Gender quota debate rumbles on – but are the two sides talking past each other? (Updated 18th August)

Sarah Carey’s article in today’s Irish Times is the latest contribution in the debate on  whether we should consider adopting party-level gender quotas for the nomination of candidates. This article appears to me to be a particularly striking example of the combative rhetorical strategies that both sides of the debate have employed. Several opinion pieces on this topic have followed the structure: I am for/against gender quotas – now let me tell you why they are wonderful/terrible.

For instance, look at the title of Ms. Carey’s article: ‘Gender quotas end up perverting democratic choice’. A more accurate description of the content of the article would read along the lines of: ‘Badly designed gender quotas can lead to counter-intuitive results’. I suppose that the use of hyperbole is attributable primarily to a  desire to construct an entertaining and readable article. However, it also indicates a mentality that fears that a reasoned argument, one that considers both the advantages and disadvantages of a given proposal, and comes to a nuanced conclusion, will not be as persuasive as an argument that picks and chooses what evidence to consider, and distorts the implications of that evidence.  Ms. Carey’s article, like many contributions on both sides of this debate, fails to acknowledge that there is a wide diversity in terms of the policy designs that are broadly grouped into the category of ‘gender quotas’. Professor Mona Lena Krook’s contribution to a previous post on this topic outlines some of the major the dimensions of variation:

1) The body of individuals to which the quota applies: reserved seat quotas versus selected candidate quotas;

2) The specified minimum proportion of each gender: this property can theoretically vary from 0%-50%, in practice it tends to vary between 20% and 40%;

3) The method by which the quota is adopted: legislative mandatory versus voluntary party quotas.

Within the ‘legislative mandatory’ category there are at least two further sub-dimensions:

1) The method by which legislative quotas that are enforced: quota fulfilment linked to funding versus quota fulfilment as a necessary condition for a party to stand for elections;

2) The duration of quota legislation: quotas as a permanent part of electoral legislation versus quotas for a set number of elections versus quotas for an indefinite number of elections until a specified result in terms of gender balance in the legislature is reached.

The quotas being proposed for Ireland by reform advocates have tended to be rather mild, when viewed in the spectrum of possible quota types. Quota advocates typically argue for a 30% quota of nominated candidates, to be imposed by legislation, on a temporary basis (lapsing when a target of elected female TDs is met), with sanctions for non-compliance linked to state funding.

Another aspect of this issue that has received too little attention is the relationship between of the type of electoral system in place and the consequences of quotas for voter choice. In list-based PR systems that are ‘closed’ or ‘semi-open’, the rank ordering of candidates on the party list is key, and quotas in such systems can include provisions with regard to the placement of female candidates, as well as their proportion. Single-seat plurality systems, where only one candidate can win in each constituency, mean that only one party candidate can stand in each constituency (as multiple candidates from the same party would split the party vote) – meaning that, for quotas to work, a proportion of party-constituency nominations have to be set aside for the under-represented gender.

In Ireland, however, we have a multi-seat, highly ‘open’ PR system – meaning that the level of limitation on voter choice implied by a candidate quota is low –  parties can run multiple candidates in each constituency, and voters favouring a given party are in no way constrained to favour female over male candidates; they have complete liberty of choice in this regard. The notion that women will have seats ‘handed to them’ via candidate quotas is absurd, given the structure of the Irish electoral system and the competitiveness of constituency-level races.

Professor Krook’s concluding point in her contribution was that: ‘on the balance (…) the international evidence suggests that quotas *are* necessary in order to achieve major changes to women’s access to elected office’. Note the use of the term ‘necessary’ rather than ‘sufficient’. While major improvements in women’s access to elected office do not appear to happen without the imposition of some sort of quota; the design of the quota, its implementation, and movement on other barriers to access to women (the other 4 ‘Cs’ as identified by Senator Bacik) are also vital for improving women’s representation.

If we accept that the election of a reasonable proportion of female deputies to our legislature is an important goal for our democracy, and we wish to make a public policy to achieve this end, a well-designed and temporary candidate quota system, along with a range of policy initiatives designed to address the other 4 Cs, would appear to be the best set of policies currently available. Expert evidence and advice on the subject points to the necessity of this type of legislation if we want to improve women’s representation in our parliament.

The trade-off  of implementing the candidate quota aspect of this policy is that, due to a mixture of party strategy, the prevalence of male incumbents, and tight bailiwicking; gender quotas will mean that several potential non-incumbent male candidates will not be nominated by their parties. However, the parties have strong incentives to make sure that the female candidates that they select are highly competent, if they want them to win votes in Ireland’s candidate-centred system.

If we decide that this is too high a price to pay, then obviously we should not adopt candidate quotas. Also, if we judge that the election of female TDs is not an important goal to be pursued, either intrinsically (i.e., because it has nothing to do with what is right and fair) or instrumentally (i.e., because female TDs will not bring any extra useful qualities to the legislature) then keeping the status quo of male-dominated parties selecting male-dominated slates of candidates is unproblematic.


Claire McGing kindly sent on some literature on the substantive effects of increasing female representation in parliaments for anyone interested in looking more deeply at this topic. Here they are:

Anne Phillips (1995) The Politics of Presence. Oxford University Press, Oxford. (provides a theoretical basis for gender quotas)
Wendy Stokes (2005) Women in contemporary politics. Polity Press, Cambridge. (Chapters 1 and 2 give an excellent overview of the literature on women making a difference in politics)
Joni Lovenduski (2005) Feminizing politics. Polity Press, Cambridge. (Especially chapters 2 and 6).
Fiona MacKay (2001) Love and politics: women politicians and the ethics of care. Continuum, London.
Mercedes Mateo Diaz (2005) Representing women?: female legislators in west European parliaments. ECPR monographs, University of Essex.
Sarah Childs (2004) Women representing women: New Labour’s women MPs. Frank Crass, London.
Sue Thomas (1994) How women legislate. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Sandra Grey (2002) Does size matter?: critical mass and New Zealand’s women MPs, Parliamentary Affairs 55 (1), 19-29.
Marian Sawer (2003) The representation of women in Australia: meaning and make-believe, Parliamentary Affairs 55 (1), 5-18.
Manon Tremblay (1998) Do female MPs substantively represent women? Canadian Journal of Political Science 31 (3) 435-65.

73 thoughts on “Gender quota debate rumbles on – but are the two sides talking past each other? (Updated 18th August)

  1. What is needed to get elected is ability to persuade voters to vote for you. If you cannot do that without a gender quota in a selection convention, how can you do it at an election? There are other options. First step is to get more women involved in party as just regular members. Many men join parties with no intention of running for election, out of that emerge some candidates. Get more women to join and be active in various ways in the party including as footsoldiers and more women candidates will emerge naturally. Gender quotas from the top will have a detrimental effect on participation by members in party, both men and women, and will in fact be counter intuitive. Many of the people that comment on this issue have no experience of being a footsoldier in a political party and maybe if they had they would not be so keen on interfering with the members right to vote and an understanding that anyone male or female can put their name forward for selection, to be voted upon by the members.

  2. In a perfect world, the sort of bottom-up process of female recruitment and selection by the parties that you describe would have taken place, or would be taking place right now. There is no evidence that this is happening at the moment, however.

    It seems extremely unlikely that anything like this will happen without the parties being given strong incentives to increase their female memberships and nominate female candidates. Hence, for those who wish to see increased female representation, canddiate quotas are the policy of choice.

    As discussed in the post, the main downside of gender quotas is their restriction on parties’ freedom to nominate candidate slates that are comprised of more than 70% of one gender. Party vote-optimising strategy and the fact that nearly all of the incumbents are currently male that means that many non-incumbent male candidates would not be selected if gender quotas were adhered to.

