Gender Quotas – a blunt instrument & catalyst by David McCarthy

by David McCarthy, CEO of MadPride Ireland, director of McCarthy Consulting, campaign director @ David Norris for President – tweets as @mccthyconsulting

Gender Quotas – A blunt instrument but maybe just the catalyst needed to start a wider conversation on social policy?

I am a big believer in Logic, I like to think things through & come to decisions that make sense.  Sometimes however life doesn’t allow you to rely on sense as a guide.  Sometimes (more often than not) politics does not allow you to rely on sense –  politics is most definitely not the bedfellow of Logic.

We live in a Republic…
or, as some would argue, a Representative Democracy.  In either case, our public representatives should reflect a cross section of our society based on gender, age, socio-economic background & (in modern Ireland) ethnicity.

The 31st Dáil therefore is in no way reflective of our society.

Is this unique to Ireland? Not at all, but where we are similar to other states in this, we are poles apart with our approach to social policy & equal treatment in nearly all other aspects of our society.

Let’s take a non gender specific issue – but one that’s dealt with in a gender-biased manner in Ireland – parental leave, with particular attention to paternity leave.

Let’s look at how we deal with it in comparison to Sweden, a progressive social democracy.

In Ireland…
non self-employed working fathers are entitled to no paternity leave.  Some employers may offer time at their own discretion.  Those who work in the Civil Service are allowed a paltry 3 days on the birth or adoption of a new baby.

This, in 2012, in a supposed modern democracy, with an oft-proclaimed social conscience, is simply a disgrace.

Now let’s look at Sweden…
16 months parental leave with the cost shared by both State & employer.  Parental leave is the law & has to be taken.

It is not that simple though… Look at how they frame the legislation:  a minimum of 2 months of 16 most be taken by the ‘minority parent’.  They do not look at parental responsibility as a gender issue they simply see it as a parental issue.

In practice, this system works because it applies to all equally. Employers do not discriminate against you for taking the time, your career progression is not hampered – whether you’re male or female.  Does this sound like anything we know of here in Ireland?

It is common place here to see women’s careers come to a halt at the birth of a child – because their employers now look at them differently.  They see them as ‘less’ than what they were before.  This perpetuates the patriarchal bent to Irish society.

So back to the original question:
Will Gender Quotas solve all these problems?  Probably not, but what I am hoping they will do is open up wider conversation as to what we want our Republic to be.

Do we want to remain in the denial some of us live in – that we are a forward thinking & modern nation – or would we prefer to aspire to more, to a better society that works for all its citizens equally – not based on gender, age or background?

I know the Ireland I want & I for one will keep fighting to achieve it.  I just hope we as a nation are willing to join the fight as this is a Republic worth fighting for.

Seanad Eireann Committee discusses Gender Quotas today


(1) Senators Fiach Mac Conghail, Jillian van Turnhout, Mary Ann O’Brien, Marie-Louise O’Donnell, Martin McAleese, Katherine Zappone  propose this change to the Gender Quota Bill:

delete “30%” & substitute “40%”.

(2) Senators Fiach MacConghail, Jillian van Turnhout, Mary Ann O’Brien, Marie-Louise O’Donnell, Martin McAleese, Katherine Zappone propose :

delete “general election” & substitute  “general election, Seanad Éireann or local elections”.

(3) Senators Averil Power, Thomas Byrne, Mark Daly, Terry Leyden, Marc MacSharry, Paschal Mooney, Darragh O’Brien, Brian Ó Domhnaill, Denis O’Donovan, Labhrás Ó Murchú, Ned O’Sullivan, Jim Walsh, Mary M. White, Diarmuid Wilson propose :

Once number of women elected to Dáil reaches at least 40% of total number of TDs elected in one general election, 
remains at that level following next 2 general elections,

gender related criteria for State funding to political parties shall no longer apply to general elections to Dáil