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9 times when Irish politics has been really sexist

The debate about sexism in Irish politics has been reignited by Michael Lowry and his controversial note this week.

'Lapgate' in July 2013
'Lapgate' in July 2013
Image: Oireachtas TV

MICHAEL LOWRY REIGNITED the debate about sexism in Irish politics this week when it emerged he’d written a note to the Taoiseach describing a former PR advisor as, among other things, “not bad looking”.

The independent TD has denied accusations of sexism, saying he’d never had a situation “a woman took exception to a compliment on her appearance, or on her nice dress, or a pair of shoes or a hairstyle”.

But others have condemned his comments, Environment Minister and Lowry’s constituency colleague, Alan Kelly, said it was a “stupid and silly comment”.

Whether it was sexist or not there is no doubt that with the Dáil and Seanad dominated by male politicians there has been a tendency over the years for incidents of sexism – intended or not – to occur.

Here are a few examples from down through the years…

1. “Horsefaced” 

Ireland was a different place in 1958 where women were, frankly, considered inferior to men. This was no more obvious than with the ban on married women working in the civil service. As we reported last October, this caused problems for the gardaí and the depleting numbers of female members. Thankfully one TD had a suggestion:

“While recruits should not be actually horsefaced, they should not be too good-looking; they should be just plain women and not targets for marriage”.

2. “Sure that’s women for ya”

Taoiseach and Fianna Fail leader Albert Reynolds s Source: Eamonn Farrell/Photocall Ireland

In 1992, Taoiseach Albert Reynolds caused controversy when, during heated Dáil exchanges, he responded to heckles from Fine Gael’s Nora Owen by remarking: “Sure that’s women for ya”. It was an off-the-cuff remark that landed him in hot water at the time, but there was no huge offence caused in the eyes of even the female political correspondents at the time.

3. Groping 

In 1998, Fianna Fáil minister Liam Aylward was forced to apologise to an usher in Leinster House after groping her on a couch outside the Dáil bar late at night. Aylward was the subject of a complaint to Oireachtas authorities and there were suggestions at the time that female ushers should not work late shifts for their own safety.

4. “Rein her in now and again”

Cork Airplanes Crashes Disasters Source: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland

Taoiseach Brian Cowen landed himself in hot water in November 2010 when during heated Dáil exchanges he suggested to then-Labour leader Eamon Gilmore that he try and “rein her in now and again”. He was referring to the Labour’s then-finance spokesperson Joan Burton. He quickly apologised for the remark.

5. “Miss Piggy”

In 2011, Independent TD Mick Wallace was widely condemned for referring to Fine Gael TD Mary Mitchell-O’Connor as ‘Miss Piggy’ during a conversation with fellow independent TDs in the Dáil chamber. He later apologised profusely.

Source: Suzy Byrne/YouTube

6. “Flaming red hair” 

Taoiseach Enda Kenny raised a few eyebrows in 2012 when he referred to junior minister Kathleen Lynch’s “flaming red hair”. He was later criticised by political commentator Olivia O’Leary. Kenny was apologetic although Lynch herself didn’t seem to mind:

Source: Video TheJournal.ie/YouTube

7. Lapgate

In July 2013, the deadly combination of a late-night sitting and alcohol saw Fine Gael TD Tom Barry haul party colleague Aine Collins onto his lap as the Dáil prepared to vote on abortion legislation. It was an incident which went viral around the world and became known as ‘Lapgate’.  Barry later apologised.

Source: SineadOCarrollTJ/YouTube

8. “Speaking out of her fanny” 

Later that same month, David Norris hit out at Fine Gael TD Regina Doherty for comments on the Seanad abolition referendum by describing her as “speaking out of her fanny”. He was widely condemned for the remarks which he withdrew but did not apologise for.

Source: Hugh O'Connell/YouTube

9. “Motherly concern”

In May 2014, outgoing minister Ruairí Quinn’s sarcastic reference to Mary Lou McDonald’s “motherly concern” for the future of Labour party prompted this stinging reply from the Sinn Féin deputy leader:

“If you think that referring to me as a mother or motherly to the cackles of your almost exclusively male audience would go down well with me or mothers who might be watching then you’re very wrong. I don’t appreciate the tone of that remark.”

“I know a sexist undertone when I heart it,” she later added.

Have we missed any? Let us know in the comments… 

What about the menz? Why is Lucinda holding a women-only briefing?

Read: What’s wrong with complimenting a woman on “on her nice dress, or a pair of shoes, or a hairstyle”?

WATCH: 18 months on, how does this Fine Gael TD reflect on Lapgate?

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About the author:

Hugh O'Connell

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