    For some people, that downside is not worth the candle of increased female representation in the dail, for others, it’s a necessary (and temporary) scarifice.

  3. Matthew

    I’d be interested to know if there are any calls for the roles of Prof in the various University Politics Departments to be filled on the basis of a gender quota?

    • The honest answer is that i don’t know. it’s pretty tangental to the debate that we’re having; i guess the point that you’re making is that it’s hypocritical for me to advocate the adoption of gender quotas because i work in a field that doesn’t have them?

      • Matthew

        I wouldn’t be in favour of gender quotas for such positions either. I don’t think its hypocritical but most people would never argue that jobs should be filled on the basis of gender quotas. Are you waivering a bit on your commitment to gender quotas? I have picked up that from your latest commments but maybe it’s just wishful thinking on my part.

  4. Perhaps if the nomination process for candidates was revised to a secret ballot primary election style process,involving anyone enrolled as a party member regardless of their level of activity, this might remove an obstacle for women who want to be a candidate. This could enable anyone seeking to be a candidate to appeal to party members who are interested in policy but do not have the time or ability to engage in active fieldwork.

    • Dan,

      We have one member one vote in our party irrespective of level of activity. But I think you are suggesting a broader form of membership where you would not pay a membership fee?

      There is no obstacle to women who want to be a candidate. They just need to persuade others to vote for them. The issue is that not enough women are choosing to join parties and secondly to run for selection. Get more women in to parties (and your idea of a broader form of membership has merit) then more women candidates will follow.

  5. From my experience of FG there are no shortage of women members and there is no one preventing them get on and pursue their ambition.

    As a male perhaps the nuance was lost was me but I genuinely can’t say I ever saw any obtacles put in place of someone for being a women.

    It’s plain sailing for men either by the way.

    A lot of factors are involving in how a person morphs from a member to a candidate but I’m not convinced at all that ‘society at large’ prevents more Irish women pursuing political careers.

    The childcare issue is a red herring in some ways as if their is a child there is a also a father and why can’t he do his bit if the mother wants to go to meetings and stuff, if he has a career who says the women has to fill the gap. Why can’t he compromise too to help his wife/partner?

    Then people say if the woman had proper childcare available she could pursue her interest in politics – sure, but again why is there a need for childcare when there is a father.

    The reason say Norway is more equal is because men play an equal role and are allowed to do so by women. How often do you hear a women moaning about having to do everything only to never let her husband/partner help.

    That’s a cultural issue which might have some political solutions but the problem doesn’t stem from politics?

  6. Desmond, you are right that cultural issues play a huge part in why women are under-represented in Irish politics. As mentioned in the article ‘Culture’ is one of the 5 C’s identified as creating barriers to women’s full participation. Recent studies show that women continue to take on the major burden of caring duties and this is the trend even in when both parents are perusing careers. Childcare is desirable because it’s not possible for both parents to work *and* look after a small child 24/7 and more often than not it’s the woman who makes the sacrifice. Why shouldn’t the father help out, you ask. Why indeed? But culture doesn’t change overnight and it won’t without a critical mass of women in powerful positions to redefine what we expect from women (and men) in society. It’s a chicken and egg situation: the culture won’t change without women in power; women won’t get into power until the culture changes. Temporary measures incentivising parties to run more women candidates are a quick and proven way to create the critical mass required.

    • Katherine,

      The means for more women candidates is this – they just put their names forward and face the electorate just as men do. Sarah Carey is right – political parties want to run more women candidates, rather than treat women like as if they need to be protected from vagaries of going for selection against men, why not shift the debate to encouraging women to get active in political parties. Do that and more women TDs will follow without having to have women only selection conventions which have quite rightly been accused by one woman TD as being an insult to women.

      • I think I should mention that it is my experience that men in my life and men in my party are very supportive of me. That culture you refer to Katherine discriminated against men too, it is changing and and men are being allowed more of a role in family life and are taking up that role very gladly. In fact if anything it is the increase of rights of fathers in terms of fathers leave and so on that needs a bit of a push now, and that will help women TDs too, as well as women in all other walks of life, and I am glad to see that the Minister of State for Equality, Mary White, raises the issue of the need to make progress in relation to unmarried fathers rights, in the Irish Times today. This is an issue my Party has raised too. I know it is a bit of topic but its relevant to the debate because men are discriminated too in many walks of life and no one would ever suggest gender quotas in careers where men are under represented.

      • Joanna,
        Actually I do think that the issue of under-representation of men in eg primary school teaching is something that needs addressing. I agree to a certain extent with Matthew that elected representatives are there to represent different sections of the community, which is different from doing a normal job, but other issues can be important, such as providing positive male role models for young boys. If research showed that quotas were necessary to address such an imbalance (and I don’t know enough about the issue to say whether it does or not) then I would support them if I felt the outcome was desirable. This would necessarily involve setting aside a certain percentage of posts for one gender, which is more than we are proposing for the Dail (where it is only candidate numbers that are proscribed – the outcome of the election is up to the electorate).
        It is also instructive to think about why certain roles are traditionally done by one or other gender. The stereotyping of women into caring roles is something that acts to prevent women from entering other arenas rather than stemming from discrimination against men (I’m not denying men lose out). The undervaluing of women’s traditional roles is often reflected in lower pay not to mention the large amount of unpaid work women do in the home. This is also a factor in why men have been slow to take up certain careers and roles in society.

  7. @ Joanna. On the point about not filling other jobs using quotas, I would say that public representatives play a unique role in society – they nominate and oversee a government which is charged with the day-to-day running of the country, and they vote to make the laws that we are all bound to live by including how we are taxed and how tax money is spent.

    The decisions made by public representative are binding on the entire population. Simply put, TDs are specifically elected to represent the population – no other job that I can think of is charged with this responsibility. Academics, builders, plumbers, marketing experts, accountants, etc., cannot decreee that the population must obey the rules that they set. As such, I would argue that the composition of the body of public representatives is socially significant in a way that the composition of other professional bodies is not.

    On the point about ‘wavering’; I was simply trying to elucidate the contours of the decision that we face with regard to gender quotas. I was trying to outline what the downsides of that approach would be, to show that they didn’t really limit voter choice much at all because of our electoral system, but that they do restrict parties’ freedoms. I also wanted to be clear that there is no certainty that bringing in quotas will improve women’s representation, unless a range of other policies are also brought in.

    However, I simply don’t believe your argument that a ‘focus’ on party female recruitment, with no incentives to recruit and nominate female members and no punishment for not doing so, will result in significant improvements in female representation. It doesn’t stack up against international and expert evidence. Furthermore, it’s an argument that lets you pretend that you can have the best of both worlds: the benefits of increased female representation without the costs of imposing the restrictions on parties.

    I was trying to show, basically, that this is an issue that will not be resolved without some sort of trade-off in terms of either continuing under-representation of women in our parliament (no quota), or imposing freedom-limiting sanctions and incentives on parties (quota).

    I feel that the benefits of female representation this outweigh the costs of restricting the parties, so I’m in favour of gender quotas. You clearly feel that the costs are greater than the benefits, so you are against. I respect your right to this opinion, but i think that you should not pretend that, if we follow your preferred line, we’ll see anything other than a continuation the current trend of female under-represnetation. It would be like me saying that gender quotas won’t actually restrict party candidate selection at all.

  8. ” Get more women to join and be active in various ways in the party including as footsoldiers and more women candidates will emerge naturally”

    The above comment is a fallacy, indeed much like the
    Church, lots of political parties have women foot-soldiers and it doesn’t encourage them into
    positions of ‘Trust’ with the male party-leaders.

    hardly a single politco would get elected in this
    country , if it were not for the organisation –

    If there is ever a list system , the list should be at 50% imo.

