Susan O’Keeffe spoke with a sense of history – as if she was aware her words mattered for the future of Irish women & Irish men…
In our opinion, it is one of the great speeches of modern Irish politics. Read & savour her text: isn’t it inspiring?
Electoral (Amendment) (Political Funding) Bill
Seanad Éireann 2 February 2012
Failte raibh gach einne agus go speisialta mna na hEireann.
I welcome Minister Hogan to the House & I welcome this legislation – to bring greater transparency to political funding & financing of political parties – and the promotion of greater gender parity in politics.
I once had the temerity to suggest Charles Haughey was very closely associated with big business & political donations – and I was roundly & soundly abused for that.
I particularly welcome legislation that will level the playing field & end the unhealthy relationship – the golden circles – that have flourished in the past between big business & politics.
I will address the bulk of my remarks to the gender quota aspects of this Bill
Now is the time…
We want to grow up as a country – we want men & women to be represented equally because we are all equal:
We have equal rights
We are equal in terms of population
We are mothers, sisters, daughters & wives
We are teachers, police officers, coaches, bank officials, managers, bosses
Women contribute across society – in the home, in schools, in the community, in hospitals, in voluntary organisations
Yet in the place where key decisions are made – we are absent
We are missing from the place where we should most be…
Missing in numbers where we can contribute, make an impact, make a difference…
Yes. We do operate differently – we have different priorities, different approaches.
We think differently.
We work differently
WE ARE DIFFERENT – and it’s the difference that matters – it’s the difference we want – in public life – in political life
In the Dail, in the Seanad
It’s the difference we need.
Because the difference will make a difference
And this difference, this inclusion of women is not emerging through the normal procedures.
We are not making progress…
if it’s 250 or 350 years before it happens
– we can’t afford to wait any longer.
This is an urgent matter because it goes to the core of who we are & how we look after ourselves & country.
There is an invisible quota firmly in place – the one that has always supported, encouraged – and most importantly –
Men to be in politics
Men to be in charge,
Men to be in power,
to take the decisions
And in part we expect that because we look around us, that’s what is reflected back to us…
Where I live in Sligo, we have had Mary Reynolds & Marian Harkin – only 2 women TDs – and now 2 women Senators Imelda Henry and myself
That hardly represents the population of Sligo/Leitrim or Sligo/North Leitrim.
That’s the status quo. What people are used to, what people know, what’s comfortable
People don’t change their banks easily…
they don’t change their religion easily…
they certainly don’t change their politics easily or their voting habits…
And voting for a woman will be difficult for some people, impossible for others perhaps
But IF THERE ARE NO WOMEN TO VOTE FOR – IT CANT HAPPEN
We could say that’s how it is – that’s life – tell that to cancer patients whose lives have been made better by medical & scientific interventions…
We could talk about more women & how important it is & hope it rubs off somehow…
We could try to level the playing field – to say to parties:
Make the effort
Change your attitude
Change the status quo
And to say to women too:
Make the effort
Change your attitude
Change the status quo
So we have to give this process a push, a kickstart to change our way of thinking, to see that women are not entitled to be involved
We are obliged to be involved.
It is our country. We are all responsible
Of course, this is not a replacement for much-needed wider political reform of the institutions of government. That is necessary – and will take years as reform always does. But that process should & must benefit from the input of women – so that, at least, the issues of childcare, work patterns & work environment could be addressed by both men & women – and some of those less-family-friendly-policies could be examined & reorganised.
The Scottish Parliament – has a crèche open 8am to
And aims to meet between 9.30 and 5.30 – Tuesday to Thursday
Remember – the only Government in the world – Rwanda – which is predominantly women – outlawed polygamy!
Of course, persuading more women to enter public life & political life will not result directly from this piece of legislation. It is an enabler to encourage the environment to be built where more women will want to come forward because they will know that they can & will get a fairer hearing.
Naturally some women will never choose politics – no more than I would choose to be an actuary or an engineer – I can’t draw a straight line & algebra & I were never friends
Being a public representative is not everybody’s cup of tea.
But this legislation will have a greater impact
because it supported supported by50:50 Group...
– I am proud to say I am a founder member of the North West branch of this lobby group which is now nearly national: 50:50 aims to encourage debate, conversation, discussion & argument about the need for more women in politics.
… and is also supported by a new group called Women for Election which has received funding from Social Entrepreneurs Ireland to do the very thing many critics say is missing – run workshops, lectures, offer training and mentoring to women who are interested and want to know about a life in politics.
And why did Women for Election go down this route?
– because, when they were lobbying for a Yes vote in the Lisbon Treaty, they encountered many women who were interested in politics, but because they were outside the family/dynastic/party system didn’t know how to get involved
didn’t know if they would be welcome
These movements are of women, for women & by women which is not surprising – but crucially – in 21st century
these movements encourage support from men & have received much support from men for these changes. Without that support, this would remain just a law without being rooted in society.
Of course, male support will be well & truly tested – when it involves the realisation that women will not be sitting on men’s knees in either of the Houses of the Oireachtas
– it will mean some men will have to move over!
But those critics of the legislation would do well to remember that society changes slowly over time & there are many pieces to the jigsaw of change…
I – as one woman who believes that 50:50 is the correct form of representation – welcome this legislation.
THE DIFFERENCE WILL MAKE A DIFFERENCE