Towards the 2011 general election: Where are all the women candidates?

By Claire McGing (on behalf of the PSAI Gender and Politics specialist group)

The recent failure of the talented Labour Dublin City councillor Rebecca Moynihan to win a nomination to run in Dublin South-Central in the upcoming general election (the three candidates who were selected are all male councillors) has once again raised questions about the lack of female candidates in Irish elections. Women have always been a minority in Irish electoral contests and subsequent sites of political representation. That is not to say that there are not other demographic deficits in politics – there is also a distinct lack of candidates and politicians from groups such as the youth, the working class, the disabled, etc. However, women make up 51% of the Irish population and cross-cut all other groups, yet not even a third of candidates for any of the parties in the last general election were female. Only 17.4% of those that ran in 2007 were female and this actually marked a decrease of 0.7% on the 2002 figure. Strikingly, Fianna Fáil ran no women in 29 constituencies (67% of constituencies) in 2007, while Fine Gael ran none in 30 (70%). Overall women made up 13.1% (14/107) of Fianna Fáil candidates and 16.5% (15/91) of those than ran for Fine Gael. While 22% of Labour candidates were women, the party ran no women in 32 constituencies (74%). Looking at the rest, women made up 25% of Green Party candidates (11/44), 24.4% of Sinn Féin candidates (10/41), 23.3% of PD candidates (7/30) and 12.8% of Independent and ‘Other’ candidates (14/109). Five constituencies (12% of total) had no female candidates at all and these varied geographically – Cork South-West, Dublin North-East, Limerick West, Meath West and Roscommon South-Leitrim.

Where are all the women candidates? Norris and Lovenduski (1995) argue that there are two levels of barriers hindering better female electoral participation. ‘Supply-side’ explanations suggest that factors exist that prevent women from seeking the nomination in the first place. ‘Demand-side’ explanations attribute more of the blame to the selectorate, arguing that political parties are not actively seeking women to run for whatever reason (be it out of a lack of opportunity structures in a given constituency or because of direct or indirect discrimination against women). In reality both levels are intertwined. This came to the fore in a 2009 Oireachtas report called Women’s Participation in Politics by the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women’s Rights. It identified the five main challenges (the Five C’s) hindering politically-aspirant women.

Childcare was identified as a significant obstacle for women. The report argued that women in post-Celtic Tiger Ireland are still presumed to bear the primary responsibility for children (which raises issues beyond the scope of formal politics about the need to look at the issue of paternity leave). This can impact on their ability to participate in branch level politics and in building up a local base of support. The gendered burden also impacts on female representatives in the Oireachtas itself. A survey of women politicians by Knight et al (2004) found that the ‘long hours culture’ of Leinster House was unfriendly to women with young children. This problem may also a geographical element given that 69% of women TDs at present (16 out of 23) are located in the Dublin-Leinster area, suggesting that this disincentive may be exacerbated for women that would have to be away from home from Tuesday to Thursday. There is a crèche in Leinster House but this is of no benefit to such women. Since they are not employees, statutory maternity leave is not available to women TDs and senators that get pregnant in office. The report recommends the introduction of automatic pairing arrangements to deal with this.

The second C, cash or the lack of it, can cause problems for aspirants of either gender. However, this may adversely affect women who still earn 22% less than men (The Equality Authority, 2009). The report also notes that male candidates may have networks that are favourable to them in financial terms, such as economic networks. The gendered funding issue may also be related to women prioritising their funds in favour of their children. In the course of my own PhD research on women’s experiences of candidate selection and political life, a number of the women TDs that I have spoken to have told me that women are more likely to put off a political career in favour of funding their children’s education. As one said to me, If women you know have other family commitments, sometimes the education of children and so on, they will often by their very nature put them first and say look, I’ll just do that maybe another time. Whereas men are more ambitious, they see huge career opportunities, straight line to promotion without obstacles along the way”.

The gendered culture of Irish politics from the grassroots right up to Leinster House was also identified by the report as hindering women’s participation. As Professor Yvonne Galligan (2009) noted in her presentation to the sub-committee, “As parties are mainly led and run by men, the culture of behaviour and informally accepted norms of language, views and expressions can mean that parties can be uncomfortable places for women to be. Party networks too are often more at the disposal of aspiring men than women, and networks of influence and economic support are important elements in securing a nomination to run and in financing a campaign”. The report refers to the fact that branch meetings are often held in pubs, an environment that some women may find intimidating, or times that are unsuitable for women with young children.

The influence of political culture is linked to the next C – confidence. Given that the stereotypical politician on TV, in the newspaper and on the doorstep is a man, women tend to be less confident about running because they feel less connected and familiar with the world of politics. This may be a bigger problem for women that don’t come from families with a background in electoral politics. Research suggests that a sufficient number of visible women candidates and politicians can encourage women’s political engagement and interest in the campaign and in running for election (Atkeson, 2003; Karp and Banducci, 2008) Yet with the exceptions of a handful of high profile political women over the past decade, Irish women tend to lack a sufficient number of strong role models. At present just under 50% of Irish women have no female TD to represent them, whereas 100% of men have a male TD to represent them (McGing, 2010). Mentoring programmes run by each individual party where interested women would be matched up with a current woman TD or senator might help them to gain more confidence.

