Friday 22 September 2017

Comment: How Varadkar's new Cabinet is the furthest thing from 'new politics' - and it's nothing to do with the lack of women

Varadkar kicked his promise of ‘new politics’ to the kerb and made it like the old guard

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in jovial spirits as he unveils his new Junior Cabinet at Government Buildings. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in jovial spirits as he unveils his new Junior Cabinet at Government Buildings. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Denise Calnan

Denise Calnan

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar stands, with a big grin and his arms outstretched, in the front page photograph of the Irish Independent today. It’s the day after he chose his junior ministers at Government Buildings, and the new suited and booted team surround their new leader.

The new Cabinet has been described by one peeved Fine Gael politician as “a bunch of men in suits”. Do you know what? They’re right.

Catherine Byrne (61) and Helen McEntee (28) are the only two females that made the cut for Varadkar’s junior ministerial team yesterday.

People are not impressed that Varadkar’s full Cabinet now features a measly seven women, out of a potential 34 positions.

I firmly believe the best person should be picked for any job, be it a man or a woman. So did this debatable mantra leave us with a male-heavy Dáil after promises of ‘new politics’? Does this mean that the women we’ve elected and who are available for the jobs just aren’t up to scratch?

Of course it doesn’t. Because Varadkar didn’t actually pick the best people for the job.

The new Taoiseach told colleagues he was picking and choosing based on 'TAT' (that’s 'talent, ability, trust' to those who love a good acronym). But the truth is, he didn’t even do that. Because, if his considerations were based on just talent and ability alone, there would be a lot more women in the front rows. 

No, Varadkar just kicked his promise of 'new politics' to the kerb, made it like the old guard and plucked for the jobs based on trust (and a bit of geography), thus leaving him with a “bunch of men in suits.”

Fine Gael TDs Maria Bailey, Kate O’Connell, Marcella Corcoran Kennedy and Hildegarde Naughton are just four names of accomplished, efficient and intelligent women that spring to the minds of those walking the halls of Leinster House on a daily basis.

But, alas, their talents and abilities were shunned because they backed Simon Coveney in the leadership contest. Why bring talent to the table in the name of ‘new politics’ when you can give the jobs to the 'choir boys'? Why try and achieve the most successful Cabinet in history when you can instead protect your own back?

There are women there who are the right people for Cabinet jobs – some of them are sitting in the Dáil waiting, some are starting out in their political careers in villages across the country, others are storming the world in their own careers and don’t even know they’re destined for the world of politics yet.

They are the kind of people we want on our Government’s front line.

We’ve struggled with encouraging these women to go into male-heavy world of politics for so long and we’ve hosted the gender quota debate so many times “in the interest of women”, what kind of vote of confidence is it to the future females of the Dáil if their talents and abilities are not considered when it comes to the crunch? Where is the 'new politics'?

"What a let down," one journalist wrote on Twitter in reaction to the appointments.

"It’s reigning men," reads another tweet.

"Varadkar wants to portray himself as a Trudeau liberal… Trudeau’s cabinet is 15 men, and 15 women," another person wrote.

One bad PhotoShop job shows Varadkar sitting at a table, with one female junior minister serving him tea. The speech bubble coming from the Taoiseach’s mouth reads; "The women are totes amazing for serving the beer and the tea."

Meanwhile, the satire account Mallow News shared a photograph of a woman with a virtual reality headset on, and captioned it; "REVEALED: The best way for women to participate in Leo Varadkar’s cabinet."

Fine Gael released a statement today in response to the uproar and wrote; "Fine Gael in Government has done more than any other party before it in terms of gender equality in politics.

"An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has maintained the highest number of female Cabinet Ministers in the history of the State - first achieved in July 2014. Currently, there are four female full Cabinet Ministers, including the Tánaiste, and in addition, a female Super Junior Minister who sits at Cabinet.

"Of the 11 Fine Gael female TDs, six are either Ministers or Junior Ministers, including the Super Junior Minister, meaning 55pc of Fine Gael female TDs occupy senior Government positions. Of the five Fine Gael female TDs who are not Ministers, four are first time TDs."

It continued; "Fine Gael has more women elected to the Dáil than any other party.

"However there is no room for complacency and we continue to work to encourage more women into politics… Fine Gael is completely committed to increasing the number of women actively participating in politics and will continue to seek to boost the number of women at all levels of the party."

They may have been kicked to the kerb due to Varadkar's failure to appoint jobs according to his acronym 'TAT', but there’s a group of women in the Dáil right now that are still determined to accomplish and succeed.

Dun Laoghaire TD Maria Bailey summed it up when she spoke to the Irish Independent after the junior minister reveal and said; “It won’t stop women from making a difference in public life from the backbenches.

“We’ve had barriers put in front of us before and we always rise above them.”

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