Political parties are required to ensure at least thirty percent of their candidates in the next General Election are women; and any party that fails to reach the target will have its state funding cut by 50 per cent. Parties will also be required to have 40 per cent or more female candidates after a further seven years.
Deputy Leader of Sinn Fein, Mary Lou McDonald and former Fianna Fail Minister, Mary O’Rourke give their views to irishmokefill
Mary Lou McDonald – For
“I probably take a very pragmatic view of quotas, and I would love to live in a world where something like that is not necessary, but the reality of the situation is that women, who are over 50% of the population in this country are hugely unrepresented in public life and political life, and I think we have to ask ourselves what can we do about that,” said the Sinn Fein Deputy Leader. “I think you have to start at the start, and if you believe as I believe, that it is a big problem in our democratic structure that women are so absent, you then have to say what are we going to do to correct that!”
Deputy McDonald said to irishsmokefill that she believes the 30% quota is fair, but she sees the difficulty with the quota system is that if you want an increased number of women to run for election, you also need an equal number of women elected that run.
“It’s not about giving weaker candidates an easier passage, because you have to be able to give the commitment and put up with the personal intrusion,” she said.
She admits that she “juggles” her home and work life.
“I juggle, don’t be under any illusions otherwise, and I think that fundamentally the culture of Irish politics is male, and if you are a young girl looking at the political scene what you see is that politics is largely male,” said Deputy McDonald.
She said that to solve the quest for balanced democratic representation, two things need to happen.
“The system needs to change and adapt to facilitate women, and women need to step up to the mark, to insist on us having our place and taking our place, so it makes a demand on women to get involved and to support each other,” said Mary Lou McDonald.
Mary O’Rourke – Against
The former Fianna Fail minister thinks that quotas in Irish politics are unfair to both women and men.
“They single women out because it says that candidates are being put forward just because they are a woman,” said Mary O’Rourke. “People should be voted on for their merit rather than their sex, and of course I agree with more women going forward, but not when it is unfair.”
She highlighted an incident which happened in Carlow political circles where two men were told to step aside, because a woman was to run.
O’Rourke told irishsmokefill that she believes that gender quotas are illegal.
“I’m quite sure they will be challenged in the courts, and I think it’s unconstitutional, and I’ve heard people say that,” she said.
The former Minister of Education said that she has acted as an encouragement to women who want to enter politics.
“I gave a seminar here in Athlone for Fianna Fail women, and saw a huge interest among women in getting involved in politics, but they will experience a huge intrusion in their lives,” she said. “I’ve always found Dail Eireann a friendly place, but it doesn’t have family friendly hours, particularly if you live outside Dublin, and all women have to juggle a lot, but I don’t see why they should get special treatment, and Gender Quotas is a discriminatory action, and I think it’s discriminatory against men and women.”
She said that parties should set up committees whereby women would be coached, and get advice about going forward for election.
“The best advice I can give to women interested in politics is to go to meetings, and work your way up,” said Mary O’Rourke.