Today’s women TDs don’t want gender quotas

David Farrell (August 4, 2010)

In today’s Irish Times Mary Minihan reports on a survey of the existing women TDs about their views on gender quotas and the consensus is distinctly against any such move for Ireland. This is on the back of the recent report of the Joint Committee of the Constitution’s call for steps to be taken to increase the numbers of women candidates fielded by the political parties. The Joint Committee stepped back from recommending party quotas on the grounds that they might be unconstitutional.

The top 10 parliaments in terms of representation of women

International evidence demonstrates that women quotas are very effective in increasing the proportions of women parliamentarians. Indeed, Rwanda provides an interesting example in this regard. So, the fact that legal advice suggests that such a move might be unconstitutional here, and the fact that most existing women TDs don’t want them means that, not for the first time, Ireland stands out as rather quirky. Should the constitutionality question be tested? Should existing women TDs be allowed to block women quotas?

83 thoughts on “Today’s women TDs don’t want gender quotas

  1. Gender quotas is institutionalised discrimination, simple as that.

    Will be slaughtered for saying this, but a recent readers survey on found that less than 20% of its readers are female. I’d also be interested to see such a survey of other political sites to see their gender subscription.

    Could it be possible that women are less interested in politics? I know it’s not PC to say so, and that we’ll have very politically motivated posters here denouncing that opinion, but let’s be realistic. The real world doesnt conform to the view that men and women share interests equally. That’s not sexist, or discriminatory, it’s pointing out a difference.

    Back to quotas, I do not believe two wrongs make a right, and denying someone a place on an election ticket because of their gender is simply wrong.

  2. “International evidence demonstrates that women quotas are very effective in increasing the proportions of women parliamentarians.” That’s not really insightful, as I’m assuming they are legally binding so you are measuring the mechanism you’ve installed nothing else.

    – Does it increase proportions above quota level?

    – Has it achieved long term changes to governance system so that the quota is no longer needed and the ratio is self sustaining?

    – Is the goal window dressing a parliament or increasing the voice of women in law making?
    — What are good indicators for this from international data (mention of female perspective during parliament debate, legislation that is welcomed by women NGO groups, etc)?

    • Actually, the adoption of quotas has had variable effects on the numbers of women elected to parliaments around the world. This has to do, in part, with differences in policy design. Some quotas involve literally setting aside seats that only women may contest (‘reserved seats’). These policies often serve as a ‘ceiling’ to women’s representation, with the number of women elected being exactly equal to the policy.

      However, Rwanda is a case of where reserved seats have served more as a ‘floor’ — 30% of the seats are reserved for women, but in 2008 women won almost an equal number of non-reserved seats, bringing their total proportion of MPs to 56%.

      [An aside: This is, interestingly, exactly equal to the proportion of women in today’s Rwandan population. Although women did constitute a much higher proportion of the population immediately post-genocide (while 70% is often cited, this has been a contested figure, but anyways…), this has not been the case for many years. The original imbalance, some scholars have pointed out, was not necessarily due to more men than women being slaughtered, but to the fact that men constituted a greater proportion of those who had fled to other countries.]

      Getting back to quota policies, the other two main types are ‘party quotas,’ adopted voluntarily by individual parties, and ‘legal’ or ‘legislative quotas,’ passed by parliaments requiring parties to include a certain proportion of women among their candidates. Because both sets of policies address the number of candidates, not the proportion of women elected, they are hugely variable in terms of their effects. Party quotas are also highly dependent on the size of the party that adopts them, as well as the will of that party to actually implement them.

      There have been highly effective party quotas adopted in Sweden (47%) and South Africa (45%), and legislative quotas in Belgium and Costa Rica (39%). In contrast, legislative quotas in France have not been hugely successful: women’s representation went from 11% to 12% after the passage of the 50% quota law (it rose to 19% after the most recent elections).

      Some of the other points made on this page have been voiced in many other quota debates. Although contexts may be different, it therefore appears that advocates and opponents tend to converge around similar concerns across countries — questions like: do quotas undermine merit in candidate selection, do they have positive or negative effects for democracy, how do they influence policy-making, do they increase ordinary women’s interest in politics, etc. I review some of these arguments, as well as the empirical evidence, in a short online article here:

      To address the findings of the Irish survey, these are indeed very interesting. The global evidence tends to find that female politicians are often the ones in favor of quota policies — or that they tend to become more favorable to such policies over time. However, it is also the case that female politicians can also be among the strongest opponents of quota policies, too. The current president of Argentina, Christina Kirchner, is among these opponents — although a legislative quota in that country has enabled women’s representation to increase from 6% to 40%. Debates over reform of the Sex Discrimination Act in the UK in 2002 were also notable by the fact that the main participants in the debate for and against the reform — which established that party quotas do not constitute a violation of the Act — were women.

      Reasons for the apparent consensus against quotas among female TDs may stem from multiple sources. It may be the case that they feel quotas are simply not necessary: they ‘made it’ themselves, demonstrating that if women have the right qualifications they will succeed. The consensus may also reflect a concern among female TDs that quotas may undermine women as political actors, suggesting that they can’t make it there ‘on their own.’ However, it may also be the case that they do support measures to increase women’s representation, recognizing that change won’t occur naturally on its own. They just may not be convinced that quotas are the appropriate mechanism for doing so.

      On balance, however, the international evidence suggests that quotas *are* necessary in order to achieve major changes in women’s access to elected office. They appear to be the only way to break with established recruitment practices that favor men — and prevent women from coming forward as potential candidates. A quota debate — even if quotas are not ultimately adopted — may serve to highlight this fact, changing dynamics of candidate selection. However, parties are unlikely to change their practices without strong pressure from both inside and outside their party organizations.

  3. Women less interested in Politics? Perhaps just maybe uninterested in! I rarely access the forum for political news I use twitter, or liveblog etc. I find it much more accessible and the place is full of women!

    In relation to quotas the opinions of elected women to the Dáil is rather irrelevant-The question should be put to women who put their names forward at the last general election and who did not get selected (to further probe why not in their opinion) or even those who ran and did not get elected. But women accessing politics as we know is more than just quotas (which I think parties should have as a policy internally when it comes to selection) its about childcare and being able to attend those meetings in the evening-It is also to do with image and media coverage of female candidates (yes I am referring to the Gilmore girls) I believe deters women from running.

  4. No rational reason is given for the gender quoatas. Its bad enough that we have to have the Dail exist, now we’re being asked that we dont get a choice in who is elected?

    • We don’t get much of a choice on who is elected anyway – parties are the gatekeeps and the ones who filter all aspirant candidates down to those few who end up on the ballot paper. As it stands, considerable numbers of voters are being presented with an all male-ticket. In 2007 at least 60% of constituencies had no women candidates from either FF or FG.

      Why is that men seem to hold the monopoly of power in the majority of constituencies? Are parties directly discriminating against women? I doubt it occurs to any large degree, but indirect discrimination is certainly at play. As I’ve argued on this forum before, party structures and practices tend to favour the male lifestyle and ignore the reality of the lives of women with young children. (e.g. Dáil sitting times). In addition to this, we need to consider what qualities candidates look for in a ‘good’ candidate. It often tends to be someone who has been a long-time party member and has been actively involved in the local party branch? Women are less likely to do either (which is interesting considering Jay’s point about women being less interested). I was actually talking to someone who is very involved in a rural FG branch and he told me that it has no women members at all. First off and before considering quotas, parties need to start from the bottom and actively encourage more young women to become involved in grassroots politics.

