Final report of the Joint Committee on the Constitution launched today

David Farrell (July 22, 2010)

The Joint Committee launched its long-anticipated final report (relating to its deliberations over the electoral system) earlier today — running at over 200 pages, with 29 recommendations. There is lots to pick through, but for me the main headlines are the following:

  • The establishment of a Citizen’s Assembly to consider electoral reform
  • Centralizing and streamlining voter registration, with the use of our PPS numbers
  • Lowering voting age to 17
  • The Electoral Commission should be established and given some important powers
  • Constituency sizes (especially in urban areas) to be at least 4-seat
  • Dail reform to be prioritized
  • Steps to address poor women’s representation (including a possible link to party funding)
  • By-elections to be held within 6 months of vacancy
  • Voting at weekends (across two days)
  • Voter education at senior cycle in schools

There is plenty to digest and discuss, but two points are worth making right away. First, it interesting to see the considerable overlap between these proposals and those of the two main opposition parties — most especially Fine Gael’s ‘New Politics’ document (reported here).  These are yet more signs of a growing coalition of interests pushing for political reform (on this, see also the papers from the MacGill summer school, posted here).  Second, the proposal to establish a Citizens’ Assembly (discussed in an earlier posting) is particularly interesting and innovative, following best practice in Canada and the Netherlands.  If followed through on this would be handing to the citizens a direct and leading role in considering the question of electoral reform, and possibly designing a brand new electoral system for Ireland.

Lots to chew over.

73 thoughts on “Final report of the Joint Committee on the Constitution launched today

  1. I’m not sure lowering the voting age will make any difference as it will just mean lots of 17 year old’s too lazy to go and vote – if grown adults can’t get off their backside why are we expecting young people to go vote?

    We could also learn a thing or two from Norway about female quotas but not if all it does is increases the sort of women who are in the Dáil now ie the women who have made it to the Dáil haven’t exactly covered themselves in glory. Today’s current lot aren’t a patch on the likes of Nuala Fennell or Monica Barnes etc.

    • In reply to Desmond FitzGerald: The purpose of political reform is surely to increase representation in the Dail of the sort of people, both male and female, who are currently not involved. A conspicuous absence of achievement in recent politics is hardly confined to female TDs. One should also remember that if there was any such thing as a heyday for woman TDs in Ireland, that it was in the direct aftermath and as a result of the whole Women’s Liberation movement. It has now got to the point where many consider the term “feminist” as a form of insult, when in reality so very little has been achieved, as is manifest by the lack of female representation not only in politics, but at executive level in industry, the professions, academia, and so on. A generation is not a long time for reform, but to me it often seems that “gender bias” in the negative sense is firmly in the eye of the beholder.

      • Au contraire, the over-60s is the most rapidly-increasing demographic. See ESRI report October 2009-Projecting the Impact of Demographic change etc. People are living longer healthier lives, and are highly likely to retain an interest in politics. Attendance at party start-up in Kilkenny the other night bears this out. These are baby-boomers, remember! And the children of the 60s and 70s. And can be very vocal, as Ciaran Cuffe discovered.

  2. re. Citizens’ Assembly.
    I remain to be convinced that this contributes in any way whatsoever to the creation of new checks and balances on how power is obtained, controlled, exercised and lost.
    IMO, this is the key item which we have to work at in our Republic.

    If we really want citizens to have what David Farrell calls “a direct and leading role” on any matter including electoral reform, why not have a Swiss-style Citizens’ Initiative as a normal part of political life?

    Citizens’ Initiative (much more limited than Swiss custom and practice) is now part of the EU way of governing following the adoption of the Lisbon Treaty, how can any of the political parties or governing classes object? Apart from Sinn Fein, all these groups actively supported the Lisbon Treaty, particularly during the second referendum.

    Anyother question remains, how seriously are we to take this particular Oireachtas Report on one aspect of how we govern ourselves, when reports suggest that up 17 other reports of reforming the Senate have been ignored?

    Similarly, there has not been any move following the 1979 Referendum which provided for the election of members of Seanad Éireann by universities and other institutions of higher education. In short, this allowed for graduates from institutues other than TCD and NUI to vote in Senate elections. It was not followed through.

    So thirty-one years later, we see evidence of the what Eddie Molloy calls Implementation Deficit Disorder ( on one way of changing the electoral system – one which the citizens’ passed in a popular a free vote. There was no need for highly structured and carefully selected assemblies of citizens to make that enabling measure. Yet nothing was done.

    It will be very interesting to see what follow-through will result from this report.

    • Citizens’ Initiative in the EU, arising from the Lisbon Treaty.

      In case anyone seeks more information, I should have linked to the basic EU site on this development

      It is noteworthy that the EU Commission drafted legislation to implement this and organised a public consultation.
      Our Joint Oireachtas Committee on the EU failed miserably to notify us of this work by the commission, as they published a notice on the consultation about two weeks before the EU Commission deadline for the receipt of submissions on 31 January 2010.

      for a very simple introduction to the Swiss style citizens’ initiative see

  3. My two cents.
    1. We have a Citizens Assembly. It’s called the Dail. Have to agree with Donal. More referendums may be a better way to go.
    2. Why not six seat constituencies?
    3. Why not have substitutes on the general election ballot instead of bye-elections when vacancies arise? Appointments happen immediately and there is no need for any loss of representation for any period of time.
    4. Women do need greater representation but I suspect that part of the problem lies with voters’ reluctance to vote for female candidates as it is the political parties’ reluctance to run them. Still on the fence about quotas. Such measures are perceived as patronising by some feminists. Also, I think women know better than to be spending two or more years of their lives chasing something that might happen. Men tend to take longer shots in life and that is what is required to win a seat in Dail Eireann. Women want more certainty, I think, and politics does not offer that. Having a general party closed list system might encourage more women as their placement on the list would give them a better idea of their probability of being elected and may make politics a more attractive option, but that would create other general problems.
    5. Noel Dempsey staunchly disagreed with me when I brought the weekend voting point up when the committee sat in Trinity. I’m not taking any credit but I am glad to see it in there.
    I tend to agree with the rest of the points.

