The 50:50 Group manifesto for gender parity in Irish politics

Posted by David Farrell on behalf of the 50:50 Group (January 31, 2011)


Dear Deputy,

The 50:50 Group is a single issue national advocacy group that has come together to campaign for equal political representation in Irish Politics. Our desire for change reflects the public mood to move to a more inclusive form of politics. We are encouraged by your party’s publicly stated intention to reform and renew political structures and to put in place a new type of politics.

The Irish population is divided fairly equally between men and women. But our national legislature, Dáil Eireann doesn’t represent this societal split and it never has. The 30th Dáil is 86% male. This imbalance of representation places Ireland 23rd out of the EU 27 Members States for female representation in parliament. Only Cyprus, Romania, Hungary and Malta are below us in this league table.

At a time of our country’s greatest need, we are asking you to stop the exclusion of half of our population from political representation. Research reveals that it is the lack of women candidates not lack of voter support that has the greatest impact on the proportions of women politicians .

We believe that without affirmative action that the number of women in the Dáil will stay low and our democracy will remain incomplete . Ireland also has international obligations to adopt positive action measures to achieve better representation levels.

As you prepare your manifesto for the upcoming general election, we, the 50:50 Group, want you to improve voter choice. We are asking that you commit to introducing legislation to oblige political parties to implement candidate selection quotas.

In the 2007 general election, women constituted less than 20% of candidates overall. For election 2011, the picture is no better. Currently, only 17% of the candidates chosen to contest the upcoming election are women. The case of Cork illustrates how urgent the issue is: of the 19 seats in Cork County only 5 women have been selected to run.

Limiting voter choice in this way is not just a women’s issue it’s a societal issue.

At the end of 2009, the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women’s Rights chaired by Deputy Brendan Kenneally, recognised this and issued a unanimous report on the issue of female participation in Politics. In that report the committee noted the significant advancement that other countries had made with the use of special temporary measures or candidate selection quotas.

We want legislation to make it illegal for political parties in receipt of state funding to field any more than two thirds of candidates of one gender in any given election at national, local and European level.

There is strong public support for taking action. There is plenty of evidence that voters both men and women will vote for women. The Irish National Election Study of 2007 revealed that two-thirds of voters supported having more women in politics.

Our current under-representation of women in politics is an affront to the democratic ideals of justice and equality. And it must stop. Now is the time to turn promises and pledges into a commitment to act.

Will you give the electorate the choice to vote for a female candidate?

I look forward to your reply and women all over Ireland are awaiting your response.
Yours Sincerely,

Edel Clancy
The 50:50 Group

The 50:50 Group
The 50:50 Group is a single issue national advocacy group that has come together to campaign for equal political representation in Irish Politics. The 50:50 Group is a fully inclusive organisation and politically non-aligned. We welcome both men and women and have local branches now organising in Cork, Dublin, Galway, Limerick, Longford, Thurles, Tralee and Waterford. Our desire for change reflects a public mood for change. We believe that it is a democratic right of every citizen to play their part particularly at this time of our country’s greatest need.

Our Vision of Change
Gender parity in the Oireachtas by the year 2020. Quite simply, we want 50:50 by 2020.


46 thoughts on “The 50:50 Group manifesto for gender parity in Irish politics

    • I find it hard to understand why Irish men are so reluctant to see more Irish women involved in politics? Can there be such a huge difference between the Irish and the Swedish people? Would anyone be brave enough to say that 45 percent of the female candidates in the Swedish parliament are “token politicians”? But yes, the same type of opposing voices such as the ones displayed here were raised back in the 1970s in Sweden too – however, these people have now either gone in to hiding or else changed their minds!

    • Quite simply, the equal representation of women in politics is simply an issue of equity, nothing more, nothing less. What could possibly be the problem with that in a representative democracy?

      • I have posted on this site previously proposing a system that would encourage and reward political parties for offering more diverse tickets while retaining much of the PR-STV system. Quotas within PR-STV restrict choice not increase it.