    • Christine,

      How do you know it is a fallacy. Have you compared parties in terms of how their percentage of women members compares with the percentage of women TDs that party has? Parties do encourage women, and my party Labour is a good example of this. A third of our women TDs are women, none selected on the basis of a gender quota. Our success I believe reflects the high membership of women we have and the fact that we have a very democratic party where members elect our own leader, have one member one vote in selection conventions and so on.

      Any woman can join a party and put themselves forward for selection. We should encourage them but not on the basis that men that wish to run are barred from doing so because of gender quotas.

      List systems are profoundly undemocratic. They are top down decision making just like gender quotas.


      I wonder about people like yourself that won’t tamper with PR STV in general elections, and I am with you on that choice, but will tamper in internal party selection of candidates. If you think giving the voter the say is so important in general elections why would you interfere with that say in political parties to achieve your desired outcome?

      Democracy is all about leaving it to the voter to make the decisions even if you don’t like the decision they make. To undermine the voters say in internal party selections is to undermine the role of the member, male or female, in party decision making and to me that is bad for politics and bad for democracy. It hugely outweighs any perceived gains from having gender quotas imposed on party members.

      When I gave the example of politics department profs above I was just being mischevious. In truth I don’t see being elected to a position the same as filling a job at all. Elections are about one person persuading another to vote for them, whatever their gender. Its about a candidate and their ideas, character, reputation and the conversation that goes on between them and the voters. In the selection of the Democratic Candidate for the American Presidential election it was not Barak Obama’s gender that swung it for him over Hilary Clinton. It was his ability to persuade the voters in his party that he was the best candidate. It was his power of persuasion. I would not have it any other way, but that candidates whatever their gender get to choose to (or to choose not to)go before the members/voters and persuade others to vote for them and let the best candidate win.

      • @Joanna
        Although it may have been true for you that your ability to persuade through your Ideas was what got you elected, it was also that you were not canvassing in a rural constituency. There ideas count for very little. Its the ability to attend vast amounts of public events and get things done for individuals that counts. May I suggest that the reason that the labour party having the highest percentage of female TD’s is due much more to the fact it is a predominantly Urban Party than any amount of encouraging women into becoming footsoldiers the party does.

  9. That’s fair enough, once you’re ready to accept that the implication of your approach is that we can look forward to ongoing very low level of representation of women in Irish politics or, at best, a snail’s pace incremental increase.

    Once you’re clear about that choice, I can see your point about quotas tampering with internal party selection practices not being desirable.

    P.S. I had a feeling that you were being mischevious about gender policies in university departments 🙂

  10. Jobs for the boys again ?

    I believe that there is need for a list system in this country
    and that it requires gender-balance. Our politics are open
    to corruption, cronyism and nepotism. They are a closed
    shop of out-moded ideologies, which, in my belief can
    eventually be inherited (without change) by parties with
    similar ideologies to the FF Republican party.

    The utter failure of the opposition to use means at their disposal to
    educate the electorate in how National FF policy will effect basic
    quality of life issues (over 13 years) has been a risible joke. The
    failure of the opposition to promote alternatives to hackneyed
    legislation which requires Referenda is a joke. The lack of political
    debate on Reform is a joke – need I go on ?

    Political challenge to the majority ruling party over 13 years has
    been an impotent and lacklustre set of negatives, grounded
    in complacence and fear of change. AFAIK it was Enda Kenny
    who forwarded the idea of a list system.

    (i) is he saying that there are not enough women who have expertise
    in the areas of Equality, Law, Arts, Media, Health, Politico-legal
    expertise, European expertise, UN expertise to populate a list
    which would (hopefully) transmute international law onto our statutes
    in his vaunted list?

    (ii) I believe that we have that expertise and that it is wholly
    ignored in favour of tokenism and nepotistic appointments which
    do not challenge the status-quo .which seems geared to upholding
    a political system which is a demonstrable failure in its pursuit
    of adequate female representation at any level. In other words,
    thinkers and doers are sacrificed to people who are quite
    complaisant and don’t really want to challenge beyond the
    local level of parish-pump politics.

    (iii) The fundamental dishonesty inherent in a political system
    which seems set in opposing positive reform and the importation
    through a list system of needed expertise (in areas mentioned
    above) points to easy manipulation of the political system
    which is alienating voters to a degree where I reckon there will
    be a huge protest vote against parties who have *nothing* to
    say to anyone but a simple pursuit of their own out-moded
    civil-war ideologies and their personality politics of the lowest order.

    (iv) If there is a list it must be gender-balanced, else its another
    bunch of crap based in the atrophied and boring vision of political
    leadership which in a modern OECD state, versed in the Equality
    Agenda, is utterly incapable of dealing with the issue of gender-balance
    in terms of public representation. In my opinion the low-level of political
    representation and the endless corruption highlights glaringly our failures.
    They are sited in utter refusal to open out the political system
    beyond its current atrophied and impotent concerns .

  11. “They are sited in utter refusal to open out the political system
    beyond its current atrophied and impotent concerns .”

    I should have said ‘Ossified’ as opposed to ‘atrophied’

    – maybe theres a cognitive failure on the part of the opposition parties to see that FF have been a generation in power with their unique help ?

  12. Of course there is no mention of how exactly 50% of women in the Oireachtas will change things – the evidence indicates that the women of FF for example are as tolerant of low standards and no ethics as the men are – I’m not aware of any female Oireachtmas members proposing any radical new policies to solve the problems Ireland faces.

    Joanna, where are the Labour Party policies to provide the reform needed to increase equality, such as parents being able to swap their parental leave – such as fees for university, such as proper childcare facilities – if we can have a school network of primary, secondary and third level schools why can’t be have a preschool network – that way parents can leave their children in safe, monitored, regulated, proper facilities, those who run childcare from their homes or whereever could be employed in these preschool centres and then the issue of childcarecosts is addressed and who knows what opportunities it would open up.

    I’ve read the policies on the Labour Party website and there are hardly worth the effort.

    Please don’t be clever and deflect the point away by asking about FF/FG or others.

    Of course the actual issue is why Irish people vote for the sort of people they do time and time again.

    The mind boggles at the sort of women FF would put up if a quota were introduced.

  13. actually Desmond, FF have suceeded in appointing some incredible women- to non-governmental roles.

    The system that they and the opposition promulgate is hermetically sealed imo (and adverse to Reform)

    • They have? I’m stuck even thinking of one?

      I don’t mind quota’s per se but in the Irish context I don’t see any evidence that 50/50 quota will do anything to improve politics because I don’t see a great pool of talent to pick these 50% ratios from – wasn’t it more women than men who voted for ‘Bertie’ – aww poor old Bertie – so where is the evidence that a quota will improve anything.

      There’s little evidence that Irish women are more honest than Irish men or less likely to produce and support the cronyism that riddles the place.

      I still want to see the evidence that 50% women will actually make any difference and bring about change?

      I understand the data that in some countries women change priorities but I don’t see any evidence that would apply in Ireland – it would just mean more women like O’Rourke, Coughlan, Hanafain, Harney, Cooper Flynn etc and are you really arguing that’s a good thing?

      • According to the Irish National Election Study, 44% of women voted Fianna Fáil as opposed to 40% of men. It’s hardly anything to write home about.

        Arguments that more women representatives make a difference to politics is based on a huge body of international research, undertaken on legislatures as diverse as the UK, USA, Sweden, Norway, Canada, France, Australia, New Zealand and Russia, amongst others. This research has illustrated strong evidence that an increase in the number of new women in parliament had a considerable effect on the policy initiatives introduced, as well as on the conduct of parliament itself. It’s a bit of a ‘shot in the dark’, we won’t know until we try, but the evidence suggests that more women in government over the past decade could hardly have done any worse! There is little evidence to suggest that Irish women are more honest, I agree, but that is because it has been little investigated in the first place.