Candidate selection was identified by the committee as the biggest obstacle for women. At the end of the day, it is the parties and their members who are the ‘gatekeepers’ and who filter the majority of aspiring candidates down the few names that appear on our ballot papers. The other ‘C’s’ influence the supply and demand of potential women candidates. While few international studies have indicated that parties are directly biased against women, they tend to be biased in favour of certain types of candidates – often those with political experience, be it at a branch, council or parliamentary level. Since women are less likely to possess this experience (only 16% of councillors at present are women for example), it creates a vicious in which they find it difficult to be selected. Mandatory electoral gender quotas, whereby parties would have to run a certain percentage of women or face some kind of a penalty, would see swift change.

What are the prospects for a better gender balance in 2011? Although there are still a large number of conventions to be held (Fianna Fáil is to hold more than 30 conventions over the next few weeks), Dr. Adrian Kavanagh has calculated that only 16.4% of those selected to date are women. Going on available figures, Fine Gael have so far selected 5 women out of 35 candidates (14.3%), while Labour is currently running 12 women out of 52 (23.1%). Without the use of some kind of legalised electoral gender quota and other reforms, it seems likely that the average candidate next spring and the subsequent make up of the 31st Dáil will just be a continuation of the status quo – male, middle-class, middle-aged and most likely a former/current TD, councillor or senator. Last Tuesday’s budget proposals were particularly bad for women, third level students, children and the poorest in Irish society. In the nature of justice (Phillips, 1995), and in order to bring a more diverse range of interests, issues and concerns to the discourses of parliament (Mansbridge, 1999; Young, 1990), we need to ensure that our elected representatives look more like society as a whole and we need political parties to act on reducing the representative deficit when selecting their candidates. Reforming the system to allow and encourage more participation by the other half of our population would be a good start.

63 thoughts on “Towards the 2011 general election: Where are all the women candidates?

  1. Mary Coughlan may be part of the reason right now, Mary Harney too, for a disillusionment with women generally in Irish politics.
    And right now I think it is more important to get the right candidates elected , be it women or men.

    • It is best to avoid the ‘game’ that is played in the ‘club’ that is Dáil Éireann. Serious political scientists and serious journalists have to give up feeding the iniquitous usurpation of power by parties of vested (and self) interest. See the website http://www/cppc/ie – It has similar ideas along with numerous other new groups who have correctly identified the lack of democracy as being at the base of what is fundamentally rotten in the current state system.

      We believe that every organisation which has a similar agenda can participate in the People’s Convention and take the first steps to put the people in charge of their own affairs for once.

  2. I agree 100% but the problem is that there are structures and barriers that don’t often don’t allow women to be the “right” candidate in the first place.

  3. In addition to the barriers identified, is there not a possibility that, in the context of the irrelevance of the Dail (with the exception of when it elects a government) and its subservience to the supremacy of the executive – as recounted in the previous post, females of the species have more sense than to waste precious time and effort on these charades? The only posts worth securing are Taoiseach or a cabinet minister. Combine the probabilities of being selected as a candidate, being elected, being on the winning side and being elevated to the cabinet, link these to the mind-numbing tedium if the last hurdle isn’t crossed and female non-participation seems a perfectly rational decision.

  4. Ivana Bacik being parachuted into Dublin Central to try and grab Tony Gregory’s seat. This is what happens when you bring this stuff to an extreme. A lot of this I am a poor woman and I cannot get elected is pure rubbish. The type of women I want to see elected are housewives who have common sense.

    • @Robert

      There is over 30 years of empirical, international research to show that women find it harder to be selected and elected. It is anything but “rubbish”. The barriers are very real and women politicians in Ireland and abroad have experienced them and spoken about them at great lengths.

    • @ Robert

      Almost all women are housewives! (with the exception of those who can afford to pay another woman to do the housework).

      Many also work for a paid wage – are you suggesting that this should disqualify them?

      It’s not unreasonable to look for representatives with common sense (a quality many of our male politicians are clearly lacking), although I’m unclear as to why this would be associated with being a housewife?

      And if it is, given that 87% of our current representative are not housewives (and largely manage to do their work only because they have housewives), I would have thought that you would be looking for far more women in the Dail? But then if housewives did get elected to the Dail, would you still consider them housewives once they had a paid job? I’m confused.

      I don’t think Ivana Bacik was trying to ‘grab’ the seat left vacant by Tony Gregory, I think she was hoping to be elected to it – and an excellent representative for the constituency (my own) she would have made too (certainly a whole hell of a lot better than Bertie & Cyprian).

      And she certainly isn’t the only candidate to have been ‘parachuted’ – the same constituency provides a good example, Cyprian Brady was parachuted in to displace Mary Fitzpatrick, who has a long history in this constituency, and is still a Councillor. So I’m wondering, what is the “stuff” being brought to the “extreme” that you refer to?

