Tuesday, 27 April 2010
Women's Participation in Politics: Statements.
Mary White (Minister of State with special responsibility for Equality and Human Rights, and Integration, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Minister of State, Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs; Minister of State, Department of Education and Science; Carlow-Kilkenny, Green Party)
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I am delighted to be in the Seanad to deliver this statement on the important issue of women in politics. The greater involvement of women in politics is an issue very close to my heart, as I know it is to the heart of every Member of this House, representatives of which were actively involved in the work of the sub-committee chaired by Deputy Kenneally last year. Senators Bacik and McDonald played a key role in its work.
On a personal level, I was the first female Deputy to be elected in the constituency of Carlow-Kilkenny since the foundation of the State. It took a couple of attempts and I had to dust myself down and start all over again to gain that seat. This is not easy for men or women to do.
I fully empathise with and pay tribute to all of the women candidates, successful and unsuccessful, of every party who have faced up to the challenge by engaging in Irish political life. Many women have given selflessly of their time to seek a seat in the Dáil or the Seanad or even engage in local politics. The sad thing is that all of their efforts are quickly forgotten and their talent may be wasted if they are not encouraged to try again.
It is useful in the first instance to refresh our memories about what is contained in the national women's strategy 2007 to 2016. This all of Government strategy aims to create "an Ireland where all women enjoy equality with men and can achieve their full potential, while enjoying a safe and fulfilling life". It identifies more than 200 actions as part of its 20 plus objectives.
The strategy has three key themes, namely, equalising socio-economic activity for women, ensuring the well-being of women and engaging women as equal and active citizens. It is the latter theme which is of most relevance to our discussion today. In respect of this theme alone, there are over 50 actions listed, some 13 of which relate to women in decision-making roles, whether in politics, on State boards, on boards in the private sector or in policy influencing positions in the public and private sectors.
Progress on implementation of the strategy is being overseen by a monitoring committee. In my new role as Minister of State with responsibility for equality, integration and human rights I will chair the monitoring committee. The Government reaffirmed its commitment to the strategy last year when it received the 2007-08 progress report. I will forward the 2009 report to the Government before the summer recess. I will also chair a sub-committee of the monitoring committee which will look at the advancement of women in politics and other decision-making roles. The new sub-committee will have its first meeting shortly and I expect the whole piece of work will take approximately one year to complete. However, this does not preclude all of the key players from considering the issues raised by the Oireachtas sub-committee and I, too, will take guidance from the document.
The national women's strategy is correct in identifying the political parties and their memberships as the key players in this area. This has been borne out in the recent research published by the Houses. Why is it so important that we work proactively on this matter of women and politics in Ireland? There are a number of good reasons. First, it makes good sense to ensure we have a fair and balanced society in all its facets. Second, for such a progressive country, we are lagging very far behind others in regard to the role of women in political decision making. Why has there been so little progress made to date? While we will all agree that this is a complex issue, it is, in part, about human behaviours and perceptions. It is a challenge with unpredictable outcomes. Will women vote for women candidates? Will men vote for women candidates? Is it about stereotypes and discrimination? If the answer is yes, how do we address them? Should we have quotas and enabling legislation? What has been done to achieve success elsewhere and how can we replicate it in Ireland? How do candidates come through the selection process in the first place? Are the potential women candidates reticent in seeking nominations? How do we modify the whole system in Ireland to make it more family-friendly and ensure Deputies and Senators, both male and female, can also have quality time with their families?
Many of these issues have been addressed in the research prepared by Senator Bacik for the sub-committee chaired by Deputy Kenneally. Some of them are being addressed by the Joint Committee on the Constitution which has been addressing the issue of electoral reform. In some of these challenges the Government can take the lead, while in others, it is a matter for the political parties to step up to the mark and recognise that Ireland has been "found wanting" in this regard. Women must be fostered and encouraged to participate more actively in political life. As Minister of State, I will actively pursue a body of work in the national women's strategy sub-committee in the coming year. I will listen very carefully to the views of Senators and assure them of my wholehearted commitment to this work. I am also mindful of the commitment given in the renewed programme for Government on the need to review the system of appointments to public bodies. The Government already monitors the number of women on State boards and there has been some progress towards meeting the 40% target but results vary a lot between sectors.
For more than 60 years the United Nations has fostered human rights, including gender equality, through the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which affirms that "everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives". Some ten years later, in 1958, the Treaty of Rome established the European Economic Community and reaffirmed the principles of gender equality. We are all aware that Ireland's membership of the EEC coincided with a transformation of our society, as well as the economy.
The European Commission gathers and publishes comparative statistics on progress made towards gender equality in member states. These statistics show that, under most gender equality indicators, Ireland is better than or close to the EU average. However, there is one black spot when we compare Ireland with the rest of the European Union. We have made no measurable progress in women's active participation in elected political life in the past 15 years. Statistics show that women made up less than 14% of the Members of Dáil Éireann 15 years ago and they still make up less than 14% today. What does this mean? It means that in the Dáil there are six men to every woman. In the Seanad the ratio is somewhat better, at approximately 20%. However, it still means there are four men to every woman in this House. In the past 15 years the rate of female representation has increased significantly in almost every other EU member state. The average participation rate for women elected to the Lower House in the EU 27 was 16% in the mid-1990s and has now increased to 24%. Therefore, Ireland is more than ten percentage points behind the EU average. In seven member states the level of female representation in the Lower House exceeds 30%, the high point being 46% in Sweden. A further eight member states now fall between 20% and 30%.
Increases over the period vary from country to country but appear to average out at about seven percentage points. Overall, there are now 550 additional female deputies in member state Parliaments, an increase approaching 50%. In the same period, the number of female parliamentarians in Ireland did not increase.
International experts recommend that there should be a critical mass of at least 30% of each sex to ensure the views of women are adequately reflected in the political arena. Both the United Nations and Council of Europe urge countries to work towards a representation level of at least 40% for each gender to achieve what is known as parity democracy. The increased engagement of women in politics is a very complex issue. It is also an all-party issue as well as a Government issue. In discussing the topic today we need to move beyond party politics to achieve joined up thinking in an attempt to address these complexities and achieve the goal to which we are committed.
Until now, none of the political parties has adequately addressed this issue. A review of the numbers of candidates put forward in our most recent general elections showed that the six main political parties offered the electorate almost 300 male candidates and fewer than 70 female candidates. The female candidates were closely spread between the parties, showing that the larger parties had relatively smaller numbers of women candidates. In a number of constituencies, there was no female candidate.
I re-emphasise, however, that the issue of women and politics is complex. Is it the case that politically active women choose to align themselves with smaller parties? Do they feel more empathy with smaller parties? Are they welcomed more easily into smaller parties? Can they make their mark more easily in smaller parties?
On the larger parties, is it the case that the very size of these parties creates a more competitive environment in which a women has to fight to achieve a nomination? Do the nomination procedures still favour one sex over the other? Are the parties actively seeking new members from among women? Do they accept the benefits of having more balanced membership?
Speaking personally for a moment, in the Green Party we encourage the whole membership to be involved in the selection of officers, making the leadership and officership posts open to all party members. To raise another matter, is there a body of women who are willing to participate? In posing these questions I do not yet have definitive answers. I am hopeful the work which will be done under the aegis of the national women's strategy will build upon previous work and complement work which the political parties are duty-bound to address as a matter of urgency.
Multilateral organisations strongly foster what they describe as parity democracy. They believe the balanced participation of women and men in political and public decision making is a matter of the full enjoyment of human rights and makes for the better functioning of a democracy. The United Nations, Council of Europe and European Union have all taken clear positions on this matter and are united in their thinking. All parties to the UN agreed in 1995 and in the context of the Fourth World Summit on Women and the Beijing platform for action that "the engagement of women in politics and decision-making positions in Government and legislative bodies contributes to redefining political priorities, placing new items on the political agenda that reflect and address women's gender-specific concerns, values and experiences and providing new perspectives on mainstream political issues".
The Council of Ministers of the Council of Europe issued a recommendation on women and politics in 2003 in which it wisely noted that "democracy can no longer afford to ignore the competence, skills and creativity of women but must become gender sensitive and include women with different backgrounds and of different age groups in political and public decision making at all levels". The European Commission works proactively with member states to review implementation across the European Union of the commitments made to the United Nations at the Beijing summit. This results in the European Council making recommendations to member states and other stakeholders to ensure the European Union addresses deficits in gender equality.
One matter on which there is widespread agreement is that this is a multifaceted issue. European Union Ministers agreed in 2007 that all governments, political parties and social partners should be encouraged to develop further and implement effective measures for increasing women's engagement and participation in politics and decision making and suggest the introduction of training and mentoring schemes and the exploration of other initiatives.
The Council of Ministers of the Council of Europe recommends that governments make a public commitment to equal sharing of decision making powers between women and men. It recommends that this could be achieved by reviewing current legislation and practice, promoting special measures to stimulate and support women's will to participate in political life and considering the establishment of time bound targets to reach balanced participation. In making these recommendations, the Council extends the list of stakeholders even further, recommending the involvement of national parliaments, local and regional authorities, political parties, civil service, public and semi-public organisations, enterprises, trade unions, employers' organisations and non-governmental organisations. These are all key players who are positioned to influence thinking and encourage women to take a more active role in the political field. I am sure everyone in this and the Other House would like us to find ways to address the imbalances which we now have.
The European Commission also made a useful contribution to the analysis of the difficulties in a research publication completed approximately one year ago. Writing in the foreword, the then EU Commissioner for Equality, Employment and Social Affairs, Mr. Vladimir Spidla, noted that:
equal representation of women and men in positions of power is a precondition for truly effective and accountable democracy and lasting economic prosperity. With more women involved, political debate will be wider in scope and more relevant to a greater number.
This research publication by the Commission looks at election results and the behaviours of political parties. It notes first that male candidates have a better chance than female candidates of being elected. The researchers estimate that it would be necessary to skew the numbers of women on the ticket to 63% to achieve parity. Consideration of this finding leads me to believe that the position may alter over time, as an increase in the numbers of serving female Deputies is bound to raise further the profile of women as able and active politicians and overcome stereotypes on the part of the electorate.
The Commission sponsored research notes that while quotas can bring about rapid change, their success is not guaranteed. There is evidence to support this position based on experiences in a couple of member states. Not all electoral systems are suitable for a quota approach and I know from speaking to colleagues across party lines and from media reports as well as a lively debate in my own party that there are mixed views on the use of quotas in Ireland, even among the most committed of politicians - female and male.
