Tuesday, 21 February 2012
Electoral (Amendment)(Political Funding) Bill 2011: Committee Stage (Resumed)
Phil Hogan (Minister, Department of Environment, Community and Local Government; Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
This amendment in the names of Senators Mac Conghail and van Turnhout and others relates to section 27 and proposes changing the requirement which we have been discussing for political parties to have at least 30% women and 30% men to 40% men and 40% women. The section to which the amendment relates facilitates the general increase in participation of women in national politics. Ultimately, it is a matter for the people to decide whether they want to vote for men or women.
This is about participation. The Bill amends section 17 of the Electoral Act 1997 to provide that political parties will have their funding cut unless at least 30% of their candidates are women and at least 30% are men. No political party will be stopped from having a proportion greater than 30% if it wishes. Parties will have their funding cut if they do not take the provision seriously. The same is not required of Independents. The requirement to have quotas of 40% for men and 40% for women will be considered after a specified period, but no sooner than seven years after the general election to which the legislation will first apply.
In the Bill, we have adopted a very ambitious approach. Despite our having made a radical proposal potentially doubling the participation of women in elections, the amendment suggests this is not enough. Some 15.19% of candidates at the February 2011 election were women. The 30% requirement I propose will effectively double the rate of participation by women and, potentially, their electoral success rate at the next general election.
We all recall it was this section of the Bill that received the most attention during Second Stage, notwithstanding the importance of all the other provisions. In responding to that debate, during which many suggested the Bill should go further, I stated the legislation was a significant step and that its provisions represented a seismic shift in our approach to gender equality. I stated we must be mindful of how far the provisions of the Bill actually go. It will be a challenge to meet the 30% requirement. I hope this challenge will be met by the political parties and those involved in politics. They will know the consequences if it is not.
I have tried to examine this matter in the context of what is practical and pragmatic in regard to the cultural shift to which Senator Gilroy quite rightly referred and in regard to setting the bar too high initially. It is not a matter of penalising people for not achieving a very reasonable proposition to enhance the participation of women in politics.
Senator Bradford mused at considerable length on political reform.