  5. Great article, Claire. I couldn’t agree more. The parties really are the gatekeepers to candidate selection and until appropriate legislation is brought in to require a more balanced offering of candidates we are just going to see more of the same and only lip service paid to the other measures required such as family friendly working hours and cultural change.

  6. I am 61 years old, I’ve been listening to the same arguments for decades and I’m fed up with the lack of progress. It’s long past time we had quotas. Because the degree of inequality is so great, the quota can be small and yet make a significant difference. Anyone opposed to such a modest quota would have to be regarded as antagonistic to greater participation rates for women.

  7. Just for the record 33 per cent of the Labour TDs are women. We have roughly 30 per cent women members too. We all got there on our own efforts at winning votes both at selection conventions and the general election. There is much that can be done to encourage women to be active in politics and for some of them (don’t forget most male members never run for selection and or election) to run for election, that does not involve quotas. It is most important that women emerge from grassroots of political parties as opposed to being forced through engineering of selection conventions through gender quotas.

    • Just to add, Rebecca Moynihan, failed to win enough votes at the selection convention. She won’t be the last man or woman that this happens to. Its called democracy. Lots of other women are being selected by the Labour Party so to suggest that one woman candidate losing a selection convention implies something about the willingness or tendency of Labour members to select women is very unfair and undermines your argument.

      I hope Rebecca continues her work as a councillor and considers putting her name forward at a future election. Often the road to the Dail is a long haul, whether you are a man or woman.

      • I’m not suggesting that the failure of Rebecca to win the nomination reflects on the party as a whole. Far from it, Labour seem to be the only party out of the three main ones to be taking this problem seriously. I was just saying that the convention result has once again opened up discussion on the lack of women in politics more generally.

      • Joanna, its simplistic to say that casting votes is the sum total of democracy, as you suggest. Meaningful democracy requires a lot more than that.

        The Labour Party has been exceptional in its acknowledgement of this, and that there are structural barriers to women participating in politics.

        Amongst these, I think, but I’m not sure, there is a commitment in the labour party to maintaining a gender balance in constituencies where more than one candidate runs for office. This has been suggested by some labour party TDs, but I can’t find a policy on it myself. Anybody know?

      • Claire,

        See my reply to Alan below. Is the fact that women are winning selection conventions in Labour not as worthy of comment as the fact that one woman was unsuccessful on this occasion? Women putting themselves forward for selection results in some winning and some losing. That’s how democracy works and if we want more women in politics we wan’t more women to take that risk, just as men do.

      • Suggesting that women have an equal chance to succeed in selection conventions ignores the fact that many female TDs come from political families, which helps them overcome the inherent disadvantages women face.

        You yourself fall under this category given your father’s record of standing in elections since 1981, as do Mary Coughlan, Deirdre Clune, Olwyn Enright, Beverly Flynn, Mary Hanafin, Mary O’Rourke, Mary Upton and Aine Brady.

        At 9/22, it appears female TDs probably have a higher nepotism score than the male average – especially as I am sure there are other women from political families I’m unaware of.

        I would respectfully suggest this implies it is more difficult for non-connected women than non-connected men to get selected and it is not simple meritocracy we are talking about.

      • Sinead,

        I tied at my selection convention. Before that to be elected to the Council I spent a year almost every day knocking on doors. People that have no family in politics, when they run for selection/election benefit from the fact that they are members of families, members of communities, and so on. My father ran when Labour had no hope of winning a seat, he just did what he saw as his duty and flew the red flag in the then constituency of Dublin West. Its just a cheap argument to attack sitting women TDS as if they are inferior just because another of member of their family cared enough about politics to get active and do their bit for their chosen party.

      • Sinead,
        Nepotism means giving undue favoritism to relatives and close friends. You may owe an apology to a number of women but you sure as hell owe an apology to Joanna.

        I’m sure when you’ve had time to think, you’ll realise how daft it was to suggest that Eamon Tuffy indicated that he wanted his daughter selected and that the constituency Labour Party delivered?

        Come on, put things right. Apologise.

    • Sinead,

      Just to add, because I really do feel you are playing the woman and not the ball above in your comment about me and other women TDs, I really think you have no credibility to say that I had an advantage when I ran for selection for the Dail election. To be clear to you that this is not the case, I tied at my selection convention with Cllr. Robert Dowds and I was selected because my name was left in the hat according to the rules. This was after having come fourth in the then three seat constituency at the previous general election. Despite the fact that I came close to being deselected at that convention, I still would defend the members right to decide until my dying day.

  8. I’m always fascinated that these debates usually end up attract a high proportion of labour members.

    Joanna makes some fair points about the labour party selecting women – indeed in the Wicklow Constituency we just chose 2 men and a woman. It had been widely assumed we would select 3 men.

    My experience within the labour party where we had targets for the amount of female candidates for local elections in 2009 is that these targets did actually bring forward talented women candidates.

  9. @Joanna With regards to Rebecca Moynihan I find that a bizarre position for you to take. In place of her the three candidates selected were a family name and two older men.

