Gemma Hussey calls for a Single Issue Group for the promotion of women in Irish Politics

(uploaded by Fiona Buckley on behalf of the PSAI Gender Politics SG)

 At a conference in UCC in September (Moving in from the Margins: Women’s Political Representation in Ireland) organised by the PSAI Gender Politics Specialist Group and UCC’s Women’s Studies Programme, former Minister Gemma Hussey called for the establishment of an organisation to promote women in politics.  The following is the text from her address:-

It is now time for Irish women to cut to the chase and get down to business. The disgrace which is the absence of women from Dáil Éireann has to be addressed with energy, skill and yes – a ‘sparkling anger’ (to quote Margaret McCurtain, aka Sister Benvenuta speaking twenty five years ago!).

There is no shortage of excellent research nationally and internationally to show how Ireland falls totally short in all the tables. It includes research on how other – enlightened – countries have tackled this issue.  I happily congratulate those people in Ireland who have undertaken the work, many of whom are here today.

There is no shortage of reports and discussions – and certainly no shortage of verbiage from political parties about how much they would like to see more women.

Happily, neither is there any shortage of evidence internationally to show how much the body politic and the legislature are improved when it is the norm for women to be at or near equality in parliaments.

Our own disastrous performance over the last ten years when no women held key posts like Taoiseach, Minister for Finance, Financial Regulator or bank boss surely raises huge questions. We have seen a celibate male church which has no respect for women being discredited. All the heads of all the major bodies which were in power were men. Surely that must make women angry?

But, unfortunately, what is dramatically absent is focused sustained pressure from a dedicated single-issue organisation which has one aim and one aim only – to get a critical mass of women into Dáil Éireann. 

The Women’s Political Association of the 1970’s and 1880’s was just such a group. With small teams of volunteers and no official resources, it concentrated on three things: 1) influencing public opinion; 2) pressurising the political parties, and – most importantly – 3) urging women to get in there and run.  It provided support at a practical level when they did. All this was done on a shoe-string, and necessarily, on a small scale.

Result: From four women in Dáil Éireann, the numbers grew to more than twenty – slow, but sure.  But we all know what happened….it all stopped after the election of Mary Robinson. Women allowed themselves to think that the work was done, that women’s journey to equality was over. We now know better.

 Unless women take on the challenge as so many did in so many ways all those years ago, we are going nowhere on this issue. The time is right, and the need is essential, for an organization to promote more women in Irish politics. 

 You can follow the PSAI Gender Politics Specialist Group at http://psaigenderpoliticssg.wordpress.com/

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9 thoughts on “Gemma Hussey calls for a Single Issue Group for the promotion of women in Irish Politics

  1. A non-issue really. So what if women arent adequately represented in the Dáil? I want to be in the Dáil, so maybe there should be a quota introduced for me (The quota would be 1 Kev OFaolain per Dail session).

    • @Kev

      Women have held only 219 Dáil seats out of 4,452 won since the foundation of the state. Men hold the monopolization of power in Ireland and always have, which is simply unfair and unjust given that women make up the other half of our population. It is anything but a “non-issue really” – it is a huge issue and where we are in comparison to other democracies is nothing short of appalling.

  2. It was a fantastic conference and really got some good debate and discussion going on the topic. I agree with Gemma – in order for change to occur, mobilisation will have to happen both externally through groups like the Women’s Political Association, as well as internally through female representatives putting pressure on their parties. As Kathleen Lynch TD said in UCC that day, “there is more than unites us than divides us”. Women may disagree on how to bring more women into politics (the use of gender quotas or not for example), but I think we all agree that we need more women in decision-making in the nature of justice and to bring different perspectives and experiences to bear. Interestingly, 48% of women surveyed by the 2007 wave of the Irish National Election Study agreed or strongly agreed that “things would improved with more women in politics”. The respective figure for men came to just 21%. Women believe they would make a difference.

  3. Thanks for this address , I shall be sharing it round
    some groups who are interested in this area.

    or should I say total lack in the area of women’s political representation in Ireland.

  4. btw- I note that political reform has a Facebook page,
    you can hook it up to WordPress , so that the posts
    go onto FB.

    ..which would be handy in terms of Sharing posts for our
    readers, someotmes I have little time to write a paragraph.

  5. Wasn’t it the female vote that put Fianna Fáil into office in 1997, 2002 and 2007?

    Wasn’t it the female vote that turned on anyone who dared to raise questions about Bertie Ahern’s finances or his lack of ethics? Wasn’t it the female vote who were flocking to Brian Cowen after he became Taoiseach and isn’t women who are more likely to be core FF voters than men?

    Hardly a shining example that more women will make much of a difference?

  6. “Wasn’t it the female vote that put Fianna Fáil into office in 1997, 2002 and 2007?

    Wasn’t it the female vote that turned on anyone who dared to raise questions about Bertie Ahern’s finances or his lack of ethics? Wasn’t it the female vote who were flocking to Brian Cowen after he became Taoiseach and isn’t women who are more likely to be core FF voters than men?”

    and yet in 13 years Fianna Fáil have achieved little in terms of parity of esteem for *anyone* save close personal buddies !!

    I hope that political reform is taken seriously but I doubt that Fianna Fáil/Greens even notice the necessity.

  7. I believe there is a direct link between the lack of women in the media and their failure to make a break through in politics. A small number of male economists and journalists have dominated current affairs on the 3 national stations since the recession began. I have been so disillusioned by this that I rarely listen to radio now and switch off Front Line, Prime Time, The Politics Programme and Tonight with Vincent Brown when panels do not refelct gender balance.(In fairness Tonight with Vincent Brown is the least offender and he does make an effort)
    A Countess Markievicz school will be formed in the new year to debate the very issue which Gemma addressed in her speech. Lucy

  8. A well written and timely article–thanks! Now, I cannot refrain from commenting on the sharp irony that, at the present moment, this article appears beneath a masthead photo of 40 or more sober-looking men, obviously gathered to mark some historic occasion in some massive government building, and no doubt they were all important men in Ireland’s history and no doubt they all thought that they would do right by the women of Ireland. But isn’t it time for the women of Ireland to do right for themselves and to put an updated photo on the masthead?

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