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Cash incentive for parties to field more women in local elections next year


John Paul Phelan wants to build on general election. Photo: Tom Burke

John Paul Phelan wants to build on general election. Photo: Tom Burke

John Paul Phelan wants to build on general election. Photo: Tom Burke

The Government is to resist calls to apply gender quotas for next year's local elections, the Irish Independent can reveal.

Instead there are plans afoot to introduce a scheme in which political parties who have at least 30pc female candidates will be supported by getting additional funding for a diversity/equality officer within their organisation.

Minister of State John Paul Phelan plans to roll out the scheme ahead of next year's local elections, which will take place in May on the same day as the European elections.

Writing in the Irish Independent today, the Fine Gael junior minister acknowledges Ireland has "much further to go" in relation to improving the gender balance in Irish politics.

"I think most people would agree that women are still under-represented in Irish politics," he writes.

"Gender incentives or gender quotas shouldn't be necessary, but they are. We have seen how the pressure placed on political parties forced them to improve their diversity in the general election in 2016. Let's do the same again with local elections to build on this progress."

Legislation will need to be approved by the Oireachtas to allow the scheme to be rolled out.

However, the decision to incentivise rather than legislate for gender quotas for local elections is likely to be met with criticism in many quarters as pressure has been mounting for an extension of the gender quotas in place at national level.

In June, Ireland celebrated 100 years of women having the right to vote and campaigners called for mandatory gender quotas to be imposed ahead of the local elections.

The National Women's Council of Ireland and non-partisan group Women for Election are among those who have called for the introduction of gender quotas at local level.

Quotas for Dáil elections came into effect ahead of the 2016 General Election.

Parties risk losing out on State funding if they do not field enough female candidates. At least 30pc of a party's candidates must be women and this threshold will rise to 40pc in 2023.

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More female TDs were elected to the Dáil than ever before in 2016 but still make up only 22pc of TDs.

Despite the introduction of quotas, the issue of female representation has proved thorny at national level, with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar coming in for criticism over a lack of gender parity at the Cabinet table.

Former Tanáiste Frances Fitzgerald has called for 50:50 representation to be pursued at Cabinet level.

Mr Phelan's intervention comes as Ireland prepares to welcome female parliamentarians from across the globe to a special meeting focused on discussing the role of women in politics and ways to address issues facing women, including under-representation.

The first International Congress of Parliamentary Women's Caucuses will take place at Dublin Castle over two days next month and will hear from the Taoiseach, President Michael D Higgins and leading figures such as Mary Beard.

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