Independent Group Calls on Government to Establish Vouched System for Leaders Allowance

Independent Senators call for Government to establish vouched system for Leader’s Allowance

Press Release, 21th March 2012
***FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE***

The Independent Group of Senators (Taoiseach’s Nominees) tabled a number of amendments to the Electoral (Amendment) (Political Funding) Bill 2011, at both Committee and Report stage, which completed its journey in the Seanad last week.

The wide-ranging amendments covered the allowances paid to Party Leaders and Independent Members of the Oireachtas, a ban on corporate donations to political parties, and changes to extend gender quotas for candidate selection.

Speaking in the Seanad, Independent Group Leader Senator Jillian van Turnhout said that “all allowances should be fully vouched. We should be obliged to be accountable in respect of these allowances. When I sought guidance on the Party Leader’s Allowance, I discovered that the only form available relates to political parties.” Regrettably, the Government voted against the amendments proposed by the Independent Group to ensure a system of fully vouched expenses. Today we are calling on the Government to immediately establish a vouched system for the Party Leader’s Allowance, making representatives more accountable for their use of public money.

Under the same debate, Senator Fiach Mac Conghail addressed the issue of the Leader’s Allowance, paid to leaders of political parties and to independent members of both Houses. The Senator, who is in receipt of a Leader’s Allowance, said that while there are guidelines for its use, “there is no requirement to vouch or keep accounts”. To combat this worrying situation, Senator Mac Conghail proposed that “all independent members of the Oireachtas, including myself, should have a statutory responsibility to provide detailed accounts of donations and public funding on an annual basis”.

On the issue of funding by corporate donations in Irish politics, Senator Mac Conghail said “I think that it should be banned entirely. I don’t know why it can’t.” Drawing attention to the promise in the Programme for Government to abolish corporate donations, the Senator went on to point out that the disclosure requirements in the Bill under debate mean that parties could, in an election year, keep the sources of their funding secret until after votes were cast.

With regard to proposals in the Bill to introduce gender quotas, whereby at least 30% of each party’s candidates at the next general election must be of either gender, Senator Jillian van Turnhout called for two important changes. Firstly, Senator van Turnhout called for the initial quota to be raised to 40%, saying that a quota of 30% has been shown to be “the bare minimum level of gender parity necessary to achieve critical mass”, and a figure which “does nothing but delay the inevitable”. With a 30% quota, it could be more than a decade before 40% participation is reached.

Senator van Turnhout called for electoral quotas to be extended to local elections as well as the general election, arguing that local politics is where skills and experience are traditionally learnt by those who go on to become national representatives. The Senator argued that “Excluding local government from gender quota legislation denies potential female candidates the experience and sense of political legitimacy that would protect new female candidates from any allegation of tokenism being levelled against them”.

The amendments tabled by the Independent Group of Senators were not incorporated into the Bill. The Bill enters its second stage today in the Dail, 21st March 2012.

ENDS

Notes for editors: The Independent Group (Taoiseach’s Nominees) are Senators Jillian van Turnhout (Leader), Martin McAleese, Fiach Mac Conghail, Mary Ann O’Brien, Marie-Louise O’Donnell, and Katherine Zappone.

Electoral (Amendment) (Political Funding) Bill 2011 – Second Stage

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.

Senator van Turnhout welcomes historic Gender Quotas legislation

Press Statement, 2nd February 2012

*** FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE ***

Senator van Turnhout welcomes historic Gender Quotas legislation

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.’”

ENDS

Senator van Turnhout welcomes historic Gender Quotas legislation

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.’”

The Lancet

In July 2021, Jillian co-authored an article in the world-renowned medical journal “The Lancet”