  14. ‘I understand the data that in some countries women change priorities but I don’t see any evidence that would apply in Ireland – it would just mean more women like O’Rourke, Coughlan, Hanafain, Harney, Cooper Flynn etc and are you really arguing that’s a good thing?’

    …… Perish the thought !!! (eeeK)

    I meant the Ombudsman for Children , Emily Logan, Niamh Brennan – people like that.

    there appears to be a greedy inability to extend this expertise into the Political field , thus NGO’s, Boards etcetera-

    • Niamh Brennan (Mrs Michael McDowell) please! Doesn’t Ms – sorry Dr – Brennan fall into the same category as Gillian Bowler – all mouth and no trousers so to speak.

      Whatever happended to her review of the Dublin Docklands Authority and wasn’t she also doing some Irish Glass review?

      There’s no evidence she is impartial.

      Emily Logan and Emily O’Reilly I grant you – although I’m sure Ms Logan covered herself in glory in the child abuse reports – in the church and in the HSE – as nothing has actually changed for children or vulnerable young people still left to the ‘mercy’ of these organisations.

      Perhaps only people with the name Emily should be appointed and no more Mary’s thank you very much!

  15. “Good skit on his propensity in that regard in Phoenix this week. He is quoted as a supporter of gender quotas for parliaments!”

    His places of recruitment are hardly the most salubrious of places


    Also, I refuse to believe that barely legal girls and prostitutes have lots to offer at national and EU level

  16. Just a quick point on the Berlusconi argument, and the wider discussion of the ‘quality’ of female candidates – I find this rather hard to swallow.

    Firstly, a 30% quota would entail a total female candidate field of about 140-150 female candidates. It’s hard to believe that there aren’t potentially tens of thousands of women who would make admirable TDs, so finding 150 who fit the bill inthe whole country should not be an insurmountable challenge.

    Secondly, if Irish parties were to fill their candidate gender quotas with incomeptent or unpopular female candidates, for whatever reason, these candidates will not be ‘handed’ a Dail seat.

    Our electoral system pools votes at the candidate-level, and our political culture places a strong emphasis on the qualities of individual canddiates. Parties therefore have strong incentives to field electable candidates: if they don’t they will lose votes to parties who do!

  17. Sorry – the above commment is from me, was logged in as ‘Editor’ twitterizing the site!

    You can follow us on twitter now (just click the ‘follow me’ button on the sidebar), and tweet shortened links to any of the posts to your followers (by clicking the ‘tweet’button at the bottom of each post) 🙂

    • “Our electoral system pools votes at the candidate-level, and our political culture places a strong emphasis on the qualities of individual canddiates. Parties therefore have strong incentives to field electable candidates: if they don’t they will lose votes to parties who do!”

      It’s funny you mention that because I was just reading about the Irish case in ‘Delegation and Accountability in Parliamentary Democracies’. Strom et al, quoting the usual suspects Gallagher and Marsh inter alia, say that Irish voters will not vote against a party on the basis of the quality of candidates put before them but merely vote for the best among the candidates their preferred party puts forward. How you define best is another issue.
      Therefore, it is possible that if every a party candidate fields in a constituency is a quota-filling disaster, then maybe they might lose votes to another party, but not if there is only one. Of course if the female ‘quota’ candidate is a disaster then it is possible that they won’t get elected. But that didn’t stop some disastrous dynastic candidates winning either. My point being, he who predicts party switching among the Irish electorate should do so cautiously. That is all.

      • Yes, this is an interesting point. Where parties only run one candidate, voters are constrained to vote for that candidate if they wish to vote for the party – rather like the First-Past-the-Post scenario. But this is the case with or without quotas of course.

        As to whether voters would abandon extremely poor ‘quota candidates’, I think that is open to debate – but the parties have decent incentives to put vote winning candidates before the public generally, so we may never find out!

        I guess my broader point was that there seems to be a discourse that incompetenet quota filler TDs will be foisted upon an unsuspecting public if candidate gender quotas are adopted. Sarah Carey’s atricle makes this sort of allusion several times. I was trying to point out that our electoral system makes it impossible for party selectorates to foist TDs on the population – the TDs themselves have to win the votes.

        Anyway, the even broader point is that it is patently ridiculous to argue that there is not a potnential supply of high calibre women candidates in our population, given the relatively small number of female candidates who would have to be nominated under a quota system. We could easily fill an entire candidate field with incredibly well-qualified, articulate, and capable female candidates.

  18. Apparently the boy’s club at the Kildare Street haven’t
    managed to find a way to address the lack of female

    Imagine that !!!

    They can run a country but are incapable of transmuting
    International laws of gender equality and parity of esteem into
    the running of their political parties. As said here and on another
    thread, there is something wrong with that issue from the
    get go- we are a member of the EU , OECD, UN and
    our government has not the will or ability to address why
    our so-called modern society trundles along with women who are
    either from political families, token or had to fight tooth and nail to
    be heard.

    This fighting occurs in every aspect of Non-governmental groups,
    on boards and in legal circles- but not in the Oireachtas , where even
    our female reps (who know how difficult it is) seem unwilling to
    provide postitive-role modelling and skills development to
    young women who have political aspirations.

    We are on par with sub-saharan Africa, with a Mayoral campaign
    following the same tired and terminally boring political model
    and more jobs for the boys !!!!

    I beleive that the political process is hermetically sealed and adverse
    to equitable treatment at all levels. i am opposed to quotas as
    our selections stand BUT do believe that a list system should
    break the mould and bring in that expertise if it were to
    be adopted . Else a list/ partial list system is a tedious
    repetiton of the boys club mentality that is already pervasive.

  19. Never mind how women get to Leinster House I want to know how exactly more women will lead to better politics.

    Those women who are there, or have been, are in every single way just as bad as the men.

    There isn’t a single policy difference between them or even being advocated for all these ‘new’ women who might have an interest in running for the Dail.

    Maybe open primaries should be an option but the Tories did that here and it was a complete farce because Tory head office decided who was on the ticket and of course they made sure it was full of air head bimbo horsey types with pearls whose daddy could pay for their election campaign. So it didn’t lead to a better quality candidate.

    No one has addressed where the better form of candidate is going to come from?

  20. “Hi Desmond,

    “Never mind how women get to Leinster House I want to know how exactly more women will lead to better politics.”

    I’d be interested to know too but as with everything the proof of the
    pudding is in the eating. Many talented women with expertise
    in areas that require reform have to sit on the sidelines and listen
    to the closed mannerist chit-chat of a bunch of guys who
    through leadership and opposition managed to fcking bankrupt
    the country.

    *excuse the french *

    Its interesting to watch politicos come up with radical ideas on (say)
    Blasphemy which mostly a second year law student (male or female)
    could pick ten holes in , but their opinion is not admitted because
    the self-limiting hierarchical system which builds itself round the alpha
    male only knows how to protect quaint and out-moded ways of
    political thinking – witness the attacks on Lucinda Creighton for
    instance, this summer. Politics have to be open to development,
    opinion and expertise other than local parish-pump tittle-tattle
    of self-perpetuating and vain dishonesty. it is tired, susty, negative,
    old and set in ways that are adverse to Reform.

    I have hopes that the issue of Reform will eventually get through
    the skulls of those people who think that revolving in ever-decreasing
    circles of mediocrity and irrelevance is good for our society.
    Voter-alienation does not bequeath a ruling party with extra power
    – it creates a political vacuum.