  1. “We are encouraged by your party’s publicly stated intention to reform and renew political structures and to put in place a new type of politics.”

    This is rock, I fear, on which this enterprise will founder. It is not that what the various parties are proposing falls far short of what is required; it is that, on election to government, there will be absolutely no incentive to act on these good, if limited, intentions – and every incentive not to.

    • Shane misunderstands what the ‘candidate quota’ is – far from putting token women in the Dail, it simply ensures that voters have a choice whereas now the choice is made by the internal party machines

      • Gemma, it would certainly mean token candidates of both genders from the smaller parties. Do you think that Joe Higgins or Clare Daly either want or can electorally afford a competitive running mate of the opposite gender? It’s gender window dressing of the highest order. Encourage and reward parties for offering more diverse slate as I suggested don’t be penalising them unless they run some figleafs to satisfy a technicality.

  2. The forthcoming general election has as one of it’s planks-reform of the political system. One reform that is obviously needed is the gender imbalance in our Dail. Good intentions havem’t worked since the election of Mary Robinson to the presidency. What is wrong with giving quotas at candidate selection a chance? If fifty percent of the Dail is not female then there is a problem – Women won’t wait any longer.

    • A simple outcome of enforcing gender quotas is that the in situ men (those who outgoing TDs) would remain as candidates and almost all the new candidates would be female and no new men would be able to run until the existing cohort of men had stood down. It would probably mean excluding any new men entering politics for 10/15 years.

      It would also hurt the larger parties more in PR-STV has it would force them to run extra candidates where it was electorally disadvantageous for them to do so. Running 4 where 3 would be better. And what happens with independents?

  3. Introducing quota provisions in politics is considered a legitimate equal opportunity measure in many countries (for more on the European experience of introducing quotas, please see They act as a process of change and a facilitator of women’s political inclusion. They give women access to power structures and the ability to participate in the agenda-setting process. As it may take decades before all social, cultural and political barriers preventing equal representation of women are eradicated, quotas can act as a ‘kick-start’ in the process of getting more women elected to parliament. The NWCI recently estimated that at the present rate of going, it will take up to 370 years before there is gender parity in Irish politics! We need quotas in this country and the sooner the better.

    The 50-50 Group supports the recommendations of the Oireachtas Sub-Committee on Women’s Participation in Politics. It has recommended candidate quota legislation be introduced to impose a maximum limit on the proportion of candidates of any one gender selected to run in elections. The committee suggests that such legislation be introduced on a temporary basis only, and would have an inbuilt “sunset clause” to ensure that when targets are met, the law will lapse. Let’s act on these recommendations.

    For more on the second report of the Oireachtas Sub-Committee on Women’s Participation in Politics, please see

    • Fiona, if you were the 18th century as your data set then the NCWI report would say that there would never be women TDs or ministers. We need changes in the electoral system that increase choice and reward diversity not restrict choice by compelling a certain input or outcome to an election.

      • You’re asking that of the people to be selected that a certain % must conform to one gender or the other. Voter choice is not just about gender and you’ve still not addressed the straightforward question of what you would do with independents and the running of token candidates by smaller parties.

  4. What possible argument is there for prolonging a system that excludes half of the population from full participation in political life? It is ironic that some male commentators to this site take such exception to 50/50 quotas. Since the foundation of the Irish state men have reaped the benefits of a political system that consciously and deliberatly discriminated in favour of them. Indeed so endimec is this ‘positive discrimination’ in the political landscape that it is taken for granted and naturalized.

    The fact of the matter is that women should never have been excluded from full political participation. Nonetheless this is what has happened and we now need to address this situation by constructive and proactive measures.

    50/50 quotas pose no threat to aspiring male politicians. However they may go some way towards opening up a political system that is archaic, elitist, and outdated.

