Sunday 11 December 2016

Much done, a lot more to do, for the election of women

Niamh Gallagher

Published 02/01/2016 | 02:30

Some of the women elected to Leinster House posing in a picture organised by Ivana Bacik in 2008
Some of the women elected to Leinster House posing in a picture organised by Ivana Bacik in 2008

Numbers. It's easy to get lost behind them. Just 16pc of those elected to the current Dáil are women. That's low - 27 out of 166. It sounds bad. But is it bad enough to get us jumping up and down to change it? Are there better ways to imagine what this number really means? Of course there are. A picture tells a thousand words. The photograph above - coordinated by Senator Ivana Bacik and taken back in 2008 - of the women, still living, who had held seats in the Dáil or Seanad, is striking. Those women, lined up in the Dáil chamber, make a tiny group; they don't even fill half the room. Their beaming smiles and colourful ensembles cannot make up for their paltry number. And this little group captures all of those women who have ever held public office in our country. Looking at that photo is shocking.

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Consider then the number 15: the number of players on a rugby team, about half a primary school class on current numbers, a fairly standard number to have around the table on Christmas Day, and - believe it or not - the number of women who have ever, in the history of our State, sat at Cabinet.

It's tiny. And yet we had a good start as a fledgling nation. In 1919, Ireland was a leader, with Countess Markievicz being appointed Minister for Labour and becoming the first woman to hold ministerial office in Ireland (naturally) and in Europe. She held her position for two parliaments.

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