Saturday 21 September 2019

Sports bodies face financial penalties unless 30pc of their board is female

New gender quotas ‘to give women a full role in Irish sport’; GAA, FAI and IRFU have no female members on boards

Sports Minister Patrick O’Donovan says that the Taoiseach is supportive of the changes. Photo: Tom Burke

Niall O'Connor

The country's sporting bodies will lose thousands of euro in State funding unless 30pc of their board positions are filled by women, the Irish Independent can reveal.

In a major policy proposal being brought to Cabinet, associations such as the GAA, FAI and IRFU will be forced to comply with strict gender quotas.

The plan, being devised by Sports Minister Patrick O'Donovan, will prove controversial, particularly in male-dominated sports.

However, Mr O'Donovan last night said the move represented the need for society to recognise the equal right of women to hold high office.

The measures are modelled on a 'carrot and stick' approach whereby the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport will reduce funding to organisations that fail to comply with the new rules.

From 2019, organisations with more than 10 employees will have to ensure that a third of their boards are made up of women. The rule will come into force a year later, in 2020, for smaller bodies with fewer than 10 employees.

At present, many large sporting organisations have few women on their boards.

The board of directors at GAA, the IRFU and the FAI have no female representative whatsoever. However, there are many who hold positions outside of the main boards in these organisations.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny is understood to be supportive of the move, which follows the decision by the Fine Gael/Labour coalition to introduce gender quotas in relation to Dáil seats.

In an interview with the Irish Independent, Mr O'Donovan said he wanted to see a situation where there were "no glass ceilings" for women in sport.

"I have had discussions with figures from other European countries and I believe the time is now right for Ireland to begin the conversation as to how we take out glass ceilings for women," the Limerick TD said.

"We have to make sure there is every available opportunity at the table for both women and men."

Mr O'Donovan said the measure was "gender neutral" and that in cases where boards were predominantly made up of women, the same 30pc rule would apply for male members.

He said the details of the exact funding cuts would be worked out and that a memo would go to Cabinet in the new year.

Sixty-five organisations ranging from household names such as the GAA and IRFU to smaller bodies like those overseeing hockey and basketball received taxpayer money totally €27m this year.

The funding is allocated through Sport Ireland, which co-ordinates the sustainable development of competitive and recreational sport.

The gender quota measures represent the first major policy announcement from the department since the formation of the new Government.

"I have spoken to the Taoiseach, who is right up to speed with what I'm trying to do. It is something that I believe is important and now is the right time to have this conversation," Mr O'Donovan said.

"This is not about trying to dictate in terms of boards. But everybody must have the opportunity to play a full role in Irish sport, both on the field but also in positions of governance and leadership," he added.

Earlier this year, Mr O'Donovan introduced strict new rules surrounding personnel, finances and decision-making for sports bodies.

The measures meant that all bodies under the auspices of Sport Ireland would have to sign up to a 87-page voluntary code of governance.

Irish Independent

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