    It high time we had a Dail that reflects Irish society in its broadest sense. A parliment comprised of women and men from different socioeconomic, ethnic and racial backgrounds has to be a fundamental conerstone of any future society that is based on notions of democracy, social justice, and equality.

    • “a system that excludes half of the population”

      Could you please tell me how it excludes half the population? What barrier to entry is different for women as opposed to men? As far as I know there are none so your argument is void.

    • It is more ironic that some of those commenting had opportunities that few others in politics have had whether male or female and then simply walked away. Easy come, easy go I suppose.

      You highlight an interesting problem with this idea of 50/50. Either you want to elect a parliament that is truly proportionate to the population of those who can vote or you don’t. You want “A parliment comprised of women and men from different socioeconomic, ethnic and racial backgrounds has to be a fundamental conerstone of any future society that is based on notions of democracy, social justice, and equality.”

      So I presume that we’re going to exclude Alan Shatter from the next Dail and we shouldn’t have had either him or Ben Briscoe in there but not both since the Jewish population in Ireland was never enough to have two people representing that community and is too small now to allow for even one. And of course, what are the Americans doing with a black man as president? Won’t someone quickly tell them that his community isn’t in the majority and so he can’t possible represent anyone outside of his own.

      In a democracy, the people should be free to vote for whoever they choose and all the people should be free to stand for election, but elections aren’t free in terms of time or effort and so unless people get off their rears and get involved they’re not going to get selected. Let’s be honest here, if there was a 50/50 quota it wouldn’t be women from working class backgrounds that would be on the tickets. It would be middle class solicitors and those on the boards of middle class supported NGOs that would be the candidates. 50/50 does nothing to broaden the total issue of diversity for the Oireachtas.

  5. It’s harder for women to even get on the candidate list than it is for men . Even with quotas they will still face obstacles so the tokenism argument just cannot stand. These obstacles are part of the 5 c’s cash, childcare, confidence and culture.
    Any incentive to get more women participating in politics is to be welcomed

    • This whole argument seems to me to be about seeing men as a single homogeneous group but looking at women as individuals. Those 5 Cs apply to many men from many different backgrounds too but hey there are men in the Oireachtas so that’s all ok. Cos those men have all proved themselves able to represent everyone from every background…well…provided they’re male.

  6. I am delighted to see this suggestion finally emerging in Ireland, long after many other countries have implemented this and other measures so that the disgrace of women’s absence from parliamentary assemblies has been addressed.
    The 50-50 group will, I hope, go from strength to strength. Ireland is so far behind the civilised world in this issue – women and men all over Ireland need to support this and other means of getting women into politics. We can talk about Dail and Seanad reform, but without this reform, Ireland’s politics remains incomplete.
    We tried in the 70’s and 80’s in the Women’s Political Association, but after the great watershed of Mary Robinson’s election, all progress stopped having been
    quite good. So please – get behind the 50-50 group, (target 50-50 by 2020) and make sure a new government legislates for this.

  7. The genus aspect is important but if we are to use the word “inclusiv democracy” then the voting rights should be extended to all Irish, particuarily to those forced to emigrate as a result of the dangerous policies of government. Other countries have this system why oh why is Ireland so backward.

  8. I’m assuming there are no constraints on the demand for female public representatives. (I’m sure the political scientists here have the evidence. For example, I’m assuming no difference between the percentage of female candidates elected out of the total of female candidates and the percentage of male candidates elected out of the total of male candidates.)

    Given this, the constraints seem to be on the supply side. For whatever reasons, there is an insufficient number of female candidates. So there are constraints on the supply. So do we seek to identify and remove the constraints or impose equality of male and female supply? This campaign advances the latter.

    I’m not entirely comfortable with this – and not for any misogynistic reasons. Indeed, ensuring gender equality at the candidate stage might exclude some of the male buffoons that are elected almost by default. But I suspect that a rational assessment by many females of what might be achieved and the probability of achieving it (when the only posts that really matter are in the cabinet) might generate a self-imposed constraint on supply.