      • “often tends to be someone who has been a long-time party member and has been actively involved in the local party branch? Women are less likely to do either” (Claire McGing)

        So if most women are unwilling to do what is necessary to be selected is it hardly surprising that the figures are so low?

        Most men are also unwilling to give up so much time and effort on the off chance they might be selected. Also, I find your argument that the Partys should do more to help women quite weak. Should the Irish Olympic Council be selecting more athletes who are not willing to put in the time, effort and training to qualify for the Olympics?

      • I actually find your argument weak. If grassroots involvement is a popular route into politics, we need to address why women are less likely to get involved in the first place. Women aren’t some kind of apolitical creatures (although some would have you believe that they are) -the culture of political parties and how they do their business needs to change. I’ve heard stories about rural branch meetings being held in the local pub over a few pints, for example. The reality is that most women (and a lot of men too) just don’t buy into that. Parties are mainly run by men and the accepted culture of behaviour means that they can be uncomfortable places for a lot women to be, especially young women. Quotas are one thing but I agree with the statement that Lucinda made, that they are a great way to get parties off the hook.

    • Again no reason for gender quotas is presented to me. You are incorrect about parties having a monopoly on candidates choice. You can run as independent. If they are social reasons for women not getting into politics they it up to them to get around them.

      The greatest British PM ever was a woman. Why cant more women be like Thatcher?

      • You need a certain amount of resources to run as an idependent candidate – funds and time – and the reality of Irish culture is that women are less likely to have both. Women earn 22% less than men when adjusted. And as Ivana Bacik’s Oireachtas report made clear, the burden of childcare is still disproportionately placed on women. It is telling that there are currently only two independent women TDs in the Dáil, one of which was voted in as a party member for many years and another that comes from the strong Tony Gregory machine in Dublin Central.

  5. Quotas are not ideal but they may be needed to shake up the “old boys’ network” that’s so prevalent in Irish politics and life. Men tend to choose working with men over working with women. Maybe this split is caused by our gender-divided educational system or the fact that women get paid maternity leave – disrupting their careers and the business – but men don’t? Either way, something in our political institution isn’t working and a short-term quota system may help improve the balance.

    In the American south, forced school desegregation was the only way to change the white/ black imbalance in the educational system. Perhaps a political quota system might kick start some changes and create a political system that more closely resembled the gender split in our population?

  6. @Jay – We had a lengthy discussion about that survey and the women in politics issue in general here

    To add to this discussion though, the writer of today’s historical article in the Irish Times from 1927 noted that women were frequeuntly to be seen in the viewing gallery of the Dail. Perhaps women were equally as interested in politics in the years following the establishment of the Free State, but this interest puttered out when their opportunities for election were scuppered by the male dominated party elite, contributing to the view among women that politics is a ‘laddish’ and hostile arena for them to participate in?

    • @David, the fact that Rwanda was 70% female after the genocide helped. Women needed to get involved as there was drastically fewer males available to take on the leadership roles within society. The quota system there seemed to a measure to ensure that gains being made by women naturally were not reversed, although it no doubt helped to bring the figure from 28% female MPs to the 56% at which it currently stands. Robert Elgie and Claire Devlin wrote a paper on it. (Which I mention not for David’s benefit, but for anyone else who might be reading this and interested in more information.)
      My ultimate point being here that the outcomes of political reform measures in Rwanda are not very informative when considering similar measures in a peaceful society.

  7. Quotas aren’t ideal and the idea of discriminating against any section of society is difficult to justify but they can work. In 1984 Ireland was ranked 26th in a list of the percentage of female representatives in different countries, just below Belgium. Belgium is now ranked 12th while Ireland is 87th – Belgium introduuced a quota system and Ireland did not.

    Jay – please don’t equate participation on a political site with having an interest in politics. I am sure that they’re are plenty of people, both male and female who have an interest in politics but do not use

    Don – you will still have a say in who is elected under Senator Bacik’s proposal. The idea is that it be required that parties have a certain percentage of candidates be female, not that a percentage of those eventually elected by female. So once female candidates go forward to election they will still ahve to play by the same rules as everyone else, the idea is that the quota system would make it easier for female candidates to run in the first place and would encourage the parties to have female candidates and to cultivate female participation in a way that does not currently happen.

    • Introducing quotas to multi seat PR-STV when you would have 90% of outgoing TDs (80% plus of whom are male) contesting the election is highly problematic. It would mean that almost new candidates by parties would have to be female for at least one if not two elections thus excluding new male entrants for a political generation and it would mean the larger parties running more candidates than they needed to in order to ensure they got the maximum return of seats for their % of the vote. That vote management which is necessary in PR-STV has significantly reduced the numbers of candidates both FF and FG run at election time compared to 40 years ago. I suspect that has been a factor in the closing of a door that existed briefly in the 70s for new women candidates.

      A non-quota system that would facilitate a significant increase in the % of female candidates is possible. I outlined it here

      I would be happy to go into it in more depth if people were interested. It would avoid party HQ control of lists, it would be proportionate and it would allow for the maximum choice.

  8. I certainly would not regard participation in the bunfight that is as being vital evidence of an interest in politics. I don’t see the problem with a temporary gender quota, for say, two elections to ensure both genders have at least 45%. What’s the big deal? The problem is that when you scratch many opponents of quotas you get their real reason: They believe it will bring in “sub-par” women. The fact that FF, FG and Labour can’t locate 84 high quality female candidates between them out of a population of 4.2m says far more about the state of Irish politics than a quota system ever would. And just to stress: Some of the most viciously opposed I have found to be women.

  9. I’m a member of a branch of one of the main Irish political parties in the greater Dublin area. We have had a successful recruitment drive over the past 18 months. We have more than doubled the branch membership in that period. 22 new members to be precise of which 6 are women – of the existing 20 members, 8 are women. We used many methods to recruit new members. Personal contacts, family contacts, public notices, leaflet drops direct to houses among other ways. Our meetings are not held in pubs. There are 5 main executive roles within the branch, 2 of these held by women.

  10. “I actually find your argument weak.” (Claire McGing) What part of my argument exactly do you find weak its not clear to me based on your post.

    “Women are not some kind of apolitical creatures” (Claire McGing) I agree with you, the reference I made to them being less likely to get involved was your opinion, hence why I quoted it.

    I completely accept your point about political parties being uncomfortable places to be. They certainly are both cut-throat and not for the faint hearted. If there is such a strong desire – as you argue strongly there is – for political partys to be run in a different way then why not a completely new party? Trying to reform an organisation like Fianna Fail or Fine Gael is surely more effort than setting up a fresh organisation? If the issue is simply providing the voters with enough women candidates then this should solve the problem. For evidence of how successful new partys can be look to Icelands last local elections.

    By the way I wondering from a fundamental perspective what is the argument for gender equality in representatives? Is it that men discriminate (dont speak for) against women and that we need an equal number of women so that they can then discriminate (to not speak for) against men. On the basis of these two groups things should then balance out seems to me a rather chilling and cynical way of looking at the world. Also, speaking as a man I can assure everybody on this forum that not a single man in Dail Eireann represents me.

