5050 Group calls for family friendly politics and quotas for local elections

In the elections of 1918 Hannah Sheehy Skeffington, a leading feminist suffragette,  wanted to be selected as a candidate. However, she was only offered a seat she had no chance of winning so rejected it. Over 90 years later similar concerns were being discussed at a women and politics seminar in Sligo.

Following the seminar the 5050 Group will be asking candidates in the forthcoming general election to support family friendly politics and the implementation of quotas for local elections.

The seminar, ‘1916-2016 Equality for Women 100 years on’, was held at the Institute of Technology, Sligo and was organised by 5050 North West, an advocacy group campaigning for equal representation in Irish politics.

Sligo Cllrs. Sinead Maguire and Marie Casserly, Leitrim Cllrs. Finola Armstrong McGuire and Sinead Guckian, and Donegal Cllr. Niamh Kennedy Sligo Cllrs. Sinead Maguire and Marie Casserly, Leitrim Cllrs. Finola Armstrong McGuire and Sinead Guckian, and Donegal Cllr. Niamh Kennedy participated in a panel discussion.

Cllr.Sinead Guckian expressed her disappointment at not getting selected at Fianna Fáil’s recent selection convention. She was critical that ‘there was no sign of the party’s ‘Markievicz Commission report’ which made recommendations on increasing female participation.

Councillors Sinead Maguire and Finola Armstrong McGuire spoke of the training provided by Fine Gael for women. Fianna Fáil held a boot camp for election candidates.  All councillors commended the 5050 Group for their support and particularly the media training provided by Ocean FM.

While not all liking the idea of gender quotas, councillors acknowledged they are necessary to get more women on the ticket, emphasising they were a ‘temporary’ measure until the playing field is level.

Nóirin Clancy, 5050 ChairpersonNóirin Clancy, 5050 Chairperson, emphasised the need for quotas for local elections not just general elections, stating ‘since most politicians start out as councillors they are more likely to stand for the Dáil; until we see more women councillors we won’t see more women in the Dáil’.

Incumbency is regarded as a key barrier as one councillor stated ‘how do you get past the men who’ve been sitting TDs for the past 20 years?’

Reference was made to the 1999 ‘scrappage scheme’ which offered financial incentives to councillors to step down in order to bring new blood to local politics.  Having a retirement age or limiting the terms of office was also muted.

The kernel of the problem, highlighted by speakers, is the reluctance of many male politicians to step down and to share power. A sense of ‘entitlement to the seat’ is prevalent.

Councillors agreed that politics needs to become more family friendly for both women and men. For rural TDs the long hours means much time away from family; female TDs don’t even get maternity leave.

Dr. John Pender, Lecturer in politics, IT SligoDr. John Pender, Lecturer in politics, IT Sligo, highlighted that the Dáil has always been at least 85% male. The 2014 local elections resulted in a small increase in women’s representation going from 17% (2009) to 20.5%.

John referred to interesting developments in Sweden and Norway where a women’s political party, ‘Feminist Initiative’, is gaining momentum. Disillusioned that mainstream parties were not taking gender equality seriously women set up their own party and their first MEP, a Roma named Soraya Post, was elected in 2014.

Claire McGing, 5050 Group member and Maynooth University lecturer, spoke of how few female political role models have emerged in the North West region. Claire said ‘Fine Gael’s Mary Reynolds was the first woman TD elected from the North West, representing Sligo-Leitrim from 1932 and 1961. She also holds the record for the woman winning most Dáil elections’. The constituency has seen only one female TD since then – Marian Harkin (2002-2007) who has been an MEP since 2004.

Claire McGing, 5050 Group member and Maynooth University lecturerDrawing on international best practice, Claire recommended that parties adopt gender quotas for local elections, co-opt women councillors when local vacancies arise, and make the Oireachtas more ‘family friendly’ by normalising the working hours, formalising maternity leave, and considering other arrangements such as proxy voting and teleconferencing.

The seminar was reminded of campaigns for equality in the last century.  Dr. Micheline Sheehy Skeffington, grand-daughter of Hannah Sheehy Skeffington, spoke about the influence of her grandmother. Coming from ‘a long line of troublemakers’ and continuing the family tradition, Micheline discussed the gender equality case she won against NUI Galway for failure to promote her to senior lecturer.