    Never mind how women get to Leinster House I want to know how exactly more women will lead to better politics.”

  21. “Hi Desmond,

    “Never mind how women get to Leinster House I want to know how exactly more women will lead to better politics.”

    I’d be interested to know too but as with everything the proof of the
    pudding is in the eating. Many talented women with expertise
    in areas that require reform have to sit on the sidelines and listen
    to the closed mannerist chit-chat of a bunch of guys who
    through leadership and opposition managed to fcking bankrupt
    the country.

    *excuse the french *

    Its interesting to watch politicos come up with radical ideas on (say)
    Blasphemy which mostly a second year law student (male or female)
    could pick ten holes in , but their opinion is not admitted because
    the self-limiting hierarchical system which builds itself round the alpha
    male only knows how to protect quaint and out-moded ways of
    political thinking – witness the attacks on Lucinda Creighton for
    instance, this summer. Politics have to be open to development,
    opinion and expertise other than local parish-pump tittle-tattle
    of self-perpetuating and vain dishonesty. it is tired, fusty, negative,
    old and set in ways that are adverse to Reform.

    I have hopes that the issue of Reform will eventually get through
    the skulls of those people who think that revolving in ever-decreasing
    circles of mediocrity and irrelevance is good for our society.
    Voter-alienation does not bequeath a ruling party with extra power
    – it creates a political vacuum.

    Never mind how women get to Leinster House I want to know how exactly more women will lead to better politics.”

  22. Hi Christine,

    It goes without saying that the system is now rotten to the core and those within are too – but no harm to keep saying it though.

    So is it that the system was flawed from the start (I don’t think it was) or that it was made rotten by those within it (I think so).

    But those people were elected (and reelected time and time again) but the Irish people and no one has so far explained why.

    So will changing the system result in people electing better politicans, will it allow more opportunities for honest ones or will Irish people continue to vote for the cronies.

    It’s a combination of all three.

    George Lee thought he could change the system but he failed and cut his losses. I think people underestimate the scale of what those already in the system will do to keep it.

    I don’t see a new political party making any difference as none before it have made any difference and to get elected it has to abide by the current game rules – then once it gets in it will want to keep things as they are too.

    I’d like to see one of the women already elected set out the policy agenda that a women would follow so we can see if it would be any different.

    Perhaps when Lucinda Creighton gets back from her holidays she’ll start a debate to explain how exactly more women would make a difference.

    Ireland isn’t Norway so 50% women just means more of the same – more Mary O’Rourke types. No thanks.

  23. @Desmond, you are merely asking why, when anybody could argue on the same basis, why not? According to you, it won’t make a blind bit of difference. Neither does painting my house, it just looks better and feels fresher when I do it. If your argument holds water then we should just write the damn quota law and lets move on.

    Also, its getting very around here with the TD-bashing-“them eejits couldn’t organise a pi$$-up in a brewery” type comments. I hope none of ye have to rely on interviews or direct engagement with esteemed members of our parliament for your research. You already know one member of said institution reads this forum. Just because others haven’t commented doesn’t mean they’re not looking.

    • Michael, the evidence would suggest most of them couldn’t organise the proverbial you mention.

      My low regard for them is based on lots of experience. I don’t buy into this myth that they are ‘all decent and doing their best’ ala Vincent Browne in the SBP.

      Most of them are not fit for purpose because if they were the government wouldn’t have caused the mess the country is in and the opposition would have put forward a far better case why it would make a better go at it – the mind boggles there are still 25% to 30% of people who still admit they would support a FF candidate.

      By even the low standards Irish people have on issues like ethics, honesty, transparency and accounability FF has failed, at best the ‘don’t know’ figures should be far higher if the alternatives haven’t made their case sufficiently.

      I don’t think the current system is the problem or that it is preventing a better calibre candidate being presented for the public to choose from – be they male or female.

      There are plenty of good decent candidates presented all the time but the public consistently pick the ones who have proven they are not fit for public office: Beverly Flynn – Michael Lowry and the rest who tip off the tongue etc etc.

      So will having a 50% female quota lead to better politics?

      I don’t see any evidence it will as none of the women who it might affect have presented the alternative policies – a bit like people who claim Richard Bruton would be the better FG leader but who can’t back it up with facts or define in what way he would improve on Kenny or in what way his strong points address Kenny’s perceived weaknesses and who addresses Richard’s weaknesses?

      We know this record plays out – the leader of FG isn’t the problem but the FG mentality toward its leader – no matter who they are – is the issue and add on 80 years of second best.

      Back to women …

      Feminism has a lot to answer for by peddling the myth you can ahve it all. You can’t. Men accept that but women can’t seem to.

      Childcare doesn’t stop a women pursuing a political career anymore than it stops a women becoming a doctor or lawyer or teacher or plumber.

      But the issue of childcare is a serious one which needs a radically different assessment.

      Ditto housing, transport, the economy as well as tax and pensions but where is the evidence of a female policy perspective?

      Is there any think tank developing these issues with solutions from a women’s point of view – if such a point of view looks at things so differently (and better) than a male point of view?

      • Desmond,
        The VB view is neither here nor there. Even if they are all in it for themselves and couldn’t care less about the society they govern, I just don’t think it is appropriate for academics like us (I presume you are, I’m more a wannabe academic) to be making such glib remarks about people who, like it or not, represent half the country. Moreover, even if you personally don’t have to engage with TDs or parties, they might just get the impression from the debate here that, generally, academics are hostile towards them and pre-judge those of us that do depend on their co-operation. Its a small town!

        The electorate will punish those who they feel have let them down at the next election and nobody here is going to change the outcome with a few comments, but it might be detrimental to those of us who depend on politicians for research.

        On the substantive issue, I see your point and it is very possible that the social characteristics of legislators do not matter when it comes to policy outputs, but what of the increased sense of efficacy among the wider under-represented group from having “one of their own” elected. Even if it only makes the electorate feel better without having any negative consequences at the same time,what the economists call a “Pareto improvement”, and there is little justification not to do it.

  24. “On the substantive issue, I see your point and it is very possible that the social characteristics of legislators do not matter when it comes to policy outputs, but what of the increased sense of efficacy among the wider under-represented group from having “one of their own” elected. Even if it only makes the electorate feel better without having any negative consequences at the same time,what the economists call a “Pareto improvement”, and there is little justification not to do it.”

    The above comment is the essence of current thinking
    on the issue; ‘Tokenism’ . Tokenism does not address the causes of inequality of representation.

    • @Christine,
      I agree with you. I was merely responding to Desmond’s null hypothesis. Personally I believe there is always some benefit to having a socially diverse parliament, even if the effect is almost unquantifiable.

      FYI the subject of my thesis is whether variation in the social background characteristics of legislators causes vaiation in their attitudes. This is necessary, say some, in order to costruct a causal link between social background and behaviour/policy outputs. So I’m very interested in the gender angle, among others, and am keeping a completly open mind on the issue.

  25. The notion that an increase in the number of female representatives will result in a change in political behaviour and the policy output of parliament is based on a huge academic literature. Party affiliation will of course predominately influence how a representative eventually votes. However, empirical research (I have a number of references if anyone wishes to read into this) on legislatures as diverse as the UK, USA, Australia, Russia, New Zealand, Canada, Sweden and Norway, amongst others, has illustrated evidence to suggest that women do, in general, bring a different perspective to debate, are more likely to initiate policies often regarded as disproportionately affecting women (e.g. childcare, family issues, parental leave, domestic violence, etc, and tend to be less adversarial and more about getting the job done. Whatever people think, those are the facts.

