Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Thursday, 8 May 2014
Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement
UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security: Discussion
It is typical of the affronts to women who participate in politics. Women are well able to converse and debate but no one can participate when presented with such blackguardism. It awakened me to the difficulties involved for women who participate in politics.
I visited Northern Ireland with my committee colleagues on numerous occasions and also as a member of the Labour Party group which has an interest in Northern Ireland. We have had many conversations with our party leader, the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Gilmore, on the matter. Many of the groups we met were dominated by men. It was always a breath of fresh air when women spoke to us or made presentations. They showed knowledge and understanding of their communities. In spite of that we do not see women coming forward in numbers to become involved in politics. I do not have the answer but we must work from the ground up, starting with schools, colleges and universities to give a positivity to participation by women in politics. Any of the women with whom I have been involved have a willingness to participate and in many cases a better ability than men.
However, it seems they still are not being given that additional space or perhaps protection. I use the word "protection" in the loosest sense, as women do not or should not need protection. However, when one then sees this aggravation and everything else that goes on, one asks why would they participate. I believe one must continue and I welcome the groups that are being set up. As has been requested, this committee will keep a monitoring role in respect of Northern Ireland and through its Chairman, Deputy McHugh, the door is always open to the witnesses to return before the joint committee to talk about it again. During one of the joint committee's visits to Northern Ireland, I see no reason to prevent the witnesses, as a group, from meeting members there to have a conversation with the people in Northern Ireland and to try to encompass as many people as possible in developing what we really seek, namely, equal status for women in both politics and general life.
If one looks at many of the groups that form our communities, men dominate them. I have been involved in sport for all my life and men dominate in that sphere. However, in recent years, women have come to the fore in many male-orientated organisations and have been a revelation in terms of their organisational ability, the proposals they have put forward and in everything they do. While it certainly is not happening as quickly as one would wish, it is happening in many areas. Nevertheless one must try to drive it forward and I suggest to the Chairman that the joint committee should link up with Ms Liz McManus and her committee. If it is possible, during some of our future visits to Northern Ireland, we should invite them along with members as participants. In that way, the joint committee should try to create and generate a common denominator for everyone. I see many different groups and what make the difference are co-ordination and linkage. We simply do not appear to have that, which in a way is a crying shame because it would make much more sense and above all, provide far more direction of purpose in what we are trying to achieve.
I wish the witnesses well and certainly will bring their thoughts to the Parliamentary Labour Party, of which I am chairman. If they wish to appear before that group, they certainly are welcome at any stage to address the Parliamentary Labour Party. As for this joint committee, I pray that members will be able to facilitate them on some of their visits to Northern Ireland.