    • Michael,
      re. By-elections.
      Among the many things that I proposed (in a 1996 submission to the All Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution – then chaired by one Brian Lenihan TD) that we should do away with by-elections altogether.
      Vacancies arising in the Dail between general elections would be filled by taking the last person to be eliminated in the same constituency before all the seats from that constituency were filled. Among the advantages are
      1) It maintains the link with the last expressed preference of the electorate in that constituency;
      2) No distraction of Government Ministers as the result would be known;
      3) It does not lead to whimsical and arbitrary government decisions made just for the by-election. Examples of this are
      – the extension of the DART to Greystones for a Wicklow by-election, although there were then more people living in Malahide;
      – the decision to split the then planned integrated LUAS lines into two separate non-inter connected lines, arising from a by election in Dublin North arising from a PD specially concocted transport policy in 1998.
      4) It lessens the power of internal political party messing implied in the substitute system used in elections to the European Parliament in the Republic.

      Yes, it may lead to weaker Dail support for the government, but equally so it could lead to stronger Dail support.

      Of course, there woould be other implications as the political classes seek to optimise candidate selection at each general election.

      Oh, there would be less media excitement and less for commentators to focus on.

      That would not be entirely bad, as it couold result in more systematic attention being paid to other aspects of how we govern ourselves.

  4. “Women do need greater representation but I suspect that part of the problem lies with voters’ reluctance to vote for female candidates as it is the political parties’ reluctance to run them ” :

    Having attended many talks on the issue of Women in Politics,
    I would beg to disagree, commissioned reports suggest that the
    voter is gender-neutral and that the problems lie with the
    political culture in our parliament and in our parties.

    Women incumbents describe it as both ‘anti-social’ and

    I think many politicians underestimate the voter, thus hiving
    off the discussion and not really addressing the issues : Why
    has Ireland one of the Lowest % of female representation in
    the developed world and hovering at 14%, what can be done to
    ameliorate the situation ?

  5. @Michael Courtney

    The last one I attended which was jointly sponsored by
    The EC and the NWCI was addressed amongst others
    by Elaine Byrne and it was most interesting in terms
    of how women incumbents viewed the political culture.

    It seems that incumbency is a bonus and generally leads
    to re-election but that many factor mitigate against
    women, including the anti-social hours and the laddish
    culture (especially within the Youth groups) of the
    main parties. Voters are gender-neutral in the main but
    the selections proferred tend to the young male.

    There is a huge gap in democratic participation of
    women, most especially from late teens to early forties,
    which in terms of representation amounts to a lack in
    representation. The reports on this meeting and other
    such meetings suggest that the main points will be
    used in addressing the issues in follow-ups which
    will hopefully lead to actions at all party levels.

    The main point I wanted to address here (without rambling)
    is that the voter is gender-neutral but that the party
    is not addressing the issue of gender-representation,
    there were no calls for quotas but for reform in our
    political culture.

    • If the voters have a history of being genuinely gender neutral in their actions then the same percentage of women who have been candidates would be elected as the percentage of men who have been candidates, i.e. if there were 200 female candidates and 500 male then if there were 200 then there should have been 80 women elected.

      Does anyone have the numbers for that?

      I suspect that the gender neutral view is of the voters intentions in a hypothetical ballot not in a real in.

  6. I agree that voters are pretty gender neutral, the problem is that they aren’t been given any women to vote for!
    In the 2007 General Election, women constituted only 18% of candidates overall – that means that men were 82% of the candidates. 60% of constituencies had no women candidates from either of the two largest political parties at all. Fianna Fáil fielded no women candidates in 28 constituencies; and Fine Gael presented no women candidates in 30 constituencies. In fact, in nearly 12% of all Dáil constituencies in 2007, an all-male ticket was presented to voters; in 5 constituencies out of the total of 43, no women candidates stood even as independents (Cork South West, Dublin North East, Limerick West, Meath West and Roscommon/Leitrim South).

    Research (both in Ireland and internationally) identifies 5 “C”s as barriers to women’s entry into politics: Caring responsibilities (women still do most of the caring both for children and older people); Cash (we still have a 22% gender pay gap in Ireland after adjustment for all other factors and getting into politics is an expensive business); Culture (political parties are still extremely “laddish” and we are very short of role models for young women – we also still have a Constitution that thinks women’s place is in the home!); Confidence (this is really related to culture but women network differently and very often think they can’t do the job as well as someone else could – this lack of confidence never seems to affect men the same way) and Candidate selection process (which is really what the above stats from the 2007 General Election are about).

    Norway (& Sweden) adopted voluntary candidate quotas within the political parties (rather than the Danish mandatory legislative quota). These were successful because the largest parties implemented the quotas when selecting candidates. The tying of funding for political parties has been used in France and has been relatively successful (although some parties eg Le Penn just ignored it and took the funding hit!). Tjis is not a “quota” in the strict sense, merely a carrot/stick. The main thing about these methods is that they relate to candidate selection and therefore the voters still get to decide who is elected in the end so the essential feature of democracy is not upset. As a feminist I should also add that positive action is needed now. We elected our first women TD over 90 years ago if we wait for parity to happen by itself, the NWCI reckon it will take another 370 years!

  7. Sinead, “we still have a 22% gender pay gap in Ireland after adjustment for all other factors” err… that is obviously a pay gap in respect of people doing different jobs. There is not a 22% pay gap between men and women doing the same work and it is wrong to suggest there is.

  8. Daniel Yes the “raw” gap between men andwomen and therefore access to funds for political campaigns is still 22% – the adjusted gap is 8% between men and women doing the same work: see ESRI report September 2009.