    In the UK, for example, there is evidence of policy change after a significant increase in the number of female Labour MPs after the 1997 general election. Examples include increased provision for breast cancer screening in the NHS, a national childcare strategy and changes in policies on policing and treatment of violence towards women. Many of these changes were made by initiatives taken by these women.

    Interestingly, older women tend to be more like their male colleagues in and it is often fresh young women that initiate change. Although we can only speculate whether the same would occur in Ireland, research elsewhere strongly suggests that more women would make a difference.

    • Hey Claire – you couldn’t post those references, could you? I’ve a decent notion of how quotas work and their relationship to % of women in parliament, but less on the substantive impact of more women in parliament on policy.

      I imagine it’s a tricky enough thing to study with certainty; I’d love to see how people have gone (and are going) about it. I could edit the original post to include these refs for interested readers.

      • Matthew,

        Indeed, the area of substantive representation is tricky alright! A lot of the work has been qualitative and based on the attitudes on MPs on their repesentational roles, others have carried out quantitative analyses of parliamentary debates/bills. Below are what I think are the best empirical works, there is plenty of theoretical work done too – Anne Phillips, The Politics of Presence (1995) is the best-known and well worth a read for anyone interested in the more normative side.

        – Wendy Stokes, Women in Contemporary Politics (2005) – Chapterss 1 and 2 give a fantastic overview of the whole area.
        – Joni Lovenduski, Feminizing Politics (2005).
        – Fiona Mackay, Love and politics: women politicians and the ethics of care (2001).
        – Mercedes Mateo Diaz, Representing women?: female legislators in west European parliaments (2005).
        – Sarah Childs (2004), Women representing women: New Labour’s women MPs.
        – Sue Thomas (1994), How women legislate.

        – Sandra Grey (2002) Does size matter?: critical mass and New Zealand’s women MPs, Parliamentary Affairs 55 (1), 19-29.

        – Marian Sawer (2002) The representation of women in Australia: meaning and make-believe, Parliamentary Affairs 55 (1), 5-18.

        – Manon Tremblay (1998) Do female MPs substantively represent women?, Canadian Journal of Political Science 31 (3), 435-65.

  26. “I agree with you. I was merely responding to Desmond’s null hypothesis. Personally I believe there is always some benefit to having a socially diverse parliament, even if the effect is almost unquantifiable. ”

    I think we really need a parliament that has a lot
    of expertise , imo, social diversity is not the answer.
    (or is only a teeny part of the answer).

    The problem is translating expertise into actual
    representation and it may be that a list/partial
    list system may be the only way, aside from
    radical reform in how we view political careers
    and work-times.

  27. To Michael, I take your point but I happen to disagree that the personal doesn’t affect the political, politicans are human beings so like the rest of us their personal ‘failings’ affect their political judgement ie Bertie Ahern’s personal flaws affected the sort of politican he is, which in turn affected his decision making process, which in turn has beggared the country.

    I don’t think they can be exclusive and I think understanding one leads to a better understanding of the other or put another way, expecting a politican to explain one leads to a better understanding of the other.

    I don’t think it’s gratuitously personal to expose their flaws.

    I’m curious why you think the electorate would ‘punish’ those it feels have let it down as there is little evidence to support that? A review of TDs who are consistently re-elected and compared to the standards the public claim to expect of politicans would prove that point.

    The political system in Ireland is broken not because the system itself is bad but because those within it are bad.

    Will a 50% female quota make any difference?

    I don’t think so. However, this still leaves the question of how to get a better calibre candidate and in reality how to change the gene pool candidates are picked from either via parties or on the ballot paper.

    Simplisticly those who get elected want it more than those who don’t or those who would like to be but give up making the effort because either they perceive there are blocks in their way or they refuse to play the cronyism game.

    How best to address that issue – I think those who want to get involved just have to grit their teeth and get on with it. I think it is a shame George Lee didn’t stick it out as I would hope the next Dáil will see a lot more new faces who are willing to implement change.

    I’m still not convinced that more women per se means better politics – more new people does and if they are women then fine but if they are all men that’s ok too.

    How about a ‘First Time Only’ campaign at the next election – every const will have first time candidates from all parties and none so people should only vote for first time candidates of the party of their choice.

    Wouldn’t that be a far better way to bring about change while keeping a perfectly good (in theory) system that has been rotted by those abusing it over the last few decades.

    The unknown is whether the Irish people really do want change and are prepared to change their attitudes to those elected to a national parliament and not a county council.

  28. @Desmond Fitzgerald

    You seem to be missing some information about Norway. It’s not just a question of men helping and women letting them. Norway provides leave for both parents and effectively forces the man to take at least a few weeks. This means he is involved from the start. Nonetheless a lot of work still falls on the mother – this is where Norway’s extensive preschooling comes into play. And while there are no legal quotas, many parties have adopted internal quotas. (Oddly they do have legal gender quotas for business)

    Not sure why the focus on Norway anyway, given *they* are concerned about falling behind Sweden and others in this regard.

  29. @ Cathy – so you agree with me then that it’s not the political system preventing women getting involved in politics, rather it’s cultural issues.

    Because some of the solutions to those issues comes from politics, ie better laws with regard to parental leave etc, doesn’t mean politics is the problem (for once)?

    I’m always curious why no research (maybe there is?) has been done to find out how many women/men go to work because they want to and how many because they have to (as they ‘have’ to pay a massive mortgage, car loan, then child care and all the other trappings of what is considered middle class in 2010) and what the breakdown of costs are ie how much goes on a mortgage and childcare nad transport and how much needs to come down in price before you get to the point where a second parent working outside the home, male or female (or other if another type of family unit) are not forced economically to need to work.

    So if the cost of a proper house, with a proper garden and driveway, with local shops, schools, transport links, sports, social buildings – like they used to build with houses in the olden days! – comes down to where it should be at about 3 or 4 times the average industrial wage, that takes off a massive financial burden, then if we can have a network of primary, secondary and third level education why can’t we alos have a network of preschools so whether you work at home or outside it you know you have a place to send your child but which is paid for from general taxes like the education system is.

    So with far lower mortgages (and an end to the obsession with property) and proper preschool child care, that removes the ‘need’ for a large chunk of income so one parent has the choice to stay at home, then reform the pension system and before you know it we might start developing a Germanic mentality when it comes to society.

    I mean who’se really worse off the German couple who rent all their lives with the checks and balances for tenants and the building owner, a proper preschool to uni system, a proper pension system and over their lifetime can save about €400k or the Irish couple with the 40 year mortgage, no pension, through the nose childcare costs for 3rd rate child care while parents are both forced to work to pay the massive mortgage on a house that will never recoup the value to provide financial security in retirement with little scope to build up lifetime savings.

  30. Is the news Olwyn Enright won’t stand for the next Dáil a loss to politics? Should Fine Gael have an all female candidate list to select who runs for that seat at the next election?

    Personally, I don’t think she is any great loss.

    Her political contribution, from what I can see, is negliable. Plus, she has abused the expenses system by tens of thousands which have never been repaid:

    Was she in danger of becoming the Fine Gael version of someone like Mary O’Rourke?

  31. Liz McManus gone also. In fairness, her stepping down makes some room for younger candidates, which Labour desperately needs. She acknowledged this herself but I doubt that was her primary reason for stepping down.

    @Des, if 90% of TDs stepped down at the next election it would be no great loss. Her situation is indicative of the problem we have been talking about here; that women end to up doing the bulk of house keeping, even as in this situation, all else is equal, thus preventing them from engaging actively in public life.

    • Hi Michael,

      Only 90%? 🙂

      I was interested to read the articles about her stepping down to see if it was picked up that it’s not politics preventing her have a career but family needs and that is a cultural issue but I’m interested to hear opinions on the issue of why women fool themselves you can be a full time mother and have a full time career when I don’t think you can.