This research from the Commission also makes a number of points about the role of political parties. It notes that the main aim of each political party is to maximise its outcome in terms of seats won. As a result, candidate selection is linked to electability or electoral appeal.
Afurther factor identified in the Commission research is the relatively low turnover of opportunities to enter into representational politics. The report notes that many serving politicians view politics as a long-term career choice and are, therefore, more likely to seek re-election, leaving few openings for newcomers. Again, the desire to maximise seats leads parties to select the incumbent, he or she being relatively high profile and well known and, therefore, the candidate of choice.
I note the excellent report published by the Houses of the Oireachtas last year identifies many of the issues to which I have referred. The report identifies five barriers to women's participation. Known as the "five Cs", these are child care, cash, confidence, culture and candidate selection procedures. To an extent, we have tried to address the child care issue through the establishment of a crèche in Leinster House. However, the political establishment in Ireland is not structured in a very family friendly manner. This impacts on men as Members and fathers and women as Members and mothers.
Neither must we forget the large number of women and men who play the role of principal carer for the Deputy or Senator's family back home in the constituency. This is particularly difficult for rural Deputies who have to spend a number of nights each week in Dublin. I understand the German system is structured in such a way that Members have the opportunity to spend one full week in every four at their home base during the political year. They also have a shorter summer break. Perhaps this is something we should examine in the future.
We need to review further issues such as cash, culture and candidate selection procedures and learn from good practice in other countries. The joint committee has been looking at the issue of electoral reform. In approaching my work on women and politics I will be reading all the evidence gathered with great interest.
We are all aware that the legendary electioneering process in Ireland involves tales of pint buying, hand shaking, funeral attendance and baby kissing. Perhaps we should investigate whether our colleagues in other jurisdictions have found better ways to endear themselves to their electorate which do not cost large sums of money. Any change here would ensure the Irish electoral battlefield would not require candidates to have access to a pocket full of cash but talent. Irish women underplay their achievements and many talents. The Irish population, male and female, is probably among the most politically aware in the world. Every Irish man and woman has an interest in and an opinion on policy matters as diverse as NAMA, volcanic ash, the health service and the state of the public purse.
As Minister of State with responsibility for equality, I am more than happy to drive forward this agenda from the Government's perspective. However, it is not a matter which rests solely with the Government. It falls also to the political parties which must recognise the important role they can play in attracting and fostering new members, especially new women members, to ensure our political decision making remains well informed, well balanced and inclusive. This is a matter which falls to educationists who must foster awareness among young people of good citizenship and the need for high quality, well educated public servants and public representatives. It is a matter which falls to men who must recognise that the time has come to share power in a more equitable manner and help to nurture daughters, female colleagues and friends who have the talents and skills to serve their country as they have done. It is also one for the women of Ireland who need to show more confidence in their own talents and abilities and recognise that they too have a significant contribution to make to public life through active participation and, in the words of the national women's strategy, engaging as equal and active citizens.
I thank the House for giving me the opportunity to make this statement. I look forward to hearing the views of Senators.
I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate and the many people in the Visitors Gallery who have a particular interest in this topic, including representatives of the National Women's Council, UCD women graduates and others. I congratulate the Minister of State on her new appointment and welcome her commitment to this issue. She will have an important role to play in monitoring developments during her time in office. I wish her luck.
The participation of women in politics is an issue, in respect of which we have singularly failed to achieve critical mass. In the Seanad there is a 20% female participation rate which is higher than that for the Dáil, which is to be welcomed. However, if the level of progress made in Ireland is compared to that in other countries, clearly we are at a standstill. Who cares? Does it matter? If it does, why has action not been taken? Who will take action and when will they do so? What action will be taken? There really is no mystery about the low participation rate of women in Irish politics. We know the reasons; what is missing is action.
I congratulate Senators Bacik and McDonald who have been involved in compiling the report by the sub-committee of the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence, Equality and Women's Rights. The report is a clear statement of the problem and the action that needs to be taken. It is about implementation, monitoring and evaluation of what is being done. That is the only way we can move forward.
This is a critical time in the empowerment of women in Ireland and abroad. I say this because many of our systems have been seen to fail during the current economic crisis. So many of our management and regulatory systems have failed. It is critical that women are involved in rebuilding the country and national and international regulatory systems. We need to discuss ways by which this can be done. Given the absence of women at senior decision-making levels, there is a need for action to change this.
The emerging problem of global poverty will have a huge impact on development programmes which will, in turn, impact on the support that can be given to women and families in the countries affected. The US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, recently spoke about the importance of the empowerment of women in democracies being critical for the security of the world. She is right.
Great progress has been made in the broader mechanisms to improve the participation of women in various fields. I do not have time to go into them, but I welcome the national action plans put in place, as well as the European plans and the changes at the United Nations. We can see that the campaign on 16 days of action on the issue of violence against women has become a worldwide phenomenon and its aims have been incorporated into national activity. The number of women gaining access to the different levels of education in this country has grown dramatically; there are female participation rates of up to 80% in courses such as medicine and veterinary medicine. Certain barriers have been removed. Legislative action has improved in dealing with discrimination, but many issues remain to be dealt with, including women's participation in politics.
I recently read a review in the Times Literary Supplement of a new book on sexism and women, Living Dolls. The review stated:
During the final decade of the last century, it was predicted that the small proportion of women wielding power would soon form a critical mass, with the result that equality would be swift and sure. All constraints on women would then be relegated, like the corset and bustle, to quaint museum exhibits. But while girls were marching to the public tune of progress, they were starving themselves in submission to an unrealistic physical ideal and the century ended with a UK Government body image summit attacking widespread media promotion of unrealistic narrow ideals of feminine beauty.
That is still the context which faces many women in the world today.
The recently published report identifies key areas in respect of women's participation in politics. I want to focus on one, namely, quotas and positive action. The report concludes that without positive action, we will not see increased numbers. We have seen this in Ireland in the last 15 years. What positive action do we need to take? The United Nations has consistently stated quotas are a temporary measure that need to be taken in countries where the participation rate of women is not improving or changing. One could argue that applies to Ireland. There is no doubt we have an unfinished democracy, given the low participation rate of women in politics. There is still work to be done in this regard. I refer to some of the countries that have passed legislation concerning candidate quotas. There is a gender quota of 30% in Spain, 33% in Portugal, 35% in Slovenia, and 50% in France and Belgium. The enactment of quotas in those countries has made a difference. In Spain, women's representation in parliament has risen from 28% in 2000, before the passing of the quota law, to 36% in 2008. In Belgium, the number of women members of parliament has increased from 12% in 1995 to 37% in 2007. In France, the application of the parity law to municipal elections increased women's representation from 26% in 1995 to 49% in 2008.
I recently met some members of the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly and was interested to see the progress that had been made there. The representatives included young women who had been chosen under a system whereby every second person nominated was female. It is quite clear therefore that positive action of this type has worked in many countries. The question for those who argue against quotas is to define what else works. There is an onus on those opposing a quota system to produce the evidence and show what other mechanisms will work in Ireland today.
The other mechanism we can use involves voluntary targets and quotas as well as positive action within political parties. I would like to see the committee's work being continued with, for example, the general secretaries of political parties being asked to spell out their actions on this issue and how they intend to deal with it. It is important to monitor and evaluate the actions that are being taken because if that is not done, one will be at a standstill. Most Irish political parties have taken quite a lot of action in this regard, including the introduction of equality programmes, equality officers and targets. For example, the number of women in Fine Gael contesting the last local elections and winning seats increased dramatically after a positive action programme in our party. If we increase the numbers at local level we will find that more women will be elected at national level as well. We must focus attention on those areas so that we can rapidly make the necessary breakthrough.
A mechanism should be found to examine this report's recommendations and monitor them. If we seek progress reports in the short to medium-term, we could begin to see changes. We will need strong, positive action from all political parties, however, if this situation is to change.
I said earlier that there is no mystery about why we do not have more women in politics, and candidate selection is one of the key reasons. We will have to pay greater attention to that matter. Throughout the country, all parties will have to work on getting more women selected where vacancies arise and new candidates are sought to run for election. It is not acceptable that the electorate has had no chance of supporting a woman candidate in so many constituencies. From the voters' viewpoint, there were many constituencies where there was no gender choice, so they could not vote for a woman.
As the report said, there is no mystery about the absence of women in politics. It centres on child care, cash, confidence, culture and candidate selection. The Minister of State asked if women were interested in becoming involved in politics and I believe they are, in all the political parties. As Senators know, selection conventions are hotly contested by men and women who are interested in being selected by various political parties. The level of interest is not a problem. It is more an issue of candidate selection.
I was going to say that child care had greatly improved in this country, but it depends what one compares it with. We still do not have the comprehensive child care system that women in Sweden, Norway and Denmark take for granted. They offer support systems to all families in those Scandinavian countries, but we still have a quite a way to go in that respect.
It is good to have greater transparency and accountability when it comes to funding political parties. The more accountability and transparency we have, the more it will help all candidates. It certainly helps women candidates because it means the whole area is more open than it used to be. It is also the right thing to do.
The quota issue has created the most progress worldwide, so it is worth devoting some time to discussing it. The report asks whether quotas are discriminatory and it includes a good description of the quota system. In many ways quotas are making up for past discrimination, which is an interesting way to consider such a system. I refer Members to the report's details on quotas, including the arguments for and against.
I note the questions put to the relevant Oireachtas committee by representatives of the National Women's Council who presented their views on this matter. The key question was what other means one would use to increase the number and diversity of women in the Dáil and Government at national and local levels. That is the key question that has to be answered.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House. It is the second time in a few weeks we have debated equality issues here, but before then this Seanad did not have such debates. This is the first time that the participation of women in politics has been debated by either House of the Oireachtas. In that regard, I pay tribute to Senator Bacik who has pushed tirelessly for this debate with the help of Senators on the Government side also. She has not let go of the issue and I hope we will see a certain velvet triangle developing here, whereby Members in all parties, as well as Independents, will push for reform in this area.