    In the final analysis my view is that the gender balance of TDs – or how they are elected – doesn’t matter; it’s what they do when they’re in the Dail.

    • I do not believe that any final analysis can be done until we have experienced a gender balanced Dáil so lets remove all the obstacle currently in place – the constraints on the supply – as you put it.

    • Paul, my understanding from replies to previous posts was that female candidates who stood as new candidates were actually more successful in percentage terms than new male candidates for the 2009 local elections. The problem is how to in a real practical sense ensure that we get more female candidates to stand and not that there are too many men standing. Encourage choice and let the people decide.

  9. Right now, as the Dail is dissolved, there is only one female among any group of 8 TDs. If there is a gentle increase at each election of, say 3%, starting from today, then we will reach parity in the Dail in 2056, 45 years from now. And that is the optimistic scenario. Candidate quotas are a ‘fast track’ so that we do not have to wait for another half century, another two generations, for women to share power and the responsibilities it brings, with men. I support the 5050 group’s quota campaign as the only realistic way of speeding up a half-century of waiting.

  10. @Daniel Sullivan,

    I take your point. I think we could do with a bit of guidance on the research and analysis from the political scientists on this board. (I’m sure it’s been presented previously, but some repetition might help to inform this very necessary debate.)

    @Anna Karin Kingston,

    I’ve pointed out previously that parliaments generally emerged to curtail the dictatorial powers of kings. This has now gone full circle (with the most extreme variant in this country) of having a government that is an elected dictatorship in parliament. Just think about it: all policy decisions, the formulation of policy in close to final legislative form, the executive orders permitted by innumerable statutory instruments with which legislation is festooned, all are decided by ministers, their special advisers and senior civil servants in a totally non-transparent manner. Once the governing factions have the numbers, the Dail becomes just a giant rubber-stamp.

    If you can convince me that gender equality at the candidate stage will empower the Dail to hold governments properly to account, I would be fully in support of this campaign. I would even support the imposition of 100% female candidates.

    • @Paul – I’m not sure if your comment about 100% female candidates was cynical or serious, but as a non-native Irish citizen I would like someone to explain to me why Ireland appears to be incapable of increasing its female representation in the Dáil over the 14 percent mark? Sweden is by no means perfect but I find it extremely hard to get used to this particular culture-shock!

  11. @Anna Karin,

    I was not being cynical; it reflects the priority I attach to reform of this nature. (And please do not treat this as patronising when I say I very much welcome insights from people born outside these shores. It is a valuable antidote to the navel-gazing here.)

    In terms of political reform – which this board is all about – there are three fundamental questions: what, how and by whom.

    What policies and legislation are required at this critical point in the nation’s history?
    How should these policies be formulated, scrutinised, enacted, implemented and reviewed? And
    Who should do this?

    We are being overwhelmed with shopping lists of proposals that present a huge variety of answers to these questions. My focus is on the How; if we get this right there is a sporting chance that the What will be what is required. And the Who will also be addressed because a better calibre of candidate will be attracted (both male and female) when they see they can actually make a difference in the public interest.

    This campaign on gender equality has the benefit of focusing on a single issue – rather than a huge shopping list that mixes What, How and Who (and, for all sorts of reasons, is unlikely to be implemented) – and probably has a good chance of succeeding. I just fear that if we put the Who, before the How and the What, we will have a continuation of the current, totally dysfunctional How and What.

  12. Having experience in both party political societies in college, and a broad political society: It is extremely disingenuous for supporters of gender quotas to tell us time and time again that females are being discriminated against in politics, and effectively kept down.

    Anecdotally, in the second largest university in the college: females aren’t interested in politics. My youth wing society has two regular female members to about twenty male, and I can assure you: we aren’t ‘oppressing’ women. The politics society has between two and three regular female attendees, and around 15-20 males. Again, I can assure you, there is zero discrimination or oppression in it. We’re desperate to get new members, desperate to find people of any gender with an interest in politics – but we can’t.

