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No wonder Enda's flamin' gaffe makes people see red

If the women gathered in Dublin Castle yesterday for the 'How to Elect More Women' conference weren't quite aware of the honour being accorded them, warm-up act Justice Minister Alan Shatter soon put them straight.

"Our busy and extraordinary, energetic Taoiseach," was how he described his hero as Enda Kenny leapt up to the podium all fresh-faced and soap-scrubbed, strawberry blonde hair slicked back and boyish charm at the ready.

Enda is all in favour of Girl Power, so he is, and to prove it he told us that those macho political parties had been well and truly warned what would happen to them if they didn't choose at least 30 per cent of their candidates from the gentler sex (a 50 per cent cut in State funding).

And to give an example of how difficult it was for any woman, no matter how talented, to make it in the public sphere once the babies start arriving, he told us it was decided that his wife Fionnuala, although in the higher paying job, would sacrifice her career to "raise the children practically on her own" while he played the breadwinner role out in the world of politics.

He made a joke about how, if men gave birth, labour would be made as pain-free as possible. Oh, how we laughed.

He should have stopped there.

But no, he was on a roll, all buoyed up on a sea of oestrogen when he turned to Labour's Minister of State Kathleen Lynch, obviously the Maureen O'Hara of Dail Eireann, and made a slightly incoherent comment regarding "her flaming red hair" being an asset as she fought her corner.

It was all very evocative of Ireland during The Quiet Man era when handsome feisty redheads entertained their menfolk with 'fiery' attempts at independence before accepting their proscribed place in the Irish social order -- or at least that seemed to be how some of the women at the conference interpreted it.

A little over-sensitive perhaps? Or had Kenny just demonstrated his innate sexism, the unconscious male need to put everything a woman achieves down to her looks rather than her ability. Whichever it was, it hit several nerves. One belonged to Mistress of Ceremonies Olivia O'Leary, who gave Kenny a swift slap on the wrist.

Enda, humbled, dashed off into the 'overflow' room where he shook hands with every womb-owner he could see.

Of course, Twitter went into overdrive about the Taoiseach's 'sexist' comments.

But apart from all the talk about the challenge of the five Cs which prevent women from entering politics: Childcare, Cash, Confidence, Culture, and Candidate selection procedures -- it was former Minister of State Mary White who explained why so many women will not vote for other women.

Why? Because, as a constituent Ms Byrne told her: "You got out of the kitchen and I didn't."

I'm not sure even Enda can legislate for good old-fashioned Irish envy. Or for a bolshy woman's flaming red hair.

Sunday Independent