    • I agree with you on establishing new parties and the PDs are a good example of this. A lot of women both joined and represented the party. Part of the reason for this had been that the co-founder was a woman ( a’role model effect’). More importantly, because the party was new, intra-party competition for selection in constituencies for winnable seats had not reached a maximum point. Women were often as likely to be selected. However, it shouldn’t have to come to that. Existing parties should accept the ‘old boys club’ culture that goes on and introduce realistic reforms to try and bring fresh blood in (both men and women).

      Advocates for what is often called ‘descriptive representation’ would argue that we need a fairer gender balance in parliament to ensure that the perspectives of both men and women are considered. This is not to suggest that we need women to solely represent women and men to represent men (which is often the danger), but argues that there are certain issues that disproportionately affect a certain sex and that we need to ensure that parliamentary debate and policy-making adequately reflects that. A similar argument could of course be made for class, ethnicity, the disabled, etc, but these advocates would argue that gender is the most significant because women make up half the population and cross-cut these other groupings.

  11. Since the 18th century, democratic systems have faced problems of widening participation, with conservatives arguing against extending the franchise and representation and progressives advocating for such an extension. This issue of quota is really a continuation of this tension. What kind of political system do we want? Is it one that is dominated by men? Is that a representative system? Progressives would argue that it is not, in the same way as progressives argued that men of limited means should also be encouraged into politics (hence payment for political office).

    If we can identify (and we can) a series of things that militate against female participation in the higher levels of formal politics, then surely the most sensible thing is to try to level out the playing pitch. Quotas are one, perhaps slightly brutish, way of doing this, but must be accompanied by other measures which recognize the reality that the burden of childbearing and childrearing falls on women. Research across most political systems identify this (family obigations) as the most important constraint on women’s political involvement.

    It is, however, not the only factor. Many women do not want to be involved at the higher levels of politics, partially because the formal political structures privilege the kinds of skills that are historically socially identified as ‘male’ (esp. public oratory). Should we simply conclude that politics is a man’s game, and that maybe women are not ‘suited’ to politics in the way men are? Or should we have another look at the system itself, and try to identify ways of encouraging women into politics? This is the basis of the pro-quota argument: by forcing political parties (by way of legislation, fines etc) to field more woman candidates, the likelihood is that more women will be elected, and their election will in itself encourage more women into politics so that eventually there will be no need for quotas.

    Quotas do not always work, though. They have not worked in France, mainly because the leglislation was set up in such a way as to a) allow parties to circumvent the quota and b) because the system itself encouraged parties to field weak female candidates in a list system, assuming (rightly) that incumbant male candidates would beat them easily. They have worked in other jursidictions, though. In our PR system, even a low quota may well yield fairly immediate results. Will more women in politics result in a fairer society, or a less corrupt political system? Possibly not. But it will lead to a more representative legislature, in the political sense. Who might be afraid of a change in representation? The incumbents. Hence, perhaps, the overwhelming opposition to quotas expressed by female TDs in todays Irish Times.

  12. David,

    What do you mean by the question should existing women TDs be allowed block women quotas?f So there is not enough us women TDs but suddenly we are this big power block that must be circumvented?

    For the record, and by way of defence to the thought police that may have me excommunicated from the sisterhood for holding my own opinions on this issue the reasons I oppose gender quotas are as follows:

    Running for election and selection to run for election is about one person persuading another to vote for them. Gender quotas interfere with that process. They are an attempt to engineer an outcome as opposed to trusting the ability of the voter in a selection convention and or election to make up their own mind who they want to vote for, whether that person is a man or a woman.

    Women have improved their representation many walks of life and careers including Medicine and law without gender quotas. Quotas treat women like they are downtrodden but that is not why women are not getting involved in politics to the same extent as men. They are choosing not to get involved.That is the issue that needs to be addressed. There is a general cynicism about politics at the moment that is probably going to deter more and more people including women from getting involved in politics, activism and even voting and we need to remind people of the power they hold at the ballot box and on the other side of the coin the power and change that one to one persuasion at elections can achieve.

    Select women on the basis of their gender, then they as candidates may be missing that vital ingredient, the ability to persuade others to vote for them and their parties and their ideas. Elections are not the equivalent of appointing people to state boards. We are talking about something as fundamental as democracy when it comes to winning elections and selection conventions and lettting the voters decide for themselves who to vote for and letting people decide themselves if they want to run for election or not. And most important of all the power of one person persuading another of the merits of their ideas, and their record and their candidature.

    The issue at stake is how to encourage more women to get involved in politics. It is possible to do that without gender quotas. The Irish Labour Party has 30 per cent women TDs and no gender quota. The Progressive Democrats had 50 per cent women TDs and no gender quota. On the other hand the British Labour Party had women shortlist and achieved 30 per cent women MPs in the recent election. The first step is to get more women to join political parties and take on roles whether it be director of elections, treasurers or footsoldiers. More women TDs will follow from that first step.

    • @ Joanna – I think that you’re to be commended for defending your viewpoint on this topic; it’s much better to have this issues out in the open and being debated than kept off the political agenda. I think that the whole point of this site is that people can have a reasoned discussion on these topics without personalising the debate, and certainly without accusing one another of gender betrayl or similar ‘thought crimes’.

      That said, i have to ask: if you don’t support gender quotas, what would your solution be? A vague call for getting women more interested/involved in politics probably isn’t going to get the job done. Certainly, it hasn’t been getting the job done in recent elections, which have seen ireland static at around 14% while other countries have steadily improved their gender balanace in parliaments around the world.

      While, as Sinead argues abive, quotas are ‘slightly brutish’, they appear to work. All the cross national evidence points to gender quotas improving gender equality in representation.

      It should be borne in mind that gender quotas only favour women candidates becasue they are currently so appalingly under-represented. In a situation of female dominance, they would favour men. But really they’re not designed to favour either gender – rather they are ther to protect against excessive gender imbalances arising from the nomination process.

      It’s clear from looking at the figures that there’s something in our political systen that is systematically disincentivising womens’ particiaption; how else can one explain the extremely low number of female representatives? It’s probably a myriad of factors, but something that i would point to is the political longevity of many dail members. The power of incumbency in our system (and in others) creates a massive time lag between societal changes and their expression in the make up of our legislatures.

      I would completely agree with your points if each party nominated a fresh slate of candidates at each election, but this is not the case. It’s not a level playing field.

      When we look at the evidence more closely, it seems that, once nominated, men and women perform very similarly at the polls; to the point that political science nerds argue over whether there is a ‘statistically significant’ difference between them or not. However, in terms of getting nominated, there’s no comparison. Therefore, the thinking behind the gender quota system is that it addresses the major source of disparity: candidate selection.

  13. Matthew,

    What statistics do you have that show women fare worse at candidate selection? The parties need to get the women involved as members first and active in the party. Labour my party has been quite succesful at that. It has a women’s section, an equality officer, who encourage women and assist women candidates. Recruitment campaigns can be aimed at women, as can policy formation. Labour’s tendency to be ahead of the game in childcare policy,a its promotion of equal status legislation, the issues it highlights on its literature, that it appointed a Minister for Equality, that it works to create links with local groups that campaign on issues such as local childcare facilities, etc., that Labour from the outset had a founder (James Connolly) that saw women as equals, and that more women put themselves forward for election.