    Gender quotas are discriminatory, promote gender over talent or skill and do nothing to address the real problem which is that females, in general, have no interest in politics in Ireland.
    And don’t claim it’s a mans game, political societies in every Irish 3rd Level Institution prove that it’s not about a mans culture in politics – it’s about women not being interested.

    In summation: stop ignoring the real problem and instead blaming ‘men’ and the ‘system’ for the very real fact that the vast majority of women simply don’t care for politics, and quotas will not change that.

  13. Nationally, there are approx. 2500 groups led by women, who are campaigning on a wide range of social, political, economic and justice issues. I think we can safely say women are interested!

    • Women are without a doubt interested in political issues but they are demonstrably not necessarily as interested in contesting elections. That is a problem but not necessarily one that is solved by making it easier for the existing percentage of women who are interested in contesting elections to get selected and elected. It does not necessarily or naturally lead to all the other women who aren’t currently interested in contesting elections becoming interested in doing so.

      After all we have a situation right now where one in three of the number who would in a 50:50 scenario be contesting an election are actually doing so, so it’s not in main down to a lack of opportunity. I’d love to have been a Dail candidate but the reasons why I’m not and won’t ever be are reasons that cross both genders. And this effort won’t address those reasons and so won’t help those other women.

    • I agree with Fiona – in my personal experience within disability groups the vast majority who campaign for changes are women. I do not believe that it is their fault that their personal issues never make it high on the public and political agenda. As the same women also have to provide the day-to-day primary bcare of their sons and daughters with little or no help from the State it is near to impossible for them to get more involved.

  14. I’ll be 62 this year and I’m shocked that this remains at issue. I’m also frankly pissed off. I’ve been listening to “what if” and “what about” arguments for decades. Little has happened and a quota is now required.

    Should we ever adopt a list system, many of the technical objections will disappear.

    However, here’s an important consideration. In a situation where a gender is grossly underrepresented, it is possible to really put it up to opponents of equality not by demanding a high quota but by demanding a LOW quota. You see, few people these days openly oppose gender equality; they just find difficulties and excuses so that nothing changes. If a low quota – perhaps spread over a few years – would, say, double the participation of women, that’s the demand to make because opposition to something very modest would betoken simple misogyny.

    I’ve spelled the point out her:

  15. Personally I used to think olong the ‘token’ lines, but I now believe that this is primarily a tradition/society issue in Ireland.

    I think we should introduce quotas for 2-3 elections, and then remove them. By then our tradition will change and equality will be more of a norm. Middle-aged grey-haired white men should let go of their reins, because, on many levels, they do not represent the views and wishes of the entire nation, still one of the youngest in the western World per capita.

    The banking crisis should teach us one thing, that it is a small enclosed group of people who run our country, and in their own best interests most of the time. The fact that TCD/NUI get senate seats is a great example, surely there is as large an electorate who works as, say, bus drivers, so why shouldnt those people have the same amount of seats allocated to them aswell?

    This unequal exclusive society must be changed, and quotas might just take some of that exclusive governance away from the political class, who all fit a terribly similar mould.

    • “Middle-aged grey-haired white men should let go of their reins, because, on many levels, they do not represent the views and wishes of the entire nation, still one of the youngest in the western World per capita.”

      You are here limiting people not only on the basis of gender but also of age and even hair!! That’s not quite as weird as trying to exclude half the population because they are women but it’s getting there!

  16. I think every action or inaction has a consequence, and the Constitution of our country openly discriminates against women and this is reflected in all areas of Irish life including how our political parties run their organisations and more precisely what gender makes up the majority of people in the Irish polictical world.