    • And I would suspect that as you go down the years and up the professions that the gap is even smaller again. For example, female Solicitors in their 50s might well have had less opportunity to build their practice or take on the high profile and earnings cases and that lead to lower salaries and that would be down to informal gender discrimination, but I would suspect this is less and less the case as you move to solicitors in their early 30s and it is from this cohort that we should be expect to see new candidates. The same could be for said for the lower wage end of the spectrum true the 23 year old working in a local shop might not have the same chance get the trainee manager position that involves locking up on your own late at night because of a gender bias on the part of the owner and so she with 5/6 years experience and the same ability is earning 20/30% less than the trainee manager guy but both are earning so much less than is necessary for either to be a candidate that it while a high % differential and interesting for other purposes is irrelevant for this discussion as neither can be a candidate. Statistics can be made to tell us all sorts of stories but I am suspicious of broad executive summaries that state that “there is a gap of 22% or 8%” and that’s the reason for low female candidacy without looking at where exactly the gap is and if it has an effect.

      I’ve posted it elsewhere but the main reasons that more women aren’t candidates is less and less about they simply being women and more and more about what they do from day to day. And it is those day to day things that they have in common with many men that has turned both men and women off political life, sort those practical problems and not be so focused on women alone and the impediments to a broader based re-involvement of people in politics is possible.

      Bad analogy time, if one of the reasons (I’m not saying it is) was that women tend to be shorter than men and the focus was on removing what it was that prevented shorter people from involvement then it would have a bigger pay off for women but would enjoy wide support, but if the focus is only on creating quotas for short women and short women only then it’s not going to win wider support.

      • You might be surprised what analysis of pay and promotion in the professions might reveal. Needing to take time off/ work shorter hours to have a part in child-rearing presents a significant problem to professional women. The view needs to shift to a poit where it is not seen as a weakness/ disadvantage to work part-time by choice for a number of years. The answer to that conondrum at senior level, I have found, is to delegate to someone trusted. There is also also strong apocryphal evidence, and possibly research, to support the notion that woking mothers make extremely good, efficient employees, I suspect because they HAVE to finish and leave at a certain time. In countries where there is an allowance for leave to look after sick children (Sweden?) it was found that parents/mothers did not take all the days (about 9, from memory) and took next to no sick leave themselves. The central tenet of the universal accessibility movement is that it is the environment that disables, in most, so the short people analogy is not so bad!

  9. ” if the voters have a history of being genuinely gender neutral in their actions then the same percentage of women who have been candidates would be elected as the percentage of men who have been candidates, i.e. if there were 200 female candidates and 500 male then if there were 200 then there should have been 80 women elected.”

    I would then look at incumbency and ‘Progress’, for instance
    the Greens have managed to lose a lot of high-ranking women,
    as have Fine Gael (from frontbench, both Lucinda Creighton
    and Olivia Mitchell indeed). So what happens in terms of how
    women progress through the Party hierarchy and how is this
    translated in terms of (i) modelling for younger women who
    seek political careers ? (ii) Funding to bring more women
    into political life ?

    it seems appallingly remiss that qualified women lose front
    bench positions and subsequently party funding and support
    when it comes to electoral campaigns. The issue is not alone
    the selection but ongoing issues of progress and how that is
    viewed by the voter. it often appears that the mostly male
    leaders of parties would rather support and apprentice young
    males in terms of progressing them into leadership roles, which
    to me and to many other women voters does indeed speak of
    a political culture rather than one of parity of esteem for qualified

    Voters are shown to be gender-neutral, so the party attitude to women’s professionalism is at question ?

    • Christine, Lucinda was not a member of the Front Bench and there has not yet (though it is expected) been a reshuffle of the FG junior spokespeople.

      The leaders of political parties would rather support and apprentice anyone who stands a better chance of winning a seat in terms of progressing them into leadership roles. Leaders need to win more seats.

      • @ Daniel Sullivan

        @ Daniel Sullivan

        I would like to see FG back-up recent statements on addressing
        the lack of women in politics and as I have already suggested,
        this should come from the women deputies in the various parties
        including FG.

        Women are rare in political parties here, yet both Green
        and FG seem to display a terribly lax attitude to keeping
        them in the public eye- I will be watching DSE closely
        in terms of funding and future electoral campaigns, the
        last thing most of us want here (DSE)is an all male-ticket
        and a further descent into low % of qualified women politicans.

        Indeed, I believe that its imperative the discussion on
        Political Reform has a strong female impetus and that the
        discussion should be led by those incumbents (and aspirants)
        who know too well the reasons why women are put off competing
        for seats.

        (have to say I found the vitriol directed at Deputy Creighton
        in media, in internal politics (exhibited on discussion boards)
        to be nasty, gendered and quite sickening. If Irish politics
        represents such a nasty visage , no wonder no woman can be
        bothered to throw her name in the hat, afterall, who’d want
        to spend their vocational life being bullied by a bunch of
        egotistical guys ?)

      • @Christine Murray, just in case you’ve not heard but I’m not the FG spokesperson on anything! So tell me what you’d like to see FG do is really rather pointless, almost about as pointless as I saying what I’d like to see FG do. And it’s not the job of FG (whatever that is as a practical entity) to keep particular spokespeople in the public eye, it’s the job of the spokesperson themselves. Michael McDowell for example seems well able to keep himself in the public eye and he has no party or even public role at all to help him.

        Also, as regards party funding and spending decisions for elections, that is not done by party HQs. It is done by the candidate themselves and the local organisation. I’d be happy to tell you about the practicalities of how Irish political parties are actually run as opposed this odd impression that people have of the all controlling, all powerful HQ that you and others appear to think exists.