Last week, the House debated Senator Bacik's Bill on female genital mutilation. At that time, we saw a velvet triangle develop with pressure being exerted from all sides for some form of legislation to be brought before us, hopefully in this session. I am not aware of the exact components of that particular deal, but in any event we saw some action. One could not vote against it because it is of such fundamental importance. It is an issue which comes down to male dominance and control over females, and it is happening both here and abroad. That debate was a great example of the work undertaken by women Senators.
There are detractors who say the Seanad should be abolished, but having observed the great women here, I think it would be a travesty to get rid of a body that demonstrates the talents, ability and courage of women politicians who are willing to put forward their views on what are considered female issues. We have had debates on domestic violence, health and women's role in society, but this does not happen in the Lower House. It is interesting that Coakley and Gallagher commented that there is a reluctance to be over-identified with feminist issues among female Deputies and there is an unwillingness to be typecast as speaking for women. They said the few women Deputies in Parliament favour interest in socio-cultural policy concerns as a substitute for articulating a feminist view on wide-ranging policy issues. This is a pragmatic stance because as a visible minority in Parliament and in a political context where party discipline is strong, women Deputies have little option but to moderate their views to fit in with the masculinist culture and norms pervading Dáil business. This strong comment would seem to support the view there should be a Seanad, but it shows clearly that women Deputies are very reluctant to take on female issues to which we, as females, feel attracted. Is that part of the reason more women do not get involved? Is it a chicken and egg situation. Whatever it is, it is worth putting the question.
In our wider society there is a dearth of women in all decision-making or chief executive officer or boardroom positions. My profession of the law is an example. Currently, 60% of students in law schools and colleges are female, yet only 6% of the top partnerships in law firms are female and only 6% of those running their own practices are female. I am among that 6%. In the Seanad, some 20% of Senators are women, four of whom were appointed by the former Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, myself included. I thank him for including me. His nominations raised female participation in this Seanad. However, if we consider the position of chief executive officer, we only have one female chief executive officer of a publicly quoted company in Ireland. Some 21% of our judicial positions are female. This may be because they are appointed by politicians, who tend to seek female names to raise the quota of women. Therefore, in the upper echelons, an effort is being made to try to make things look better. However, I am not sure how helpful this is in the overall context of getting more women involved. As Senator Fitzgerald said, unless we have a critical mass - up to 30% involved - we will not see any change in respect of policy decisions and women's voices being heard in Parliament and Government. It is a serious situation.
Senator Bacik outlined in her report the five Cs that are recognised internationally as the reasons women do not get involved in politics, namely, child care, cash, confidence, culture and candidate selection procedures. If we asked all women involved in the political system, as Senator Bacik did, they would cite these reasons. However, I am not sure we can get into the nitty gritty of those reasons and find a solution for the future. In the context of child care, the Minister of State mentioned thecrèche,but as a young mother I am not sure it could help me with my child care issues. I have never seen myself as a stay-at-home person and whether in politics or otherwise, I see myself as being at work. Therefore, child care is something I would have to deal with in any event. It is not a massive impediment to work. The problem is after-hours child care, for example, at 8 p.m. when one must attend a meeting or at 7 p.m. when one must attend a funeral. It is when one must leave one's children in child care for 12 or 24 hours that is the problem.
The big question is how this fits in with getting involved in politics. This relates to the issue of buying pints, slapping people on the back, telling people they are great and spending half an hour in a pub listening to nonsense when one could be at home just getting on with dealing with the political realities. This is the side women do not find attractive. I can deal with the child care issue.
I appreciate that. Some men are better at it than others, as are some women. My political opponents might say I am not great at it, but I think I am all right. However, women seem to have a lower threshold and do not listen to as much of this kind of talk as their male counterparts.
This raises again the issue of child care in the broader sense. Child care will remain a cultural impediment or barrier to women's entry into politics until we have paternity leave which will allow us mould our men into seeing child care as not just a women's prerogative or issue. Child care must be seen as a family issue where both parents should be involved in the upbringing of the children. Both parents should change the nappies, do the homework, prepare the lunches, etc. It is all very well to say we have a crèche but that does not really help. Even if a woman gets somebody in to help with the housework, she will not be in a position to employ a person full-time. Men must step up to the mark and put the washing into the washing machine, hang it out on the line, cook the dinner etc. I am lucky my husband is practically a gourmet cook and I am, largely, banned from the kitchen. However, I would not be able to do what I do without the support of my mother who steps up to the mark at times to mind my children for me when I have to attend funerals and do constituency work.
I do not find the work here a barrier, but I have made that choice. However, there are some traditionalists and fundamentalists in society who do not see the role of a politician as being properly fulfilled by a woman. This is a cultural barrier which brings us to the most important of the five Cs, namely, culture. Ireland has a traditionalist, patriarchal society and until we change that, we will never see full equality. Many of our traditionalists do not see a woman politician as someone whom they would like to contact. I often get phone calls from people who apologise for bothering me. Before I had children, I did not get that. Constituents used not apologise for ringing me, but now they do. They do not want to bother me, but they have a problem. If I choose to be a politician or an astronaut, that is the decision I make as an individual and whatever decisions I need to make around that are my own. It is the hypocritical, more traditionalist, Roman Catholic view here that says we should not have women politicians, like saying we cannot have women priests. For years, these people presided over abuse of children, but they still turn around and say a woman's place is in the home minding her children. This does not make sense. It is none of their business if I choose to be a working mother who wants to go out and try to make a difference and at the same time rear a family. I do not believe either of my children suffer because I am not around some of the time. I do my best to make up to them the time I miss with them. Perhaps I do not laze around pubs as much as male politicians listening to the order of the day and might miss out on some gossip by not doing that. Most working mothers, whether politicians or not, must and do make sacrifices. We have equality in our educational system but we need to make the quantum leap from equality in colleges, universities and schools, where we often see women outperforming men, to a position where women participate rather than opt out and let men make decisions for them. That is what we have currently - a system where men make decisions. We will see change, possibly in my lifetime, but I do not know how quickly it will come about.
Previously, I mentioned Croke Park on all-Ireland day. It is always full and the people attending are delighted with the carnival atmosphere. However, on all-Ireland day for camogie or women's football, it is difficult to fill even one stand. The point was made during discussion of the report in the joint committee that the media has a role to play in this regard by promoting women. Senator Bacik has alluded to advertising and trying to enhance the image of a female politician or businesswoman.
Like everyone else, I have much more to say. Ultimately, society in Ireland supports male role models, with the female of the species not being supported to the same extent. My party, Fianna Fáil, had a figure of 13% for women candidates in the general election in 2007. That is a far cry from the figure of 30% in the gender quota system proposed in the report, which would mean we would need to increase the number of female candidates in the next general election by 17% if we were to adopt the report. I question whether there is the political will in my party to do so. I have to be harsh on my party and criticise it because we are not stepping up to the mark in this regard. We are not coming forward and saying we will do this, that and the other. When the agenda for this week was circulated in the past few days, it was very noticeable that many men in the party did not want to speak on the issue which they wanted to leave to women. If the reality was that 30% of candidates on the Fianna Fáil ticket in the next general election were to be female, they would be queuing up outside the door to get in and speak. They really do not believe change is afoot, which is very serious.
As a young female who has worked her way up through Fianna Fáil, I know there are women in the party - and in Fine Gael and probably other parties - who do not believe in quotas. I did also when I thought I would be able to fight my way to the top. I came through conventions winning by one vote and having had my name pulled out of a hat. It would be rather selfish of me to say that because I have been there, done that and worn the tee shirt, every other woman who wants to become involved in politics should do the same and I am not going to help anybody. If we are to have change, the only way forward is to make the quantum leap and introduce quotas. We could have a sunset clause, as Senator Bacik proposed, but that is the only way we can make such a fundamental change in Irish society.
I could tell horrific stories - it is a case of water off a duck's back - about the imprints of hands on parts of my anatomy on my way home from Fianna Fáil Party conferences, etc. One needs to be able to take it and be tough. However, that is not a reason to say we do not want change. We need change for the better and the only way to ensure it is to put the onus on the political parties to step up to the mark and run more women candidates. This should not be seen as a way of having the token woman sweeping up votes for others. Why should women need to fill that role? That is nonsense. Cash is an issue, as has been alluded to. However, if we can change this-----
I would not welcome that either. There is a message that participation in politics is not for women and that women are not capable of doing the job. We are very capable of doing it. Let us remember that no women are before the tribunals. There were no women involved in the economic mess we face. The Irish political world would be a better place if there were more women involved. Like everything, it is about the yin and yang - women complement men and men complement women. We need the voices of both in national parliamentary decision making.
I am sharing time with Senator Norris and as he is counting already, please do not interrupt me again.
I welcome the Minister of State. I have long been a great admirer of hers, both as a Deputy and Minister of State. I am delighted she has carried on her tradition of plain speaking because there is incredible hypocrisy in considering the question of the access of women to politics. Lip service is paid to the part that can be played by women and men. It is like the issue of race in America. In the old argument between culture and biology we know culture plays a major role. I remember the leader of the west Cork flying column, Tom Barry, telling me that in 1920 and 1921 the women of west Cork had been very active participants. They all met at night. If their father asked them where they were going, they would give him a hard look and say: "Movement business.". He said that in 1922 they were removed and returned to their homes again. They were gone from politics overnight. That had nothing to do with the Free State; it would have happened under either Government. It was due to the repressive, patriarchal, Roman Catholic, republican, Nationalist tradition coming down on top of them.
People do not need me to tell them they cannot participate in politics; they will do so when the stakes are high enough. My mentor, Patricia Redlich, a very wise woman, tells me that much of the time it does not strike women as being worth their while because there is so much ridiculousness, pettiness and partisanship in politics that it does not strike them as being important. She also makes the point on the nature versus nurture argument that there is a biological ceiling. How can a woman who is child-bearing, child-rearing and home-making devote the time, unless the system is user friendly? Her point to me is that the system is not user friendly; it is a system that was created for men. It needs large-scale reform to make it possible for both sexes to perform inside it. It is a matter of providing crèches and cash. However, above everything else, there is still a cultural problem in that women do not vote for women. I approach that matter with trepidation in the way a policeman approaches a domestic dispute. There is a habit among certain women of putting up ladders and denigrating their own sex. This needs to be addressed as a cultural mass information issue.
