Wednesday 20 March 2019

Politics is a boy's club where cronyism and chauvinism work together

Despite having a female Tanaiste, Irish politics is a cold house for women

GIRL POWER: Taoiseach Enda Kenny with TDs and Senators from all parties celebrate International Women’s Day in Leinster House in 2012
GIRL POWER: Taoiseach Enda Kenny with TDs and Senators from all parties celebrate International Women’s Day in Leinster House in 2012
Carol Hunt

Carol Hunt

How do Irish women view politics as practised in this country? As a privileged boys club: A macho, sexist machine where cronyism and chauvinism work together to keep the women out; as a place where women have to fight tooth and nail to receive what is due to them as equal citizens of this country. This is not an exaggeration.

Despite the fact that Ireland voted the first female into Westminster in 1918 and that we now, once again, have a female Tanaiste, this country has long been a cold house for women in politics. And for the women they represent.

Bluntly, in Leinster House we have one of the worst gender balances in the democratic world at just over 15pc. Within the EU, we come 25th out of 27 countries. Even more embarrassing, this is actually the best we've managed since the foundation of the State.

Statistically Irish women are the most highly educated in the EU, so lack of ambition isn't an issue. It's our political system that is the problem.

Irish women have moved on since the 1970s when we couldn't sit on a jury, collect our children's allowance or own our own homes (these rights were hard fought for and bitterly conceded) but constitutionally, our parliament still sees a woman's place as being strictly within the private sphere. Literally.

Just last week Tanaiste Joan Burton confirmed that this current government will not support the repeal of the "women in the home" clause despite its removal being recommended by the Constitutional Convention.

The words "mother" and "woman" are used interchangeably in article 41 of our Constitution, which gives an accurate portrayal of how our parliament still views the role of women in our society - that of primary - undervalued and underpaid - carer.

Leinster House politics are set up to cater for men with wives at home picking up the slack; minding the children, keeping the house together and ironing those shirts. Because of a lack of numbers, even the few women in government have to play by the boys rules. Consequently, issues which mainly affect women - family friendly work practices, childcare, affordable public transport, reproductive rights, domestic violence - are not given the attention they deserve.

It's hardly surprising that many Irish women looking in at the antics of those in Leinster House see a talking shop for attention-seeking men who love the sound of their own voices. They don't see the point in the blokes waffling away for hours and then voting as directed anyway.

Without wanting to generalise, most women tend to prefer to collaborate than compete, so the current party whip system as practised does not suit them. But now we are to have gender quotas (each party must select 30pc of female candidates) to attempt to address the deep rooted male privilege that lies, not just at the heart of our electoral system but in many areas of Irish public life.

We now need the electorate to actually vote these women into parliament, if we are ever to change the sordid sexism that currently exists within our parliament - and drag Irish politics into the 21st century.

John Drennan's Guide to Politics - Spring 2015

The next election will change your life. In a special supplement with the Sunday Independent, John Drennan presents his guide to Irish politics.

Sunday Independent

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