Thursday 20 September 2018

How Varadkar can turn calls for a gender-balanced Cabinet into a reality

Cormac McQuinn looks at who might be in - and out - if gender equality at the top table was to be introduced

Fine Gael TDs, from left, Kate O’Connell, Maria Bailey and Hildegarde Naughton during an International Women’s day photocall last year. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Fine Gael TDs, from left, Kate O’Connell, Maria Bailey and Hildegarde Naughton during an International Women’s day photocall last year. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

TAOISEACH Leo Varadkar heads up a Cabinet where men outnumber women by three-to-one.

 nd it's a reality that's been thrown into sharp focus by former Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald in her call for the next set of ministers to have a 50:50 gender balance.

At present 15 of the 20 seats around the table are occupied by men.

But while it would be highly difficult politically for Mr Varadkar to redress the balance now, it would be technically possible.

He'd just have to draft in almost all of Fine Gael's 11 women TDs to do it - and five male members of Cabinet would have to go.

Here's a hypothetical reshuffle that shows how Mr Varadkar could shake things up: 

Agriculture - Minister Michael Creed has arguably struggled to cope with fodder crises in both cold and hot weather and is among male TDs who've been around a long time. He would make way for Helen McEntee who's from a rural constituency and is likely to know her way around the Common Agriculture Policy due to her time as Europe Minister. 

Education: Richard Bruton has also been walking the corridors of power for decades and has recently seemingly specialised in launching endless action plans for jobs or education. Mary Mitchell O'Connor is a former school principal and junior minister in the department. She would surely welcome a return to a senior role. And the move would also open up her `super-junior' seat at Cabinet allowing another woman to be appointed, perhaps Maria Bailey. 

Justice: Charlie Flanagan was also first elected to the Dáil in the 1980s. The department hasn't been far from crises in recent times and all it will take is another revelation by the gardaí to spark another one. Culture Minister Josepha Madigan practised law for many years and would be a good fit.  Culture: If Ms Madigan did take the Justice brief a backbencher could be elevated to take over at Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. Hildegarde

Naughton has been quietly making a name for herself as a hard-working first-time TD and she represents Galway West, a Gaeltacht area. 

Health: Simon Harris performed well during the recent abortion referendum and could be in line for promotion from a difficult brief. Outspoken Dublin Bay South TD Kate O'Connell is a pharmacist and served on the future of healthcare committee - it might be one for her. Alternatively current junior minister Catherine Byrne already has experience in the department. 

Rural Development: Michael Ring is another experienced hand in Fine Gael. He waited a long time for a senior ministry but it's hard to pin down exactly what's been achieved at the department since it was created.

Marcella CorcoranKennedy represents a rural constituency - Offaly - and has previous junior ministerial experience.

Heather Humphreys and Regina Doherty would stay in Cabinet and Independent ministers Shane Ross, Finian McGrath and Denis Naughten would also be safe as their inclusion keeps the Government in office.

Children's Minister Katherine Zappone stays for the same reason but she's not in the way of the quest for gender balance.

It's important to note that no woman TD would want to be appointed to Cabinet simply because of her gender.

Any such reshuffle would obviously result in dissatisfaction from male ministers getting the chop. There would also be serious disgruntlement from Fine Gael's male backbenchers some of whom have been waiting a long time to get the ministerial nod.

Frances Fitzgerald, meanwhile, insists her remarks - revealed by the 'Sunday Independent' - are not part of a bid to make a return to Cabinet herself. She said: "It's obvious we need more women in politics.

We need a critical mass of women after the next election both in the Dáil and in the Cabinet," she said.

Ultimately, she's right. The solution is the election of more women and that's a trend from recent elections that's likely to continue.

Whoever leads the next government will have no excuses for failing to have Cabinet gender equality in the future.

Over to you, Taoiseach.

Online Editors

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Also in this section