        Finally, I hope that you’re not seeking to include myself as one of those “bunch of egotistical guys” who “bullied” Lucinda Creighton. I fully support what she had to say. I was simply pointing out that she was not on the Front Bench and so had not been removed as you were stating.

  10. Given that voting tends to be regarded as a habitual act, I’d agree with the voting age being lowered to 17. Considering the very low turnout levels that transpire amongst young voters in general, however, I’d also completley agree with the streamlining of the electoral register with PPS numbers and for a strong focus on democracy, citizenship and politics in secondary schools. After all, how many 17 year olds are realistically going to go through the hassle of manual voter registration, especially if they’re not well informed on how the political system works? Would be in 100% agreement with those recommendations provided that they are all followed through with in the near future.

    As for women in politics, research seems to suggest that Irish voters don’t actively discriminate on the basis of gender. Incumbency is, however, an important factor and those with political experience (be it in local government, Dáil or Seanad) tend to do considerably better at the polls, usually regardless of being men or women. A significant problem seems to be that parties run so few women candidates in the first place and it is hence a vicious circle. It is true that women are often less likely to go forward for the nomination (be it for family reasons, lack of funding, lack of confidence etc. Providing female candidates with funding, as the report suggests, as well as good mentoring programmes for new/aspiring candidates, will definitely address some of these barriers and I hope they are implemented. However, we also need to consider how parties and the government might be to blame. As noted by the Dáil Sub-committee on Women in Politics, party and political practices (e.g. meeting times, long Oireachtas hours, etc.) often don’t suit the reality of the lives of many women, most particularly those with very young children. Political life is built around an old-fashioned male norm and is effectively blocking these women out of participation. It isn’t a straight-forward case of women being ‘apolitical’ and just not interested as some seem to think, but that party life often simply doesn’t allow them to participate.

    • “political practices (e.g. meeting times, long Oireachtas hours, etc.) often don’t suit the reality of the lives of many women, most particularly those with very young children”

      Those practices don’t suit the lives of many younger people both men and women. Approach those problems on a gender neutral basis and you will have most younger men support you, approach it with the mentality that balance can only be restored by gender specific initiatives and you’re only supporting a different type of old-fashioned norm.

      The larger problem is not the institutional ones (which are there and need to be dealt with) but social, you can’t complain about having to attend meetings in the evenings in order to get ahead when that is the only time that voters and residents associations have to organise those meetings.

  11. I note mention of long hours etc putting women off – the undercurrent being the women still needs time to raise a family and do the ironing? Really? Men deal with those hours because men don’t try to pretend you can be both a full time house husband and have a full time career – you can’t have both. So if women are going to get involved in politics then other women need to stop making them feel guilty because they are not also making the dinner and doing the housework.

    • Whether we like it or not, the reality is that childcare responsibilities are still a considerable burden on politically aspirant women. This is shown in research: Galligan et al. (2000), for example, surveyed female TDs and found that 67% saw family care responsibilities as an important source of difficulty for women (lack of funding stood at 49%). Considering the glacial pace of change we have seen in subsequent elections, I assume that little has changed. After all, 70% of current women TDs represent constituencies in

      • (continued) Dublin and Leinster – my own research suggests that the commute is a significant advantage for those with children.

      • I don’t doubt those figures but why is it a woman who chooses a career outside the home still has to factor in home duties when a man doesn’t – no male TD ever frets about being home in time to make dinner or do the washing – no senior ranking in the private real world does either it should be said.

        So will academic policies on getting more women involved in politics or business make any difference when the real barrier is cultural attitudes toward women – from women mostly.

        A man who workd hard is not made feel guilty by other men whereas women who choose a career are made feel guilty about it by other women.

        If a women is pursuing a political career and has children, then those children have a father and he needs to step up and make the dinner and do the ironing etc and support his wife or if he too has a career, he still needs to step up and do 50% of the the duties that need to be done and are not taken care of by the paid home help taken on so each can focus on a career and have their home run properly.

        Children are only affected when their parents come home and bring home with them – if a parent is at home then they leave work at work.

        That’s where feminism went wrong – it gave women far more career choice but did nothing to address the home side of it where women are still expected, by other women increasingly, and not just men, to also have to do the housework after a day at work! It’s bonkers.

      • A minor point but are female TDs the best people to survey about what prevents women becoming involved in politics? It’s like interviewing successful sports people about what prevents you being successful, surely the unsuccessful women are better people to talk to.

  12. @Desmond Fitzgerald

    “So will academic policies on getting more women involved
    in politics or business make any difference when the
    real barrier is cultural attitudes toward women – from women mostly.”

    The question of female representation is not alone academic.
    Earlier on this thread, I had stated that there have been
    meetings about this and that the questions raised were
    answered by a cross-section of women representatives.

    Some problems were identified as inherent in our political
    culture, as opposed to cultural attitudes to women politicians
    at a societal level.

    In most cases the voter has been shown to be gender-neutral which
    suggests that selections haven’t always exhibited esteem for the
    female POV.

    • Obviously I’m not a woman so I have a different perspective. However, I do have 2 sisters, one of whom emigrated to the US and has managed to get involved in local politics perfectly easily and has the luxury of being able to afford home help to do the cleaning and ironing and also some after school child care so she can focus on her career and other goals and she isn’t made to feel guilty about it, just like she doesn’t judge those who choose to be stay at home moms.

      However, my sister who lives in Ireland has somehow felt intimidated enough to scale back on her career goals in order to run a house and provide extra care for a mildly special needs child while her husband hasn’t had to make those same choices.

      So why the difference in experiences – plus we didn’t grow up in a household where a woman’s place was in the kitchen or any of that so there’s no parental judgement being made either way.

      Will changing Oireachtas sittings or procedures help people like my sister in Ireland, who would be more fulfilled having a career outside the home, and remove the sense of guilt heaped on her and her comtemporaries for wanting to choose a career over being a housewife.

