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FG's 'Girl Squad' have achieved pay equality - they should skip photo ops and work for those who haven't

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Fine Gael TDs, from left, Josepha Madigan, Kate O’Connell, Maria Bailey and Hildegarde Naughton making their way back to Government Buildings in Dublin after a FG International Womens’ Day photo call. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Fine Gael TDs, from left, Josepha Madigan, Kate O’Connell, Maria Bailey and Hildegarde Naughton making their way back to Government Buildings in Dublin after a FG International Womens’ Day photo call. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Fine Gael TDs, from left, Josepha Madigan, Kate O’Connell, Maria Bailey and Hildegarde Naughton making their way back to Government Buildings in Dublin after a FG International Womens’ Day photo call. Photo: Gerry Mooney

You can almost hear it, can't you? In the photos, four women in skirts and heels - a splash of red here, a string of pearls there, bright smiles universal - stride purposefully across the street. If the song wasn't actually playing in the background, it should have been: 'HERE COME THE GIRLS!'

For that's exactly what they look like, as they walk with hands held in a chain like pre-schoolers: girls.

But these aren't the lovely girls hoping to be the next Rose of Tralee, nor the sassy gurlz cast in the next reality TV show.

No, these are four members of parliament on their way back to Government Buildings, following a photo call on Monday.

The Fine Gael Girl Squad had been assembled ahead of International Women's Day to "highlight the work they are doing which will positively impact the lives of women and their families nationwide".

Táiniste and Minister for Justice and Equality Frances Fitzgerald (pictured inset) told of new domestic violence legislation and the Mediation Bill for family disputes; Government Chief Whip Regina Doherty pointed to the introduction of the free pre-school year and paternity leave - all family issues to my eyes, not just specific to women.

Then again, Fine Gael continues to have trouble distinguishing between women and their families.

The press release which accompanied the photo call speaks of the economic progress the country has made under its watch.

"Irish women know better than most how that economic progress has been hard won over the last six years, having seen the effect of the recession on their families," it continues.

I beg to differ - most of us grown-up women, mothers or not, watched the effects of the recession on our pay packets and public services.

When we weren't busy skipping across the street with our friends, that is…

Putting to one side Fine Gael's reluctance to deal with the single biggest women's issue of the day - the Girl Squad could have taken a walk of a very different kind by joining the protesters at yesterday's Strike 4 Repeal - there are female issues, vote-winning issues, that could be dealt with now.

Take, for instance, the gender pay gap. According to recruitment specialists Morgan McKinley, last year the gap between men and women in Ireland stood at 20pc - 16pc on average salary, rising to 20pc when bonuses were taken into account.

In its 'Gender Pay Gap Ireland 2016' report, it states that men earn an average of €12,000 more than women in like-for-like professional jobs. And according to Eurostat, women have to work an average of 67 extra days a year to match the amount earned by men.

Yesterday, I sent tweets to the four TDs in the Girl Squad photo as well as the four others - TD Marcella Corcoran Kennedy, Senators Michelle Mulherin and Maura Hopkins, and Councillor Emma Blain - who formed the end of the daisy chain. I asked simply what each of them had done about resolving the gender pay gap.

At the time of going to print, only Dublin Rathdown TD Josepha Madigan had replied.

She pointed out that the Equality Acts of 1998 and 2015 provide for equal pay for equal work. She also emailed me Fine Gael's Programme For Government, which promises to publish an updated National Women's Strategy by the end of this year.

Under the heading 'empowering women' it also states that Fine Gael "will take measures to reduce the gender pay gap" as well as seeking to promote wage transparency, training courses for women, increased female participation in the Defence Forces and on State boards and a strengthened role for the Low Pay Commission.

Might I suggest that they start empowering women by not asking them to pose for photos like little girls. And after that to bring in wage transparency legislation, as the UK has recently done, that will name and shame the companies that are devaluing their female employees.

As Fine Gael pointed out with its colourful photo call this International Women's Day it has more women elected to the Dáil than any other party and the highest number of female ministers ever.

This is in part due to its landmark introduction of gender quotas for elections.

The Girl Squad are through the glass ceiling. Now it's time for them to earn the €87,258 a year that they are paid in parity with their male counterparts, and fight for equal rights for the rest of us. Let's make it a case of HERE COME THE WOMEN.

Irish Independent