Sunday 25 March 2018

Fianna Fail party activist challenging constitutionality of gender quota electoral laws

Brian Mohan
Brian Mohan

A Fianna Fail party activist challenging the constitutionality of gender quota electoral laws has accepted before the High Court he is “fundamentally at odds” with the policy of his own party, and every other party in the Oireachtas, on that legislation.

Brian Mohan said he considered Fianna Fail “is being held over a barrel” because it would lose half of its funding unless it meets the gender quota targets. It would be “impossible to function” without that funding, he said.

 Mr Mohan, who had sought to contest the general election for Fianna Fail in Dublin Central but could not do so after the party directed the sole candidate must be female, agreed the Fianna Fail leader, national executive and parliamentary party had not opposed the legislation and FF Justice spokesman Niall Collins had also urged it should be extended to local elections.

The gender quota policy was never endorsed by the party at grassroots level, he said. 

He was not suggesting senior members of the party were “acting on a frolic of their own” in supporting the legislation and recommendations of the Markievicz report, commissioned by the party, aimed at increasing female participation within Fianna Fail.

He was bringing this challenge on his own behalf and not that of the party, he added. He has a “personal political objection” to any form of gender quota even if the “senior party” decided on that voluntarily.

He agreed women make up 51 per cent of the population, are not “a minority group”, the number of female candidates has never exceeded 20 per cent in general elections and male TDs make up 87 per cent of the Dail. He further agreed Fianna Fail, as of now, does not have a single female TD.

He agreed the fact Ireland ranks 86th of 140 countries in relation to representation of female parliamentarians represents a problem and is “undesirable”.

He considered that “help”, in terms of increasing female participation in political parties, should be given via training days and activities of the National Women’s Council. He also believed women are represented by the TDs they elect, Mr Mohan said.

He also agreed Fianna Fail does not have a policy of prioritising males over females and the legislation does not oblige the party to nominate a person otherwise ineligible under its rules for selection.

Mr Mohan was being cross-examined by Maurice Collins SC, for the State, on the second day of his action challenging the constitutionality of provisions of the Electoral (Political Funding) Act 2012 which link State funding of political parties to their achievement of gender quotas when selecting candidates for election.

The disputed provisions provide that political parties will lose half of their central exchequer funding unless 30 per cent of their candidates in the next two general elections are female. Within seven years, 40 per cent of candidates should be female.

All of the parties have said they will meet the gender quota.

The case is against Ireland and the Attorney General who dispute the claims of unconstitutionality, contend Mr Mohan does not have the required legal standing to bring the challenge and real dispute is with his party which ad not complained about the legislation.

 Mr Mohan (30), from Beaumont, Dublin, claims he was told last year by Fianna Fail  gender quotas are a “fact of life” party members must comply with whether they liked it or now and its sole candidate in Dublin Central must be a woman. 

He says a “diktat” was issued to that effect after it emerged in summer 2015 only ten of 47 candidates then selected by Fianna Fail in 31 constituencies were women, leaving the party well short of the 30 per cent quota. 

Fianna Fail receives up to €1.2m of the total €5.4m annual exchequer fund for political parties and failure to adhere to the gender quota laws means its funding will be halved. 

 Mr Mohan, Mary Fitzpatrick and Denise McMorrow all sought nominations to run for Fianna Fail in Dublin Central, a three seater constituency.  Ms McMorrow later withdrew in protest at the gender directive and Ms Fitzpatrick also criticised it when accepting the nomination to contest the election for Fianna Fail.

In re-examination today by his counsel Michael McDowell SC, Mr Mohan agreed others within Fianna Fail had noted there was significant opposition within the party to the gender quota laws. It is well known opposition was “rife” among grassroots members, he said.

Earlier, Mr Mohan said there were also controversies in the Dun Laoghaire constituency concerning the gender quota legislation. Cllr Cormac Devlin was concerned about the gender quota issue but was eventually added to the party  ticket.

He considered there was no point in appealing to Fianna Fail against the “diktat” that the Dublin Central candidate must be female because the decision was made as a consequence of the legislation, the party was “over a barrel” and had “no choice” in the matter.

He agreed Mary Fitzpatrick was an eligible candidate endorsed by the party to run for the general election and was not “imposed”.

The case continues.

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