In 1916, Padraig Pearse declared The Proclamation of The Irish Republic, a document addressed to ‘IRISHMEN AND IRISHWOMEN’. A piece of writing that was so ahead of it’s time that it, for the first time, suggested gender equality in Ireland. Under British rule, Irishwomen were forbidden to vote. Committing to universal suffrage, Pearse and the other six Rising leaders, set a standard in Ireland. A standard which, unfortunately, we have not been able to honour. Which leads me to ask, why is women’s representation in Dáil Éireann so laughable?
Countess Markievicz, a leading figure in the 1916 Easter Rising, fought in St. Stephan’s Green, second in command, her garrison held out for six days, until she was brought a copy of Pearse’s surrender. Countess Markievicz was a woman, the only woman. In fact, Markievicz was the first ever female Irish TD and the first woman ever elected to Westminster. 1918 was also the first year that legally allowed women to vote, both in the UK and Ireland. Although Markievicz never took her seat in Westminster, she continued to be an active member in Sinn Féin. Countess Markievicz’ success is imperative in understanding Irish women in politics. Sitting as Minister for Labour from 1919 to 1922, Markievicz would be the only female cabinet member until 1979. Yes, 1979.
According to The Central Statistics Office, Ireland’s population was 4,757,976 in the 2016 Census. Of those 4,757,976, there were 53,009 more females than males, a ratio of 97.8 males to 100 females. However, our government statics do not reflect these figures.
Women for Election
Speaking at TedXDublin, co-founder of women for election, Niamh Gallagher spoke of the disappointing female representation in our national parliament. Even though the 2016 General Election seen a rise in female TD’s, only 35 out of 158 TD’s were women, the highest ever at only 22%. A miserable 95 women have been elected to the Dáil in it’s history and of these 95, only 14 held ministerial positions, according to Gallagher.
Women for election is a non-partisan organisation which ‘inspires’ and ‘equips’ women in politics. In the 2016 General Election, the organisation had 180 running for seats from their programme. Of those 180, 96 women were elected.
Another frequent speaker of Irish women in politics is Senator Ivana Bacik. In 2009 she carried out an Oireachtas Report in 2009 entitled ‘Women’s Participation in politics’. In this report, Bacick reiterates the dismal figures in women’s involvement in Dáil Éireann. She also went on to publish results of the 2016 General Election on her website. In these results, she found that the 35 women elected to the Dáil in 2016 places Ireland at 25th out of 28 in the EU in terms of women’s representation in single house national parliaments.
Likewise, in her TedTalk, Niamh Gallagher spoke of similar world rankings. Gallagher stated that Ireland is in fact behind Libya and North Korea when it comes to women’s representation in government. Currently, we are 96th out of 188 in the world rankings. In her TedTalk, Gallagher goes on to share women for election’s opinion as to why we are so far behind when it comes to female politicians. It is fair to say that Ireland’s political sphere has always been male dominated, typically the Dáil has been 80%+ male.
Women are less confident in deciding to enter politics. Unfortunately, our political culture has always been male dominated says Gallagher. Furthermore, candidate selection is typically carried out by males, who in turn, pick males. Known as the ‘five C’s’, Cash, Childcare, Confidence, Culture and Candidate selection are the most obvious barriers for women interesting in entering politics.
Having taken all of this into consideration, we must ask, is it going to get better? The Electoral Bill was introduced into the Seanad in 2012 and became An Act later that year. This Act includes a gender quota for political parties running in elections. By law, any political party that does not have at least 30% of its candidates of each gender at the next General Election will have their state funding cut in half. This is set to increase to 40% seven years after the next general election.
Women’s representation in the Dáil isn’t about Men V Women. It’s about having an equal perspective. Equal voices.