    It really betrays the lack of acceptance in the Labour party of there being a problem ie. under-representation of women.

    Elaine Byrne has been talking about the next Dail having a lot of “new” faces… I fail to see what is “new” about the people who got the nod over Rebecca.

    You seem to almost take pride in the “long journey” to the Dail.

    We could do with a shake of politics and representation like right now not in 20years time after people have been worn down and accustomed to the cynical nature of the Irish political morass…

    • Alan,

      I do not accept there are enough women in the Dail but I think it should be acknowledged that Labour of all parties, is putting forward women. What is more, as a Labour Party member I have a duty to point out Labour’s strong record in selecting women candidates to run for the upcoming General Election. In Wicklow Labour candidate Anne Ferris beat young Cllr. Ronan McManus to be selected to run for the Dail. In Kerry South Cllr. Marie Maloney was selected as the sole Labour candidate to contest the General Election. In Tipperary South, two candidates were scheduled to contest the Labour selection convention, Senator Phil Prendergast and Cllr. Seanie Lonergan. Cllr Seanie Lonergan withdrew just before the selection convention and Senator Phil Prendergast was nominated to be our candidate. In Sligo Susan O’Keefe tied with Cllr. Veronica Cawley and the Executive determined that Susan will be our candidate. In Dublin Central Cllr. Aine Clancy was selected to run with Joe Costello TD. In Dun Laoighaire Ivana Bacik was selected to run with Party Leader Eamon Gilmore. In Carlow Kilkenny the selection convention was contested by Cllr. Ann Phelan and Cllr. William Quinn, and Cllr Ann Phelan won. For those that want more women in politics, at least acknowledge that Labour is proactive in that regard, and that women are winning selection conventions in our party, and that over a third of our TDS are women, at present.

      • Thanks for the reply Joanna.

        It should of course be acknowledged that Labour have women in their membership and are putting them forward. So I take your points.

        Would it be fair to say that the reason the three men were chosen in Dub SC was because they would be seen to have the best chance at winning a seat?

      • Alan,

        In my view Cllr. Rebecca Moynihan would have been a great candidate but Cllr Michael Conaghan, who pipped her to the post, is a great candidate too. My first experience of him as a candidate was when he was a candidate in my constituency and he ran an outstanding election campaign to win a seat for Labour in the Council in 1991.

        Once you allow the members decide they act similar to the public when they vote in general elections and vote for candidates for a mixture of reasons including who they think is best, where a candidate is based, often people vote for candidates because they are a woman so gender balance is a factor but can be outweighed in people’s minds by other factors. Tactics, rivalries, a person’s record, how long they are active in the organisation, friendships all come into it because members of political parties are just like voters, they are human. The gender quotaists (?) find this hard to accept from a woman politician like me but I just prefer democracy to any other alternative that has been tried, even if it means finding other ways apart from gender quotas to bring about more women in politics.

  10. Claire, a very well argued post. So long as the larger parties field so few women candidates,and the electorate are denied the choice of voting for women, the deficit will remain and the process of poltics will never change. Every aspect of politics is run in a manner more suited to men. Party leaderships and administrators influence selection processes in many ways and at many stages, so it is no more distorting to add gender into the mix than any of the other factors.

  11. The Labour Party has always been better when it comes to gender equality. I think this is to do with the particular socialist strand of feminism. I think too that Joanna is right to say that Labour receives insufficient acknowledgement on this. However, in most situations I’m in favour of quotas because I’m fed up waiting for change. This nonsense could go on for another lifetime!

    • I must of missed the section where Claire said that any of Labour’s candidates in Dublin SC were ‘unworthy’? Could you point that out, please?

    • @ Steve, I never said that any of the candidates were “unworthy”. They won the vote at the convention and I respect that. It was just that the result has sparked more debate on the issue of women’s political participation.

    • No, I didn’t say that, it was obviously because she didn’t get enough votes at the convention. As I said already, it was just that the result has sparked more debate on the issue of women’s political participation and that is what the blog is about, not about Rebecca failing to win a nomination because she was a woman. As I pointed out in the blog, there is nothing to suggest that parties are directly biased against women.

  12. maybe since you decided to highlight that convention in particular and rebecca moynihan you would like to discuss the actual reasons why she wasn’t selected as opposed trying to construct it as example that will fall neatly into your thesis.

    • It was down to the merits of STV. To to best of my knowledge, the quota was 30, after the first count Rebecaa was in third place with 22 votes. The first two including Mary Upton’s newphew and Eric Byrne were both a little over quota. Rebecca’s nearest rival was on 11 but after the transfer leapfrogged her to reach the quota.

  13. @ irishelectionliterature

    I don’t know for sure, but my hunch is that there isn’t a connection – party membership often includes a greater proportion of women than its elected representatives, and they’re often very active. Any canvass or literature drop I’ve done has always been mainly women.

    It just seems like a self-fulfilling prophecy – more men get elected, therefore it’s assumed that they are more electable, and when women do get on the ticket, they’re rarely the front-runner, hence less likely to get elected, which appears to confirm the view that men are more electable. And so it goes on.

