The 2011 General Election may be most remembered for the predicted collapse of Fianna Fáil as with the heated debate revolving around the economy and political reform, nevertheless the lack of women contesting the election is a certain talking point. Currently women politicians account for only 15% of the candidates throughout the country.
Despite crusades in previous years in hopes to inspire a more balanced Dáil Eireann, the percentage of women representatives in the Irish lower house have fallen. Ireland’s 2007 ranking of 8th in the world in terms of women’s political empowerment by the World Economic Forum hides the declining percentage of women TD’s, where the Dáil ranks well below the world average. In 1990 Ireland ranked 37th in the world in terms of women representatives in national parliaments, today we have fallen to 84th with only 23 female representatives.
While society largely does not see a political glass ceiling for women, considering our last two Head of States being women, the controversial suggestion of introducing gender quotas has been raised. The National Women’s Council of Ireland are one such group who have campaigned for the introduction of a quota system that would ensure that no more than two-thirds of a parties nominations are of the same sex in local, national and European elections. Such a quota system has been applied in other European Union Countries such as Belgium and Spain.
While such a quota system won’t be in place for this General Election, a group of women have taken the step to “balance the ballot” in the Clare constituency. Before the nomination of the group consisting of Ann Cronin, Sarah Ferrigan and Madeline McAleer the Clare ballot was dominated by men. While originally hoping to encourage another 10 to 12 women to put their name on the ballot to create a gender balance, Ann Cronnin is happy that the three candidates are doing their part into normalizing the view of women on the ballot,
“I want to make a change to the system, I don’t want to be part of a system that pays lip serviceto equality, I cannot sit back and say I did nothing and wait for others to step in, for me it is about breaking the pattern”.
Ann Cronin voices dissatisfaction with the county that currently has only one female county councillor and no sitting female TDs. Ann also notes that a quota may create a gender balance, but could equally fail to elect women suitable for the post, “ I wouldn’t want to see a system in place thatwould elect another 30 Mary Harneys”.
Such a manoeuvre by “balance the ballot” is no doubt a step in the right direction but is it likely to mobilize future female candidates especially when it does not address all of what University College Cork lecturer Fiona Buckley calls the five “Cs”, childcare, cash, confidence, culture and candidate selection that Dr. Buckley argues prevents the wide scale mobilization of female candidates.
Nomination quotas may be one solution but if suitable women are being held back by numerous socio-economic variables could such a system that would only exacerbate the political chess game prevent the most suitable candidates running regardless of gender?
- Michael McCarthy