Response to Barry Walsh’s letter to Irish Times

This letter appeared in the Irish Times in early February as a response to Noirin’s letter.
Sir, –
Noirín Clancy, chair of the “5050 Group”, points out that just 25 per cent of all local election candidates are women and blames political party selection conventions which she says “will tend to favour tried and tested [male] incumbent candidates rather than the new [female] candidate” (Letters, February 3rd). Ms Clancy seems to have based this view on an assumption rather than on actual evidence.

First, Dr Adrian Kavanagh of NUI Maynooth maintains an interesting website that lists the candidates being put forward by each of the political parties. It shows that Fine Gael, by far the largest party with the most male incumbents, has nominated at least one female candidate in 68 of the 120 electoral areas in which they have held selection candidates so far (57 per cent). This does not suggest female candidates are being shafted wholesale at local level; it suggests quite the contrary. Local media coverage of selection conventions being held across the country, of which Ms Clancy’s group ought surely be aware, shows that both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are actively seeking female candidates and that any woman who is willing to run for either party would be welcomed with open arms, not snubbed.

Second, if Ms Clancy’s claim is accurate then surely it would further manifest itself in a much higher ratio of women among Independent and non-party candidates, where no such party political barriers exist. However, according to Dr Kavanagh just 25 per cent of Independent candidates are women, which is only marginally ahead of Fine Gael but significantly behind the Labour Party which is at 32 per cent. Clearly, if women are not running as Independents in any greater numbers than as members of political parties, then local selection conventions cannot be having the negative impact which Ms Clancy alleges.

The fact is that women are far more reluctant than men to express an interest in running for election, either as members of a political party or as Independents, due to a range of deep-seated reasons surrounding the culture of Irish politics and the workload that comes with being an elected representative.

These problems will not be solved in quick-fix fashion by crass gender quotas imposed across the board, but by directly addressing these underlying factors. The sooner that feminist organisations abandon this obsession with quotas, and focus on more worthwhile solutions, the better for all women. – Yours, etc,


Mr Walsh makes three points.

1. That Candidate selection gender quotas were unnecessary because progress could have been made without them. Evidence for this does not support his argument. Equality rhetoric and voluntary quotas have not worked. Since 1992 the percentage of women elected to the Dail has gone from 12 to 16. He argues that incumbent men are only too delighted to stand aside in order to have gender balance on the ballot paper. I have heard two displaced male candidates complaining on the radio in recent weeks. No doubt there are plenty more. Women are half the population, 5 out of 6 politicians are men, this is simply unfair.

2. That candidate selection is the only barrier that women face in getting elected because women can run as independents. This ignores the other barriers that women face namely childcare, culture, confidence and cash. The gendered nature of childcare is evidenced in the 2011 Census with 500,000 women working in the home versus 9,600 men. Childcare is not a 9-5 occupation its 24/7.

3. That politics is a man’s game designed to suit men – so get over it. As a signatory to the UN Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) Ireland is obliged to at least make some efforts to redress the imbalance in Irish politics. Women are half the population we should be half the representation.

Some men will be displaced by the increased participation of women, so it is not surprising that some will get upset. However some men are supportive and indeed are prepared to step aside because they accept the justice argument. Others like the system the way it is. Gender is a significant category when it comes to representation. Women are half the population. In a properly functioning democracy women should be half the representation.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This blog is kept spam free by WP-SpamFree.