    Article 41 of Bunreacht na hEireann specifies the sanctity of the family, organised around women’s care and men’s breadwinning. Women at home nuturing the country, men in the Dail running the country. It must be said that many women now work and run the home as well, as do a much smaller number of men. The mainly male dominated political parties could have amended this baised article given that they represent the female population but so they haven’t!

    Gendered recognition struggles including the need for gender parity, have had to frame rights in terms of women’s distinctiveness, even when they are seeking to remove inequalities that stem from this frame of gender difference. We have seen great resistance to claims made based on equal treatment in the labour market and social policy and it is only Ireland’s membership in the EU has led to recognition of these types of claims.

    The long running practices aimed at the continued marginalization of women in Irish politics must stop immediately but as a nation we seem incapable of halting these practices entirely.

    The need for gender quotas exists and they could compensate for actual barriers that prevent the vast majority of women from ever contemplating a career in politics. If we have more women these women should in theory feel less isolated and more enabled to change the structures which keep women out of political life here.

    Although quotas may cause conflict this is only likely to be a temporary problem. Both the formal and informal structures which have allowed for the open and hidden obstruction of women from politics are readily accepted. A formal structure that allows all sorts of women access to politcal life could soon become the norm; however it would appear so many men are unwilling to share power and break down the barriers, the you’d wonder when we will see the benefits of true gender parity in this country.

    As for how a quota system would work, there are so many models to choose from we could surely find we that fits us.

  17. The call for gender quotas in the Dáil or in the Boardroom cannot be taken seriously until the same gender quotas are called for in other male dominated occupations. When I see women calling for gender quotas on bin trucks and on building sites or anywhere else where there is dirty dangerous work to be done, I will support the cause. I have NEVER heard of women calling for shared parenting when it comes to Family Law, where women generally get to continue to live with their children and the father is left to bear the financial responsibility.
    The most fundamental aspect of Irish society that prevents women from achieving a seat in the Dáil is childcare. As long as women continue to take the unfair share of looking after children, then they cannot possibly hope to compete equally in the workplace, including the Dáil.

    • Gender inequality is a form of inequality. Gender inequality in the Dáil reflects the larger issue. Reform in one area does not preclude reform in others. People pick issues on which to campaign or argue. They can be accused of inconsistency or hypocrisy only if they can be shown to oppose other similar reforms. Even if they can be shown to be hypocritical, to oppose the reform which they advance would be inconsistent with support for gender equality generally.

    • The vast majority of nurses in Ireland are women, and it would seem that in the not to distant future (according to CAO figure) the majority of doctors will also be women.
      These women undertake in my opinion, the most caring, but also in my opinion, one of the most dangerous and dirty types of work possible. Physical and emotional dangers exist, cleaning up other peoples vomit, urine, bowel movements, assisting people cough up mucus and clean it up as they do so, all the while being encourging and supportive.
      Dealing with the risk of posed by lifting patients, as oppossed to lifting a brick or a bin.
      Dealing with the risk of contracting an illness, dealing with physical violence from some patients, supporting and watching people die, dealing with drunks who cannot be reasoned with, to me, make working on a building site or a bin lorry pale into insignificance when discussing dangerous or dirty work that needs to be done – furthe nursing usually done on a shift basis.
      All this work is undertaken in the main by women, who in alot of cases, as you rightly point out also take on the majority of parenting work.
      Not unusually these women neither get the credit or recognition they so deserve – no – its womens fault that men do not have shared parenting rights.
      Judges who in the main are men, side with women in court and thats a womans fault, its not because the women does such a good job and fights for this fact to be recognised.
      Legislatures who are in main men, legislate so that women can run themselves ragged and again you blame women.
      Women more then compete in the work place, however in some cases this is not translating into equal treatment in the work place.
      A woman has little choice but to take on the majority of work when it comes to rearing children, this due to many factors, including but not exclusively because some men don’t actual take on board the fact that parenting is a dirty and dangerous job and this maybe the type of job they are just not used to.

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