Parties will lose funding if they fail to fill gender quota
Political parties are going to have to start choosing a lot more female candidates if they want to retain the current €14m a year subsidy from the taxpayer.
In what was described by one senior source as "a radical step", the Cabinet has approved a proposal to cut taxpayers' funding for political parties by 50 per cent if they fail to select a sufficient number of female candidates for national elections.
The abysmally low level of representation for women in national politics has been an ongoing source of embarrassment for the political system.
Under new government proposals, driven by Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan, political parties will have to select a minimum of 30 per cent of female candidates to qualify for full political funding.
Figures from the Standards in Public Office body reveal that in 2009 the political parties shared just under €14m.
"The current level of participation by women in politics is dysfunctional. You cannot say you have a Republic or an egalitarian society if the rate of female participation is lower than that of sub-Saharan Africa,'' said one senior government figure.
The proposal is likely to pose difficulties for Fianna Fail, which currently has only two female senators in the ranks.
The Government has been told by the Attorney General that it was not possible under the Constitution to abolish corporate donations, but the maximum corporate donation a political party can receive is to be slashed to a modest €200.
There is currently no limit on what corporate bodies can donate to parties, though all donations over €5078.95 must be registered in public.
It is believed that a threshold of €200 will have particularly severe consequences for Fianna Fail, which had developed an unhealthy dependence on this kind of funding.