To come to the crunch, I strongly believe in having quotas. Many years ago I had a long conversation with a great German feminist, Ulla Stöckel, who grew up with Leni Riefenstahl. We talked about the problems of German women in gaining access to the film business, as well as politics. She said that, given that they had played second fiddle for thousands of years, it was not going to happen in a hurry. If we leave it to nature, it will not happen in a hurry. It may never happen or will happen over centuries. There needs to be hard intervention, as there was in the American race issue which, after initial cynicism, has transformed academe in America for the better. The women who come through the political system here are the most formidable group. It is not accidental; they have been through the Darwinian selection process. To reach where the Minister of State, Deputy White, has reached one has run through a gauntlet involving grit and courage, about which most men would not have a clue. We have a male locker-room macho club which is in need of reform. While we are waiting for that to happen, I strongly support the introduction of quotas.
That was a fine and challenging speech by Senator Harris. I also compliment the previous speakers, Senator Fitzgerald, the Minister of State and, most particularly, Senator McDonald. I thought her contribution was challenging and clear. She took on those within the backwoods of her party, which takes political courage. I felt every word she said was right. Of course, it is not applicable to Fianna Fáil alone; it is applicable across the entire political spectrum.
I congratulate the Minister of State on being the first woman to be elected in the constituency of Carlow-Kilkenny. It is not possible to beat midlands women, as I know very well because my mother was from the midlands. My father died when I was a child and during that period of life in the late 1940s and 1950s she received absolutely nothing. My father had been the breadwinner in the family. If my mother had died, my father would have received a housekeeper's allowance. That indicates the position of women.
To a certain extent, it all goes back to Article 41 which recognises the special role of women in the home. What about the special role of men in the home? What about the idea that they might be seduced away to neglect their duties? It is something that is outdated, a wonderful Constitution which is organic. That means that not only do certain elements of it grow and develop organically, but also that others should be allowed to wither. That attitude is one of them.
There has been a glorious tradition of electing women to this House. The first two were very contrasting figures, Jane Wyse Power who came from a republican background and the Countess of Desart who represented the Unionist interest. Women have been involved in everything, including some of the more dubious aspects. For example, while I am not suggesting there is anything dubious about Niamh Cosgrave, she was part of a dubious system, having been nominated during the interregnum after the collapse of a Government. She never sat in the House but voted in the next Seanad election. Countess Markievicz was also a Member, a very remarkable woman.
The situation is worse than was mentioned. The figure for Seanad Éireann is not 20%, it is 17%.
Is it? This is the figure I got from one of the reports so presumably it has been changed.
That helpful interruption came from Senator Bacik and we are largely here today because of her initiatives. It was she who proposed the investigation by the committee of the role of women in politics and it was her who secured the services not only of former and present distinguished women politicians but also of Professor Yvonne Galligan, who made a series of extraordinarily important recommendations.
I was challenged on my percentages but I will turn to an official document on which I will not be challenged, even though it makes for grim reading. It concerns representation within the European Parliament. Finland is the best with 61.5%, while Ireland is a shameful 22nd, with a mere 25%. That will surprise people because we think we are a forward looking, progressive country.
It is even worse looking at global classifications. The country in first place is Rwanda, where there is almost a women's government. It is very exciting, although it is tragic in its origin, which was partly that so many of the men were wiped out. Of the parliamentary representatives, 56.3% are women and the majority of cabinet ministers are female. I think we should watch this space because, please God, they will add some ordinary decent common sense. Globally, however, we are number 85, bracketed with Cameroon. What a distinction.
I support quotas for women because I genuinely believe they have a different angle on life. I have practical experience of this. I pushed for many years for reform of the criminal penalties for male homosexuals. No one would touch it. Albert Reynolds fled from it. It was judged to be a major transgression of human rights but Albert said it was not one of his priorities. There was then the awful possibility that Raphael Burke might be entrusted with this delicate and sensitive legislation but, thank God, he did not take it up and it was left to Máire Geoghegan-Quinn. A woman did it because she had more integrity and more moral courage than any of the men who were all terrified of the issues.
As an aside, if people think it is bad being a woman, they should try being gay in politics. It can be quite fun but it is also a bit of a risk. It is extraordinary, 51% of the population are women but only 20% of Members are female, a tiny proportion, while 10% of the population is gay but for a long time I was the only gay in the village. I am not any longer, there is another one here, openly gay and an excellent contributor. Apparently, however, there are none at all in the Dáil. Is that not astonishing? That is one of the reasons I respond so strongly to these issues, because I have been there, sisters.
The task policy development committee report gave me the information that 17% of Members were female.
So the committee got it wrong too. Interestingly, according to my report, it states there are 14% in the Dáil and "only" 17% in the Seanad. It should have started with the larger number in the Seanad and then "only" the smaller number in the Dáil.
Fianna Fáil took on the issue to an extent. I read the party's gender equality audit and the gender equality action plan. There is a nice photograph of Bertie Ahern and some excellent rhetoric that approximately one half of the entire population is grossly under-represented at almost every level of the body politic and that in 2004, Irish politics is still largely a man's world. Then Sir Humphrey follows Bertie and there is a lot of wonderful language but there is a voice in the background that can be heard saying: "Yes, that will fix them for the next 40 years. We need not bother about that again."
There were, however, some interesting elements to the report. There was a reported reluctance on the part of Fianna Fáil, or any of the other parties for that matter, to choose women candidates for winnable seats. Senator McDonald mentioned the term "sweepers". Female candidates are fine as sweepers, sweeping the votes in for the lads. On the other hand, there was a suspicion that women are more interested in the home and the family and, thereby, not really qualified.
Thank God, during my lifetime we have seen some remarkable developments, such as the women's liberation movement in the early 1970s and the establishment of the National Women's Council, an excellent briefing group, representatives of which are present. Of course, there was Mary Robinson. Her performance in this House, on Dublin City Council and at the Bar, where she represented all of the most progressive social issues, helped to transform Irish politics and started to remove what a leading academic had described as the disempowerment of Irish women as citizens. I was at her inaugural address in Dublin Castle in 1999, when she said "As a woman, I want women who have felt themselves outside history to be written back into history". That was most remarkable.
She has been followed by President Mary McAleese. One of the academic studies I read drew a contrast between Mary McAleese and Mary Robinson, which is perfectly reasonable because they are very different people and I did not agree with some of President McAleese's views before she was President, although now she is above politics. Ascribed to her in the document are not only reactionary views, as they were described, on abortion, contraception and so on, but also on homosexuality. That is not fair. She was one of the co-founders of the campaign for homosexual law reform with me so that should not be allowed to stand as a view of the President.
There is a problem with quotas because they are conceived as discriminatory. They may, however, be a necessary mechanism. Looking at the situation elsewhere, according to Professor Yvonne Galligan, in Europe five countries have passed candidate quota legislation binding on all parties, ranging from a 33% gender quota in Portugal to a 50% quota in France and Belgium, with Spain and Slovenia in between at 40% and 35%, respectively. Their enactment has made a difference. In Spain, women's representation in parliament has gone from 28% in 2002, before the law was passed, to 36% in 2008, a huge jump in a comparatively small space of time politically. In Belgium, female representation in parliament has increased from 12% in 1995 to 37%. That is incredible - an increase of 25%. In France, the application of the parity laws to municipal elections increased women's representation from 26% in 1995 to 49% in 2008. That is the legislative model. There is also a voluntary code for political parties internally.
Various Senators have mentioned the five Cs. In my male arrogance, I thought I was the first person to note all five started with a "C" but then I looked in the appendix and saw a reference to the five Cs - child care, cash, culture, candidate selection procedures and confidence.
Members who get pregnant or who have children should instantly be paired. I was horrified to find this does not happen. It should happen immediately and the parties can do it. Female Members should sit on them, as it were, and demand pairing arrangements. It does not cost anything and will not lose a vote. It is terribly important and can be done straight away.
In that case, being a very biddable male and subservient in all things to the authority of the Chair and the gentle person therein, I will subside. I very much welcome this debate and congratulate the members of the committee, in particular Senator Bacik.
It was mentioned that education gives confidence. I was really jealous when Senator Bacik organised a commemoration of the 90th election of Countess Markievicz with a photograph on the great staircase that included very many women who played a pivotal role in Irish politics. It was wonderful. That photograph should go into every school and be up as a poster all over the place. It says, "This is what women can do and have contributed. Maximise it".
As they say in another industry, "Follow that". I applaud Senator Norris for his usual wit and rhetoric and for the valuable contribution he makes to debates such as this.
I first came to this subject in 2001 when I collaborated with a senior research officer in the Houses of the Oireachtas, Maedhbh McNamara. Our collaboration produced a book that is used now as a textbook in our schools and, I am pleased to say, as a reference book worldwide, because it filled a gap. "Women in Parliament" outlined the background and history of Irish women's participation in politics, from Countess Markievicz onwards.
Given that we are having a debate relevant to the Countess, who, inevitably, has been mentioned, I make a plea to the people who produce textbooks, especially for the British educational system, to change a historical inaccuracy. Lady Astor may have been the first woman to sit in the British Houses of Parliament but she certainly was not the first woman elected to that Parliament. That honour fell to Constance Markievicz who not only has that place in history but was also the first woman Minister appointed to any cabinet in Europe. The fact that the then outlawed Irish Government was not recognised by the British Government of the time does not detract from this honour.
There is an interesting quote by Constance Markievicz who even then had to negotiate, as many women have done since, to assert her rights within the political framework of the time, namely, Sinn Féin. She stated to the leadership, which was of course male dominated, that if she was not appointed as a Minister she would join the Labour Party, which seems to have been the worst possible act of treason one could perpetrate in the politics of the time. She got her way and became Labour Minister in the First Dáil.
In one of many articles summing up the status of women in politics it is stated that men "largely dominate the political arena, largely formulate the rules of the political game and often define the standards for evaluation". Furthermore, political life is organised according to male norms and values and, in some cases, male lifestyles, as per remarks made earlier regarding arranging the Order of Business. For example, politics is often based on the idea of winners and losers, competition and confrontation.
Following my experience of the publication of "Women in Parliament" in 2004, which I readily recommend to those present who have an interest in the subject and which we are updating at present, as a member of the Council of Europe delegation from Ireland I was appointed to what was then and may still be called the Committee on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men. It will be noted the title was "women and men" rather than "men and women". I was one of a small body of male politicians on that 50 member body and was tasked with preparing a report. I was privileged to do so, on behalf of the committee, and presented the report to the parliamentary assembly where it was unanimously adopted in 2004 under the title Women's Participation in Politics. For those interested, the details are available on the Council of Europe website, listed as Document 10202.
