Sunday 18 March 2018

A toast to Lady Justice but we are a long way off full diversity


Chief Justice Susan Denham
Chief Justice Susan Denham
Minister for Justice & Equality Frances Fitzgerald TD speaking to media at Government Buildings, Dublin. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Dearbhail McDonald

Dearbhail McDonald

It's probably wrong to gloat. But in a country that boasts fewer women in parliament than Sub-Saharan Africa, the appointment of Frances Fitzgerald as Justice Minister is a cause for celebration.

Of the 181 people who have served in Cabinet in the Republic of Ireland since 1922, only 12 have been women. And only 25 of the 166 Dail seats are currently held by women, far below the magic one-third representation required to achieve gender parity in policy making.

But justice is indeed proving to be a lady in Ireland where most of the key positions are now filled by women.

As our graphic shows, Ms Fitzgerald joins a hallowed rank of women who hold senior positions in the legal sector including Attorney General Maire Whelan, Chief Justice Susan Denham, Director of Public Prosecutions Claire Loftus and Chief State Solicitor Eileen Creedon.

There are now three women on the Supreme Court, a former male bastion.

Of note is the fact that all of these elevations are post economic crisis appointments.

Many women, myself included, deplore any undue attention to gender, knowing that the strides we have made in our careers are down to merit as well as standing in the metaphorical shoes of other women – and men – who have paved the way for our progress.

The road to gender equality is a long and winding one.

Despite the strides made by many women in the legal profession, where some 50pc of new entrants are women, it is a stark reality that there are huge gaps.

Of the country's 2,269 practising barristers, 43pc are female.

Yet only 41 of the 166 barristers granted senior-counsel status by the Government since 2003 have been women and more than eight out of 10 "silks" are men.

Successive governments have done well to increase diversity on the bench, where around a third of the country's judges are women.

But it will be a long time before we reach parity at senior levels at the bar and in our law firms where the number of female equity partners still lags.

It is not just gender.

For all the strides women have made, Irish public life still has aching diversity gaps in terms of age, class, ethnicity and sexual orientation, to name but a few.

We will enjoy true equality when society doesn't pass any remarks if a Garda Commissioner is gay; a Minister for Justice is a Traveller; the Chief Justice is disabled or the Taoiseach is a divorcee.

Until then, we have to celebrate each step on the road to diversity and the elimination of all forms of discrimination.

So, its champagne and strawberries to the sisters, to Lady Justice in heels!

Irish Independent

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