      Even if all the academic and procedural barriers, some of which I think are more imagined than real, were removed would that result in an increase in quality female participation – as the record of those who have actually made it is not inspiring that women are really any different to men in politics. Or is it that the political rules are not really the problem for those who do really want to have a political career.

      Eg, Mary Coughlan is the only cabinet member with a family, so does she rush home every day to make dinner or do the ironing or have she and her husband accepted that they can’t have it all and either they both pursue careers and pay for homehelp and not feel guilty about it or one of them takes a backseat role career wish and lets the other person pursue their career goals without making them feel guilty for it or without being made feel inferior for making that sacrifice – or is it even a sacrifice.

      I think addressing the guilt loaded on career women, by other women, is more of a barrier to women achieving the career goals they want than any type of glass ceiling from within the career itself?

      So are we sort of addressing the wrong question by saying the political culture is at fault, which of course it so completely is but for different reasons?

      • Quite simply, the political culture is a reflection of the culture at large, though perhaps exaggerated. In my own profession, up to very recently, only 9% or so of female architects made it as far as registration, despite making up 33% of graduates in my day. (both %s have risen). Same reasons, I suspect: a culture of presenteeism (which is probably as good a name as any for long working hours), exclusion from social activities favoured by men, (not wishing to participate, or unable to because of family commitments) (golf, drinking, anyone??). And perhaps preconceptions of what roles women should take and how they should behave. Change is slow, unsurprisingly.

        I disagreee strongly about “the guilt loaded on women”. It certainly doesn’t come from their peers, (ie female professionals, working women), whom I have found to be extremely supportive, including in what one might describe as a tight spot.

        Childcare and housekeeping costs money. Getting oneself to the point where one is a potential candidate will require lots of support, personal or paid. There are tens of thousands in non-standard family arrangements, separated ,divorced, never married, with varying levels of support, or none. You can assume nothing. Regarding men fulfilling financial or practical support roles, we have a long way to go . Anyone with experience of the grindingly slow progress of family law proceedings, including wrt “emergency” applications for maintenance will find the notion that one should get oneself down to the courts quick and make him pay attitude deplorably naive. Life’s not that simple. And women in that situation caught in a poverty trap frequently have no voice, political or other. They’re effectively invisible. They need representation, which won’t eventuate without practical supports, in addition to fora for making their voice heard.

        I presume there is a consensus that greater political involvement by women is desirable from a societal point of view?

  13. The issue of non-tax deductibility/ lack of choice wrt to childcare is a significant barrier to women in politics, business, the professions. It also perpetuates a situation where childcare workers continue to be poorly-paid because a market where care is not deductible simply won’t bear additional costs. Delegation of childcare and delegation of housework are not the same thing. The current set up has worked for a long time where there is availability of clever but uneducated women who will take on low-paid work…it’s exploitative in itself. This labour force will run out as women become educated. I’m sure I’m not the only working mother to ponder the calibre of childcare affordable and available to me. I’d have loved a fully-trained nanny, but how is the vast majority of women ever going to have that??? Even as a well-paid professional I couldn’t. No childcare worker should earn less than the average industrial wage. If they do (and they routinely do) it speaks volumes about our society and the value placed on women and their traditional working roles, let alone equality of opportunity. In my personal experience, the worst hostility I’ve had for having a housekeeper/ childminder in order to have a career was from……men. Because women with children perceive it as what it is…a full-time job in itself.

  14. Cathy, who is it that perpetuates the myth that there is such a thing as a ‘superwoman’ who can hav it all? For example, Nicola Horlick was meant to be the role model for career women, as she had 4 young children or maybe it’s now Miriam O’Callaghan. However, Ms Horlicks forgot to mention the reason she was able to rise to the top in her job was because she had a nanny and housekeeper to do the donkey work, and a personal assitant on her job, so it’s easy to rise to the top with that levle of support.

    You mention childcare, do you have a husband or partner and if so, why aren’t they pulling their weight, and if they are not on the scene why not, as in who is it lets men just walk away again and again.

    Also, why do people think they don’t need to plan the size of their family, one unplanned child happens but 2 or 3 is a bit careless.

    Being a mother is of course a full time job as is being a father. Why would men be hostile to you – do they think a woman’s place is in the home? Where do they learn that from? Women in the home I assume? Why does a 16 year old expect their mother to do their ironing for them or make their bed, if they’ve been raised properly they can do that themselves and respect the effort that goes into providing the daily meal and the clean house and clean bed linen and all the other things that go into making a house a home.

    I’m just not convinced the problem of women advancing is as simple as men holding them back or opportunities not being there or prevention due to procedures and processes which are more academic – I still think the barriers are due to culture and attitudes rather than processes but the whole issue of affordable quality children is yet another area where Ireland has utterly failed.

    I wonder is there any area of civil society Ireland has got right since independence? I can’t think of any.

  15. “I’m just not convinced the problem of women advancing is as simple as men holding them back or opportunities not being there or prevention due to procedures and processes which are more academic – I still think the barriers are due to culture and attitudes rather than processes but the whole issue of affordable quality children is yet another area where Ireland has utterly failed.”

    I would take as a starting point the experience of women in politics
    and business ( which is being discussed ) rather than attempt a societal
    analysis. Reports of exclusion based in our political culture and of
    anti-social hours are most often mentioned. The barriers to women
    in politics are based in the experience of quite a small group of
    women who’d generally be best able to respond to the other issues
    raised.(such as a societal view, if it indeed exists)

    In addressing the issues raised in that specific problem, there may
    actually be a possibility of isolating cause to ameliorate the
    problems that will face younger potential women candidates in what
    is surely one of the most male-dominated political systems in
    the developed world.

    • Are you sure you’re not already a politican as you’ve done them proud with that comment – I can’t quite figure out what it’s meant to mean.

      However, I think the Oireachtas operates like a 19th century gentlemans club because it was set up based on 19th century gentlemans’s rules.

