Thursday 27 October 2016

For five years, let's give this all-female Dream Cabinet a go

Published 15/09/2015 | 02:30

Fiona Shaw springs to mind as Minister for Foreign Affairs, maybe because Cork considers itself a country apart and she does a great job as an ambassador for arts, hearts and minds
Fiona Shaw springs to mind as Minister for Foreign Affairs, maybe because Cork considers itself a country apart and she does a great job as an ambassador for arts, hearts and minds

The next general election will be like none before. For the first time, 30pc of the major (shrinking) parties' candidates must be female or they will face a financial penalty. Ireland is 83rd in the world ranking of women's representation in 190 parliaments, alongside North and South Korea. Contrary to the old chestnut that this will produce tokenistic females, there are robust, fearless women taking their first steps into the gladiatorial arena, not giving a fig for the patriarchal parties.

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At a recent EQUIP programme run by Women For Election, I met two feisty 23-year-old candidates, Adrienne Wallace and Lorna Bogue. They sat their Junior Cert the year of the banking collapse and they are not happy about their generation's prospects.

Imagine 50 years of Irish life with an all-male cabinet. Me neither. That is how it was until 1979 when Máire Geoghegan-Quinn was allocated the Gaeltacht portfolio. Prior to the Free State, Countess Markiewicz was the first female politician to win a seat in the British House of Commons and the first Irish female cabinet minister.

But who would want to trek the byways and high roads, night after night, begging for a vote? Be trolled on Twitter, bullied on Facebook? You would want to care about reviving an economy that supports individuals who are unable to help themselves; care about creating and redistributing wealth, access to healthcare; and education for all, not based on baptismal certificates. Introduction of a fairer property tax for the elderly in homes they can't afford to heat.

What if we had five years, not even 50, of an all-female Dream Cabinet? Here are some examples of women for an 'independent' Leinster House cabinet.

Minister for Health: Dr Rhona Mahony, Master of the National Maternity Hospital. While the new National Children's Hospital was being kicked about as a constituency football, she raised funding to acquire the Elm Park complex as a maternity hospital.

Minister for Agriculture and Food: Siobhan Talbot, CEO of our biggest food group, GlanBia, which is worth €3.2bn and employs 5,000 people in 29 countries.

Minister for Justice and Defence: Emily Logan, first Chief Commissioner of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, has leadership matched with a passion for justice, humanity and accountability.

Minister for Finance: Cathy Kearney, VP European Operations at Apple and Director of Operations at Beats Electronics (Dr Dre headphones to your kids). In 2011 her driving force made $22bn for Apple, Cork's biggest private employer with more than 4,000 employees - a quarter of its European workforce. Ms Kearney could maintain her low profile and still make money for Ireland.

Minister for Enterprise and Employment: Ann Heraty was the first female CEO of an Irish company floated on the Irish Stock Exchange. Computer Placement Limited (CPL), a specialist IT placement agency, lay the foundations for Ireland's magnetism to tech companies.

Minister for Social Welfare: Sister Stanislaus Kennedy (her Minister of State will be an exception, Father Peter McVerry). Their commitment to the homeless, abandoned and disenfranchised cuts through all the red tape. On a tight budget, they will have to be realistic.

Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage: Reader, tweet your suggestions. These concepts are at our core - the soul of Ireland must be preserved.

Minister for the Environment and Local Government: Our female architects (albeit in partnerships) have been winning prizes all over Europe for years - Sheila O'Donnell, Valerie Mulvin, Roisin Heneghan, Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara will get five years to transform our empty buildings and revitalise our towns and cities.

Minister for Sport: With the sort of single-minded dedication she has brought to her own career, when Katie Taylor hangs up her gloves there's a ministerial post for her to make Ireland a sporting winner.

Minister for Education: We would have to entice back Prof Louise Richardson, a Waterford native who is Oxford's first female Vice-Chancellor since the position was created in 1230.

Minister for Energy and Communications: Margaret Ward, CEO of WomenOnAir. She is a financial journalist, a New Yawka with a passion for getting women with expertise on to radio and TV panels.

Minister for Foreign Affairs: Fiona Shaw springs to mind. Maybe because Cork considers itself a country apart and Ms Shaw does a great job as an Irish ambassador for the arts, hearts and minds.

Minister for the Diaspora: Successful actress turned media entrepreneur in the US, Roma Downey is an activist who recently donated $1m to the Irish Arts Centre in New York.

Minister for the Gaeltacht: A native speaker who wore a smile during her fight with cancer, Sile Seoige.

Minister for Transport and Tourism: Constance Cassidy SC. Saved and restored Lissadell House, home of her namesake, Constance Markiewicz, and enticed Leonard Cohen to play there, for his love of Yeats. She promotes the estate for tourism events and hosted a recent cabinet meeting to commemorate Yeats' 150th birthday. It's Constance coming full circle.

Last, but not least, Taoiseach: As Miriam O'Callaghan is going for President, she's out. Hilary Weston - another emigre and a former Lieutenant Governor of Ontario - set up the Ireland Fund of Canada, established Penneys in Mary Street and is still investing and nurturing Ireland's (and international) flagship department stores.

Politics is about humanity, governance and good society for men and women. For that reason we need more women to balance our legislature and executive. If we can have a female Chief Justice, Attorney General, Director of Public Prosecutions, Garda Commissioner, Chief State Solicitor and Minister for Justice, we can have more women in politics. As Bono would say, get on your boots.

Irish Independent

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