    Women’s participation or lack of is a feature of women’s choice. You look at ways to encourage women to choose politics. Women choose to go in to certain professions and have made gains without quotas. They just started looking at those professions differently. You can encourage more women (and men and people from different backgrounds ages) to look at politics more positively, as something they might get involved in, in many different ways and quotas don’t need to be resorted to. The thing that happens between a voter and a candidate is just to fundamental to the integrity of democracy in my view to be interfered with and I would try anything but gender quotas.

  14. Sorry missed a bit there but what Labour does is a factor in why we have more women members and more women candidates and more women TDs.

    By the way up later than I should be and I take offence at the National Women’s Council and others for criticising me for being a women and yet having a different view to them on gender quotas.

  15. @Joanna – The Women’s Council were a bit condescending towards you and the other female TDs who opposed quotas in the Irish Times this morning. But they did have a substantive point; If your looking for the best candidates, surely parties should be looking beyond the family tree of elected politicians who have a natural advantage (name recognition and access to resources) over the rest of the population. Candidate selection is in many cases rigged already. Even your own party is probably going to run the brother of a former TD here in North Dublin, although in fairness, the man is a Senator at the moment.

    I would disagree with quotas at the constitutional level, but would be fully in favour of them at the party level. If voters have gender biases, which I’m told they don’t, they can still express that bias if their are balanced tickets. But then you have to ask, if voters are sexist, is it ok to validate these views? Sometimes leaders have to lead, not react.

    The point is that the game is rigged already in favour of certain groups (as mentioned, family members of politicians; and there are hardly any manual workers or unemployed people in the Dail, should we have a quota for them aswell, seeing as they make up so much of the population?). So it is not such a bad thing to slightly tweak the system back in favour of one of the largest descriptively under-represented groups. Manual workers and people from lower-income backgrounds I suppose would be tomorrows battle. Today, we will try to resolve the women issue.

    • but the general public can’t be absolved of blame for this chasing after family members to be candidates. The fact is that the electoral organisation side of political parties has one job and one job only get as many people elected as possible for the party, if that means running family members or celebrities or people with an interesting personal backstory then they will do that. Fact is political parties would run a flesh eating zombie who was nightly exhuming dead bodies and reanimating them to create an army of the undead if they thought there was extra votes in it.

  16. @ Joanna – statistics to show women fare worse at candidate selection: females have never made up more than 20% of candidates in irish elections. Approximately 50% of the irish population are female. Therefore, the process of candidate selection appears to be quite strongly biased against women. I’m not suggesting active discrimination, but if the process treated men and women equally, and we accept that men and women have equal capacities – then surely the outcome would vary around the 50 – 50 distribution, rather than stagnate at 80 – 20?

      • Exactly, see my point above. I’d say the the change inhibiting incumbency bias, combined with bailiwicking, are amoung the best reasons for adopting quotas.

      • but by that logic, there couldn’t be any new male election candidates for a decade or more until the incumbent males dead or retired. I say that as someone who was but won’t be again either a local or Dail election candidate.

      • yes – i think there are arguments for the imposition of term limits to be explored, but i guess that would contravene people’s ‘freedoms’ to get elected, use state resources to build up an impenetrable localist network over the 3-5 years, get elected again, strenthgen their local networks for another 5 years. According to their own responses to I survey of members of this dail, TDs sepnd 1.4 hours doing’ constituency work’ for every hour of ‘legislative work.

  17. Michael,

    Sibling or relatives of any kind of sitting or former public representatives have just as much right to put themeselves forward as anyone else. Some get selected and or elected and some dont. Senator Ryan is a Labour activist for a long time. He is as hard working public representative as I have ever come accross. Politics, like other walks of lives, attracts families, because families are members of communities. It happens in all professions, including those who make the study of politics their career, or the commenting on politics their career. The children of teachers often choose to be teachers and so on. More TDs are not relatives of former TDs than the other way around. I see no issue with a relative going forward for selection and election, as long as the voters get to vote for them or not just like any other candidate. No one should be stopped from putting their name forward for selection or election whatever their gender. Gender quotas (or in Britain Women’s shortlists) are disallowed.

    We had a gender quota in Labour for our Party Executive elections and women and men went to our party conference and choose to vote for whichever man they felt needed their support on the basis that the women were advantaged by the gender quota. To stop this happening, my party introduced the segregation of men and women on to separate panels. The numbers of women running for our executive did not increase any more than it would have done without gender quotas and the women were getting elected on ridiculously high votes while their mail counterparts were the ones that had to campaign for votes. As a result of the unhappiness of members with gender quotas the 21st Century commission changed the system to having two seperate elections for members of our executive, one for women members and one for men. Now at our party conference, we have a system that is getting just as much criticism from members, of both sexes. Our new system of electing our executive is a a bit like men and women’s tennis, we have the mens election and the womens election. Many party members are very negative about the new panel system of electing our executive that is supposedely about equality but really treat women and men as if they are different, and does not allow for women and men running against eachother.

    But when it comes to selecting our Dail candidates there has never been a gender quota. And Labour has 30 per cent women TDs.

    Tweaking is quite simply wrong, trust the voter and treat women as if they are able to fight their own corner.


    You need to start at the bottom and increase the membership of women in parties. More women candidates will arise naturally out of that and you won’t then need to engineer outcomes by gender quotas. Gender quotas are based on an mistrust of voters, and a view that women need wrapping in cotton wool, and a desire to fix the outcome. There are other ways of increasing the number of women TDs and the Irish Labour Party has done that without preventing one sex from contesting elections and without interfering with voters pregogative to make up their own minds. That is the way it should be and it reflects the fact under our electoral system of PR STV the people ultimate have to be trused to vote for who they like of the candidates that put their name forward in their constituency.

  18. Michael, and Matthew,

    Tweaking is wrong if you are a fundamentalist about the integrity of the voter being left to make up their own mind, as I am, and candidates being allowed to contest or not elections whatever their gender. Women are choosing not to go in to politics. They can be encouraged to change and to choose to get involved in politics in greater numbers without the need for them to be wrapped in cotton wool and protected from the vagaries of having to put themselves forward for selection or election against their fellow human beings, namely men.

    Some political scientist would do well to survey party members about their opinion of gender quotas that have been implemented. There is huge and growing opposition to the use of gender quotas in internal party elecions, including in Sinn Fein and in my party Labour. We had a gender quota for our General Council and Executive Elections until quite recently. What used to happen was men and women would attend our party conference and delibarately choose to vote for male candidates that would like to see elected because they felt the women candidates were being handed places on a plate where the men had to campaign for each and every last vote they could get. Many women would be elected to our GC and Executive on ridiculously low votes and men with twice their votes were losing out. Because of membership unhappiness that gender quota was scrapped and replaced by a panel system. Many members think this new system where by men and women are segregated on to different panels and compete in an electoral version of mens and womens tennis as an affront to democracy and equality.

