Friday 30 September 2016

Showtime for FF as battle begins amid quota issues

Published 28/09/2015 | 02:30

Ken Lee cartoon
Ken Lee cartoon

It's showtime tonight for Fianna Fáil in Dún Laoghraire-Rathdown.

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Councillors Cormac Devlin, Kate Feeney and Mary Hanafin will battle it out to win a coveted party nomination to run for the Dáil.

The contest has been a hotbed for controversy and has become like a party political Bermuda Triangle of sorts.

We all know the three candidates who will go in, but no one really knows who (if anyone) will come out the other side after the general election.

All observers agree for now that the best plan to win one out of three seats is to run just one candidate. The fourth seat goes automatically to the Ceann Comhairle, Seán Barrett.

It's a sure bet the losers will promptly demand to be included on the ticket and the winner will scream blue murder if any of them are added.

Logic in Fianna Fáil often takes a back seat when inner power-plays take over; add gender quotas and funding into the mix and who knows where this will all end? They could very well end up losing a seat they have a chance of taking.

Internal Fianna Fáil polls state the most likely of the three to prevail with the electorate is Mary Hanafin. The problem is that her party constituency colleagues do not feel the love for her. Mary has always been more admired from a distance than by her close colleagues. Their favour falls to Cormac Devlin, the young Glenageary-based councillor.

Firstly, because he is a new, hardworking councillor and well liked. Importantly, he is not Mary Hanafin.

With party apparatchiks still smarting from Hanafin's 11th hour brinkmanship in the local elections, when she essentially bulldozed her way on to the party ticket, they won't be putting out the party bunting for her return.

Ignoring every party request and instruction, she ploughed ahead with her own objectives - espousing that both she and party favourite, Kate Feeney, could both take in seats. She was right. They were wrong.

It is an important night for Fianna Fail headquarters and, in particular, for their stealth bomber-style strategy to gender-mander constituencies which deliver on gender quota requirements, introduced by the Government for the next general election.

The new criterion dictates that party funding is dependent on the number female candidates who are put forward to the electorate.

The rule requires 30pc of candidates to be female to secure maximum party funding. So far, Fianna Fáil have held 31 conventions and they have selected 11 women and 37 men. With just 10 conventions remaining their current percentage stands at 22.9pc. Their options are running out.

Let's be clear. This is about money - lots of public money - not equality.

While accounting for over half of the population (52pc) women make up just 16pc of elected representatives. Since the foundation of the state in 1918 just 95 women have been elected in the Republic of Ireland; our Dáil has never been less than 84pc male. Just 15 women have ever sat at Cabinet. With 27 women currently elected to Dáil Éireann, this is the best representation that women have ever had - but it is an increase of a paltry 5pc in 35 years.

This pace of change is glacial and requires acceleration. But the crude implementation of gender quotas could effectively set the cause back if not carefully managed by all political parties.

Even those who do not believe in the principle of political quotas accept that to redress the balance in any meaningful way a radical approach is required.

In promising reform in a number of areas the Government promised much but delivered little. To their credit they have addressed female representation, coupling the policy of female candidates with the conditionality of funding. To promote the principle of a more gender-neutral Dáil, current policy has been tied up with the grubby little matter of money. Nothing focuses the political mind as fast as funding - and this is succeeding where previous attempts failed.

Had Fianna Fáil approached the selection of female representation a little earlier and with a little more principle and a lot more work behind the scenes, we may have been spared the distasteful rush to crowbar female candidates through selection conventions. It's an approach which could well lead to pyrrhic victories as women get onto the party ticket but fail to get elected by voters.

For Fianna Fáil, charting a safe course through the shark-infested waters in Dún Laoghaire might prove to be one of those occasions where playing party games ultimately leads to the loss of a seat in Dublin where they need it most, because two candidates will not work as well as one.

In all likelihood, Cormac Devlin will secure the nomination of the party tonight and Hanafin will be added to the ticket swiftly. If Fianna Fáil do split the vote and eventually lose this seat in the general election, there will be plenty of ruminations and recriminations. That much is sure.

All the soul searching in the world will not help because, just like the Bermuda Triangle, in this political ménage-a-trois, there is no powerful mysterious force at play.

It will simply be a case of human error, where cold, hard cash and political party pacification trump common sense.

Irish Independent

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