Women in Irish Politics

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Women in Irish Politics

This essay will examine why there are so few women in politics and if gender quotas could be the solution. Women make up over half of the Irish electorate but yet remain markedly underrepresented in the Dáil and in wider political debate. Political debate in Ireland has been dominated by male voices over the years and because of this over half of our entire population’s opinions have been drowned out to some degree. The Dáil has always been at the very least 84% male. This is one of the highest percentages of male politicians that make up a parliament in the world. Ireland currently lies in 89th position in a world classification table of women’s representation in parliament compiled by the Inter-Parliamentary Union in 2013. Ireland is also lowly ranked in terms of EU member states, ranking 20th out of 27 states (Cahill, 2013). Clearly Ireland has a major issue with the underrepresentation of women in politics and I hope to uncover why in this essay.

In 1918 women achieved the right to vote in Ireland. This was due to certain restrictions but nonetheless Constance Markievicz was elected to the Dáil in December of that year. Years before she was elected she claimed the times were changing and with it came the washing away of the old “outposts that hold women enslaved and bearing them triumphantly into the life of the nation to which they belong” (Markievicz, 1909). Since 1918 women have claimed a meagre 219 out of 4,452 available seats in the Dáil, a tiny 4.9%. In the Seanad, they have filled 151 of the 1,620 available accumulating at 9.3%. Today Ireland has one of the lowest numbers of women in parliament in Europe and ranks in the lower half of the table in terms of the world. Following the 2011 general election women took 18 of 60 seats in the Seanad. They also took 25 seats out of a possible 166 in the Dáil. This is a tiny percentage at 15.1%. These are the highest figures ever in Ireland and yet still they are very low and in fact cause major underrepresentation of women in our society as a whole. Compared with the world average of 20.8%, Ireland is well behind current trends internationally. The figures become worse when we compare them to that of our Nordic neighbours. Sweden ranks fourth at 44.7% while Finland and Norway both have figures over 39% (ipu, 2013). President Michael D. Higgins recently brought the issue of women’s participation in Irish politics into the light. He acknowledged the equality gap between men and women in Ireland was still significant and said ‘we must do much more to reform our political system to ensure that the boundless talent, intelligence and skills that women bring to the workplace generally can be more profoundly present in our parliament’. He also added that he hoped our political institutions could emerge from the simple concessions of participation in a male patriarchal and authoritarian setting to a more complete and fully human set of arrangements in decision-making (Irish Times, 2013). In the recent general election, out of a total of 566 candidates, only 86 were women. However when we look at the average success rate between men and women, they are very similar averaging around the 29% mark (Buckley, 2011). This would indicate that there is no bias against female candidates amongst the Irish electorate. If both men and women have an equal chance in front of the voters, then why don’t more women move into the political field and put themselves forward for election?

The reasons behind why there are so few women in politics can be arranged under five headings, which are, Childcare, Cash, Culture, Confidence and Candidate Selection. These are the five main challenges that face women, hindering their political participation and stemming the full representation of women in Ireland. Women in Ireland have always traditionally been seen to play the role of child-bearers and homemakers in our society. The State and the Roman Catholic Church reinforced...
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