Senator Jillian van Turnhout, leader of the Independent Group of Senators, today welcomed Minister Phil Hogan’s introduction of a Bill which will introduce gender quotas at general elections.
Senator van Turnhout commended the Bill for beginning to redress the historical under-representation of women in Irish political life. She argued that “women account for half the Irish population, yet we are vastly under-represented in the policy and decision-making processes that shape all of our futures”.
Under this Bill, each political party will be compelled to field candidates who are at least 30% female at the coming general election. At the next election, that percentage will rise to 40%. Parties which fail to reach these targets will lose half of their State funding.
Noting that only 9.3% of the 1,620 Seanad seats filled between 1922 and 2009 have been held by women, Senator van Turnhout highlighted just how poor Ireland’s record is for female representation: “We are currently ranked 22nd out of the 27 EU member states, and 79th in international rankings”.
The Senator argued that the under-representation of women was “historic and persistent”, noting that “since the foundation of the State in 1918 our Dáil has never been less than 85% male”.
This, however, is not the result of women’s lack of interest in politics. Drawing on her wide personal experience of volunteer and civil society organisations, Senator van Turnhout praised “the passion and commitment of so many women and the vital role they play in shaping Ireland for the better”.
In closing, Senator van Turnhout asked Phil Hogan TD, Minister for the Environment, Community, and Local Government, whether the House was missing an opportunity by failing to apply the legislation to local and European elections. She echoed the view of the 50/50 Group that for quota legislation to be meaningful and effective, it must to be extended to Local Government.
Finally, the Senator said that the improvement in female representation should not stop with gender quotas. She called for more encouragement to be given to women to run for election, following the initiative of Women For Election to “inspire, equip, and inform” women to run for political office.
In keeping with the ideal of equality represented by the Bill, Senator van Turnhout shared her speaking time equally with Senator Fiach Mac Conghail, and commended his proposal of changes to the Leader’s Allowance received by non-party representatives: “There are guidelines to the use of this allowance but there is no requirement to vouch or keep accounts and I would like to suggest, Minister, that the Standards in Public Office Commission draw up requirements of disclosure for non-party members of the Oireachtas. Moriarty Tribunal findings state that ‘appropriate measures should be adopted to ensure that all equivalent obligations apply to independent or non-party candidates.’”