Monday, 8 March 2021
International Women's Day: Statements
I start by wishing all my colleagues here and all those who work in the Houses of the Oireachtas a very happy International Women's Day because too often in our line of business, it is seen as a man's world. I want to mark my appreciation of the work of women at all levels and of all political colours who keep this place ticking over.
We are all aware that public representation in Ireland has never come close to being representative of the actual public. Less than a quarter of Deputies are women. This House is performing a little better but we all know that is because most of my party's females were appointed. I am very grateful for this but it is a real shame. We have a real problem with the electoral system. Of the women who have made it to these Houses, not just today but over the years, we were genuinely spoiled for talent. The leaders of four parties in this House are led by women. The Leader and Deputy Leader of the Seanad are female. However, we all know we have an awfully long way to go.
Fine Gael introduced gender quotas for general elections and they have been a major driver of increased female representation in the Dáil but they are not enough. Political parties must meet a 40% target for female candidates in respect of the general elections in 2023 to secure funding. We all know this will ruffle feathers and that it is a blunt and cruel way for us to try to increase representation of women in politics and political life. We do not like it, nor do we like the consistent references to us being token candidates or token women on the ticket. The very least we need to do is create a space for women to be able to put themselves forward and create the environment. The next step for all of us to make sure we continue to encourage women to be able to do that. A lot of the time, female politicians speak mostly in frustration about the barriers that face us in terms of helping to increase the number of women in politics at local and national level. While we are right to talk about the barriers - Senator Bacik spoke eloquently about them earlier on - and it is an awful pity that they are increasing rather than decreasing, when we talk about female representation, we must also talk about the balance in our arguments and the positives that female representation brings to the table. We bring balance to the debate. We bring an entirely different perspective based on our unique lived experience. It might seem like a soppy thing to say but we bring empathy and a caring approach that have sometimes been lacking in political decision-making throughout the country's history.
The equal involvement of women does and will provide better legislation, better outcomes and a better Ireland. I must be honest; I am proud to be a member of Fine Gael, the party that probably has had the most female Cabinet Ministers in the history of the State but I am not proud of the fact that there has only ever been 20. We have had our own instructive governance in this country for over 100 years but there have only been 20 females sitting around a Cabinet table during those 100 years - women like Gemma Hussey, Nora Owen and Frances Fitzgerald. They paved the way and smashed the ceiling before us but is it not awful that when we stand here to reflect on the women we are proud of, it is the same names that keep coming up because there were so few of them? We are proud of them but we need to be talking about the next generation. Twenty-two women in 100 years is an absolute joke.
While we are talking about women we are all incredible proud of, I would like to be selfish for a moment and talk about the woman who has been completely instructive in my role in political life. Maria Dalton is my mother. She was the person who first introduced me to politics when I probably was not even out of nappies. She brought me everywhere with her. She brought me to meetings. She brought me to Ard-Fheiseanna in my communion frock. She brought me leafletting. I was canvassing when I was big enough to walk. My first election memory was when she ran in 1979 when I was only eight years of age. She involved us completely in the campaign. She is my best friend, confidante and biggest cheerleader. She is probably my most constructive critic but I would never have made it this far without her love and support and I wanted to put that on the record of the House today.
We are choosing to challenge. While this day is one to celebrate and reflect, women are still not treated equally in the workplace, education and sport. The list goes on. While Senator McGreehan is right, if we do not have a real conversation about care - children's care, elder care and self-care - we will find ourselves here in ten or 20 years' time marking International Women's Day with the same arguments like Groundhog Day. The only way we will ever achieve equality of opportunity for women in every sphere is if men want it for us as much as we want it for ourselves.I am making the call-out today to all of our male counterparts and all our males in leading industry, medicine, education, science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Every section of life needs to want for our women what we want for ourselves. We choose to challenge. The road ahead of us looms. We will get there but I hope to God we are not standing here in 100 years' time with only another handful of women in charge of political leadership in this country.