      I don’t really think it takes much effort to get those rules changed. However, I don’t really think the way the Oireachtas is run is really stopping any women pick a career in politics.

      From what people are saying it seems that child care and domestic duties are what prevents it.

      Therefore, is that because there is no choice in these areas or because women feel guilt ridden into not availing of those choices. A political career is well paid and flexible to a degree.

      So I’m not sure a woman pursuing a political career faces the same sort of financial pressures as someone pursuing a lower paid job would face.

      Then there is this ‘single mother’ myth. There is no such thing as a single mother as every child has a father. So why is when we hear about a ‘single’ mother struggling we never hear where the father is and why he is allowed walk away both emotionally and financially?

      From my experience of a political party I never saw prejudice against women candidates but maybe it’s more subtle or maybe the pressure came from the dmoestic side ie if you want to stand for selection as a candidate I don’t see any evidence that parties put things in the way of women.

      So a women has to factor in childcare or housework, why? Who is putting on that pressure – it’s not the political party, it’s other women and some men.

      But that’s a socity issue rather than a political one?

    • You don’t think it is at all odd that you’re using the experience of women TDs, a significant % of whom got elected on the basis of family name or connections, as the basis to talk about those women who don’t get involved in the first place or who ran and didn’t get elected?

      I’d be disgusted at myself for basing my arguments on the basis of the opinions of the sons of TDs who talked about the challenges that men with no family connections faced.

      • But I don’t really agree that those who stood and were not elected or selected, failed because the political system stopped them. The women who got elected were also still expected to be full time housewives – so how is it they managed to juggle the two roles but others claim they can’t.

        Getting to the ballot paper because of a family name is a separate issue to how a women thinking of pursuing a political career now, decides how to balance any familiy committments she has ie why can’t her partner do the cooking and cleaning, or if childare costs are an issue for a ‘single’ mother then why hasn’t the father been brought to court to pay his share to his own child, even if the father has no emotional input it doesn’t mean he can walk away financially etc etc.

        The issues of childcare etc are not created by the political system to prevent women getting involved in politics, those blocks are a reflection of what society wants.

        I’m just not seeing the evidence that the political system deliberately puts up blocks to women or that the political system alone can address those blocks that do exist.

        I mean when did we ever hear a male in any area be asked how they juggled family committments be they a TD or sportsperson or entertainer. It isn’t politics that makes such a question be asked of a women.

  16. @Daniel Sullivan

    Who else can discuss the issues from the experiental
    as opposed to the academic viewpoint , precisely ?:

    You don’t think it is at all odd that you’re using the experience of women TDs, a significant % of whom got elected on the basis of family name or connections, as the basis to talk about those women who don’t get involved in the first place or who ran and didn’t get elected?

  17. “Perhaps female candidates who didn’t get elected? I mean they’re not anonymous what with their names being written down on the ballot paper and everything!”

    @Dan Sullivan

    That point has merit indeed, though I would qualify
    it somewhat by saying that it needs be balanced in
    discussion along with those women who have achieved
    and maintained Oireachtas positions.

    Afterall, it wouldn’t do to present young politicos
    alone with the difficulties of political life. Nor
    indeed would anyone be addressing the issues of
    parity based on merit and qualification by ignoring
    the contribution of women leaders to our society
    just ‘cos they have ‘inherited’ their positions.

    The problems raised at the NWCI/EC pointed to
    the political culture of youth wings , the late
    hours and the laddish camraderie of male politicians
    – thus looking at the inhibitors would require
    looking at all those issues with both aspirants
    and incumbents .

    Indeed they can learn from each other.

    • I’m not suggesting excluding currently elected reps but the point is they are not represented of the experience of getting involved in politics and I’d have some salt to hand when considering their views.

      One other point is this notion of a laddish culture in politics that excludes women, that may be so but it is as much the case that there is a female equivalent that can exclude men. There is a culture that married people are party to that excludes single people. The culture of youth wings and broader student politics are odd and peculiar but to suggest they are intended to as a barrier to women’s entry is wrong.

      I’ve personally have found politics to be quite clubbish but so too is much of the organisational culture of many areas of everyday life. What precisely is wrong with camaraderie? And can I ask if a particular behaviour predominates in one gender does that naturally make it a bad thing?

  18. @Dan Sullivan

    “What precisely is wrong with camaraderie? And can I
    ask if a particular behaviour predominates in one gender
    does that naturally make it a bad thing?”

    I’d have thought that when one reaches adulthood its
    about time that the things of childhood and adolesence
    are left behind ?

    Theres a place for everything, including laddish
    culture, such as the sports club and the pub –
    doesn’t mean that it is suitable behaviour for
    the Dáil, where one wd expect manners to prevail,
    as they do in other parliaments throughout the
    developed world. Laddishness has been particularly
    mentioned as an exclusionary issue in our politcal

    • But here is the rub, what is preceisly is “laddishness” to you? What behaviours in particular are we talking about? All that we have to go on is a vague notion that it’s something that men do, which to my mind is merely a 21st century version of Albert Reynolds saying “sure that’s women for ya.”

      It is interesting to me that you would view something like camaraderie which has the definition of “Mutual trust and friendship among people who spend a lot of time together.” from here is viewed as childish or adolescent behaviour. In parliamentary democracy as noted by the discussion about the whip system that individual need to be able to trust their colleagues to follow through on agreements they’ve made. I would argue that the ability to form friendships and maintain them in the face of adversity over a lifetime would be a sign that a person can reach out to and understand other people.

      • @Dan Sullivan

        I was referring to the late hours and the experience
        of exclusion that has been mentioned at meetings
        regarding obstacles to the full participation of
        women in Irish politics.

        AFAIK there are to be follow-ups and that all
        political parties have affiliates to the NWCI- thus
        they will (one supposes) report on these meetings
        to their respective political parties .