A number of recommendations were made at that time which are still relevant. Before I include those in my contribution, I shall provide another quote. Inevitably, Sweden is mentioned when there is mention of an acceptable percentage of representation of women in national parliaments. Currently its percentage is approximately 45%. Birgitta Dahl, a former Speaker of the Swedish Parliament, put this into context. She stated:
The most interesting aspect of the Swedish Parliament is not that we have 45% representation of women but that a majority of women and men bring relevant social experience to the business of parliament. This is what makes the difference. Men bring with them experience of real life issues of raising children and running a home. They have broad perspectives and greater understanding. Women are allowed to be what we are and to act according to our own unique personality. Neither men nor women have to conform to a traditional role. Women do not have to behave like men to have power. Men do not have to behave like women to be allowed to care for their children. When this pattern becomes the norm then we will see real change.
The differences between men and women with respect to the priorities of decision making are determined by the interests, backgrounds and working patterns of both sexes. Women tend to give priority to societal concerns such as social security, national health care and children's issues. The male-dominated working pattern is further reflected in the parliamentary work schedule, referred to by other speakers, and is often characterised by lack of supportive structures for working mothers in general and for women MPs in particular. In addition to their party and constituency work and service on different committees women parliamentarians are called upon to network within their parties at multi-party levels and with women outside of parliament. Furthermore, they have to play the socially prescribed nurturing roles of mother, wife, sister and grandmother. Most parliamentary programmes and sitting times are not adjusted to take into consideration this dual burden that women carry. Many women MPs struggle to balance family life with the demands of work that often involve late hours, much travelling and few facilities.
In my research for the Council of Europe report, it became apparent to me that it is not merely that this glass ceiling operates within male-dominated political parties throughout Europe but there is a lack of recognition and acknowledgement of the extra burden placed on those women who wished to participate in political life at local, regional or national level. To a large extent, this centres on lack of cash-----
-----and lack of opportunity within party political systems.
I appreciate my time is limited but wish to put on record that in that report I stated that the countries which have succeeded in raising levels of women's participation beyond minimal levels have, almost invariably, used some form of positive action to achieve this. There is a consensus among comparative studies that quotas make a positive impact on the number of women represented. Under these systems women are, in effect, assured election to the legislature, either through quotas in electoral law or in the selection procedures of political parties.
I am an advocate of quotas for this country. I believe that what Fianna Fáil is attempting to do goes some way towards addressing that imbalance. Despite what Senator Norris said, I am proud of the contribution and initiatives that have been taken, initiated by Deputy Bertie Ahern in 2006 and to continue as far as 2014, in that the Fianna Fáil Ard-Fheis of 2005 adopted a gender action plan for 2004-14, prepared by a sub-committee of the party's national executive.
The Fianna Fáil gender action plan creates quotas on party officer boards whereby a woman must hold the position of secretary, treasurer or chairperson. It also specifies that of every three delegates to the party national conference or Ard-Fheis one must be a woman. Furthermore, elections for the Fianna Fáil national executive are now operated on a quota system whereby 50% of places are reserved for women. The report has a built-in review mechanism, requiring an independent review every two years in which progress is assessed. The contents of the report are presented to the national executive and another report is due next month.
I thank the Cathaoirleach for his indulgence.
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Mary White, and welcome, in particular, her personal interest in this matter. I also welcome to the Gallery representatives of very many groups that have had a long-standing interest in this area, in particular, the National Women's Council, the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, the Irishwomen Lawyers Association, women from Trinity College gender studies department and UCD women graduates. It is great to see there is so much interest in this issue. A former Minister, Niamh Bhreathnach, is present and was very helpful to us in the committee mentioned by others.
I am very proud to be here for this debate, which I have been calling for since being elected in 2007. I have had a long-standing interest and passion in trying to increase the numbers of women entering politics and this debate is taking place because of a couple of initiatives I took. These initiatives were brought to me by representatives from Labour women, in particular from the National Women's Council of Ireland. I acknowledge that.
We are celebrating 94 years since the Easter Rising but in December 2008, my friend, Sinéad Ní Chúlacháin, who is in the Gallery, mentioned that it was the 90th anniversary of the election of Constance Markievicz, of whom Senator Mooney has already spoken. To commemorate that, we looked at a model which had been used in Portugal some years previously. In an attempt to break down the cultural barrier of male stereotyping, a day was created in the parliament when it was half-filled with women representatives to show what parity democracy would look like. Taking that model, I invited all former and sitting women Members of the Oireachtas to take part and the then Ceann Comhairle, Deputy John O'Donoghue, very generously gave us the use of the Dáil Chamber.
We had a very visually impressive day where the Chamber was half-filled with approximately 80 former and sitting Deputies and Senators. The Chamber has never looked so colourful and former Senator Catherine McGuinness read a speech from Constance Markievicz in which she exhorted the women of Ireland to hitch up their skirts, wear stout boots and carry a revolver to get on in public life. Perhaps some of that advice is still relevant.
That was a very important day and I am grateful to Senator Norris, who said that picture should be used in education programmes. I think the Department of Education and Science has used it and I know the Houses of the Oireachtas communications unit has used the picture in some of its materials. To have the picture of the Dáil Chamber half full of women elected to the Dáil and Seanad displayed somewhere in Leinster House would also help in a small way. It would help to break down cultural barriers to women's participation.
Following from that initiative, last year on the Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights I initiated the establishment of a sub-committee dealing with women's participation in politics. I acknowledge the help and support of others, especially Senator McDonald who served on the sub-committee with me and other members. Professor Yvonne Galligan, Ms Niamh Bhreathnach, Ms Gemma Hussey and Ms Liz O'Donnell all gave of their expertise. Ms Aoife O'Driscoll, my parliamentary assistant, helped me write the report as I was the rapporteur to the committee. I also acknowledge the work of Senator Mooney and Ms Maedhbh McNamara on Women in Parliament, as their book gave us a great deal of invaluable information.
The report was published last November and received cross-party support. The findings have been referred to by everybody in the House, including the Minister of State. I do not want to reiterate them and I hope the report is very readable and clear. It is not intended to be a weighty tome. It is meant to be a very practical plan of action.
Some of the key findings include the fact that Ireland's record is not only extremely poor in comparison with other countries but has disimproved in terms of women's participation in politics. In 1990, when Mary Robinson was elected as our first woman President, we were in 37th position in the Inter-Parliamentary Union rankings in terms of women's representation in the lower or single house of national parliaments. By November last year, when the report was published, we had fallen to 84th position, with 23 women Deputies from 166, or 13.8%. We were ranked equally with Djibouti in east Africa at the time. I looked at the statistics again last night and we have fallen to 85th position, ranked equally with Cameroon.
It is not that the number of women in our Parliament has disimproved - the Dáil representation has never exceeded 14% and 13.8% is about our highest point - but that other countries have improved since 1990, moving up the rankings. In particular, European countries where opportunity quotas of the type we recommend have been adopted have seen a difference. We are well below the world and European average and the internationally recommended figure of 30%. Perhaps the worst finding is that we have disimproved.
Negative consequences have included the restriction on voter choice that Senator Fitzgerald mentioned and that we discussed in the report. Professor Yvonne Galligan told us that at least 60% of constituencies in Ireland in 2007 had no women candidates from either Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael. Others have said that women do not vote for women, which is a bit of an apocryphal myth because if a woman wants to vote for Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael, she cannot in the majority of constituencies. Fianna Fáil fielded no women candidates in 28 from 43 constituencies and Fine Gael presented no women in 30 from 43 constituencies. In five constituencies, there were no women candidates at all, so voters could not support a woman no matter how much they wanted to.
Local elections last year were no better. Only 16% of councillors elected last year were women and that figure fell from previous local elections when a magnificent 17% was reached. Voter choice is restricted and internationally we have obligations to adopt positive action measures to change the position. We need to address this difficulty as a matter of urgency.
Others have spoken about the five Cs identified in all the international literature discussed in the report. These are difficulties with child care, cash, confidence, culture and candidate selection procedures. On child care, others have spoken about the necessary changes. Paid paternity leave is required to change the cultural view that child care is solely a matter for women. I support the Oireachtas crèche personally as somebody who has had a baby since my election. I have found the crèche very useful as I could leave the baby there and run here to make a speech, returning later to breastfeed the baby if necessary. It was very important for me as a new mother to have a crèche available on site. I defend that facility.
Senator McDonald has had a different experience and this is notable for Deputies and Senators outside Dublin as opposed to those from the city. We must review our rules and sitting times within the Oireachtas to ensure they are family friendly both for rural and urban representatives.
On the cash issue we recommended State funding for women candidates to be ear-marked until a certain target was reached, with political parties making additional funds available. On the confidence issue we recommended that political parties take a lead in initiating mentoring and leadership training programmes. As Senator McDonald stated, culture is a very important and yet intangible barrier for women. The pub and pint-buying patriarchal traditionalist culture of Irish politics is echoed and reflected in every political party. We must address it through a variety of routes
In the education system young women should be given female role models and there should be an advertising campaign similar to that initiated in Iceland in 1999. That had some very striking images, with a woman leader of a political party shaving in a mirror and a prominent male politician trying on high heels. These pictures were displayed publicly as part of an advertising campaign to try to challenge traditional stereotypes of male politicians and what has been described as the overall masculine image of politics.
A national databank of potential women candidates was established in Norway to get over the problem of not enough women putting themselves forward. A national non-governmental organisation, such as the National Women's Council of Ireland, could administer that on a constituency by constituency basis.
I wish to speak on candidate selection procedures and the sort of quota model we recommended. The word "quota" sometimes conjures an image of reserved seats, with a quota of seats in a parliament for women. I stress that this is not what we recommended, although it is the model used in some countries, such as African countries like Rwanda which has achieved 56% representation in parliament by women. It is not a model we advocate, partly because there would be difficulty under European law. We are suggesting a much more limited form of quota, an opportunity quota rather than an outcome quota. An opportunity quota simply requires political parties to put forward a certain minimum number of candidates of each gender. As it is done in Belgium, no more than two thirds of candidates can be of one gender, thus putting a cap on the number of men a party may select. This does not restrict voter choice but would increase the number of women candidates available for election by voters.
