MARY MITCHELL O’CONNOR has said that there is sexism in the Dáil, but a “revolution” is happening in all sectors of society as women seek to have their voices heard on par with their male counterparts.
Speaking to reporters this morning, the junior minister said that she hadn’t experienced sexual harassment in the Oireachtas – as has grabbed the headlines in the United Kingdom and Westminster - but when asked about bullying, such as women being put down at meetings and their voices not being listened to as much as their male counterparts, she said:
I certainly have, I would believe there is sexism in the Dáil, I have said that before. I also believe there is a revolution happening, women want their voices heard in the arts, in industry, in education and in politics.
“I believe that as policymakers we need to protect women.”
In today’s Irish Times the minister is quoted as saying that the level of “macho” behaviour in the Dáil has left her feeling “ashamed of my life in there”. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar today deflected these accusations of macho-ism to the left.
While stressing that Leinster House is a safe place for women, he said:
“That is not to say there isn’t macho behaviour on occasion, in the Oireachtas, there certainly is, but I have spoken myself in the past about how very often when you’re trying to conduct normal business in the Dáil you’re interrupted and shouted down constantly.
But that is largely perpetrated by men and women of the left rather than men specifically.
The Taoiseach said systemic bullying can never be tolerated, adding that “all forms of inappropriate behaviour, boorish behaviour or obnoxious behaviour, don’t necessarily constitute systemic bullying or sexual assault so I think we have to bear them in mind”.
The Sunday Business Post reported yesterday that a new set of policies on dealing with sexual misconduct allegations could be introduced by staff at Leinster House, with the issue due to be raised by the Houses of the Oireachtas commission in the coming weeks.
Junior Minister Mitchell O’Connor’s comments came at the launch of a new gender equality taskforce for higher education institutions.
The panel consists of five people tasked with a review of the promotion and recruitment practices within these institutions, identifying areas that need improvement.
Minister Mitchell O’Connor said the taskforce intends to take a ‘carrot and stick approach’ as opposed to introducing penalties.
I really don’t want to handcuff or manacle the gender taskforce saying what I want to happen, but I want them now to come with solutions.
The minister said the reform will be a “culture change”.
“I am not naive enough to think that change will happen overnight, but if we don’t start now, by putting teeth in the recommendations, we will never realise our ambitions,” she said. “I want the taskforce to circumvent the resistance to change that is apparent in the institutions.”
The taskforce is due to report to the Minister with the intention of setting up a three-year action plan.
The latest data from the Higher Education Authority (HEA), published in July, found that just 21% of professors at Ireland’s seven universities are women, with the authors criticising that only small improvements have been made in recent years.
Additional reporting by Christina Finn