Thursday 27 June 2019

Former Irish president calls for women to step into political life

The former president described life for women in politics as ‘structurally, incredibly difficult’.

Mary McAleese spoke at the Politics Needs Women event in Dublin. P/A
Mary McAleese spoke at the Politics Needs Women event in Dublin. P/A

By Cate McCurry, Press Association

Former Irish president Mary McAleese has called for women to “step up” and take their political responsibilities seriously.

The former president, who is now a professor of children, law and religion at the University of Glasgow, described life for women in politics as “structurally, incredibly difficult”.

At an event to mark the centenary of Irish women winning the right to vote, Professor McAleese, who served as president of Ireland for two terms from 1997 to 2011, talked about her struggle to get into the world of politics.

Entitled Politics Needs Women, the conference in Dublin featured a number of current female politicians who spoke about the difficulties they have in public life.

Prof McAleese said she faced obstacles that were “deeply embedded”.

She said: “Politics is a really tough life, I think it’s structurally incredibly difficult.

“It’s as difficult in many ways as it was for the suffragettes in our time.

“What I would be encouraging women to do is not to let all the impediments, all the difficulties get in the way of doing it if they have the passion for it.

“So many women have wonderful things to say about politics and the idea of galvanising those voices of women and encouraging them to take their political responsibility seriously for the opportunities that politics offers.”

I am partly saying (to women) to step up to the plate Mary McAleese

Trained as a barrister and journalist, Prof McAleese is formerly a professor of criminal law at Trinity College in Dublin and pro-vice chancellor at Queen’s University in Belfast.

She has also completed a doctorate in canon law at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, with the thesis to be converted into two books on children’s rights.

She is the first president of Ireland to have come from Northern Ireland.

“I am partly saying (to women) to step up to the plate,” she added.

“I think one of the things we need to do in identifying people who have a particular talent for politics is to encourage them and saying to them you won’t be on your own.

“There are successes and those successes are measured in the way in which you are able to shape the world around you to the values and the views you think are about the advancement of the human condition.”

Asked if she had any regrets, she said: “Absolutely none.”

The Minister for Justice and Equality Charlie Flanagan said the event was to remember the women and men who campaigned for the right for women to vote.

“Their votes gave a democratic journey to our independence,” he said.

“Change is not inevitable, it involves struggle and commitment of many.”

He said that Ireland has “been lucky” with its female politicians who, he said, has helped shape policy “at moments of growth, at moments of crisis”.

He added that women have been the steady hand during times of difficulty and turmoil.

However, he said that despite the achievements over the last 100 years, men still constitute almost four out of every five public representatives.

“Ireland very much remains an unfinished democracy,” he added.

“While women continue to be so underrepresented in politics, the Government has taken action to change the situation.

“Getting more women into politics will require further support and commitment from political parties, power networks, from communities and families.

“The rights we take for granted today were viewed by some as inconceivable prior in 1918.”

Press Association

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