    Our electoral system of PR STV (as opposed to list systems, quota systems or mixed sytems) is about trusting the voter and respecting their decision whatever that may be, who ever they vote for, and whatever the outcome. Selection conventions should be no different. Democracy within parties is just as important as in public elections (and maybe the trend of some parties towards eradicating the members from decisions on candidates is a far more pressing issue for the political scientists to pursue than gender quotas, nor lists etc.).

    On the family issue, don’t the sons and daughers and siblings of political scientist sometimes follow their relatives into political science too? and teaching and community activism and in many other careers and walks of life. At the end of the day there are more public representatives elected that have no family history in politics than those that do. And in relation to those that do so what, as long as they have to face the same voters as all the other candidates. Its the voter at the end of the day that should choose, whatever the gender, the background and family history of the candidate. That is after all democracy.

    Finally, on Matthews point, Labour has no gender quote for general election candidate selection, it does not now and never had. We have 30 per cent women TDs. Women are increasing their representation in many walks of life without gender quotas. We are, at the end of the day quite able to go out and fight our own battles.

  19. Just to add addendum. Women are not in high enough numbers in political parties. Other steps to encourage them to get active in parties will naturally lead to more women TDs and no engineering of outcomes will be required.

    • @Joanna. I hope you don’t take my comment on Senator Ryan as a personal attack on him. I know he is extremely active, but from a public perception point of view, political dynasties decrease voters’ faith in the system, as politicians are viewed as being a separate class altogether. I just used him as an example, and because I live in Dublin North.

      The attitude of female TDs appears to be very conservative, by which I mean they want to see only slow gradual change. There will a clear out of the old guard particularly among the government parties at the next election, but I don’t think opposition parties will be immune either. People may want to vote for particular parties but they will possibly opt for the fresh candidates as there is a great feeling of disillusionment out there in the real world about politics generally (I wouldn’t know myself, I live in an ivory tower :D). Therefore, the next election will provide an excellent opportunity to tip the sociological balance of the Oireachtas. Candidate selection has been identified by academics as the critical attrition point for women in politics. By not addressing this in a proactive manner, there is little hope that there will be any change away from the status quo.

      As they say in economics, its all about incentives. Family members are run by parties for name recognition reasons as voters are less likely to consider the candidate on their own merits and trust that they will be as equally effective as their previous relative. All that counts to the voter here is that they are from ‘good stock’. Candidate selection committees are in on this. They want to maximise the party’s vote and win the seat as much as the leadership and they will nominate whomever they feel has the greatest chance of being elected at the lowest cost. Family members have an advantage on both of these dimensions as it takes longer to establish a completely fresh candidate, but neither of these criteria are how candidates should be chosen. Dynastic politics is not the only barrier to women’s representation (indeed, some women are there because of it), but this is just an example of the bad incentives facing candidate selection committees.

      So there is a paradox. Nobody in a position to change the system has an incentive to change it because it may threaten their position. Although quotas have their problems, I think our political system needs at least a temporary jolt in this regard. Opposition parties have less to lose at the next election, as will Fianna Fail at the subsequent election. Therefore, by adopting these measures for these two elections, major structural change could happen relieving the necessity to have these measures in place at all. If it doesn’t then we need to look at addressing deeper social issues such as the bad incentives inherent in relationships where the man is older and more advanced in his career, making it rational for the woman to let her career suffer when it comes to taking care of children, if such a choice must be made, as the family would be at less of an income loss. But that is a completely intuitive point and not based on any academic analysis.

      • I’ve just realised a logical flaw in my argument. Voters cannot simultaneously lose faith in the system while at the same time voting for dynasty candidates. I could explain this by the fact that disillusioned people tend not to vote, while people who do have a higher propensity to vote for a dynastic candidate. Also, the name recognition actively worked against Shay Brennan and Maurice Ahern last year but was more than likely just a backlash against the party and no implications can be made for dynastic politics from this.

  20. Is there any evidence of a femal candidate or elected representative actually proposing a policy that is sufficiently femalecentric to illustrate how more women in politics would make a difference?

    So far I don’t see that even imposing a 50% quota would result in a higher quality representative and more women would do nothing to reduce cronyism, corruption or gombeenism, not to mention clientalism?

  21. Michael?

    Is it because we oppose gender quotas that we are conservative in your eyes. I don’t see myself as conservative, nor part of “the old guard”. If anything in my party it is the younger women that oppose gender quotas most.

  22. I’m not sure if the’fundamentalist’ approach to democratic freedoms really stands up. This is because it supposes that Ireland is currenlty an open political marketplace where any citizen has an equal chance of running in an election.

    Of course, anybody is free to set up a new party, with, let’s say, all women candidates, or a 50-50 split. And anybody is free to stand as an independent. But, in practice, this is extremely difficult to do, given the infrastructure and resource advantages acccrued by the main parties over the years. Many of these resources come from state funding. The current structure of irish politics means that most candidates will be selected by the major parties.

    This is partly why we fund parties – they are vital social and political institutions and one of their main functions is political recruitment.

    However, their recruitment strategies are not attracting women in proportionate numbers; let’s face it, they’re not even close. Even your example of a party that’s achieveing women’s representation without quotas etc., the labour party, is only hitting 30 per cent; Claire and Adrian’s post shows that 23% of labour candidates in the 2009 locals were women, so women are dramatically underrepresented in the party that you adduce to show that we don’t need quotas!

    So, surely we need to incentivise parties to achieve at least some level of gender balance, given their abject failure to do so since the foundation of the state?

    Something that’s been missing from the debate is that there are numerous types of quotas, and various levels of sanctions. I would suggest that a just sanction would be a withdrawl of some portion of their state funding.

  23. Matthew,

    We have 30 per cent women TDs. The same percent as the British Labour Party which did have quotas!

    There is a discussion on on this matter and a commenter there, a Mr. David O’Loan has hit the nail on the head as far as I am concerned when he says “democratically the means are more important than the ends”. Some political scientist treat this as if it is a mathematical excercise, and that you put in the right variables and you get the desired outcome. But we are talking democracy here. You leave to the voter to decide (the means), that is the fundamental, and the means (the ends) you let it be whatever it turns out to be. Gender quotas make the outcome (the end) more important than the means (the voters right to decide for themselves who to vote for).

    • @ Matt – I think Joanna has blown our cover re treating people like atoms!
      @ Joanna – I wasn’t talking about yourself in particular. A good percentage of TDs have been there a long time and people are a looking for change. As I said, this will mostly be on the government side but people feel let down by the system generally and may spread their anger beyond the government TDs by voting for newer candidates rather than incumbents.

      The opposition to quotas seems greater than I would have expected. Even those TDs who did agree did so reluctantly. Also, you say that the choice should be left with the voter but our point is that the voters choice is limited by the candidate selection process. There is no place on the ballot paper to tick “none of the above” and then suggest whomever from the citizenry would be your preference. It is perfectly democratic for parties to display political leadership, rather than merely reacting to voters preferences. and if voters are gender-biased, there will still be 50% men on the ballot paper if this reform was adopted. Passively encouraging women to be involved will not change the status quo. At this stage, some sort of radical reform is required.

      • “There is no plce on the ballot paper to tick ‘none of the above'” (Michael Courtney)

        Actually I think you will find there is….its called not voting or perhaps spoiling your vote and a large percentage of the population already take it!!

