Saturday 22 October 2016

Gender quotas mean all parties will face upsets

Published 02/05/2015 | 02:30

Richard Bruton
Richard Bruton

Richard Bruton is the first big name to suffer the unintended consequences of gender quotas.

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There will be others and it is not a major surprise.

The problem has been apparent to everyone bar a small proportion of self-delusional bigots for years. Ireland has too few women in politics and that affects everyone - not just women. Years of parties framing policies and taking special women-friendly initiatives have yielded poor results.

In the last general election, 25 female TDs were elected, slightly up on the 22 elected in the previous election in 2007. Dáil Éireann's 15pc of women is poor by international standards.

In the EU only Hungary, Romania, Cyprus and Malta have fewer women in parliament. Gender quotas were the inevitable next step - but these also bring their own issues. All parties understand the simple arithmetic of getting that 33pc of women candidates or seeing their taxpayer funding virtually halved.

The Fine Gael selection convention for five-seat Dublin Bay North on Thursday is an example of the complications. Party headquarters' stipulation that they must run two candidates, one male and one female, appeared to leave Councillor Naoise O Muiri out in the cold. Many delegates feared losing Cllr O Muiri, an excellent representative and party person, as the parameters looked set to deliver veteran Mr Bruton and the female contender, Stephanie Regan. But the delegates chose Cllr O Muiri and Ms Regan. They correctly assumed the Fine Gael brass would promptly add the Jobs Minister to the ticket. The only problem with the outcome is that Fine Gael now has three candidates in a constituency where it felt two was optimum.

There are many other examples, notably in three- seaters where the party already has a sitting male TD and no great hope that it can grow its vote to take a second seat. Adding a woman candidate will help the national female quota. But it could also jeopardise a scarce existing seat.

There are also other examples along the lines of the Dublin Bay North selection process, among all the parties, which may have a less felicitous outcome. Getting on a party Dáil ticket depends a lot on timing and many able and ambitious potential runners loyally bide their time for years. Finding themselves belatedly upended by a new rule on gender can have a devastating effect, causing both that potential male candidate and their followers to walk.

Irish Independent

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