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This election is no longer a two-horse race - women need to be seen and heard

Ita O'Kelly


Excluded: Mary Lou McDonald has been excluded from the RTÉ debates despite a surge in the polls. Photo: Collins Dublin, Gareth Chaney

Excluded: Mary Lou McDonald has been excluded from the RTÉ debates despite a surge in the polls. Photo: Collins Dublin, Gareth Chaney

Collins Dublin, Gareth Chaney

Excluded: Mary Lou McDonald has been excluded from the RTÉ debates despite a surge in the polls. Photo: Collins Dublin, Gareth Chaney

Media coverage of our General Election has to date given us an altogether skewed message. To all intents and purposes the underlying message that has been relentlessly pushed home is that politics is more or less a man's world.

At the outset, RTÉ determined that the outcome of the election was a foregone conclusion. It would be a two-horse race between the two men that would be Taoiseach. A 'Varadkar/Martin' bromance, so to speak. The Sinn Féin party leader, Mary Lou McDonald, would be arbitrarily excluded from their forthcoming leaders debate.

However, the opinion polls did not perform to this cosy plan. The latest, a RedC poll in the 'Business Post', upended the apple cart. With Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil now both on 24pc and Fine Gael languishing in third place at 21pc, things are all changed - changed utterly.

Virgin Media followed this contrived male narrative. Two men in suits being interviewed by another man in a suit. A tone-deaf decision. The result: narrow, stiff and one-dimensional.

We need to not only see women, but to hear their voices also. Current affairs panels consisting of two besuited male presenters, pitching their bon mots against a panel of four men in suits and one token woman, gives the very strong message that women are only bit players in this important 'game' of running our country. Not acceptable.

Programme makers who can't be bothered to source a diverse range of guests have no place in the modern media landscape. Gushing first-name colour pieces by male commentators, about Leo purchasing a new tie or eating his lunch on the hoof or Micheál cracking one of his decidedly unfunny quips in a tone that implies that he is a hilarious raconteur, are a daily occurrence.

The 'Varadkar/Martin Male Roadshow' is now verging on the absurd. It is a contrived media-driven narrative. It is not reflected in the opinion polls measuring voting intentions.

The fact that neither men are overly engaging speakers merely compounds the problem. More importantly, it feeds into the stereotype that politics is a male-only club. Endless male-fronted podcasts - interviewing largely male candidates - are doing much the same job of promoting the false narrative that politics is really akin to a locker-room activity for the male of the species.

The truth is that women can't be what we can't see. This is especially true for young women. Women belong at the decision-making table in a democracy. Media is obliged to lead on this in the interests of balance and fairness.

Whoever decided to frame this rolling media narrative that this General Election is largely about the two men who may be elected Taoiseach - in what is most likely to be a coalition government formed with the support of other parties, including those led by women - is totally out of kilter with the real world.

Such an exclusively male perspective is also potentially off-putting to female voters. Lack of adequate media exposure of female candidates inevitably puts them at a disadvantage. While media may still be obsessed with party political agendas, many young voters, particularly female ones, are not so interested in traditional Irish political parties.

The success of both the marriage equality and repeal the Eighth Amendment referendums confirmed that young voters are issue-driven when it comes to their politics. It is also worth noting that women played a very high profile in both of these referendum campaigns.

Many young voters were energised by the experience and were impressed that they could lead and effect such momentous change. Now that truly is new politics. Media needs to get with the beat.

Most young voters couldn't give two hoots about which party or leader delivers the goods. In this General Election, young people are looking to have the opportunity to buy or rent a home of their own. They are tired of the clichés of "lots done, more to do" or, worse still, "you can't build houses overnight".

I have no doubt this propensity by some senior media folk here to divide the sexes in this way harks back to our antiquated education system. More than a third of Irish secondary schools are still single-sex schools. This is highly unusual by international standards.

RTÉ will host its tête-à-tête between Micheál Martin and Leo Varadkar tomorrow night. It will be jointly moderated by Miriam O'Callaghan and David McCullough. This amounts to little more than a cack-handed attempt at gender equality by the national broadcaster.

At the time of writing, the debate itself remains between two men we have seen and heard a great deal from during this campaign. The decision to continue to exclude Mary Lou McDonald from this debate is highly questionable in light of a succession of opinion polls indicating Sinn Féin, complete with a female leader, is a major player in this election.

I wonder how this second two-horse debate between two male party leaders will score on the 'fatigue severity scale' for female viewers/voters? High I suspect.

Irish Independent