      A career or being a housewife are both perfectly valid choices so why do women, and not men, feel they have to have both? Why can’t other women respect a women who chooses a career and one who chooses to be a housewife?

      Politically, I still don’t see anything that backs up more women will result in better politics in a country like Ireland, as those who are in politics, past and present, have been nothing special. Is there a great untapped resource of women (and men) who have a completely different mindset and moral standard to those men and women who are currently active in politics (at local, national and EU level)?

      So what’s stopping them set up to the plate to prove they can do better?

  32. @ Desmond: What’s stopping them? In a word: incumbents. If you wish to ‘step up to the plate’ and run for election in Ireland you have to take on a group of incumbents who have spent years of there lives, full-time, building up a network of personal support in their constitunecy. We know that our TDs spend more time on this sort of activity than any other. They are well-paid and resourced to do so. It’s very difficult for someone outside of that group to break in. I think there might be a lot to be said for term limits as a mechanism that could allow for more turnover of Dail membership, which would, probably, even out the gender disparities to some extent.

    • Yes, but people have a free choice to pick who
      they want.

      Why is it people make free choices in all manner
      of things every day yet they seem incapable of
      doing so in a political sense ie they are ‘told’
      who to vote for a selection convention, they are ‘told’ how to vote at a general election, who
      to give preferences to etc.

      If someone came and told them how to raise their children or run a house or whatever they wouldn’t just accept it so why is it those who are party members and have a say in choosing candidates
      refuse to do anything new and pick new blood when
      the evidence is overwhelming that dozens of those
      who now sit as TDs are absolutely not fit for purpose, not to mention Senators and Councillors.

      Why is that for example in Dublin North Central
      Terry Flanagan’s council place was taken by his brother? Was there not one single other person who stood and if not why not?

      Will another Enright be selected in Offaly and
      why? On what justification?

      Will one of Liz McManus’s children be selected in Wicklow and are the public really so utterly dim
      they can’t cope with a few new names on a ballot paper and in what way does the ‘record’ of a
      parent or sibling mean the person seeking to
      follow in their footsteps will be as good/bad or indifferent?

      It is people who need to change their attitude –
      not that the actual system is all wrong? Good and
      honest people could do still do much to tackle the
      country’s problem even within the current system –
      the problem seems to be unfit people abusing the
      system for their own ends with either active or
      indirect support from colleagues or total silence
      from others.

  33. @ Michael: Jesus though, it’s full of pretty depressing insights on the culture of politics and the life that we expect politicians to lead in Ireland. The idea of female politicians taking maternity leave leads to the following response:

    ‘” In Ireland, you’d never win your seat again,” she laughs ruefully. “If you could take proper maternity leave or look at the idea of taking leave of absence, then you’d consider it.” With Darragh, she took six weeks and even then was constantly fielding phone calls.’

    There are reasons why one would not want to be a politician in Ireland. You have to ask yourself – do we really want a system which forces people to choose between being a TD and being a good parent – rather than seeking an accomodation between the two roles?

    For me the most interesting part of the interview was her rethink on the gender quota issue:

    “I’m certainly moving towards quotas now. I am beginning to think more and more that that unless we do something to get a bulk of women in there, nothing is going to change.”

  34. Interesting Olwyn piece. She’s dead right of course (and backed up by research elsewhere) – without more women in the Dáil, the system won’t become more conductive to women with babies and young children. The maternity leave issue seems to be a big problem and might be alleviated with an automatic pairing arrangment. The long hours culture affects both men and women with young families, but seems to disproportionately affect women. If it didn’t, I would argue, we would see more women TDs with children. In the course of my research, a number of women TDs told me that they waited until their children grew up before embarking on a parliamentary career.

  35. @Matt, I know I wouldn’t be bothered with it. All those phone calls from fussy constituents at all hours of the day and night.

    @Claire – I don’t know if voting in the Dail is the problem. Its the advantage a challenger can gain on the ground while the TD is on leave. The long hours are just a product of the competition. If the TD doesn’t do the extra time, some challenger will, and win the seat.

  36. Er why should politics be ‘more conductive’ to a women with children? Why is it wrong that a person gives their full attention to their job? Turn the issue around and the real issue is why a working mother doesn’t have access to proper affordable quality childcare – if Ms Enright had access to such care would she still feel the same or is it a simple biological fact that there are some women who simply do not want to work after they ahve children no matter what support system is in place, just like there are some women who would go insane if they didn’t have their job to go back to – why are both choices not respected and supported equally.

    Maybe it’s a generation thing – how sexist and backward (dare I say gombeenist) was her father? Ringing to tell her about some funeral and when she asked who would mind the child, he says ‘drop him down to her mother (the grandmother) as if firstly, she should drop everything to go to a funeral for someone she doesn’t know, and that her own mother is simply there to be dumped on when she is stuck.

    When push came to shove she wanted to stay at home with her children more than she wanted to be a TD and she shouldn’t be made feel bad about that but nor should she blame ‘the system’ for forcing her to make the choice. It didn’t.

  37. ‘nor should she blame ‘the system’for forcing her to make a choice. It didn’t’

    It did! Sure that was basically her point, when she was asked whether being a TD in ireland is compatible with being a young mother:

    ”It’s not. And it’s not been challenged really. And – I know – here’s me walking off the pitch and not challenging it. But the way I see it is, I don’t want to have to explain to my children in years to come, ‘Well you know, it was really important for women that I stayed in there, so sorry about you.’ I had to decide my priorities, and my priorities are them at the end of the day.”

    It doesn’t seem to me that Olwyn Enright is saying that she wants to work at all because she has children. She’s saying that she can’t keep a job that makes it impossible to be a mother, there’s a big difference there.

    It’s a bit much to suggest that you either ‘give full attention to your job’, ignoring your kids, or leave. People just need structures that allow them to balance both roles. It works in many other professions – hence we don’t have a marriage ban any more in the Civil Service. Why couldn’t we consider changing some aspects of our politics to help people who want to be good parents and good public representatives?

  38. But you can’t be both Matthew – that’s the point. To be a fulltime TD you need to put in place proper childcare and not be made feel guilty about it.

    Likewise, if you are a housewife then you shouldn’t be made feel guilty for not ‘working’ and get tax and pension credit for that job.

    The reality of life is if you want to suceed at a job, be it TD or doctor or lawyer or any other job at the same level as a TD then you simply cannot be focused on something else at the same time.

    The problem is not that Ms Enright should have to find a way to balance being a politican AND a full time mother but that she can avail of the services needed to enable her to be a full time politican.

    It’s secondary to discuss how reforming the Dáil will help, ending the farcical late night nonsense is of course long overdue but that should happen anyway, not for childcare reasons but because it’s 2010 not 1910.

    It is women who pile on the guilt on other women, making them feel they have to have a full time career and be a full time mother – when you can’t be both. You make a choice and you shouldn’t be made feel guilty about which option you pick and you wouldn’t be whinging about the option when you pick it.

    Ms Enright should be honest enough to say she simply doesn’t want to be a TD anymore, she prefers being a housewife and carer for her child, there’s nothing wrong with making that choice so why pretend she ‘had’ to make it because of the way the Dáil is run? She felt under pressure to do both jobs as that’s what women expect of other women – men don’t make other men feel guilty because they focus on a career nor do they make other men feel bad if they are househusbands – when do you see a man try do both roles? Never because we know it’s not possible so we choose one and don’t beat up each other for the choice.

  39. I think we actually mostly agree on this, Desmond. We bth seem to be saying that provision of proper childcare facilities and pairing arrangements for maternity/paternity leave for our TDs is extremely importnat – otherwise citizens who are parents of young children are effectively excluded from being a TD.

