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'It's the smart thing to do': Canadian PM gives Varadkar advice on gender balance

The Canadian PM has a gender-balanced Cabinet. Varadkar was criticised for not promoting more women.

canada Source: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

Updated at 2pm

TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR told reporters that his Canadian counterpart, Justin Trudeau, advised him how to increase female representation in his cabinet and his party, as the two leaders held a joint press conference this morning in Dublin.

The two leaders were met with questions on a variety of subjects by the Irish and Canadian press contingents at Farmleigh, in the Phoenix Park – including Brexit, the CETA trade deal and (for the Taoiseach) the new bin charging regime.

Varadkar drew parallels between the countries, noting that even though the two nations were of very different sizes, “we each share a relationship with a very big neighbour – a neighbour that has, to a certain extent, decided to go a different direction at least for the time being”.

There was also a question about gender balance – the Canadian premier, who leads the centrist Liberal Party, won plaudits two years ago when he unveiled a gender-balanced cabinet.

By contrast, Varadkar came in for some criticism here when he announced his ministerial appointments – of the 34 senior and junior positions the new Taoiseach had to fill, just seven were women.

Justin Trudeau Ireland visit Varadkar hands over an Irish-themed rugby jersey. Source: PA Wire/PA Images

Varadkar and Trudeau were both asked about gender balance, as part of the same question. There was a slightly awkward silence at first – neither leader seemed sure who should answer, initially – before the Canadian PM stepped in.

Trudeau said:

When you ask a woman to step forward and run her first question is “really do you think I should? Do you think I can? Do you think I’m qualified enough?” When you ask a man to run for politics, his first question is “well, what took you so long to ask me?”
It does take a deliberate effort to reach out and recruit great women candidates.

Trudeau said he had taken several years to recruit more women to the party. He said it was difficult to achieve gender balance, but it was “important to do so”.

“We need to get more women into politics,” Trudeau said, “so we can promote them and give them the leadership roles that we need… It’s not just the right thing to, it’s the smart thing to do.”

Varadkar then went on to say that he had sought Trudeau’s advice on the matter.

“I’m very impressed by the fact that he has a cabinet that is gender balanced,” he said.

I am always of the view that diversity leads to better decision-making. We should have a parliament that reflects and looks like the country it represents.

He said that there weren’t enough women in the Dáil, and that he would follow Trudeau’s example of recruiting more women to run in the next general election.

Varadkar had faced criticism after his cabinet reshuffle, which Labour’s Joan Burton described as a “bad day for women”.

With women appointed to just four senior Cabinet positions last month, the number remains the same as it did under Enda Kenny. Varadkar reiterated that he would like this number to rise in the future.

Diversity – not just across gender – made for better decision-making, he said, adding that he would be working to increase diversity in the next parliament.

As I mentioned before there are 12 female TDs who support the government. Of those 12, ten are either ministers or chairs of Oireachtas committees – but unfortunately we don’t have as many women in our parliament as we should have.

Answering a question on whether he regarded himself as a feminist (Trudeau has been pretty direct about this on social media – see below) Varadkar said:

“I think other people have to judge that of you – [it's] not to make that decision for yourself.

But certainly if feminism is defined as supporting equal opportunity between men and women, which I do, then I consider myself a feminist. I totally accept that other people may have a different definition than that, and therefore would not agree.

Trudeau, who arrived last night, is in Dublin until tomorrow morning.

He’s stopping by on his way to the G20 meeting in Germany, which starts on Friday. He’ll also visit Edinburgh tomorrow, where he’ll have a private audience with Queen Elizabeth.

The Canadian PM, who was elected in 2015, last met an Irish leader just two months ago, on 4 May, when he hosted Enda Kenny.

On that occasion, the meeting was somewhat overshadowed by questions from the Irish press contingent about the then-Taoiseach’s leadership, and a pair of Star Wars socks.

Varadkar sported a pair of Canadian-themed socks for today’s events, and presented Trudeau with a Celtic-themed pair, among (many) other gifts.

President Higgins will welcome Trudeau and his family to Áras an Uachtaráin later – and a raft of other high-profile events have also been organised to mark the visit.

Read: ‘Leo models himself on Macron and Trudeau, but he’s not living up to them when it comes to gender balance’ >

Read: Leo Varadkar wore a pair of novelty maple leaf socks when meeting Justin Trudeau >

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Daragh Brophy & Sean Murray

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