    My mother is a county councillor, and I (a woman) am a party member (though not the same one as my mother!). She ran unsuccessfully for the council twice. The first time, a high profile male was parachuted on to the ticket, so she didn’t make it (he subsequently switched parties!). On the second occasion, she missed by a very narrow amount, less than 50 votes as I remember. Many years later she was co-opted when a sitting councillor was elected to the Dail, and was elected on the first count last time round, with a decent surplus.

    She only stood for office after many long years of putting in insane hours for her party, fund-raising, canvassing, leafleting etc. – and after some very hard fought internal battles in her local organisation. Her very active membership was valued less highly by the ‘party seniors’ than that of less committed males. And the views of party seniors matter – the amount of canvassing that goes on at selection conventions should not be under-estimated. They are far from an exercise in pure democracy. I’ve seen too many of them at close quarters to think selecting the ‘best’ candidate is always – or even frequently – the primary consideration.

    I think my mother’s experience is a good example of the value of mechanisms like quotas. While she got in first via a co-option, her constituents obviously felt she’d done a good enough job to give her a strong vote at the next election. But it’s a pity it didn’t happen sooner, they could have had the benefit of her representation a lot earlier if she’d been given a bit more support by the party she worked so hard for.

    Incidentally, the last election my mother contested had a candidate list that was 37.5% female, and the elected representatives were 75% female. I wonder if there’s a relationship between the proportion of female candidates in the field (of whatever affiliation) and their electoral success?

    A number of years ago FF, FG and SF were all in receipt of state funding specifically for the purpose of making them more gender equal. On the depressing figures outlined above, this doesn’t appear to have been a success. Labour is the best performer in this regard, and it deserves credit for that – but 23% of selected candidates is still not much to get excited about.

    Quotas are intended as a short term measure to get a critical mass of women into elected office. Quotas don’t mean that the candidates are any less able, but this often seems to be the assumption.

    Like Collum McCaffrey, I’m fed up. Very fed up. None of the parties are taking this seriously. And if we can’t get a shake up in the current political context, I can’t see how we ever will – unless we introduce quotas. I simply cannot see what else is going to shift the culture of Irish political parties.

  14. I think that the biggest barrier to women in politics is a resistance
    to reform and I am unsure what that is based in.

    I reckon a lot of it is actually based in our political
    parties, their funding priorities and their Modus Operandi.

    The coming budgets, four year plans and politicisation of debt
    will adversely effect women who become more marginalised, even by
    our political system.

    I brought this issue up seven-eight years ago and was ignored, I am tired
    of saying it. imo the parties are failed utterly and I am tired of excuses.
    it indicates a political culture of abject failure and a democracy that
    lacks representational politics.

    btw , any fool who states that the issue is gender-neutral whilst
    supporting a systemic failure and political culture which amounts to
    a cadre of boys is in total denial. Practically all the DFA appointments
    to ambassadorships were male in 2010 also.

    I have suggested remedies before now, parties are claiming funds
    to develop, these funds should be withdrawn if a % of them are not
    ring-fenced for political internships, expenses for delegates and affiliates
    and lobbying for gender-reform. Ireland is showing an abysmal
    understanding of parity and equality however one looks at it.

    =total lack of commitment to anything by our political culture save to private enterprise afaic.

  15. Look at what happened when those great women’s champions Nuala Fennell, Monica Barnes. Gemma Hussey and Nora Owen (all attracted to Fine Gael during the FitzGerald years) when they actually got elected – nothing. They did nothing to change the system.

    Then fast forward to 2010 and George Lee, again in Fine Gael, who was someone who faced walls every direction he turned because those in the Oireachtas felt he wasn’t one of them (thankfully) and in some way his electionwas less valid than theirs because I suppose he wasn’t a crony and because he wanted to get things done because they were right, whereas those in the Oireachtas now don’t do things that way, they only do things when how it suits the vested interests they are beholden to have been accounted for.

    There is no evidence at all, none at all, that electing more Irish women will give the sort of reform and changes Ireland needs. Not one single female TD there now has brought in a private members bill – not that I can find anyway.

    Quoat’s for women work in countries like the NEtherlands or Denmark or Norway because those societies are light years ahead of Ireland in terms of attitudes to gender equality and the way they do politics.

    A womwn who wants an Irish political career will still in 2010 be required to explain her childcare arrangements and be subjected to assessment based on her looks, weight and clothes, no male candidates ever has to.

    Then there’s what happens if they do get selected and then elected, they propose nothing that is any better than the male candidates do.

    So talk of encouraging more women is a delusion that Irish women offer something better when there is no evidence of this.

    Labour may as well as no women TDs for the influence those women have or the polcies they pursue, I don’t see any Labour policies about preschool education or maternity leave or pay equality or pension equality – where are the policies from the Labourty to make a reality the equality and validity of a women choosing a career and not being made feel guilty or a women choosing to be a housewife and not being made feel guilty.

