All election candidates - male or female - must be held to the same standards
Published 28/10/2015 | 02:30
Just over a week ago, Councillor James Browne was selected to contest the Wexford constituency for Fianna Fáil in the forthcoming general election. James's father, John, has been a TD for Wexford since 1982, clocking up an impressive 33 years in the Dáil, before deciding not to contest this election for health reasons. In the familiar way in Irish politics, he has passed the mantle to his son.
Last April, in the Sligo-Leitrim constituency - spanning Sligo, Leitrim, parts of South Donegal and West Cavan - Senator Marc McSharry and Councillor Eamon Scanlon triumphed over their Leitrim counterparts at the Fianna Fáil selection convention, given the larger number of voting delegates from the Sligo part of the constituency.
Also in April, Richard Bruton, Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Employment, was added to the ticket in his Dublin Bay North constituency, having been beaten at the convention by Councillor Naoise O'Muiri.
Before the convention, Fine Gael HQ declared a two-candidate strategy, one male and one female. When the minister lost out they opted to add him on.
These four men, who are no doubt talented and committed, were selected for reasons other than their brilliance, innate ability and political sparkle.
One triumphed for family reasons, two because of geography and the fourth, having not made it first time, was given a second chance by being added to the ticket.
Funny how this has not been part of the discourse. Local papers are not focused on whether these individuals really are the right people for the job.
Are they qualified, or did they make it just because of their surname, or where they live? Are they truly there on merit? Do they really have the full support of the local organisation?
Compare this with the discussion of the gender quota that will apply at the general election, meaning all parties will have to field 30pc female candidates or lose 50pc of their State funding.
Each time a new female candidate comes through convention as a result of a party HQ directive, or is added to a party ticket, questions are raised immediately about her right to be there.
Is she really the best one for the role? Would she have made it without the quota?
Can we be sure she's qualified? And often, use of that awful word - a word that seems to be reserved only for female candidates - is she a 'token', there just to fill space and help parties reach the magic number.
With Women for Election, I have worked with female candidates since 2012. More than 800 women have come through our doors, taking part on training programmes designed to support them to succeed in political life.
Among those women are community activists, trade unionists, business women, environmentalists, women deeply involved in their parties and women determined to do it alone.
None of them could be described as 'token' women.
They are women who have a contribution to make to politics and who want to get their name on the ballot paper to do just that. They have as much right as anyone - or any man - to be there.
As of this week, 118 women have declared as general election candidates. According to political geographer Adrian Kavanagh, that is 30pc of the total, which stands at 389.
This is a record number, and it is set to increase further as selection conventions continue apace.
Of the female candidates currently on the ticket, more than 80pc have contested elections before and almost 70pc currently hold office at local or national level.
These women are not novices; the majority of them are proven campaigners and vote winners.
So why are we asking questions of these women - their aptitude, skill and qualification - that we don't ask of men?
Why are we focusing on their gender rather than their ability to represent us as voters and get the job done? And why are we tolerating use of the word 'token' to refer to candidates of one gender only?
Evidence from Ireland and abroad shows that balanced decision-making leads to better results, in business, politics and communities.
We know that we need a mix of women and men elected to our parliament to ensure the best outcomes for all of us, and experience in Belgium, Spain and France has demonstrated that the most efficient and effective way to do this is through a gender quota system.
We are right to expect a high - and consistent - standard from candidates, and to question their skills, background and suitability for the job.
We should read the literature and look up and down the ballot paper for a candidate we believe matches our values and will deliver for our communities. But we most hold all candidates - male and female - to the same standard.
The forensic analysis of female candidates' suitability for the job should be extended to their male colleagues. More scrutiny all round can only be a good thing. We all deserve the best, most capable candidates and if more women on the ticket has raised the bar, then that is just another positive effect of this gender quota.