THE INTRODUCTION OF of gender quotas in Ireland is currently being debated.
The basic premise of the proposals is that by linking the funding of political parties to the amount of female candidates, Irish politics can be made more representative. Most of the anti-gender quota arguments have centered on the idea of merit – the idea that parties will not pick the best man for the job, but a less able women, in order to fulfil these criteria.
This would also be linked to the idea that even if the party picks the best person for the job and that person is a female, that candidate could be seen as having got the job by being female, resulting in them not getting the respect they deserve.
The other side of the debate – the pro side – has cited the poor statistical relationship between percentage of women in the country and percentage of women in the Dáil. However, little of the debate has focused on what introducing policies based on statistical demographic breakdowns might mean.
In Ireland, Travellers number around 36,224 – or proportionally, 1.3 seats in the Dáil. But how many people from the travelling community are in the Dáil? Zero. There are 189,213 lone parent families in the country; proportionally 6.79 seats. How many lone parents in the Dáil? In the last census, ten per cent of the population was (to use that horrible phrase as every one is from somewhere) ‘non-national’. Are 16.6 seats in the Dail held by non-nationals?
All these groups, and probably others, do not have a number of TDs in proportion to their demographic numbers. When issues that affect women solely are debated – such as the cervical cancer vaccine – while there are not 83 females to weigh in on the issue, there are some. Compare this to the debates on the citizenship referendum, where not one person of an immigrant background was present to argue their case.
If we are introducing gender quotas to create a more statistically balanced Dail, why are we limiting ourselves to just women?
‘If some groups amount to less than 50 per cent of the total population, discrimination against them is fine’
The message we are sending out is that, we, as a nation, consider that because women make up 50 per cent of the population and not 50 per cent of the Dáil statistically, that this discrepancy is discrimination and should not be tolerated. However we are also saying that the other statistical discrepancies are not an issue. We are saying that the lack of ‘non-nationals’, Travellers, lone parents and other minorities in the Dáil in proportion to their number is fine. That if some groups amount to less than 50 per cent of the total population, representative discrimination against them is fine. By enshrining in law that certain statistical discrepancies are wrong we are enshrining in law that all other statistical discrepancies are right.
Article 16.3 of the Irish Constitution states:
No law shall be enacted placing any citizen under disability or incapacity for membership of Dáil Éireann on the ground of sex or disqualifying any citizen or other person from voting at an election for members of Dáil Éireann on that ground.
This is an important statement. It defines members of Dáil Eireann not as men or women, not as black or white, not as gay or straight, not as settled or Traveller but as citizens. All equal, all one, all citizens. By bringing in quotas, we are breaking this belief.
It doesn’t matter that it is a law affecting party funding, it is the principle that matters. The principle is that we are not all just citizens, but that we are subsets of citizens that can be divisible on certain characteristics – in this case gender.
But we as a people are made up of more then one characteristic. There are many things that define us, and shape our world view. Trying to have every statistical category represented equally in the Dáil would require four million TDs. We should define members of the Dáil on only one characteristic – citizens. Using any other definitions undermines societal cohesion by saying some are more equal then others.
Simon Tuohy is a doctor of physics currently working at Oxford University. He is originally from Tipperary.