Highlights from the seminar


For further information contact:

Claire McGing, 5050 Group/Maynooth University 086-3342812

Nóirín Clancy, 5050 Group Chairperson 087 2747770;

www.facebook.com/The5050Group     5050-group.com/blog

International Women’s Day 2012 – a personal view by Paul O’Mahony

Paul O’Mahony is @omaniblog on Twitter – his business is MarketingWriteNow.com  -he’s written & recorded this piece specially for International Women’s Day

Why I support the aims of the 5050 Group – audio version of blogpost written for International Women”s Day 2012 (mp3)

Why do I support the aims of the 5050 Group?

Simple… I have a 6 year old daughter (& 2 sons too).  I want her to rule the world – or at least feel she could run anything she likes when she grows up…

As a parent, I feel responsible for bringing her back to Ireland –  from UK where she was born.  She had no power, no ability to influence where she grew up.  It’s my fault she grew up in Ireland.  That’s the way I think…

So when I got a chance to go to the Fianna Fáil Ard Fheis, I swallowed my pride – I buried my impulse to damn Fianna Fáil –  in favour of my will to be a good parent. I went willingly into “that good night“.

I support 5050 Group because…
it was formed to lobby for a better Ireland – for an Ireland in which my daughter could grow up taking it foregranted laws are made by women & men equally.  That’s what I want her to assume.  Unconsciously & consciously suck it up that she lives in an environment in which she can flourish…

I don’t want my child to grow up in a society in which men make laws & women pull strings behind the scenes.  Pubic life is for all.

For me this is a crystal clear issue.
Gender quotas are trivial compared with the big picture.  The really important matter is who makes the laws.   Who debates & votes on legislation…  who interprets the laws in the courts…  For me the best way to ensure my child gets an Ireland I can comfortably die in is for the Oireachtas of Ireland to be occupied by 50% of each gender.  Parliament & Constitution set the framework of culture, icons, symbols & flags that matter fundamentally.

Just to be clear…
those who oppose gender quotas in Irish politics may well be decent people – the only thing separating us may be the tactical question of whether quotas will lead to improvement.  But opposition to quotas may also disguise attachment to the status quo.  Those who oppose gender quotas are responsible for persuading me they are not “backwoodsmen” – conservative old codgers dedicated to putting gender equality “on the long finger“.

I have no time for those who oppose gender quotas in principle.  All I care about is whether people are on the side I favour, the side that will result in my daughter being free to apply all her talents.

Others may take a different view.
That doesn’t bother me – I have only one vote.  Thank goodness each person has only one vote.  This is not about political ideology or political point-scoring.  No matter how many Fine Gael or Fianna Fail young people oppose change – I count each person as having only one vote.

Why support 5050 Group?
I’m clear on why I do.  Even if I fail to convince one single person to join the struggle to change Ireland for the better in this respect –  at least I’m clear on my desire.

Let there be change.

I’ll admit I’ve always been a radical.  I’m on the extreme wing of the gender equality in politics movement.  If it was up to me, I’d reserve 50% of the seats in Dail Eireann for women.  I totally agree with Kathleen Lynch when she says “I want to vote for mediocre women.”  As far as I’m concerned the quality can wait – I want the stats first.

Whether women like it or not, I insist they should be lawmaking. Whether men like it or not, I insist they deserve no more than 50% of the vote on every single law & local authority bye-law.

This is an extreme view…
I can & do collaborate with people who don’t share my extreme view.  I don’t expect anyone to agree with me.  But I am fighting the good fight for a better world for my child.  That’s what a good-enough parent is meant to do, isn’t it?

I started off writing this
in a spirit of celebrating International Women’s Day 2012 – I end up throwing myself forward with the Suffragettes.  They are my mentors – even though I won’t pretend to know exactly how they all thought & acted.

Tomorrow I’ll calm down
& write more measured argument…  I’ll apply forensic skills to the so-called logic of my apparent opponents.  Today is a day for passion & honesty.

That’s why I’m with 5050.  If you’re with us – join up.  We have a lot of work to do.