Professor Galligan, in her evidence to the committee, spoke in a very practical way about how this could be done in Ireland where incumbent Deputies, Senators or councillors retire and vacancies arise. In 2007, 17 Deputies from Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Labour indicated they were retiring and the vacancies were contested by 29 non-incumbent candidates of which six, or 20%, were women. She pointed this out as an example of where a gender balancing requirement would have increased the number of women running to replace incumbents without threatening any individual incumbent. She claims it would almost certainly have resulted in more women being elected.
A quota does not make any imposition on voters. It simply recognises the reality of the political parties as the gatekeepers of who will go forward to face the electorate. These gatekeepers must be subjected to certain rules in terms of the number of candidates they select.
This legislation must be introduced as a matter of urgency. Experience elsewhere shows that, unless some quota is introduced, we will not change. The status quo has been stuck at 13%-14% of women's representation in the Dáil for a long time. The Seanad is better at 22%, 13 women out of 60, but the ranking on which we are being measured is done on the basis of the lower or single house of parliament.
The measures the committee proposed should apply not just to Dáil elections, but also to Seanad, local and European elections where our representation has fallen from 38% in the previous election to 25% in the last election. A system of financial penalties based on the French model should be imposed in the legislation. The legislation should have an in-built sunset clause whereby it would lapse once the targets were met.
As a concrete plan of action on foot of this report, I ask the Minister of State to propose a timeline for adopting the legislation. We know it has worked in other European countries, particularly Belgium and Spain where the rate of representation has increased from being more or less equal with ours in 1990 to being ranked 12th and 13th, respectively, in the world.
I will finish on Senator Fitzgerald's practical point. The preceding Minister of State, Deputy Moloney, committed to doing something similar. Will the current Minister of State, Deputy White, convene a meeting with the general secretaries of all political parties to put to them the report's recommendations, many of which are aimed at them, and ask them to revert to her within two or three months for a further meeting to determine what progress has been made? In addition to a timeline for the legislation and the review of the national women's strategy, I ask the Minister of State to take this issue up with the political parties as a matter of urgency. Otherwise, in the words of Liz O'Donnell before our committee, our democracy will remain unfinished and incomplete.
Possibly for the first time in a debate in the House, I am acutely aware of my gender. This is no bad thing. At one stage a number of months ago, I was a member of a Seanad parliamentary team that had 50% female representation. Despite the fact our team has grown greatly, it now has zero female representation. This is not even slightly compensated for by the fact that this debate is being addressed and responded to on behalf of the Government by my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy White, who has also taken my place in the Green Party's Dáil parliamentary party, which I did not give up willingly. At least it points to something to which we, as a party, have always aspired.
I think of one of our founding members, Ms Maire Mullarney, a formidable woman who believed obstacles were not there to be overcome, but to be bulldozed through. It has not been typical of the early history of our party. When we first stood candidates in the 1992 election, we had two women out of seven candidates. The first large-scale representation of candidates for the Green Party, then called the Green Alliance, was 25 years ago in the local elections of 1985 when there was either close to equality or maybe even a majority of women candidates. While I was neither a member nor a candidate during those elections, one of the prime reasons so many women were recruited to stand was that many of them did not believe they would be elected. This said something about people who wanted to make a statement through standing for a particular set of beliefs, but who were unwilling or unable to take on whatever would follow in terms of added commitments.
This issue has been identified in many reports and in this debate as being one of the main problems. It has been expressed as confidence, one of the five C's, namely, the ability to enter a structure and make a difference in such a way that there are adequate support structures. At local government level, the Green Party has an admittedly small base, but approximately one third of our elected representatives are female. With the exception of one town council in Carrickmacross, they have the added disadvantage of being single individuals and, therefore, they lack appropriate support measures.
The other responsibility, that of child care, is a societal problem. It is a burden that is still unfairly shared and we, as a society, must address this issue in a more focused way. People who are elected have faced additional burdens, even though we have improved the situation in terms of crèches and the like. I remember the experiences of two of my colleagues at different levels of representation, Ms Claire Wheeler of Dublin City Council and Ms Patricia McKenna, formerly of the European Parliament. In the mid-1990s, neither institution provided facilities for breastfeeding children. It is a shaming indictment of society that we were still addressing such issues because of a lack of representation, understanding and support structures.
Given the nature of our political system, the largest impediment remains cash. It is no great source of pride to say that, even in the field of paid employment with equivalent work positions, women are still being paid less. Given the other obstacles that must be overcome, the ability to have access to money to run political operations and to take part in campaigns is, for men and women, one of the main determinants of election success.
It is in terms of culture that we are probably in most need of greater female representation in politics. Irish politics is male-centric, confrontational and seems built upon a style whereby the more the chest is beaten, the more the political point is made. We need a politics that is consensual, inclusive and better able to address the issues at hand. Since we lack a critical mass of women in political structures, our sense of prioritising which issues should be addressed is wrong and we have a mismatch of resources in terms of how those issues should be dealt with. We must be honest enough to admit this as a society.
The essence of today's debate has been candidate selection procedures. While my party has good intentions and has not performed as well as we would have liked, we have had two MEPs out of 15 in Ireland. This is the area on which we most need to focus attention. I am not speaking in respect of the report alone. Rather, we need to examine our voting system. The Joint Committee on the Constitution is examining whether we should have a different electoral system. The German Green Party has a closed list system, although many people would not be happy to have it. The list is 50:50 with the woman candidate listed first. This system applies to national and European elections. Last year, I met an excited young woman in Freiburg who had managed to be the 13th Green Party representative on the European list because that is the way the list is structured. It has a European Parliament presence of seven women and six men. The leader of the Green Party in Finland, the Finnish Minister of Labour, is a woman. The leader of the Green Party in England and Wales, who is likely to win the first Green Party seat in the Westminster elections next week, is a woman. These are the examples towards which we need to strive.
Regardless of the question of whether we should adopt a different electoral system or try to work within the current system, the difficulty is still that we are not translating what is on the ground into bringing women forward. Throughout the day in between monitoring debates and participating on the Order of Business, I have made several calls to the area I represented in the Dáil and spoke with a number of activist groups - a local schools committee, a health group, a Traveller group and a community development group. In each of those cases, the key person through whom information was being passed and to whom I, as a public representative, was obliged to respond in respect of concerns raised was a woman.
Why do such women, who work at the level to which I refer and who are involving in setting the political agenda, occupy these positions? Never mind international representation, the involvement of these individuals is not even being translated into representation at local government level. This comes down to a lack of support structures and the fact that there are comfort zones within local communities within which people can operate. I am of the view that such comfort zones relate to the traditional system and to incumbent political representatives who are, in the main, male.
As a society, we must ensure the latent political activism which exists among women is translated into proper and appropriate representation at all levels of government. We have a distance to go in this regard. However, I am confident that debates such as that in which we are engaging and the reports that were issued by the sub-committee will ensure we will make up the ground. There is a great deal of catching up to do and I hope we can do this catching up in the shortest possible period.
I welcome the Minister of State and wish her well with her portfolio. I have no doubt that she will do an excellent job. I warmly appreciate the sentiments she expressed during her contribution.
I compliment Senators Fitzgerald, McDonald and Bacik on the tremendous work they did at the sub-committee in highlighting this issue. I particularly wish to applaud Senator Bacik in respect of that tremendous day on which we commemorated the 90th anniversary of the election of Countess Markievicz. That was probably one of the proudest days of my political career and I will never forget it. On the occasion to which I refer, one obtained a definite sense that women can be as powerful and exert as much control as their male counterparts. It was tremendous to look around the Dáil on that day and see so many powerful, intelligent, compassionate and caring women.
I originally became involved in politics as a result of the fact that I come from one of those dreaded political dynasties. In that context, my father was a councillor and a candidate for election to the Dáil. However, I went away and had children before becoming further involved. Later, when Garrett FitzGerald was Taoiseach and leader of Fine Gael, I became acutely aware of the need for social change. From a female point of view, some tremendous advances were made during that period. The late Nuala Fennell, Monica Barnes, Mary Banotti, Mary Flaherty and Senator Fitzgerald were all elected at that time. This occurred in the absence of mandatory quotas. I accept that my party is not espousing the imposition of such quotas.
I must admit that I am extremely concerned about quotas. I must be brave and outline my position in this regard. I was one of those who voted against our parliamentary party's line on the imposition of quotas, especially as such quotas have gone against me politically in my local area. Earlier today, it was announced that former Deputy Mae Sexton will be standing in the constituency of Longford-Westmeath in the next general election. Deputy O'Rourke, who is no shrinking violet, will also be standing. In addition, I am hoping, assuming I am selected which I might not be, to be on my party's ticket in that election. Longford-Westmeath should, therefore, have strong female representation in the next Dáil.
I am concerned about positive discrimination for women. Niamh Bhreathnach introduced such discrimination in the vocational education committees and I am aware that this has given rise to a culture of nods and winks, huddles in corners and various types of secretive discussions. I understand the need and the reasons for discrimination of this nature. However, I have serious concerns about tokenism and electing women for the sake of doing so. Women have so much to contribute and, as many previous speakers indicated, there are brilliant female representatives in this Oireachtas. There are other ways in which to ensure progress is made.
The report of the sub-committee refers to five issues of importance in respect of women in politics, namely, child care, cash, confidence, culture and candidate selection. The issue which stands out for me is that of confidence. In the context of the male-dominated arena of politics, women tend to be excluded. Such exclusion is not obvious but is rather extremely subtle in nature. I do not know whether quotas would provide an answer in this regard. What is needed is positive mentoring and education. In addition, the general secretaries and leaders of political parties must believe in women and make matters easy for them. Women in politics are not funded to the same extent as their male counterparts. That is a major issue. Men have more resources and easier access to such resources than women.
I have some serious concerns about quotas. The sub-committee's report recommends that all quotas should be voluntary in nature. Professor Galligan's comments in that regard are extremely interesting. I accept there have been positive results in other countries but I wonder whether these are sustainable. I am aware of the need to find ways to encourage women to enter politics. However, I am of the view that this is a cultural issue.
My sister was recently elected to the local town council. She is one of two female members of the council. She is an extremely strong woman but she informed me that she found it difficult to come to terms with the culture of nods and winks, trips to the golf course and drinking pints that obtains. I do not believe that quotas represent a way to solve that problem. We must instead empower women and allow them to shine. That is what is going to have to happen. Senator Harris stated that it might take some time for this to happen. I accept that this is probably the case but we must continue to find cultural ways by which we might change society in order that more women become interested in politics.