      • @Jonathon It’s a sad day for democracy if the solution is someone having to abstain from their vote, or even worse, spoil it! There’s too much of the ‘same old, same old’ on the ballot paper and voters should be presented with a more balanced set of candidates. A better mix of candidates might actually encourage more people to vote.

      • @ Claire I dont believe it is a sad day for democracy. Democracy is about choice and you have to respect when people make the choice to not engage in the process. Those who do not fundamentally misunderstand the concept.

        Not sure what your point is about there being a difference between abstention and spoiling. If the effect is the same why is it worse?

        I am also worried about this “presented” argument. The voters should not be presented with anything! They make a choice based on the available options and if they are not happy with them can chose to engage in the process by running for office, becoming an activist etc. There are no limits to your freedom and anybody can become involved in politics currently. However, the proposals you are advocating (gender quotas) would restrict that freedom.

  24. Michael,

    Democratic parties should show leadership – in other words control who your voter selects. This trend in fact is already happening and its a bad thing. They don’t even have selection conventions where the members vote in Fianna Fail. The Fianna Fail leadership may not be picking more women yet but Berlesconi on the other hand does. I think I would leave it to the membership any day over allowing the leadership to do all the selecting, even if the leaders picked more women! Democracy is the radical thing and there are other ways to encourage women to take their chances with democracy than gender quotas.

  25. @ Joanna – but what are these other ways? And why have the parties been so loathe to take them up? Obviously, if parties recruited and nominated way more women members, this would probably gradually translate into improved female representation. But there’s not much sign of this happening at the moment. And that’s precisely the sort of activity that gender quotas are designed to incentivise.

    The whole approach of ‘feedom’ and ‘risk taking’ is a remarkably right wing, free market-based view of democracy. Freedom and choice were the rhetorics used to oppose healthcare reform in the US, for instance.
    Surely the whole worldview of the labour party is that the state has a duty to intervene to counter radical disparaties in societal outcomes that can arise from ‘free’ (i.e. unregulated) processes of competition? How is the gender issue any different?

  26. Joanna,

    I am surprised by the extent you think that any guidance from the leadership is undemocratic. The way I would see it working is that constituencies that run two candidates must ensure that one of them is female while constituencies that run only one could co-ordinate with other single candidate constituencies to see if agreement can be made on an average gender balance. This leaves them with great latitude on which individuals get selected. If constituencies cannot broaden their horizons to that extent, then I see any measure that is more lassiez-faire having little effect.

    The whole reason we have government in the first place is because life would be nasty, brutish and short without an overarching authority to co-ordinate and regulate the natural social strength of sections of society. The gender balance in favour of men in politics is a persistent one that requires some even-handed pro-active measure. We obviously disagree on the definition of an even-handed measure, but adding that it be temporary makes it harder, in my view, to argue against giving it a try.

    Whether the policy outcomes of greater women’s representation differ at all is irrelevant. The symbolism of such a situation is enough, in my opinion, to justify a pro-active measure like this. More women in politics will encourage women to become more politically engaged generally.

  27. Michael,

    It is control or fixing by the leadership I worry about. Gender quotas are being called for, for the same reason as lists, a view that voters (party members) can’t be trusted to make the right decision. I believe the fundamental thing about democracy is to let the voter decide to make the right or wrong decision. Guidance is fine. But no candidate should be relying on guidance from leaders to get them nominated, rather they should rely on their own powers to persuade the membership (and in elections the electorate) to vote for them.

    By the way 3 women in Irish Times letters page today suggesting alternatives to gender quota, including me and former Minister Gemma Hussey.

    • Just to add the other woman, Miriam Murphy, is a Sinn Fein activist. She makes an important rebuttal of statements by both the National Womens Council and the Labour Womens Council, and that is women TDs don’t just represent women and men TDs don’t just represent men.

  28. Joanna,

    Thanks for that. I would usually see the letters page, I just didn’t happen to look at it this morning. Gemma Hussey seemed to agree with Senator Bacik and I though that gender quota’s could work if they were established with a definitive end date or target in mind. She really didn’t mention any other specific reforms she would like to see, other than collaborating with global institutions to figure out some other solutions.

    The next election will be an interesting benchmark for judging the progressiveness party members and voters. Without some form of direct action from the leadership I do not see the situation changing. Moreover, given that Labour may double their seats, their claim to having 30% female TDs may be undermined if too many new candidates are men.

    Also, members and voters don’t always vote with their first preferences for candidates. They do make strategic considerations. So although they may prefer a female candidate, they might go with a male because their ultimate goal is winning the seat for the party and they may be under the (somewhat false) assumption that males and relatives of former politicians have a better chance of winning.

    By having quotas for two elections you might actually be giving memberships and voters an incentive to vote with their hearts rather than their realpolitik heads. We won’t know until we try.

    Lists are a completely different arrangement and would involve scrapping pr-stv, which I am not in favour of.

    • There is no one on the planet able to make decisions about yourself with the same pin point accuracy than yourself.

      I choose my vales and I choose my reps.

    • Party leaders tend to be elected or chosen on the basis that they will make better decisions on average than the other potentials for the positions. The members can make all the bad decisions they like, they’re not going anywhere once it is show that their decisions were bad.

      I don’t favour HQ control of candidates but I think placing our trust in the wisdom of the crowd is folly.

  29. Just to add to the discussion, here is a link to a piece I published on gender quotas in the Irish Times today. As I say, they are most certainly not a ‘magic bullet’, but there is little doubt that, used effectively, they have a very significant effect on increasing the numbers of women parliamentarians.

    • Who cares if they work or don’t work? Who gave you the authority to deny the citizens of this republic the right to vote for whoever they want and to associate with whoever they want?

    • David,

      As to John’s point, you say it in relation to members of political parties. You wan’t to control the decision they will take in future selection conventions by restricting their choice and restricting who can contest conventions.

      • Joanna: Actually John says that gender quotas would ‘deny the citizens of the republic the right to vote for whoever (sic) they want and associate with whoever they want’. Er. how?

        As to your point about internal party selection conventions. There is no actual reason why the party members cannot select plenty of men candidates. It is the localist baliwick nature of Irish politics – where the party strategists seek to have tight upper limits on the number of candidates they run in a constituency – that feeds this. It would be perfectly possible for the parties to run more candidates than they currently do, which would allow plenty of scope for men candidates to be fielded, as well as women candidates. And that could have the added advantage of helping to dilute some of the localist tendencies is party strategists, because gender would now be up there with localism as reasons behind candidate choice.

        Finally, to reiterate, if, as the evidence shows, gender quotas (as effectively applied and as part of a wider set of measures) work elsewhere, then why not here too?

      • David, you’re being completely blind to the reality of how PR-STV actually plays out if you are suggesting parties could run extra female candidates in addition to the existing male ones. Too many candidates in PR-STV costs seats, ask Adrian Kavanagh or anyone else that has looked at the numbers for elections. FF in particular have learned the lessons of the last 30 years and now run considerably fewer candidates but get a much better return on their vote % in terms of seats. It would be madness to suggest that in a 5 seater where FF might be after 3 seats and FG 2 that they had to run at least 4 candidates each while parties chasing a single seat would run only 2 which would have the effect of gifting seats to the smaller parties because there is less chance of they leaking transfers.

  30. David?

    I presume you were not serious in the piece when you asked if women TDs have a right to oppose gender quotas?


