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Irish system has failed to provide higher number of women TDs: Taoiseach

Enda Kenny told a women in politics conference about his personal sacrifices in pursing politics and discussed gender quotas.

Image: amboo who? via Creative Commons

ENDA KENNY has said the government will not seek to impose candidate gender quotas on the political parties ahead of the local elections in 2014, but acknowledged that many Dáil candidates gain their early political experience at local level.

The Taoiseach was speaking at the How to Elect More Women? conference in Dublin Castle this morning which aims to explore issues surrounding women’s involvement in Irish political life.

IRCHSS scholar Claire McGing of NUI Maynooth said that the current low percentage of women in Irish local government was ‘extremely worrying’ given that this is a way to work towards national office.

McGing said that women make up less than a quarter (22 per cent) of town councillors and less than one-fifth (16 per cent) of city or county councillors.

Overall, women account for 25 per cent of elected representatives in Ireland.

Sacrifices

Enda Kenny also spoke about the personal sacrifices involved in pursuing a political career, particularly in terms of family commitments.

“The choice that we made was that [my wife] Fionnuala raised the children practically on her own,” he said.

He said they had a rule that the children would speak to him in the evening whether he was at home or away, adding that “the thing about children is that they don’t make any distinction about distance, whether you’re in Alaska or Achill so long as you speak to them.”

“This was also brought home to me by an MEP many years ago who said to me, ‘I served in the European Parliament for many years, and the one regret that I really have is that my children moved from childhood to adulthood and I never saw them.”

Speaking at the conference, Senator Ivana Bacik said that one of the main obstacles in women’s participation was the shortage of childcare assistance and the lack of paternity leave for men “to acknowledge the caring role of men”.

Bacik said that supporting men’s greater involvement in home life would help more women to enter politics.

Quotas

Gender quota legislation is currently in the pipeline which will force parties to ensure that at least 30 per cent of their general election candidates are women or face significant cuts to their state funding.

“The people do not elect women solely to represent women and women’s issues, no more than they elect men to represent men’s issues only. As we face the challenges ahead we want to bring both perspectives to the table,” Kenny said.

“To those who challenge the concept [of quotas], I will just point out that women have been voting in Ireland for over 90 years, but our system has failed to provide the people with a higher and more appropriate `representation by women in the Dáil and the Oireachtas.”

A more equal gender balance is just one of the changes Ireland needs to make to ensure that political representation is actually representative of our society, according to political commenter and Irish Times assistant editor Fintan O’Toole.

He said the reasoning behind gender quotas wasn’t based on the notion that women would be “nicer”, less bloody-minded or gentler in politics, but that “we’re supposed to have a representative democracy with politicians who look a bit like us” including women, people born outside the country, and people from a wider range of backgrounds.

The director of the National Women’s Council of Ireland declined to attend the event in protest over the government’s recent 35 per cent cut to the organisation’s budget. NWCI project coordinator Eoin Murray attended in her place.

In a questions and answers session this afternoon, one attendee questioned McKay’s decision, saying that you “had to be in the room” to help bring about change.

The organisation has said that the budget cut would disadvantage women and children by attempting to silence a group that speaks on their behalf.

Read: Leinster House is ‘unnatural’ – Gilmore>

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