    A complete and utter change in political culture pushed from ground level up is required and there’s little sign of that, despite everything that’s gone wrong, the scale of denial among Irish people, of their role in consistently supporting crony politics, is astounding.

    I’m sure there any hundreds of women who would be fantastic politicans. However, politics has been so debased by the current generation of politics, why would someone with standards and ethics choose to have a political career when there is no acknowledgement from within of the damage they’ve done – look at the expenses issue, Michael Noonan whinging TDs ‘only’ have €4k net after tax, conveniently forgetting the digusting expenses they all claim with no receipts and which are tax free, that’s just one example.

    There’s no one preventing TDs publishing their receipts but they don’t because none of them want to face the wrath of their fellow TDs for being the first to lift the veil on the whole issue.

    If there were some decent TDs who were trying to change the system from within it might attract others to join in or others to stand for electionand help them, but there are none – no men or women.

    TDs are either cronies or the silent type who may not be cronies themselves but do nothing to prevent the cronyism.

    • Those women that have experienced electoral success garner it by playing within the rules of the game. The system as it stands hasn’t attracted many female participants. Yet you argue that this is proof that increased female participation wouldn’t make it any better? Perhaps many women are not interested in participating precisely for the list of reasons you have described. Arguably therefore they are the sensible ones, and a part of fixing the problems within Irish politics. Gender quotas at candidate selection level should be one of the many changes that Irish politics needs to observe. Why not look positively on the fact that the few women involved are limited in their capacity to generate changes? At least rubbish female politicians are in the minority? Fear not, many women do not view those ‘great women’s champions’ with glassy eyed admiration. The challenge is fixing all of the problems, not bemoaning the individual aspects that, of course, alone would achieve little..?

      • Precisely why I would have expected better from all the ‘gobby’ (dare I say such a thing) women who claim they could do things far better. Isn’t it about time these women put their money where their mouth is. Of course they have to use the system as it is now to get selected but there’s no reason why, once selected and then elected, the new influx have to behave like those who went before them. Or is the depressing reality that there simply are not the calibre of ‘outsider’ women available because after all, those elected are a pretty accurate reflection of the people who elect them.

        Also, if I’m not mistaken it was the female vote that put Bertie into power in 2002 and again in 2007 because they ‘felt sorry’ for him. So much for intelligent women?

      • Sorry Joanna, but I can’t find any policies like you’ve mentioned on the Labour site and the point really is that I shouldn’t have to search for them, they should be what rolls off the tongue immediately when you mention Labour and I’m sorry but that’s simply not the case.

        I don’t think anyone associates Labour with the policies you mentioned and what does ‘strong on policy in relation to …’ actually mean? Sounds like more fluff from Labour with no substances behind it?

      • Desmond,

        I think your criticism is valid. A link to our list of policies is below but we need to do more to get across our policies. If anything we need to be more concise about our policies. But that being said Labour is strongly associated with equality, largely because of our past acts in Government and polices we have launched over the years. It was Labour that brought in Equal pay legislation, it is Labour that has brought forward proposed legislation granting rights to unmarried fathers, Labour that first proposed free pre school education a policy then copied by all other parties, Labour that brought in legislation prohibiting discrimination at workplace on grounds of gender, sexuality, a disability, age, marital status.

  16. It is ironic, but not surprising, that equality of gender representation in parliament generates so much heat when consideration of the role of parliament (previous post) generates so little heat or light. While the Dail remains powerless, ineffective and irrelevant – and simply does not function as a parliament should – it wouldn’t make one iota of difference if 50% of TDs were female.

  17. “It is ironic, but not surprising, that equality of gender representation in parliament generates so much heat when consideration of the role of parliament (previous post) generates so little heat or light. While the Dail remains powerless, ineffective and irrelevant – and simply does not function as a parliament should – it wouldn’t make one iota of difference if 50% of TDs were female.”

    I reckon your theory should be tested, afterall
    maybe finally testing gender-reform will go
    hand in hand with other reforms.

    Quite aside from that the current top-down ossification and tokenism clealry ain’t working and
    making Irish Politics wholly irrelevant to a section
    of the population (moreso)

  18. Colum & Joanna: My point was that a disproportionately high number of women TDs come from political families. For men the proportion of dynastic TDs is around 20-25% ASFAIK, whereas nearly half of the current lot of female TDs come from political families.

    This is even more noticeable at ministerial level, where two out of the three female ministers (Mary Hanafin & Mary Couglan) are from political families. This suggests to me that little has changed since the early days of the Dail when you had Mary McSwiney, Margaret Pearse, Caitlin Brugha, Margaret Collins-O’Driscoll et al. elected.

    I suspect if someone did an analysis of all female TDS since the foundation of the state, the number from political families would far exceed the equivalent proportion for men.

    I think this is worthy of comment and analysis as it indicates that many female TDs are selected & hence elected, at least partly, on the strength of their male relatives’ political background. This seems to me an important issue from a feminist perspective and shooting the messenger for pointing this out does not alter these basic facts.