    I didn’t vote for a party leader to engineer outcomes in votes taken by the members. He should use his power persuasion if he wants members to make a particular decision.

    Democracy means letting the members/voters decide whether the powers that be, the commentators or the political scientist like the resulting decisions or not.

    It is the least democratic of parties that centralise more and more decision making in the party leaderships hands, and I see that gender quotas as part of that centralising, undemocratic instinct to control outcomes.

    • Joanna, I don’t favour leaders deciding who candidates would be either (I’m not likely to be anyone’s HQ pick but what of it. 🙂 It gives me plenty of freedom to say what I want.). I was merely pointing out that at least leaders are chosen in part because of their decision making ability while the membership isn’t chosen at all.

      I would still go with OMOV but with some changes to the process to reflect the constituencies. I’ll be seeking to propose those changes come the next Ard Fheis.

      • Daniel,

        The membership doesn’t want to be chosen as leader it just wants to have its say.

        This brings me to another point and I hope David and the other political scientists might take note of this point. The equivalent of gender quotas, namely women shortlists have been used in Britain and this time 20 percent women were elected to Westminster (same per cent that David points out was elected to our Dail in 1997 with no gender quotas). These shortlists are being done at the expense of the local participation, many of the chosen ones that result are head office choices and from outside of the constituency. At the same time the number of Oxbridge graduates and Etonites etc. are increasing their representation in Westminster. Here’s the rub, top down decision making including gender quotas is increasing the professionalisation of politics in Britain and making it not just more middle class but more upper middle class. Take the decision out of the hand of members and whats the point of members at all. By giving members less and less say and centralising decision making parties would further decrease involvement by members, and where do you get your women candidates from then – headhunt them the likes of the NWC would say. So instead of genuinely committed members going on to be candidates we have people headhunted. And the downward spiral continues as headhunted candidates with no conviction disappear if they find politics, after all is not so glamerous, or they lose their seat. And we will have less and less community activists running for election, less social mix then there even is right now and so on.

        If you want to increase the number of women TDs (and other groups, as Miriam Murphy pointed out in her Irish Times letter yesterday, such as low income groups) you need more women joining parties and getting involved at various levels from the footsoldier, to the branch treasurer, to the director of elections, and for some the candidate. Thats how you do it right from the bottom up, rather than top down. Because top down means less political participation, and in particular less voluntary participation, which is bad for politics and bad for democracy.

    • Joanna:

      Actually I had an exclamation mark after the 20% figure that was deleted by the Irish Times copy editor: i.e. I see that as far from impressive! And your reference to the British Labour Party efforts misses the obvious point that there you’re dealing with a non-PR electoral system with single-seat constituencies: i.e. where the party, by definition, only fields ONE candidate. Clearly, one can see how a move towards something like gender quotas would raise the hackles of party members because they would be denied the right to pick a male candidate in those constituencies designated as ‘women only. This is an example for what Prof Krook is getting at when she refers to the need for gender quota rules to be applied in circumstances where other institutional features suit them. Clearly, this is not the case in Britain. Ireland, on the other hand, uses a PR system. There is nothing in the rules of STV that sets upper limits on how many candidates parties can field. Indeed, in Australia and Malta — the other STV cases — the parties field many more candidates on average than in Ireland.

      • There is a practical upper limit of how many candidates a party can run do to the fact that transfers dictate which parties get the final seats. If we were to adopt the system I had suggested (which I take it no one has bothered to read) then parties could run as many candidates as they like because it would be the national % that dictated how many seats they got which it was the local PR-STV vote that said who the individuals elected for those parties were.

  31. Daniel: Actually I know well the long-standing debates about how many candidates parties should run in STV elections. The point I’m trying to make is that that is one of the reasons why we have the localist politics we do, because the parties in fielding the minimum number of parties they can to ensure an effective transfer pattern are stoking up the localist emphasis: ensuring a good geographical spread to maximize the efficiency of intra-party preferences. But this is a phenomenon of how Irish parties operate STV. In my book on Australian STV, written with Ian McAllister, we show how parties there operate a very different strategy regarding intra-party preferences. And we can also see that in Malta where parties deliberately over-nominate.

    Gender quotas could have the effect of increasing the average number of candidates overall (please note I say ‘could’, not ‘would’), and in so doing thereby help to tone down some of the excessive localism that many of us would like to see reduced.

    • but the cause of this localism is as much if not more the fault of the electorate than it is the parties. And I have to admit this tinkering with the system does rather conflict with your view on changing from PR-STV to lists or whatever that the focus on changing the system is the wrong approach.

      How about we go with this idea, require all parties to run as many candidates as there are seats? In effect they would be local open lists.

      • I’m not suggesting for a moment that this would fix localism; all I’m trying to suggest is that requiring the parties to field a minimum number of women (and, actually also men) candidates could have the added advantage of helping to dilute some of the excessive localism that prevails here. This has nothing to do with changing the electoral system; it would be a change in how the parties operate.

        Yes, the blame for localism falls on both parties and voters. It would be interesting to see what would happen if parties had to think of things other than just localism when picking candidates, and if voters were then presented with candidates some of whom were on the list of candidates for reasons other than their localist credentials.

  32. David,

    What is wrong with “localism” (I only heard of this word recently when numerous commentators such as Garret Fitzgerald used it at the McGill summer school). The survey appended to the survey of TDs about the percentage time spent on constituency work showed surveys of other countries where the percentage of time spent on constituency work is only a matter of a few per cent behind the time Irish TDs apparently spend on constituency work. I spoke to a German diplomat and he expressed his opinion that regional parliamentarians in particular, but national parliamentarians too, in Germany, elected on lists, have to do local work to be selected to be on those lists. This fits in with what Tip O’Neill said – all politics is local. It is pie in the sky thinking that the change you suggest or any change will change the fact that people live locally, when voting they look to who they know and in particular who they know that works hard in their local community. “Localism” is what is good about politics. “Localism” is about one to one engagement with the voter in local communities. Most issues brought to TDs locally relate to our national government, including issues to do with the need for school places in the TDs local constituency, people losing their jobs in a town in the constituency, problems with social welfare policy as it transpires for individuals claiming social welfare, the local hospital waiting lists and so on. These issues are brought to the attention of the TD in terms of how they effect people on the ground out in local communities the TDs represent. The TD brings what he learns from these contacts to her or his work as a legislator, framer of budgets, or member of the opposition holding the Government to account for the decisions that lay behind those issues and their impact on people out in the various constituencies in this country. The TD is better able to empathise with the voters he represents because of these contacts and these contacts bring politics down to face to face engagement between human beings, on the one hand human beings that are the TDs and on the other human beings that are the constituents. Its where politics should really be debated, one to one, TD with voters, TD with constituents, TDs with local communities, as opposed to TDs in an ivory tower or through soundbites in the media. That is the “Localism” that is what is good about politics, good about democracy and that is what you want to reduce?