    If there were supports in place for parents of young children in the Dail, and Deputy Enright nonetheless wished to retire as a TD to become a full-time parent, then I agree with you that nobody has a right to guilt trip her.

    But I think that where we differ is that you see Deputy Enright as being dishonest – in your opinion, she really wants to be a full-time mother, and is using the lack of childcare help as an excuse to let her make this choice.

    It seems to me fairer to take her at her word – and try to put fair maternity/paternity policies in place.

    • But you think the fact the Dáil sits late etc is why she couldn’t balance being a full time mother and a TD but I’m saying why should she have to balance them – she can’t be both.

      There’s nothing wrong with her saying she’d rather be a full time mother. IF she wants to be a TD then she should get her parenting needs sorted out first. I can’t believe someone like her didn’t have a full time nanny – not like she can’t afford it.

      Just like there is nothing wrong with a career women paying someone to do all the housework and having a nanny and not feeling guilty if she stays at work late.

      It’s wrong that the career women is expected to come home after a full days work and do another full day cooking and cleaning while usually her husband or partner sits on his backside doing nothing.

      When the career women comes home she should turn off the work phone, read the kids a story, focus on them and when they go to bed have a nice meal or a bath or curl up and watch TV. The full time mother should be organised enough to get what needs to be done during the day as well. I don’t get why housework seems to go on all day.

      My mother was able to put washing on in the morning, go to mass, come back and hang it out, go play golf and have lunch after, or call over to a friend or do the shopping or meet her sisters or have someone in for coffee or whatever, be home, do the ironing, prepare proper dinners, also make most of her own clothes on the basis she can buy quality material and still make it for less than buying the same outfit would cost, clean the house and have it all done by tea time so she could relax afterwards and do things she wanted to do with us or with my father (who made her breakfast in bed every single day before he went to work and who made her late supper in the evening and who made sure they always went out together on at least one evening a week and this a couple who are now over 50 years married so we’re not talking about a modern marriage but they seem more cluded into reality than most modern couples).

      So why are women who stay at home all day still running about like headless chickens at 8 or 9 in the evening.

      Being a TD is meant to be a proper grown up job and the hard fact of life is in a proper grown up job you can’t skive off at 5pm to bake cookies be you the mother or father. The only exception are for medical issues and even then …

      So to be honest, I don’t believe Ms Enright couldn’t get the balance right and didn’t want to and she is of the generation who delude themselves they can have it all.

      Then we have Liz McManus going on about equality and wait and see her own son picked over other candidates to get ‘her’ seat.

      The way the Dáil is run is ridiculous but so are those who think you can be a serious member of a parliament and at the same time be a full time mother – you can’t have it both ways.

      I checked with a friend from Sweden and she said it is not that you spend time with your children that the child care is better there, it’s that you know your child is well cared for when you are not there and that the times you are there with them you are not made feel guilty about it with someone trying to take your job – they accept you can’t do both roles at the same time so when you are focused on one role you are not made feel guilty about not doing the other role.

    • Eh, why is it a women is expected to be a TD and a full time mother – you can’t do both and a female TD shouldn’t be expected to do full time daycare, anymore than a male TD isn’t either.

      FitzGerald’s remarks are highly sexist because he is still peddling the notion that the system has to adapt so women can continue to the do the childcare while also being a TD. This is patent nonsense.

      Certainly a women choosing a career (let’s not even get started on who thought up the notion that it is good that both parents ‘have’ to work rather than having a choice, which they don’t now) should have proper childcare available to them and women who are full time mothers should be recognised in the tax and pension systems.

      But simply fiddling around so women still do everything is not progressive. These women with children have husbands and boyfriends usually, so why cant’ they pull their weight.

  40. Interesting stuff, Claire; shows the problem from a different perspective. A lot of ‘quantitative’ political scientists like myself tend to focus on ‘institutional’ solutions and ideas.

    We study political institutions mostly because they are more easily observable and measurable than discourses or cultures.

    For me, what was deeply frustrating about the debate around the Minihan article was the way that ‘gender quotas’ were lumped into one cover-all category, without any thought-out analysis of their design, and especially (because i study electoral systems) how they interact with electoral systems. I thought that a lot of the accusations regarding how candidate gender quotas would limit voter freedoms in Ireland were, frankly, untrue.

    The blog that you link to asks much deeper questions. It asks us how we actually view men and women, their respective roles, and how they should live. I think that Desmond has also been touching on these issues in his contributions.

    It asks us whether our tendency to be deferential to authority figures has lead to terrible political and societal consequences. It asks about how we argue about politics, and the power of labels and connotations: note, for instance, the attachement of the adjective ‘crazed’ to ‘feminist’. Implicitly, there is a discourse in our society where all feminists are somehow crazed!

    I believe that we are in a period where great changes are possible, because the old order has been shown up as inadequate in so many ways. In such times of change, these deep questions become open for contestation; as we decide what to maintain and what to discard from the old order. Of course, representatives of the old order, those who have profited greatly from the status quo, are bound to find ways to argue for its maintenance in toto. A great way to do this is to label any sort of change advocate as ‘loony’, ‘radical’, ‘crazed’ etc.

    For me, it’s imperative that we have the courage to avoid such cowardly tactics, and to boldly and openly deabte the values and instituions that will bind us together in the future.

  41. There will never be a better chance for women who are intelligent, motivated and articulate, not to mention those who are gay, disabled or members of the ethnic community to join a party and put themselves for selection as a candidate at the coming election.

    The poll results due out show people are screaming for change and will be falling over themselves to say they have the most new, women, young, mature, normal, gay, disabled, ethnic, new Irish etc candidates who will change the system, who are as different from the tired old men in grey suits who are there now as it is possible to be.

    • Was published in Daily Mail on this issue yesterday and have put the unedited article as submitted up on my blog here:

      Checked this with Labour Party HO when writing the piece up and think it is a relevant piece of information for the political researchers. Labour has 35 per cent women TDs and guess what it has 35 per cent members. No gender quota but women coming up through the grass roots. A thing to study woud be what percentage of women in each of the parties and is it comparable to their representation in the Dail. Also what is Labour doing (and we do not despite the impression given by some have gender quotas)and what did the PDs do that led to greater levels of women representing those parties in the Dail. Me thinks the grassroots participation by women in Labour is a key factor to our 35 per cent women TDs. Anyway my article is here:

  42. Will the Labour committment to equality extend to asking Liz McManus and Mary Upton to refuse to accept the payments outlined in the Sindo and for them to have no involvement in fixing the selection conventions for their son and nephew to get ‘their’ seat.

    What chance does a person who is not called McMAnus or Upton have of being selected to run instead of them?

    Also, why should the same % of party members be reflected in the % it has of elected reps? That’s just tokenism, because there is no evidence that those women who have been elected are any different to the men so why add more?

    Where were the women TDs when rules on regulation were being gutted at the behest of Seanie, did any of them speak up at committee stage or in the Dáil.

    Where were the women in cabinet calling stop to a grubby deal being done behind closed doors in the middle of the night to bail out Anglo Bank, with its close links to FF, when did they object to mortaging the entire financial future of 2 generations still to come by phone instesd of at a proper official cabinet meeting.

    How are you any different to the men in your party Joanna? I’m not aware you have ever produced a policy paper on maternity/paternity leave or tax/pension reform to equalise parental rights and responsibility or any of the isses you contend prevent more women getting involved?

    There is little evidence more women will result in better politics in Ireland so what’s the point of having more Mary O’Rourke types in the Dáil.

    The goal should be to have a better calibre of politican which would lead to better governance – it doesn’t matter if they are men or women?

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