comedian Tara Flynn who was at the time enduring an intolerable amount of abuse online due to her activism on women’s reproductive rights. Walsh, who also referred to a politician as “some stupid Sinn Féin b***h”, resigned from his role within Fine Gael.

This latest attempt to capture female voters also reminds me of another grab. In 2013, Fine Gael’s Tom Barry, during a vote in the Dáil at 2.40am on a July morning, manhandled a female colleague, Áine Collins, pulling her on to his lap. At the time, Fine Gael general secretary Tom Curran described this behaviour as “horseplay”. Are these attitudes towards women marginal in Fine Gael? All political parties have issues with misogyny, of course, although the Social Democrats seem to be able to offer an alternative to the boys’ club.

Such rotten and sexist recent episodes are at odds with Fine Gael’s pastel-blue push towards “The Woman Voter”, that is very obviously aimed at sucking up voters fleeing Fianna Fáil. The breakdown of first-preference voting intentions in a recent Irish Times poll, shows that Fine Gael’s popularity is highest among female voters, at 32 points. This drops to 28 points for men. The difference, four points, is the opposite for Sinn Féin, which polls four points higher (30) with men than they do with women (26).

It goes without saying that women voters don’t need a superficial communications strategy, and also that this superficial communications strategy is aimed at women. Fine Gael knows that the perceived edginess of Sinn Féin may not sit comfortably with the more centrist women of Ireland’s middle classes, and they also know that Fianna Fáil struggles to connect with contemporary Ireland, especially considering so many Fianna Fáil politicians actively campaigned against reproductive rights.

If the party wants more women voters, then do the work. Enact decent policies rooted in fairness that tackle many of the problems that women bear the brunt of

But ultimately, the messaging is hollow. Women are not a homogenous cohort, and generally people want policies that create a more equal and fair society, not a version of “women’s politics” that is as shallow as the outmoded “women’s magazines” that clutter newsagent shelves.

Young women are suffering hugely in the pandemic. They are disproportionately represented in certain industries that have shut down, such as hospitality, the arts and the beauty industry. They also form huge swathes of our frontline health workers, our teachers, our hotel workers and so on. Yet what women are saying again and again is how under-represented they are in the decision-making processes around coronavirus policy, from the ministerial posts included in high-level decision-making, to the committees calling the shots. Isn’t this something that should be addressed if Fine Gael wants to represent women?

Ultimately, you can try to leverage influencer culture and basic social media content for likes and, on some level, people who don’t think too deeply about these things may be temporarily amused by Richard Bruton’s baking or Simon Harris’s emojis, but anyone engaged with issues doesn’t care about that stuff.

Fine Gael ran the lowest proportion of female candidates in the last election. If the party wants more women voters, then do the work. Enact decent policies rooted in fairness that tackle many of the problems that women bear the brunt of; childcare, child poverty, homelessness, violence against women, pay inequality, education access, the rental crisis, paying frontline healthcare workers fairly and political representation. Without doing that, the words of Mary Raftery spring to mind: Do they think we’re eejits?