I am concerned about the issue of management within politics. Fianna Fáil, Labour and Fine Gael have very few senior managers who are female. That is a matter which must be addressed because involving women at that level could prove to be a way of empowering, encouraging, inspiring and giving confidence to them.
The position with regard to child care has been discussed at length. The difference between women from rural areas and their urban counterparts is very significant. I am a lone parent and my two children were in their early teens when I became involved in politics. I was out of the house half the time. To this day, I honestly am not in a position to indicate why they turned out so well. However, I had extremely good support from my wider family. Perhaps political parties might provide support for their members. They could organise crèches in rural constituencies for female members who are obliged to travel to work.
I again acknowledge the great work that has been done in respect of the report and I thank the Cathaoirleach for his indulgence.
I welcome the Minister of State and wish her well in her new role. I acknowledge her personal interest in this issue. I also compliment Senators Bacik, Fitzgerald and McDonald on their contributions and Senator Bacik, in particular, on driving the report and bringing it to this point.
Members have debated this issue many times. I have been a Member of the Seanad since 1993 and in every subsequent session of Seanad Éireann there has been a debate on the reasons so few women participate in politics, be it in the Dáil, this Chamber or at local government level. Perhaps I was fortunate to come from a political background through my grandfather and my father who was a Minister, a Deputy and a Senator. My brother and I, as well as many members of my extended family, also participated. If not on the front line, they always were public people and whenever we had family gatherings, we always had fiery discussions on whatever was the topic of the day. For example, such a discussion took place last Saturday night on the issue of NAMA and another on the volcanic eruption. I am weary from discussions. Consequently, there never has been so-called women's talk at any such gatherings since I was a little girl growing up and answering the door bell or the telephone to take messages for my father or my brother. However, when I took an interest in becoming involved in politics many moons ago, my father, God be with him, told me that I could not go down that road as it was too tough for women. I recall him saying that to me, but I replied that I still intended to do it. While I did not get there before he died, on one of his last days, I remember him saying, while having a pint, that he thought I would be the family member who would make it. While I have not actually made it, I am half-way there. However, he was aware that I would not give up.
I will turn to the real discussion. The contributions made thus far by all of the women who participated and by some of the men who have been present have been excellent. I do not have much more to add to the debate but I wish to discuss the subject of quotas. I am completely against them and take Senator McFadden's point in this regard. However, I noted Senator Bacik's comments on limited opportunity quotas and began to think about what that meant. That is being implemented in that at convention level within my party there is every encouragement to try to have the participation at candidate level of two men and two women. This policy is in place; there is a strong push to achieve it, as it is what the party seeks.
However, that is not where the problem lies. It arises when one is on the ticket and it pertains to electioneering. I will get down to brass tacks. I have run in four elections and know what it means to go out with my machine against those of other candidates. I am as good as one will get at electioneering and campaigning. I will take people on in the pubs, play my game of 45 as well as anyone or a game of poker. I will attend GAA matches or whatever event is taking place and will take them on. However, that said, I still did not make it and will use my constituency as an example of what can happen. While they were delighted that a woman was running, I was unfortunate in that I had two Galway men as running mates and during the last week they decided to work together to secure the first and second preferences for themselves, after which I brought up the rear. In other words, one can get on the ticket and play a blinder, one can be good at one's job, be able to deliver speeches and can match anyone else, but, ultimately, it is the machine on the ground that wins. It is about how one goes to the door, who are one's canvassers, who joins the campaign and who are the key people who can make up one's machine. It is about having people who can perform at the door. One needs people who can talk at the door, who are soft at the door and know how to win people over. All of these issues arise and there is not much point in having a crowd of men who will go to the door and pontificate, as they will lose one votes. Consequently, one must be aware of this factor.
To me, this is real life. While I want women to participate in politics, I do not know whether that will happen unless the system is changed and there is fundamental reform. We have talked the talk, but until that happens, I do not know.
Moreover, even were the system to be changed, I do not know how this would change. As a career guidance counsellor, I receive invitations to appear in schools at leaving certificate level when the pupils make decisions on filling in their CAO forms and I am asked to talk about politics. The single point I make to them is that one must have great confidence. Second, they must be a people's person and be able to reach out, interact with ease and be a fun person in the middle of it all. If one is too serious, people will walk away. That is an important point. Moreover, one must have great energy levels, as one will be up late at night and coming home at all hours. One must also have good health, as if one lacks energy, it will not work. God knows, I sometimes have gone out when I have literally been exhausted and tried to string together a few words.
I had hope to raise many points. I refer to the five Cs, one of which is cash. This can be overcome through legislation. However, confidence is a major issue. As for culture, this is changing because women are entering all fields of life. They are attending universities, acquiring engineering and science degrees and reaching the top. Unquestionably, there is no barrier in respect of academic ability, as they are well able to do the job. In fact, one should not doubt that they are much better than men. Consequently, there is no problem with culture. The problem arises in how one puts together a machine to be elected. While the quota system can be overcome - I do not perceive it to be a barrier, no matter how one might want to do it - the key factor is dealing with what is on the ground. Senator Bacik has been there and it is where one wins or loses.
Although women will be on the ground, my point is that they are doing beautifully this way. While their numbers still are low, they should keep trying. I am glad a new Minister of State is in place who will drive this issue all the way up the agenda.
Cuirim fáilte roimh an díospóireacht seo agus déanaim comhghairdeas leis na Seanadóirí a bhí ar an chomhchoiste a chuir an tuairisc seo chun tosaigh. Déanaim comhghairdeas fosta leis an Aire Stáit.
Ceist thábhachtach é seo agus sinn ag plé cúrsaí ban agus an polaitíocht. Ní ceist fhurasta é seo le réiteach. Níl freagra amháin ar bith ach go leor freagraí amuigh ansin, go háirithe acu siúd atá páirteach sa pholaitíocht. Tá go leor daoine a bhfuil dearadh acu faoi seo. Ba mhaith le mo pháirtí níos mó ban a tharraingt isteach agus níos mó ban a bheith gníomhach sa pholaitíocht, sa Dáil agus sa Seanad, sa Chomhthionól agus ar fud na gcomhairlí san oileán.
This is a highly important debate, in which there is no easy solution. It is important that the issue of women in politics is placed in the context of our current position and the kind of state in which we are living. Members have heard Senator Norris refer to the provision in the Constitution that, at its core, suggests women should not even be working, let alone involved in the political arena. We need only refer to Article 41.2.1o of Bunreacht na hÉireann which states:
In particular, the State recognises that by her life within the home, woman gives to the State a support without which the common good cannot be achieved.
The State, shall, therefore, endeavour to ensure that mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labour to the neglect of their duties in the home.
That part of the article referring to a woman's duties in the home clearly shows we have not moved past the idea of women having a role as doting housewives and mothers who exist to cater for the every whim of their husband or partner and those of their children. We as a State need to ask ourselves why such blatantly gender biased articles remain in place in the 21st century and have remained in place up to now. This article and many parts of our Constitution need to be fundamentally reformed if we are to make any real change in the issue of gender equality and women's participation in society and politics in general. Language such as "man, in virtue of his rational being" etc is outdated; it is an embarrassment for men such as myself and it needs to be removed.
Great strides have been made and we as a country have come a long way in terms of achieving equality for women. Thankfully, this State and the religious orders that ran it for many years have ceased consigning women to a life of slave labour in Magdalene laundries. They have ceased carrying our horrific birth practices in maternity hospitals and prohibiting birth control. It could be argued that if more women were represented in the political institutions that these practices may never have been carried out in the past in our dark and murky history. However, huge inequalities still exist in this State. Huge gaps in pay exist between the genders, many health services for women are dire and there is a severe lack of child care provision. Women are grossly under-represented in decision making in local and national Government and on State boards. Even though we know women make up more than half the population and contribute more than their fair share to society both inside and outside the home, they are still frequently excluded from positions of power. Senator Bacik spoke about where Ireland ranks in this respect. It is appalling when one see it in writing that we are ranked lower than the EU average, the American average, the Asian average and rank on a par with sub-Saharan Africa. Ours is a shameful ranking on that list.
It was stated earlier that many women involved in politics got involved at national level generally because they come from political families or have some experience of electoral politics. The big issue at the heart of the lack of political representation of women is support. One of the barriers that has been mentioned is the issue of child care, which needs to be tackled head on. Addressing it is not as simple as the availability of child care services because we all know that involvement in politics is not a 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. job. Such provision needs to be in place. Many women who would like to get involved in politics cannot do so because of the dire situation regarding the provision of child care, or even if child care services are available, there is the expense. Some 20% of average earnings in Ireland are spent on child care compared to 8% in other EU countries.
I am not sure if the issue of social class was mentioned but it is a key actor in influencing the type of person who goes forward for election. Social disadvantage and the lack of opportunities of further education all inhibit a woman's chance to become involved in politics. Other issues such as family unfriendly working hours also act as a barrier to women's participation in politics.
I do not understand why the Seanad does not address an issue in this respect. I remember speaking to Senator Bacik about this when she had her child and I had a young boy and another on the way. One has to wait until Thursday to find out if the Seanad is due to sit on Friday or on the following Tuesday or Wednesday. That situation should not exist. A young father or mother has to wait until he or she gets an email from the office of the Leader of the Seanad to let him or her know what days the Seanad will sit next week. The situation should not exist. There are simple ways we can do our work better that would not necessitate overhauling the whole system that could make subtle but serious changes that would enhance people's lives and make matters a little easier for them.
There are issues that need to be addressed and there are good examples of practice that we could follow. Countries such as Sweden and Denmark have made huge inroads in terms of the number of women political representatives they have. Both countries introduced quotas as a temporary mechanism to boost the number of women in parliament. Such mechanisms work well and can work well in this State.
Political parties without a doubt have probably the biggest role to play in this respect. Sinn Féin has introduced a 50:50 quota for election to its ard comhairle or national executive, which has been a practice for many years, and we also have a quota system in place for candidates. It has been beneficial to our party. Some people say they would not agree with this mechanism. I was reluctant to support the introduction of quotas. I represent Donegal South-West. Sinn Féin has seven elected representatives in that constituency. I along with six others represent that constituency for Sinn Féin at council, town council and Údarás na Gaeltachta level. Four of the representatives are female and three are male. Three of my female colleagues were first appointed to their boards through co-options either by me getting elected to the Seanad and a co-option being made or due to an unfortunate bereavement in the constituency. I am glad to say that of the three of those who were elected through co-options, two topped the poll with large surpluses when they went on to fight the elections. This shows that where one has an opportunity to encourage women into the electoral system through a co-option, they can excel in terms of their male counterparts when they stand on an equal platform in a future election, as in this instance when none of their male colleagues could catch them for love nor money by virtue of the talents they espoused. Therefore, I recommend a quota system.