        (sorry about the Poethead yoke, am logged in through my site )

      • Late hours are late hours, not evidence of camaraderie. They are a hold over from an era when parliament was a part time midweek activity for men of property from the estates and are completely unnecessary now. Except that removing late sittings only to replace them with evening after evening spent in residents association meeting isn’t going to enable those who are put off by the long hours from entering politics either.

        I’ve read the other NCWI report and it read like anecdotes that any candidate male or female could have told them about. There is nothing gender specific about having to deal with unpleasant or curmudgeonly voters.

  19. Isn’t the under current that women can’t devote time to politics or careers because they have to also do something else like cook dinner or raise the children.

    However, why can’t the husband do those things or carry 50% of the burden.

    Why do women feel so guilty about not doing all the housework etc if they have a career.

    The fact the Oireachtas sits too late into the evening for no good reason is a 19th century throw back, not a block on women entering politics.

    But more importantly where is the evidence that more women will result in different policies because I can’t find any evidence that those who are there at the moment are in any way different to the men: Mary Harney, Coughlan, Hanafin, O’Rourke etc are all just as bad as any man and have never offered an alternative view point on any issue.

      • …therefore, women don’t want to get elected to the Oireachtas as the payoff from achieving their goals through the political process is negated by the fact that they have to listen to themselves and others rowing. And anyway, any woman I ever met loved a good row as much as the next man.

      • Actually the conventional wisdom is that men are more goal orientated and single minded while women tend to be better at multi tasking. There again there is some research that indicates that idea is pure hockum.

        And Christine, don’t let your own experience on colour the fact that more men than women appear to get involved in politics discussion on-line. There are probably all kinds of reasons for it but it is remains true.

  20. “…therefore, women don’t want to get elected to the Oireachtas as the payoff from achieving their goals through the political process is negated by the fact that they have to listen to themselves and others rowing. And anyway, any woman I ever met loved a good row as much as the next man.”

    Ye forgot to write *IMHO*, just sayin’

    • But if you agree that being passionate about politics is a necessary factor in one’s decision to run for the Dail, and you assume that women are equally as passionate about politics as men, then surely they would participate in online political debate at a rate higher than this? Women are no strangers to internet forums such as facebook. So my question is where are are all the women who are passionate about politics? If you are, like me, that passionate about politics you would want to express yourself more than “real” life would give you opportunities to do so. Unless of course 86% of politics forum users are women and this survey merely reflects a forum preference. (No offence to this site though or the women participating in the discussions, these other sites are just, for now, more widely known).

  21. But if you agree that being passionate about politics is a necessary factor in one’s decision to run for the Dail, and you assume that women are equally as passionate about politics as men, then surely they would participate in online political debate at a rate higher than this? Women are no strangers to internet forums such as facebook. So my question is where are are all the women who are passionate about politics? If you are, like me, that passionate about politics you would want to express yourself more than “real” life would give you opportunities to do so. Unless of course 86% of politics forum users are women and this survey merely reflects a forum preference. (No offence to this site though or the women participating in the discussions, these other sites are just, for now, more widely known).

    er, dunno

    • You have to admit the women aren’t here (here being on-line discussing politics) in the same numbers as men. We can discuss the reasons all we want but we have to recognise the facts as they are. Just as there are too few women elected there are too few women involved in the broad public political discourse. Why is that?

      • Disagree, there are plenty of women online,
        there are also plenty of women who vote and
        engage at all levels of political discourse.

        I find that women like to read other women and that happens
        (believe it or not) outside of Political sites and through
        social media tools such as blogs/Facebook and dedicated sites
        like the NWCI.

        I certainly prefer to read women writers btw and find the lack
        of them on big sites off-putting.

    • Sorry, I meant to say “Where all the women? with no offence to the women in these discussions on this site.”

  22. Women aren’t online because they are doing housework and other things while the husband sits in front of the computer or TV or reading the paper.

    This again comes back to the point that it isn’t politics that puts women off politics it’s domestic issues and that spills over into all sorts of other areas like online chatting or further education etc etc and that then goes back to why is it women still feel they can’t make a stand and get their husband/partner/other to do their fair share of housework/ childcare or other familiy things like shopping for elderly parents etc.

    Is that because men just refuse to do their fair share or because women let them get away with it.

    Then also why is that even when the other half of the relationship does offer help the women still has to/wants to organise who the nanny is or the cleaner etc instead of leaving it to the man – is it that women just simply cannot let go and deflect it by making out the man is rubbish and would get it wrong anyway when they won’t – because women were not born magically able to cook and clean and multitasks, they learnt how to, so men can learn too.

    • @Desmond. You might be on to something there. Here’s one more controversial assertion.

      Lets say women are equally or more qualified than their male counterparts as is the case among people in their early twenties at the moment. However, they choose partners who may be two to five years older and are therefore two to five years ahead in the career game(because women are “more mature” and therefore go for guys who eqaul that maturity). When push comes to shove (NO PUN INTENDED) and somebody has to look after kids and all that, the couple would be at more of a financial loss if his work suffers than hers. Similarly, in recessionary times, these kind of couples (and I know one) can find the less experienced partner (the younger female) gets laid off more easily and then becomes dependent on the male. What I have outlined here presumes no institutional gender bias and yet some roads still lead to women taking on the bulk of the home duties. Whether this affects their unwillingness/inability to run for the dail is another matter.

      So the solution to all of the world’s gender problems – women need to start pairing up with significantly younger (2-5 years) men, so that they are the more experienced and the more economically and psychologically powerful person in the relationship. They won’t be passive aggressively or rationally steered towards more duties at home and they may have more social freedom to pursue things like political power. Close down all the gender studies institutes. You heard it here first.

