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Leo let down women with ministerial picks


Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: PA News

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: PA News

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: PA News

'What would men be without women?" Mark Twain was once asked. His answer was: "Scarce, sir, very scarce." Such lucid logic could not be applied to Leinster House, where there is no scarcity of men in the line-up of junior ministers announced by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, but there is an obvious paucity of females.

His selection has understandably drawn fire given that Mr Varadkar has sought to champion equality. A gender-balanced Cabinet was the least that was expected.

This is not only bad form, it is bad politics. In voting terms, the Taoiseach hardly needs to be reminded that more than 50pc of the population is female, yet out of the initial 34 positions he had to fill, only seven were women.

What makes his decision more unfathomable is the fact that Fine Gael was the party that brought in gender quota legislation back in 2012. It was also the party that introduced the policy of having 30pc women on the ticket for all parties receiving State funding in the last election.

There are 35 women amongst the 158 TDs in the Dáil, just over 22pc. So, with seven of the 34 ministerial roles, 20.5pc of ministers are women. Encouraging women to enter politics has been a priority across the political divide, so Mr Varadkar had a responsibility to address the issue by increasing the number of women at the top table. Instead, he actually reduced their number.

The Taoiseach had backed himself into a corner by saying he would not consider any members from the class of 2016 in his choice. This was at best disingenuous - each prospective minister ought to be assessed on their merits and experience, not just on their time in the Dáil.

Mr Varadkar has a rare opportunity to inject energy and dynamism into a Dáil that is regarded as querulous and atrophied. His mission had to be to break the 'it's reigning men' perception that for too long has overshadowed Irish politics. If he is genuine about ushering in a true era of inclusiveness, embracing all our people, he must surely recognise that women have a significant role to play in delivering on that promise.

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