    It was not “localism” that led to our economic problems. It was not the man or woman stopping the TD in the street, or calling to his or her clinic about an issue that caused the tax breaks for developers, nor the light touch regulation of the banks and so on, and yet it is “localism” you wish to reduce by your proposals for electoral reform? Alls localism is about is engagement between TDs and the voters. And people who use the term need to examine their view of voters. Democracy is about accepting the voters decision whether they choose to focus on local issues or national issues and their local impact, that is their prerogative. In fact it is my impression that voters make the most sophisticated decisions at election or referendum time, where local, national and many other considerations come in to it. We should embrace our electoral system and how it plays out, and all its aspects including so called “localism” and embrace our task to go out and engage with the voters and use our power of persuasion to persuade the voter of our point of view, and our aspirations in terms of how they exercise their power to decide ultimately at the ballot box which individual TDs they wish to represent them. The one thing I do agree with you though is that we should have bigger size constituencies, by that meaning 5, 6 or 7 seaters, to bring more proportionality in outcome (though Professor Michael Gallagher has pointed out that results even in 3 seaters tend to be roughly proportional due to voter behaviour and a voter perception in the past that they must counter a percieved advantage to Fianna Fail in elections). But more 5 seat, 6, 7 or 9 won’t change the fact that for human beings, when it comes down to it, “all politics is local”.

      • Maybe ‘localism’ is a good thing, but i think that, in Irish politics, a better expression would be ‘excessive localism’.

        While localism didn’t ’cause’ the collapse of our economy, it certainly didn’t help that our members of parliament spend more time on helping constituents with their problems getting passports, planning applications etc. than drafting legislation or overseeing the government.

        Also, Jane Suiter has documented a consistent pattern of Ministers favouring their own constituencies in the allocation of state captial grants – in terms of sports grants, education, and roads.

        ‘Excessive localism’ means that, instead of the area that needs funding the most getting top priority, the area represented by the Minister does instead.

        Excessive localism means that our leader, Brian Cowen, sung a song about winning pork for the constitunecy, concerning his father, to his constituencts after becoming Taoiseach:
        ‘Ber Cowen he is a TD me boys, Ber Cowen he is a TD. He got Clara a swimming pool because it isn’t by the sea’. According to the Offaly Express coverage, the crowd reacted with ‘delight’ to this song.

      • That’s funny Don, because your comment above, is about you choosing your values and your representatives. I am standing up for voters and their choice of so called “localism”.

      • Did I say there should be a legal restriction against Labour party candidates or candidates that support those ideals? No.

        Just shows Labour arent the ones that are going to be showing any leadership anytime soon on any issues.

    • Matthew,

      Just on your point that there is excessive localism. I think the perception of how much time we spend on constituency work, or how it impacts on legislative work is exagerated. There are a couple of recent changes that are not taken into account in terms of their impact on the work of the TD. One is the abolition of the dual mandate. It is my experience that now, local organisations when they hold meetings on local authority issues, very often only invite local councillors. Likewise residents contact their county councillors as opposed to their TDs about such issues, much more than they did in the past when TDs were on County Councillors. I held the dual mandate and that is my experience. The public know where the power lies when it comes to local authority issues. When issues overlap in terms of them being determined by both local government and national government actions, residents tend to contact both sets of representatives.

      The other change is the increase of staffing available to TDs. I do not follow up each and every query my office takes (most of which these days are by telephone or email) but I do hold clinics, go to local meetings (mainly about an issue that directly or indirectly involves Government policy) and I talk to people I meet in my community. If there is one thing to bring me down to earth with a bang, from the institutionalising that spending as much time as I do in Leinster House, is a case someone brings to my attention at a clinic. Clinics, or wherever else you meet people detrimentally impacted upon by current policies, brings home how the Decisions of the Dail or Government impact or State agencies impact on people with varying circumstances. This is vital information for a legislator to have. We are not legal draftspersons, we are elected to represent the people in the Dail in the making of legislation.

      I filled out the questionairre of TDs in relation to what percentage of time we spend on constituency work as best I can, but in reality it was guess work in terms of writing down a particular percentage because there is no such clear cut division between constituency work and legislative work, the two inform the other. I repeat, most queries I get from local constituents relate to national decisions.

      We spend all sitting time in the Dail that is the reality. TDs do not commute back to their constituencies when the Dail is sitting. They go back on Thursday Afternoon, they arrive Tuesday morning. We should sit longer days (the hours can be quite long 10.30 to 10.30 often of late) but then does not the TD from Kerry or Donegal need some time with their family, in their communities, and on the ground with the people they represent. Bring in 5 day weeks 9 to 5 and we will have TDs from Dublin representing the likes of Kerry. Some people would say that’s fine. But would a Dail top ended with Dublin based TDs be a good thing?

      I just question this criticism of localism. I legislate whenever legislation is there to be discussed. This idea that I spend all my time in my constituency chasing medical cards is a mythological picture of a TD and not reprentative of the reality. Plus the fact is we had more emergency legislation, supplemmentary budgets and late night sittings in recent years than at least the
      previous term of the Dail.

      I am with Professor Michael Gallagher when he has in his articles that I have read on the work of TDs questioned whether there should be this focus on constituency work as a problem. If anything the ability of a TD to do their work as a Teachta Daila should be enhanced, whereas as the direction of late has been to focus much of the Dail week around the party leaders.

      • But it’s not a mythology! It’s a summation of repsonses of the TD’s themselves to a survey conducted in late 2009 – so all of the changes that you discuss – abolition of the dual mandate, better resourcing of TDs etc., were implemented when the survey was conducted.

        We had a question in the survey that sub-divided ‘constituency work’ and ‘legislative work’ into more specific categories. By far the largest proportion of reported time – 40% of ‘constiteuncy work’ was devoted to ‘working on individual constituents’ cases’. TDs, according to their own estimantes, spend more time engaged in this activity than any other.

        We asked TDs to rate how important these activies were – again ‘working on indivual constituents’ cases’ was the leader. Indeed out of 9 activities, the top 4-ranked in terms of importance were all contituency-based, and the bottom 5 were all legislative activities such as preparing and debating legislation and participating in Committees.

        I agree with you that you are elected to represent the people in the Dail in the making of legislation, and that communicting with consittuencts is a vital part of that process. But how does ‘working on individual constituents’ cases’ fit into that picture? Let’s be frank, working on individual constituents’ cases is simply part of an ongoing electoral campaign; it’s an effort to shore up votes in one’s constituency. If anything, inefficiencies in the system of public administration helps TDs to occupy this role – so they have few incentives to fix any deficiencies in the system that they find along the way.

        Of course, a response that comes up a lot on this topic is that there is not much point in TDs participating in ‘legislative activities’ as the set-up of the Oireachtas as currently constituted gives them no meaningful input into legislation and no real capacity for the supervision of the government and quangos. I’d agree with this point, however it’s upto the TDs themselves to reform the system. However, TD led reform is an unlikely scenario precisely becasue of the self-reported low importance that is attributed to Dail-based, legislative activity by the TDs.

      • Matthew,

        The survey had to be by nature guess work. There would be a margin of error. In the appendix to the survey many parliamentarians had comparable levels of constituency work and the difference was a matter of a few per cent. I do not accept the levels we do are excessive. The phenomenon is a universal one and part and parcel of being a representative democracy.

  33. Don,

    You didn’t. I agreed with your comment above, unless I misunderstood it, that you are best placed to choose who to vote for.

    I am for no quotas, or restrictions, internal party wise or in general elections themselves. I just got the impression in your earlier comment that you were of like mind to me.

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