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Tuesday 28 January 2020

Move over boys -- feisty women of Leinster House take centre stage

Senator Terry Leyden looked quite disconsolate. The mean old photographers snapping the large group of TDs and senators gathered on the plinth of Leinster House had just loudly requested that he and his fellow fellows step out of the shot.

Well it was a photo shoot to mark International Women's Day, after all. But the Taoiseach was allowed to stay, because he's in charge

(At least Enda turned up for this photocall yesterday having pulled the plug on the planned Fine Gael photo-op to celebrate the party's brilliance, after Pat Rabbitte suavely savaged it on 'Morning Ireland'.)

So sheepish senators Terry and Paul Coghlan and dumfounded deputies Shane McEntee, Andrew Doyle and Tom Hayes scurried to one side

"The men are in a minority here," remarked Terry.

Senator Susan O'Keeffe raised an unsympathetic eyebrow. "So how does it feel?" she asked him

Indeed. The women in Leinster House may be small in number, but they're feisty.

Although the current 31st Dail has an all-time high number of women members, it's inarguable that 25 women TDs out of 166 is still a wojus representation.

But the Mna are on the march. To coincide with International Women's Day, a new non-partisan organisation, Women for Election, was launched in the Mansion House yesterday to encourage more women to run for public office

There was a great turnout for the event. Broadcaster Olivia O'Leary reminded the roomful of women (and a few enlightened men, including Green Party leader Eamon Ryan) that since the Dail began, "we've had in the Dail 4,700 men, 260 women -- that's 5.1pc in the history of the State"

Olivia spelled it out in her own inimitable way. "The boys gang up," she said. And she singled out one particular member of the political sisterhood. "The failure by Labour to appoint a long-standing and perceptive finance spokesperson, Joan Burton, to an economic ministry is an obvious example," she declared to applause.

Adding how the Social Welfare portfolio is regarded as a demotion "in a male-dominated political world -- maybe it shouldn't be, but it is," she said.

Olivia, who backs the introduction of 30pc gender quotas for political parties, added that once these were in place, "then we need to start talking about a requirement to have at least 30pc of females in Cabinet. To encourage more women we have to have more role models."

And Olivia had plenty of practical suggestions as to how women politicians with young families could manage their time better, if there wasn't such an emphasis on presenteeism, with the long, family unfriendly hours being particularly problematic for rural women TDs.

"We could have teleconferencing. What's wrong with teleconferencing, particularly for committee hearings?" she asked, asking her audience to imagine having agreements hammered out among constituency colleagues to divide up the number of funerals between them in order to free up time for other duties.

"Say that to a group of male TDs and they look at you as though you're daft," she observed, sparking nods of agreement from various women politicians dotted around the room.

That's the trouble when a bunch of women get together. They start coming up with all sorts of bright ideas to endanger the status quo.

For just around the corner from the Mansion House, the subject of Olivia's praise was arriving at a Women's Day lunch in the Shelbourne Hotel in aid of An Cosan, a Tallaght-based initiative to improve women's lives through education.

Joan Burton was one of the guest speakers at this annual bash which is always attended by several hundred women from business and politics.

And in her speech, she too brought up the subject of her cabinet appointment.

"People have speculated that I might have had a little disappointment this time last year, but actually my real disappointment on joining the Cabinet was that it wasn't a cabinet of 50-50 and that out of 17 people sitting at the cabinet table, just three of those were women -- two women members of Cabinet and a minister of state" she pointed out.

"But we have made progress -- we have the first woman Attorney General, the first woman Chief Justice and the first woman DPP. And we've had two absolutely super women presidents," she added.

Therefore surely Joan must reckon that it's high time for a woman Taoiseach? The minister smiled innocently. "Oh absolutely, that's in the framework. I hope that's not too far down the road."

Typical. That's women for you. First they elbow men out of the way in photo-shoots, and before you know it they're running banks and semi-state companies and the whole darn country. And the near-100pc of men who've been occupying the top-dog spots in these jobs for years have been doing such a fine job in keeping the country out of debt, haven't they?

Haven't they?

Irish Independent

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