    In my commment I did not accuse Joanna personally of nepotism. What I actually said was it appears likely that nepotism is more of a factor for women TDs than for men, given the higher proportion of them from political families.

    The only part of my comment that related to Joanna specifically was: ‘many female TDs come from political families, which helps them overcome the inherent disadvantages women face’.

    I really don’t think this is a controversial statement as it’s pretty obvious that being from a political family makes it easier to get selected, as people in the party know your background & supporters of your family member are more likely to support you. There is also often a name recognition factor for the electorate, which encourages the party to select people from political families as they seem more likely to get elected.

    My hypothesis is that the inherent advantage people from political families possess over people from non-political families in getting selected & elected helps balance out the disadvantages faced by female candidates. It can equally be argued that male TDs beenfit from sexism & that male TDs from political families benefit from a combination of sexism & family connections.

    None of these observations suggest a meritocratic candidate selection process – which is the underlying rationale for the argument that there is no need to introduce gender quotas.

    • Sinead,

      Colum is right, you are wrong to accuse someone who has been elected and or selected of nepotism. That is not nepotism. And to call it such is to look down on voters and the choices they make. Currently 27 percent of TDs are the first in their family to be elected, including me. And it is wrong of you to suggest that my father running for election 2

      The one point that can be made about why a person who has other family members involved in politics getting involved in politics themselves, and even putting themselves forward as a candidate, is that having another member of their family involved in politics might be what made them consider politics as something to be involved in too. That is something that happens in every walk of life. It happens

      By the way it is not meritocracy that being selected or being elected is about. Those that use such a term, in my view, are misunderstanding the fundamental nature of democracy. Elections are at their core about one person persuading another to vote for them, not meritocracy. In fact meritocracy is a right wing and elitist concept.

  19. Sinead,

    (submitting this post again as hit the post button prematurely!)

    Colum is right, you are wrong to accuse someone who has been elected and or selected of nepotism. That is not nepotism. And to call it such is to look down on voters and the choices they make. Currently 27 percent of TDs are the first in their family to be elected, including me. And it is wrong of you to suggest that my father running for election 21 year achieving 4 per cent of the vote, somehow gave me an advantage. It did not, I had to fight for every vote and I said I tied my selection convention in 2007 despite having come fourth in the three seat constituency in the previous election 2002. If that is being advantaged I would hate to see disadvantaged.

    The one fair point that can be made about why a person, who has other family members involved in politics, getting involved in politics, and even putting themselves forward as a candidate, is that having another member of their family involved in politics might be what made them consider politics as something to be involved in to. That is something that happens in all walks of life. It happens too in community and voluntary activity, it happens in teaching, in the guards, in business, in farming, to give just a few examples. But chidren of teachers, that go for a job teaching, have be sucessful at interview, and children of politicians have to persuade voters to vote for them.

    By the way it is not meritocracy that being selected or being elected is about. Those that use such a term about elections, in my view, are misunderstanding the fundamental nature of democracy. Elections are at their core about one person persuading another to vote for them, not meritocracy. In fact meritocracy is a right wing and elitist concept.

    • And that should be 27 per cent are not first time members of their family to be elected and I am in the 73 per cent of TDS that is the first in my family to be elected. Not that I think that made me work any harder that the 27 per cent to win my seat. But work hard I did.

  20. Sinead,
    Pleas to avoid shooting the messenger are usually pleas to be allowed speak without having to argue.

    “Nepotism” is a very strong term and a very serious allegation. Before using it you need to define what you mean by a “political dynasty”. If you mean the election of someone who enters the Dáil after a close family member, you still have work to do before you can use say that there was “nepotism”. If you want the term, you have to show that the person was favoured by their relative and that the favouritism delivered the nomination.

    Frankly, I think use of “nepotism” is just a case of the familiar derision of elected politicians.

    If you are not talking about nepotism at all but simply about candidates who have relatives who are members of political parties, then you have a great deal of work to do because I’d be surprised if any candidate could be excluded from your research project.

    Again, why not reveal your name?

  21. I think you doth protest too much Joanna.

    The comparison with teachers is apt given so many of them become TDs, presumably as there’s no risk in running for election if you are a TD, as win or lose you still get to keep the teacher job and pension.

    Plus, there are a lot of very poor quality teachers in Ireland so that might explain the poor quality of TDs. But your other point that to be a teacher you have to pass a selection interview doesn’t really stand up for TDs because, for some bizarre reason, your odds of winning a convention or election are way higher if you are the relative of someone who has already trod that road, even if they were never selected or elected.

    Plus to be a teacher you have to have some track record of success even in the teacher exams, whereas parties think all you need is a name, and they are usually right is why in a by-election they always try get a familiy member to stand and look at the quality of the 2nd or 3rd generation TDs we have – it’s extrememly poor, so it’s true that the political gene is like a musical or sporting talent and inherited by the next generation in the way those talents sometimes are.

    • Desmond,

      What evidence have you of the odds you cite? Very often those that have a family member that was or is a public representative are rejected by the electorate and or by voters at selection conventions.