While one may have a quota system within a party, as we do in Sinn Féin, the party may not always select a woman candidate to stand for the party or the party may not reach the quota it has set, which in the case of our party is 30%, but this system fixes in the minds of party activists and party managers that they have to be mindful of the issue of women's participation. I wanted to establish a Sinn Féin cumann or branch of our party in an area and I asked one of our female activists to draw up a list of supporters in that area. She gave me a list of 50 people and of those 50 people eight were men. The reality is that being a woman, she knew other women and had women friends and women will attract women. We need to give people the opportunity to become involved in politics.
This is a first because I agree wholeheartedly, I would say for the first time in my life, with Sinn Féin and the previous speaker in that our Constitution offends both men and women and it drastically needs a rehaul. It is on that basis and having regard to speakers who are seeking a new system of election that I decided to approach this debate from a solutions point of view rather than merely as a discussion. I knew this issue would be aired and the shortcomings or reasons we do not have more women in politics are well established. It was in light of this debate on how we can encourage more women to become involved in politics that caused me to reflect and examine our system. I thought the only fair way of having a quota and getting more women into politics - the system must be based on fairness - is that 50% of the Members elected to the Dáil Éireann would be male and 50% would be female. Therefore, we would have a 50:50 quota. As I was thinking about this very simple idea I realised we would have to change our system totally and that is a reason I went further in this respect. I thought we should cut the numbers. The only way we will be able to elect 50% males and 50% females is by having two panels, as we have in the Seanad. People would be elected from the male panel and from the female panel. The easiest way to do that would be to have two seat constituencies. In that way, everything would have to be redrawn. Equally, we would need a new voting system because it would have to be a first past the post system. This is quite a radical proposal but if we are to go beyond paying pure lip service of involving more women in politics, why not do this? This is part of what I enjoy about being an Independent, as such, because I would not have been able to come up with or espouse it if I were a member of a political party because I would have been shot down to a certain extent. I respect what happens in political parties - I was in one - and how policy is formulated.
We have reached a stage when we need radical solutions to our problems and our politics. This plan places a certain constraint on the voter if asked to be listed only on a male or a female ballot. I will speak in greater detail about this proposal at the Joint Committee on the Constitution tomorrow. I imagine it is one about which people need to think because it asks us to suspend how we conduct politics. There are plenty of people who will say that is not a bad thing and that we should try something new.
I would like to see this plan trialled. The only way we will know if women make a difference in politics is if we have the opportunity to observe it. Why not put this plan into action in the next two general elections? After that, let us look at it again. One of the problems I have with the Constitution is that once something is put into it, it is set in stone and cannot be touched. That is not very satisfactory because the Constitution is from a different era. When one reads it, as I did, one sees how offensive it is in many ways. The fact that a constitutional referendum is needed should not be a reason not to go ahead with this plan.
It will have a dramatic effect on party politics and it is one of the reasons the political parties, which control our system of elections, will not buy into it. This is where one must try to appeal to the people over the political parties. The political parties will not change a system which has, by and large, worked for them. That is why I agree completely with what was said about culture and the culture within political parties, which has been discussed quite a bit. It will take an awfully long time to change it if we leave it to the current system.
I was quite hostile to quotas originally but I thought about how politics could be different. This is a very radical and experimental idea which is worth considering. The notion that we might trial it for two electoral terms is interesting. Senator Fitzgerald mentioned the number of women in politics in Spain as a result of quotas. The important question is, what difference did it make? Did it make a difference to their politics?
If it has made a difference, that is evidence it is not a bad thing. However, we are more concerned about what we can do in Ireland.
I recognise it is quite a radical suggestion. How can I get it imposed because, as I said, the political parties will not really buy into it? I worry it will remain theoretical. We need real solutions to the issues we face. It is important to see if women's participation in politics makes a difference and that is why I would like this plan implemented.
There is a shortcoming in my proposal. This notion that one is selected for election based on gender is not one with which I am completely comfortable. However, constraints currently exist in our system. For instance, some people have a choice of electing five Deputies while others only have the choice of three. Previous speakers spoke about the barriers that exist to women's participation. They are as fundamental an obstacle to the inclusion of women as a panel of male or female Members only. This plan requires some thought and that is why people need to reflect a little on it rather than react to it immediately.
The plan will also have effect on political parties. In regard to membership of political parties, how does one get people interested in coming to meetings and so on? Membership is falling off and people do not believe it is that relevant. I accept it will have a significant impact on how politics is done.
There is ferocious competition among political parties in a constituency to get the best man or woman to stand for their party. As it stands, one's competitors are one's running mates in one's party in the constituency. This all feeds into clientelism and negativity, which are shortcomings of our system.
If we had this new system, voters' expectation of what a Deputy does would change. The Deputy would be much more focused on policy issues, on implementing policy and on dealing with national and international issues rather than local issues.
We need to think about this.
Too often people only look at solutions within the constraints that exist. I would like to think we could look beyond them to do something really radical. An overhaul of our Constitution is very much needed to bring it up to date. That would coincide with my proposals. To try to make this attractive to people, I propose we trial it for two elections. Rather than have our electoral system set in stone, we need to be flexible and respond to the needs and demands of the electorate.
I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach for allowing me to speak. I wish to make a few brief comments. Some 30 years ago medicine, the profession in which I am involved, was as male dominated, as macho and with as long hours as politics today. Some aspects of medicine have changed quite radically. Surgery is still very much male dominated with long hours and with the same macho culture but other parts of medicine have changed quite radically, especially general practice and where doctors work as physicians in hospitals.
How did that come about? It did not come about because anybody wanted to change the system but because the education system put 75% women into medical schools. Therefore, the doctors graduating were, in the main, women and the system had to change to fit in with the graduates. That is the way it happened. Nobody set out to change medicine to make it more family friendly.
That is the main issue here. It is not about gender; it is about who is responsible for family. What makes many women in medicine change their career options is not that they cannot handle the long hours and working weekends but the fact they have commitments to their family. That is why they often go into branches of medicine which are more family-friendly. The system only changed because of the large number of women coming into medicine. There was no other driver.
Politics is the same. It is a macho profession and it is all about long nights, staying up all night at meetings, going to games and doing clinics. Unfortunately, nothing will change in the foreseeable future unless we make active changes to the system. Active changes mean changes to increase women's participation in politics because that will be the driver to make politics more family friendly.
What happens when more women are involved in politics is that there is more discussion on social issues rather than on purely economic issues or issues which people believe are important. The way politics is delivered changes when there is more active participation by both genders. However, that will not happen by accident. I do not believe the political system will change dramatically. The only way we will effect change is by actively placing women in roles of responsibility, both elected and non-elected, in the political system. If this is done, the ethos in politics will change significantly. Failing this, however, there will not be any change.
The use of quotas and list systems can lead to change in the system. Rather than talking about change, however, we must proactively make changes. Significant problems must be surmounted to achieve greater active participation in politics. The political structure is not family friendly. During my time as a Member of the other House I found politics an incredible burden. I had three young children at the time and found that considerable effort was required to try to balance being a politician and a parent of young children. In addition, my wife runs a general practice. Politics can place incredible stress on family life.
I have not noted even the remotest interest among voters or political leaders in dramatically changing the current system. As politicians, we must try to actively encourage change. Senator Fitzgerald indicated that change was taking place during her time on the National Women's Council, but we appear to have hit a brick wall. It is time to reactivate positive action to change our mindset and ensure women will want to become involved in politics.
I welcome the Minister of State. Both of us survived our previous encounter on the high seas.
This has been a fascinating and exceptionally good debate which has focused on important issues. I concur with Senator Twomey in most of the points he made. I have seen identical developments in teaching. Twenty years ago, when people were arguing that teaching was about to become a female dominated profession, I remember asking what was wrong with such a scenario, as at least it would mean women would dominate one profession. Much has changed in the meantime. For example, no one even blinked when a woman became the general secretary of the Irish National Teachers Organisation for the first time. That is how matters should be.
The issue of quotas generates a great deal of heat and light. I have been involved in the argument about quotas for roughly 35 years in about 25 organisations and associations. While I do not agree with quotas as a matter of basic principle, they are critical in engineering change and needed as a transient measure to achieve a specific objective.
As Senator Twomey pointed out, the Oireachtas is a male club which will not change any time soon. If I did not live in Dublin, there is no way I would still be a Member of this House 23 years after joining it. For as long the media argue that the Houses should sit five days a week and that sittings continue into the night, sensible people will not become involved in politics.
The reason women did not apply for positions as principal teachers in many primary schools was that, having taken a good look at the job, they decided it was not for them. They may have agreed that more women should become school principals, but they decided not to take up the job because it was wrong for them.
While the term "family friendly" has become a cliché, what it means is that people should be able to have a balance in their lives. This is not possible in politics. One need only consider the efforts to establish a crèche in the Oireachtas - I cannot remember if we succeeded.
My question was rhetorical. I was a member of the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission at the time and know exactly what took place. The reason Members did not use the facility was they could not be sure when they would start and finish work. They could not operate in the manner normal workplaces worked. They could not, for instance, leave work at 5 p.m. or indicate that their child would be in the crèche for a specified number of hours each day. There is also an attitudinal problem. The Oireachtas is a male club and will continue to be so until such time as the men here decide to change matters.
Most speakers agree on the objective of increasing women's participation in politics, although they may differ on how to achieve it. The answer lies within ourselves. If we want to make changes, we can do so. Even without quotas, we could take a strong line on how we expect people to operate and what the job involves. I would begin with a job description for politicians. If the Minister of State comes across such a description, perhaps she will forward it to me because I have never seen one. The trick for a politician is the number of masses he or she covers on a Sunday and the number of funerals he or she attends on a Monday. Rules should be established because if we do not have a proper balance in what people do as public representatives, they will effectively do a job they have not been elected to do. The reason is that if one was to do the job one was elected to do, one would not be re-elected.