Fianna Fáil forced to take gender balance seriously.


Anne Phillips seminal work ‘The Politics of Presence’ contends that female political representation is essential for the advancement of interests which are of particular importance to women. Gender quotas are used not as preferential treatment; rather they are an attempt to remedy problems of deep-rooted male privilege.

The merit argument is often advanced as a reason to oppose gender quotas i.e. that the best person for the job should be chosen irrespective of gender. All things being equal Phillps argues that that is not true, as outlined above. However all things in Ireland are not equal and as the Minister for Plain Speaking Leo Varadker put it – if merit were the only criterion governing the election of politicians, then the Dail would not be composed of 16% women.

Ireland is a signatory to the UN convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women and Strategic objective G of the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action. However progress on voluntary gender quotas implementation by the political parties in Ireland has been a dismal failure. (O Keeffe, 2013)

The parties sought to implement a voluntary 30% gender quota to the local elections in 2014. However, the difficulties of implementing voluntary quotas became apparent – Fianna Fail fielded 17.1% female candidates, Fine Gael fielded 22.6%, Labour’s 28.9%, Sinn Fein 31.6% and People Before Profit did best with almost 40%. (Buckley, 2014).

Dr Adrian Kavanagh of Maynooth University points out that Fine Gael will have the greatest difficulty in meeting the quota because they have the highest number of incumbent males. Incumbancy is one of the barriers that women face more than men. Fianna Fail will also struggle but they have fewer incumbent males and therefore it should be easier for them to field new female candidates. However because they didn’t implement the quota in the local elections they do not have the pipeline of experienced women in Local Government or the Senate from which to select suitable candidates. However the legislation does not apply to local elections.

It will not apply to the local elections in 2019, Watch that space….

Ms Fiona Buckley of UCC and 5050 group member points out that the experience from other countries is that it takes on average 3 election cycles before parliaments see a significant increase in women’s parliamentary representation following the introduction of gender quotas.

The passing of the Electoral (Amendment)(Political Funding) Act in July 2012 was a recognition by the mostly male Dail that progress on gender equality would not be advanced without a financial penalty to the political parties. Clearly, the introduction of the gender quota candidate selection legislation was very welcome, if long overdue, in efforts to address the lack of women in Irish politics. The gender quota legislation is not a panacea, however. This problem of gender inequality is not only an issue between men and women but also between progressive men and those men who benefit from the status quo.

The recent controversy in Longford saw a gender directive being implemented and Connie Gerety-Quinn being the only candidate eligible to run. This is because the male leadership in Fianna Fail have paid lip service to gender equality. Think Averil Power, Mary Fitzpatrick, Deirdre Heney… the list goes on. If Fianna Fail is so in favour of equality for women why is it necessary for them to issue directives? The data shows that Fianna Fail don’t see gender equality as an important issue. When Fianna Fail start to implement the various reports that have advised them on how to change, then gender equality will become a reality within Fianna Fail.

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;