2nd February 2012
Yes. In the spirit of equality and the subject matter in question, Senator Fiach Mac Conghail and I have agreed to share our time equally.
I very much welcome former Senator, Dr. Mary Henry, to the House. I acknowledge the work of many people to get us to where we are in our consideration of this Bill today. Senator Mac Conghail’s statement will focus on the transparency and disclosure aspects of the Bill. I wholeheartedly share his views on this. My statement will focus on the gender quota dimension of the Bill. I commend the initiation of this Bill by the Minister, Deputy Hogan. I thank him for initiating it in this House and giving us the opportunity to start the discussions. It is a strong Bill, which the Minister has outlined.
I am not necessarily a cheerleader for gender quotas. If anybody looks to my history he or she will note that when I was president of the National Youth Council of Ireland I lobbied hard for the removal of the gender quotas from the council’s constitution on the basis that it was no longer required. However, I believe in quotas when necessary and I believe the introduction of gender quotas for candidate selection is extremely necessary here.
Women account for half of the Irish population and yet we are vastly under-represented in the policy and decision making process that shapes our future. This is not because women are disinterested. I know from personal experience with the girl guides and civil society organisations the passion and commitment of many women and the vital role they play in shaping Ireland for the better. One need only go to any town or community in Ireland to see this role very clearly demonstrated.
The historic and persistent under-representation of women in Irish politics is problematic in the interests of democracy and from a human rights perspective. We recently celebrated the passage of 90 years since women in Ireland first won the right to vote and since the election of Countess Markievicz as the first female TD and MP elected. The intervening years have not boded well for gender parity representation in Irish politics. Ireland has one of the worst records of women’s representations in national parliaments worldwide. We are currently ranked 22nd out of 27 EU member states and 79th in international rankings. Since the foundation f the State in 1918 our Dáil has never had less than 85% male representation. As leader of an independent group of Senators I am part of a group with 57% female membership. That has not done us any harm but it is an anomaly. Out of a total of 1,620 Seanad seats filled between 1922 and 2009 only 9.3% have been by women. It is fitting that the Bill should be initiated in this House and that we are making a move towards balanced gender representation by way of affirmative action and the application of a legislative gender quota. For those who remain sceptical about the effectiveness of gender quotas, it should be noted that of the world’s top ten democratic parliaments in terms of representation of women, eight employ a gender quota.
I have two concerns with respect to the Bill. Are we missing an opportunity by not applying a gender quota to European and local elections? I agree fully 50:50 Group and its contention that for quota legislation to be meaningful and to work, it must be extended to local government. By failing to do that, we run the risk of making the same mistake as was made in France where women who do not come from a political family are effectively excluded from entering local politics and thus gaining political legitimacy within their constituency.
I am sure the Minister will agree that we must ensure that the gender quota is not only implemented in isolation but that we must also encourage women to run for election. In this regard, I commend the initiative of Women for Election who endeavour to inspire, equip and inform women to run for political office and to provide tailored training and support programmes for interested women.
I look forward to the debate today and on the later Stages in the coming weeks to ensure that Ireland enters the ranks of the top ten democratic parliaments.