Sir, There has been much commentary in recent weeks on the introduction of gender quotas for political parties in the next general election. Campaigners want to see more women involved in politics and seem to think forcing political parties to select more female candidates is the answer to their conundrum. Parties that don't reach the 30 per cent quota will see their State funding cut, and if reaching it means established male candidates must step aside then so be it. Surprisingly, many womens' groups welcome the quota without realising the possible consequences it might have and the damage it could do to womens' credibility.
First we must consider the possible reasons why more women don't get involved in politics. Perhaps they are not as interested in politics as men are. In many walks of life men and women seem to gravitate towards particular jobs e.g. women towards teaching, nursing, sales assistants, office administrators, etc. while men seem to go for work like construction, engineering, security, and transport. As many women as men get involved in volunteer work and other local groups in their neighbourhood. Women might be quite content to leave it at that and not move on to the next level, so it's possible the rough and tumble of politics might not suit them.
Secondly, women are generally seen as the ones who look after the welfare of family and home. This does not give them the same time freedom as men would have, thus limiting whatever political ambitions they may possess. This is not however, a political or quota issue but a domestic one, and it is up to each couple to decide what roles they play both inside and outside the home.
To get selected by a political party to run in an election, candidates will generally have done a lot of ground work in getting their profile raised in order to be considered for nomination at a selection convention. They usually start by getting involved in voluntary organisations at local level and gradually work their way up the ladder, and in the process become widely known. This has always applied equally to both men and women, unless of course the party leadership decides to parachute in a celebrity candidate. Now people will assume a female candidate is on the ballot paper just to fill the quota and may presume she has not been slogging away at local level like her male counterpart. There could thus be a backlash against genuine hard working would-be women politicians because of this.
The quota system can also be seen as an interference in the democratic process. Political party delegates vote for whoever they feel best represents their views and send those candidates forward for election. The electorate then vote for whoever they feel is best suited to represent them in the general election. Women who are put on the ballot paper to reach the quota may not be anyone's choice and the men who are forced to step aside may well be the people's choice if given the chance.
Some women insist the quota should reflect the population gender balance and be set at 51per cent. Men could counter this argument, however, by insisting that quotas be introduced across the board in the public service. Professions like teaching and nursing would be restricted to the same level and women would have to step aside from those roles if necessary, to make way for men. Restricting quotas to only male dominated areas of the public sector could in itself be seen as a form of discrimination.
If women feel they are being discriminated against when it comes to election time they have a powerful ally in their camp. The Irish Constitution specifically forbids gender discrimination when it comes to running for Dáil Éireann. Article 16.1.1 states "Every citizen without distinction of sex who has reached the age of twenty-one years, and who is not placed under disability on incapacity by this Constitution or by law, shall be eligible for membership of Dáil Éireann."
Finally, if women fail to get on a party ticket, there is nothing to stop them running as independents as a number of female TDS in the current Dáil have already done. Sincerely, Henry Gaynor, Spa, Tralee.