      And if it does increase the odds then that is because the voters choose to take the family connection into consideration, just as they do many other factors. I have heard voters speak highly of a candidate for all sorts of reasons, including that they worked with the candidate, the candidate was in their class at school, the candidate has a child the same age as their child. At the end of the day that is democracy. You let the voter choose who to vote for and you don’t ban them from thinking certain things when the do so.

      • I think Pat Lee who was a TD for FG in Dublin Central and moved to North Central and then lost his seat is the only case I can think of when a TD left the political stage for good after losing – most need a stake through the heart and garlic but even then have made sure their son/daughter/brother/sister/wife etc have been selected in their place. I’m still waiting for the LAbour HQ to place a McManus on the party ticket.

        However, speaking from experience of FG, those who come out the winner at a selection or on a ballot, where the hoice is between someone with a political family link or not, the family link always wins out.

        Even the new people who do get through then have their sibling picked to replace on the council as in Terence Flanagan being replaced on the council with his brother – was there no one else in FG who was suitable to be seconded. Of course there was but if that person goes against the wishes of the TD, they store up trouble for themselves later on.

        There should be a primary system for selecting candidates in a more transparent way, ie if a family member can’t stand in the same constituency or use the family link as a selling point.

  22. Colum – perhaps you are unfamiliar with the culture of internet forums. It is perfectly usual for people to use abbreviated names or screen names, as several other commentators on this blog have done.

    You seem to be implying that there is no nepotism in Irish politics, which anyone with even a cursory acquaintance with the three large parties ought to be aware is at least sporadically a factor in candidate selection, with turf wars regularly breaking out over attempts to get the son or the daughter or the wife on the ticket.

    My broader point – which is distinct from individual instances of nepotism and has still not been addressed – is that roughly half of all female TDs since the foundation of the state have had close male relatives (usually a father or husband) as current or former TDs or senators. This could be described as ‘dynastic politics’.

    This suggests that rather more female TDs than the 27% figure cited by Joanna for TDs in general have close family members who were previously elected to the Dail, and hence that dynastic politics is more common amongst female than male TDs.

    I am not saying this to denigrate female politicians – as I said before men possess unfair advantages over women that make it easier for them to get selected & elected, suggesting, all others things being equal, that male candidates may be of a generally lower caliber.

    However, the fact that a disproportionate amount of female TDs come from political dynasties indicates that women from non-political families are likely to face even greater obstacles in getting selected and hence elected than the bare statistics of female participation suggest.

    • Sinead,

      Someone having a relative in politics, being a factor in people voting for them is not nepotism. You are misusing the term.

      I also find what you say about male candidates above, discriminatory, elitist and sexist, and does your cause no service.

  23. Joanna – if you read my last post, it distinguishes between ‘dynastic politics’ and nepotism. I note you make no attempt to deal with the substance of the ‘dynastic politics’ point.

    I also never said anything about the electorate being motivated by nepotism – that would make no sense unless all such voters were personally related to the candidate!

    You’re also misinterpreting my point about male candidates.

    • Btw Kathleen Lynch TD raised this very issue at a conference on women in politics in Cork in September so I am not alone in thinking this is a relevant issue:

      Quote: “There have only been 7 female TDs elected in Cork since the foundation of the state. More worrying than this is the fact that most of these women came to office when a male member of their family vacated a seat.”

    • Sinead,

      A person that has a democratic mandate has a democratic mandate whether they are the first in their family to run and or be elected, or whether they or not. I respect the voters right to decide whether or not to take a person’s family connections into account or not. The voter is sovereign as far as I am concerned, whether I agree with how they vote or not. That is my answer to your point. I also think it is a red herring, because a person may get votes because of their name, or their family name, even if members of their family have no involvement in politics. The family may be a well known business family, members of their family may be known for good works. Their name may be known because they are fortunate to be a broadcaster, or they may be a favourite of other broadcasters when choosing programme panelists, or commentators. They may be known because they are a trade union leader, or a teacher. The fact is voters are humans voting for other humans and it is only natural that they look for reasons to identify with a candidate, including their family background and it is only natural that a candidate will use whatever they have to make that connection with the voter. Colum is right too, you will be hard pressed to find a candidate whose family members don’t get involved as supporters, activists and party members alongside them. Similarly candidates bring friends and members of their community along with them when they put themselves forward and decide to tog out for their chosen party or as an independent candidte. I have already pointed out that one reason women whose fathers or mothers have been active in politics before them, is because their parents have passed on that passion for politics to them and opened up in their minds the possibility that they too might follow in their footsteps. As I said its a common phenomenon in all walks of life.

      Finally about your point about male candidates, your logic was flawed. There is no statistical evidence I am aware of that when a woman puts her name forward that she is any less likely to be selected and or elected than a man. Women are choosing not to go for election and the way to address that in my view is by encouraging more women to join and be active in political parties. But if you were to say that because men don’t go in as high numbers into nursing, probably in part because of perceived bars the men perceive, that this fact suggested that the quality of female nurses was generally of a lower ‘calibre’ than male nurses, you would be laughed off the stage.

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