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Minister Roderic O'Gorman delivering opening International Women's Day remarks in the Dáil
Solitary Man

Minister starts Women's Day address to empty Dáil in moment widely shared on social media

Labour leader Ivana Bacik said she was ‘disappointed’ to see so few representatives in the Chamber.


IN A MOMENT that has been widely shared on social media, Minister Roderic O’Gorman was the only person present in the Dáil chamber when delivering his opening remarks on International Women’s Day.

In all, 24 TDs addressed the Dáil to mark International Women’s Day through the almost two hours of remarks.

While the Dail chamber is usually packed with its 160 TDs for set-pieces such as Leaders’ Questions, it can often look quite different on other occasions, as was the case yesterday.

For example, Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghail last month compared the Dáil to the ghost ship Marie Celeste when Health Minister Stephen Donnelly addressed an empty chamber when introducing a Health Bill.

Before O’Gorman’s opening remarks yesterday, around a dozen or so TDs were in the Dáil chamber to ask questions of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar that fell within the remit of his Department.

Around a minute after the conclusion of these questions, the Dáil began to hear statements on International Women’s Day.

But in that brief interlude, the Dáil chamber emptied, and Minister Roderic O’Gorman opened his remarks with no other TDs present.

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O’Gorman is the minister with responsibility for gender equality.

“I’d like to begin my statement today by welcoming all to the Dáil chamber,” said O’Gorman to an empty Dáil.

However, when the camera panned around the Dáil almost ten minutes into O’Gorman’s remarks, six female TDs were now present in the chamber.

These TDs were Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald, four other Sinn Féin TDs (Rose Conway-Walsh, Imelda Munster, Louise O’Reilly, and Sorca Clarke) and Labour leader Ivana Bacik.

IMG_4321 Six female TDs enter the chamber during O'Gorman's remarks

McDonald noted that women in Ireland “still face real barriers” and remarked that “the glass ceiling and the gender pay gap are long-standing inequalities”.

The other four Sinn Féin TDs said their thoughts are with women living through conflict, especially in Gaza and Ukraine.

Bacik also extended her thoughts to women in Gaza and Ukraine and remarked that “everyday sexism remains a real issue” in Ireland, with only 23% of TDs being women.

Bacik then expressed disappointment that the chamber was so empty.

“I was disappointed last Thursday afternoon, when this House debated the recommendations of the report of the Joint Committee on Gender Equality, to see so few representatives in the Chamber,” said Bacik.

“In fact, it is the same three groupings which are represented here today which were represented in the Chamber on Thursday.”

Later, other female TDs entered the chamber to address the Dáil, including Social Democrats leader Holly Cairns, Fine Gael’s Eimear Higgins and Sinn Féin’s Patricia Ryan.

Higgins apologised for being “breathless” as she had to “run from a committee vote”.

Many TDs who addressed the Dáil spoke about this Friday’s referendums, when voters will decide whether they want to accept changes to the Irish Constitution relating to the provision of care and a woman’s place in the home.

Voters are being asked if they want to:

  • amend Article 41 of the Constitution to provide for a wider concept of family (i.e. not one only based on marriage)
  • delete Article 41.2 of the Constitution to remove text on the role of women in the home, and insert a new Article 42B to recognise family care.

Cairns used her time to criticise the government for “rushing” to meet a symbolic deadline of 8 March, International Women’s Day, for the upcoming referendums.

She said the “rush to meet this deadline has led to debates being cut short, rising confusion among voters, and even to An Post being unable to deliver information booklets to voters in time”.

She added that speakers can “recycle and reuse our speaking notes year on year because the same problems always remain”.

Around an hour in, Sinn Féin’s Pa Daly was the first male to address the chamber, followed by People Before Profit’s Richard Boyd Barrett and Mick Barry.

In all, 24 TDs, including Minister O’Gorman, were present at one stage or another to deliver remarks.

This included independents such as Carol Nolan, Mattie McGrath, Michael Collins, Catherine Connolly, Michael Healy-Rae, Verona Murphy and Violet-Anne Wynne.

Healy-Rae described the upcoming referendums as a “cynical and hollow gimmick” that “exploits” International Women’s Day, while McGrath and Collins referenced false claims that the referendums will “erase” references to women in the Constitution.

In his closing remarks, O’Gorman said of the upcoming referendums: “It is not often that we have the opportunity to widen our recognition and widen a number of constitutional protections through such a small measure as putting an X on the box that says ‘Tá’.”

IMG_4323 Dáil chamber as O'Gorman delivered his closing remarks

He added: “We will have the opportunity to look at what has happened in our country’s past, reflect on it and see how we can make our country’s future different.”

In a statement to The Journal, the chair of the Oireachtas Women’s Caucus Fiona O’Loughlin noted that there are “many conflicts on a Parliamentary day”.

“At the time of the International Women’s Day statements, there were six committees sitting, and some of them voting.

“I am pleased that there were 24 speakers who contributed to the debate.

“I have no doubt that TDs were listening to the contributions in their own offices whilst catching up on other work.”

O’Loughlin also noted that the Oireachtas Women’s Caucus “has unanimously agreed to encourage people to vote Yes/Yes for both referendums”.

The Journal / YouTube

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