Wednesday 23 January 2019

Women leaving Dail because of 'pace of life and public scrutiny' - Josepha Madigan

Josepha Madigan. Photo: Justin Farrelly
Josepha Madigan. Photo: Justin Farrelly

Rachel Farrell

Minister Josepha Madigan has said that both female and male politicians are supportive of women entering the political landscape in Ireland, and praised the Taoiseach for being "amenable" to listening to them.

The comments follow remarks made by the Culture Minister that aspiring female politicians should “get a good husband” before entering the political race.

The Irish Independent reported how Ms Madigan warned of the "relentless pace" of political life being a "sacrifice and privilege at the same time".

Fianna Fáil TD Anne Rabbitte - a widow and mother of three teenagers - responded yesterday that women do not need a husband but a “fire in their belly” instead.

Anne Rabbitte Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins
Anne Rabbitte Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Speaking on Ireland AM this morning, Ms Madigan clarified the comments made about needing "good childcare and a good husband" to succeed as a woman in politics.

"When I did that interview it was on the back of last year and I’d just been appointed as the Minister for that year.

“I think I was reflecting over the year and what my husband was to me. I mean he has a full-time job, he works 9-6. He would do the majority of the extra-curricular activities, parties at the weekend and sports.

“When you become a Minister, you’re doing an 80-90 hour week effectively, and luckily I had children in a position where they’re teenagers.

"The support system we speak of is absolutely vital, but I think that’s in any job that you’re in if you have children or any dependency."

Both Ms Madigan and Ms Rabbitte said they are treated as equals among their male counterparts in the Dáil.

Josepha Madigan with husband Finbarr Hayes. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins
Josepha Madigan with husband Finbarr Hayes. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins

“It’s not that we’re any better, we’re just different,” Ms Madigan said.

“I see it around the cabinet table, the Taoiseach is very amenable to listen to women's’ voices, and people do. That’s fantastic.

"I do find that female politicians cross party are all very supportive of each other. I found the men to be very supportive of me on a personal level as well.”

She said that society should “embrace the fact” that because they are women, “it doesn’t mean we’re not capable of the same jobs and working outside the home”.

"For Anne and myself, as a TD and a minister, and as females, we’re the visible faces for women that aspire to be in politics.”

Ms Madigan was the 19th woman appointed to a senior ministerial role since the foundation of the State, when she was promoted in late 2017. 

However, the Taoiseach has previously been criticised for not always taking opportunities to promote women to the ministerial ranks.

When asked why women in the Dáil often leave after their first term, Ms Madigan questioned if “public scrutiny” is one one the reasons behind it.

“It was one of the ushers in Leinster House that said it to me, and he was right. He said, has anybody ever done a study on the amount of women who’ve left politics, and particularly the Dail after one term.

"There's a huge amount, a huge drop-off. I think it’s because of the pace of life, because of the public scrutiny, and perhaps not getting the support of people in the home or outside the home.”

Ms Rabbitte, who described how she entered politics 18 months after the death of her husband, echoed the sentiments that they are treated in an “equal way”, and that it is mostly from other women that she has received “a handful” of negative comments.

“The comments, they wouldn’t be the norm, but there would be a few people that I would’ve said had an influence,” she said.

“They always would ask the question - how are the children coping, are you away from them a lot, they must be missing you, it must be very difficult.”

Speaking of her decision to enter the political race, Ms Rabbitte said it was a lack of “fresh faces” that spurred her to attend her first meeting.

“At that stage we were coming through the horrendous crash and everything else, but I couldn’t see fresh faces appearing in my own local papers when I was reading it. That was one of the reasons I got into it.”

Yesterday, Ms Rabbitte said her own message to women considering entering politics was: "Once you have the bit between your teeth and fire in the belly, you will succeed.

“You don't need to have a husband there, you don't need to have a wife there. If you actually feel that this is a right match for you, and you feel you can do it, you can do it."

Speaking to the Irish Independent at the weekend, Ms Madigan encouraged women to enter politics and advised them to speak to those who had done it before: "Get good childcare, get a good husband, have the confidence and don't over-think it."

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