  23. @Michael Courtney Funny you should say that: I did it second time round! One of the principal reasons that my marriage failed is that my ex was completely unwilling to sacrifice any of his working hours/ career to take a more equal share in childcare. There was an assumption that I was the “default position” when it came to such matters. It’s an assumption still made in many households up and down the country. Over the last generation or so, women have stepped out of traditional roles and into what were previously viewed as men’s jobs. The reverse doesn’t seem to be happening at the same speed, leaving women with a double burden. Don’t blame them for it. (As Desmond FitzGerald seems to) Could it be because childcare and housekeeping often involve endless repetition, no short-term gain, and only vicarious achievement, for little or no financial reward?? Unwillingness and inability are sometimes for much the same reason: if you already have 2 full-time jobs, how on earth do you find time of politics? The answer to female involvement in online fora might just be “because we can”, without a baby-sitter/ childminder/ help from a third party. Or driving to Dublin. If I had taken on any more than I had a couple of years back when my children were younger, it would have made me ill at the very least. And most men I know. It’s not lack of ablility or interest: often it’s simple logisitics.

    • Cathy, I don’t think it is fair to say that Desmond is blaming women, more than he is stating the situation in rather bald terms in order to make plain the facts of the current situation and the logistical problem you refer to isn’t one that gets solved by gender based quotas (which is where we came in). Human beings (of which men and women are a subset) are quite selfish and inclined towards holding what they have, it is quite odd to expect men to give up their current rather comfy home situation unless it is taken from them by the other human beings that they share space with.

      • Consider then the comments about “women TDs not exactly covering themselves in glory”, women making other women feel guilty, women not taking their partners to task for support. Is relationship policing part of our brief too?

        Working and caring for young children is a tough job, in particular working at senior level. Many women opt out because there are simply not enough hours in the day, even with paid support. Obviously opting out completely from caring for your children is not an option. You can’t just quit that job. Many men are resistant to change, for reasons outlined. Bringing up children makes an absolutely essential contribution to society/ humanity. It’s essentially what we’re here for, as a species.

        If one agrees that women should have a real political voice, then one needs to listen to what woman have to say about the reasons that they, collectively or personally, feel or are excluded. It is almost irrelevant what the external perception is. There’s little point in telling them that it can’t be so because you don’t believe it to be so. Pointless distraction. I feel excluded by the drinking and golf culture that permeates provincial Irish business. You can’t ignore the fact that after-hours is used to develop personal relationships which help ease business/ political dealings. Telling us that we are imagining the obstacles smacks of chauvinism. Just because some men can’t perceive them (or empathise) doesn’t mean they’re not there. You can’t, as a group, tell us how we feel or what our opinions are, which is what some of the content (not yours in particular) of comments appears to consist of. That’s a strong contributory reason to lack of women in politics: men who presume they can speak for women. They can’t, singly or collectively. They’ve never been there.

        What will go a long way to empower women politically is financial
        independence. Equal pay for equal work, equal promotion, tax-deductible childcare, state-supported childcare. Some of these are happening slowly.

        The societal attitude to women is changing, but as it’s been male-dominated for a few millenia, I hope that we aren’t assuming a similar rate of change in the other direction. That’s why supports are needed, maybe even temporary quotas. If you don’t agree with facilitating change, maybe, somewhere deep down you don’t really want more women TDs. Again, not you personally.

      • @Cathy It is hard to believe that the world would not be a completly different place if women were typically the older partner in human relationships. I’m glad to hear you didn’t sacrifice your happiness for your ex’s.

  24. To Cathy, I didn’t ‘blame’ women, using that word is an easy trick to try deflect away from the substance of the point.

    A man entering politics wouldn’t give a second thought to how he can fit in child care or domestic or family committments because he knows he can get away with not doing any of them because his wife will pick up the slack and because she does, without challenge, even if she too is working full time, he gets away with it.

    So is it some biological thing that a women is incapable of understanding that if you choose to have a full time career, then you also can’t be a full time parent, you will alwyas be a full time time parent in one sense but not in the sense that you can do both properly, so the man knows he won’t be home to make dinner or read a story all the time and doesn’t get all stressed about it, so can’t a women think the same – who is laying on the guilt trip that not only can a women have a career, if she wants one, but she must also be a full time mother?

    You said ‘many woman opt out because there are simply not enough hours in the day’. To do what? Have a full time career and be a full time mother – well you can’t do both. It’s that simple.

    From what you say it keeps coming back women feeling they have to be somewhere else instead of being to focus on the job knowing the housework is being done and the childcare sorted, which it should be. A man doesn’t spend the day worrying if the dinner is ready or the ironing done, so why should a woman.

    I’m not saying that the long hours are right or that the drinking culture is healthy but I don’t think they have developed as a means to keep women out of politics or business.

    Women are just as good as men at golfing or drinking or being obnoxious and sexist.

    We are told women bring a different perspective to issues and that more women would mean action on providing better childcare and other support, again support to what encourage more women to work or to juggle work and housework, why can’t being a housewife be given the same footing as being a career person, both are perfectly valid choices, except a housewife shouldn’t be made feel a failure because after getting her MBA she choose to raise a family and contribute to society that way, nor should a mother be made feel guilty for choosing to work 12 hours a day to get to the top, as long as each know when you come home you leave work behind and focus on the children or you don’t blame your children for why you stayed at home.

    No female politican made an argument for any new perspective on any of the issues we face – I haven’t seen any new thinking from any female TD that makes me think they offer a different female perspective, regardless of whether they would ever have enough votes for that view. So why would we think 50% of the Dáil as women would result in different policies, what sort of different politics and why have none of the current women TDs ever advocated such policies now?

    I personally don’t have any issue with quotas to break some barriers, as they had in Norway, but I’m not convinced more females will mean more equality because there is little evidence of women in general riasing sons and daughters to be more equal and instead they play a part in perpetuating sexist male attitudes – the Irish Mammy for example?

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