Irish political parties must meet female MP quotas or risk losing state funding

A Bill passed in the Irish government this weekend has historically changed the way women will be represented in the Dáil.

Joan Burton is Deputy Leader of the Irish Labour Party

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A Bill passed in the Irish government this weekend has historically changed the way women will be represented in the Dáil.

burton-joanThe Electoral Amendment (Political Funding) Bill 2011 rules that state funding of political parties will be halved unless 30% of parliamentary candidates at the next election are female.

The Bill was triggered by only 15.1% of Irish parliamentarians being women – a figure that is only slightly less than the 22% of women sitting in the House of Commons.

The Electoral Reform society have said the Bill is a “giant leap forward” for female representation. Campaigns and Research director Darren Hughes said:

“Ireland has had to look long and hard at its failure to get women into frontline politics but because Irish parliamentarians have faced up to difficult choices…

“Ireland is now leading the English speaking world on forward thinking gender policy.

“Ireland already has fair votes. The safe seats that have held women back in the UK simply don’t exist. But without female candidates, male dominance has remained a reality for the Dáil.

“Now Ireland now has both the system and the political will to achieve a balanced parliament. The House of Commons should take note.”

The move by the Republic of Ireland to force equal representation in parliament should set a precedent for the UK and the rest of Europe. The House of Commons is currently made up of 145 women (22%) whereas 35% of MSPs are female.

Thirty-two per cent of Labour MPs are women, compared to only 16% of Conservative MPs; which is mainly down to Labour’s all-women shortlists. There are currently only five women in the British cabinet, compared to 13 in the Shadow cabinet.


See also:

Unemployment is down, but the government must not ignore the rise in jobless women 19 Jul 2012

Women have been in the British cabinet for 83 years, but the fight for representation isn’t over 8 Jun 2012

Tories denounce boardroom quotas, as report says male-dominated boards will fall behind 29 May 2012

Women, politics and the crisis: We cannot ignore gender in politics 16 Jan 2012


Nan Sloane, director of the Centre for Women and Democracy, wrote on Left Foot Forward last year:

The level of women’s representation in politics is an important signifier of a healthy democracy, yet in the UK only 22 per cent – or one in five – members of the Westminster parliament are women (pdf).

This means we lag behind more than 40 other countries worldwide, including most of our European neighbours.

For Labour, Ed Miliband has repeatedly and publicly expressed his support for more women in politics, and his reshuffle has seen 11 women take shadow cabinet positions, an increase of one on the previous shadow cabinet and nearly three times the number of women in Gordon Brown’s 2010 cabinet.

This is encouraging so far as it goes, and reflects Labour’s success in getting relatively large numbers of women through the system, but it isn’t yet enough.

Of course Labour has gone further and achieved more on all counts that either the Conservatives or the Liberal Democrats. But changing the politics of Britain is a collective responsibility, and however much Labour does it will not be able to do the job alone.

Until there is a real and meaningful shift in the culture of politics across all parties and institutions in the UK we are not going to be successful in achieving anything close to equal representation.

Everyone – including Labour – needs to take a long hard look at themselves and to start breaking down some of the unnecessary barriers that women face to getting involved in political life.

In the UK, the lack of female representation in parliament has been an ongoing discussion, but perhaps this move by the Irish government will encourage others to take action.


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  • Mr. Sensible

    I am in 2 minds on quotas, personally. They can be overused, and when that happens the exercise could prove counterproductive.

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  • Wwright1961

    In East Timor, after the July 2012 elections, 31% of the members of Parliament are women; a significant achievement considering the high levels of oppression against women through domestic violence and the doctrines of the Catholic Church in this poverty-stricken nation – and a stark contrast to the low level of women in legislatures in the developed world.

  • Rog

    if there is going to be quota`s then we need to split the money and have male and female lanes on the highway too,male and female healthcare (splitting the money equally dont forget) they take their half men take their half and we see who does better…..

    quota`s are an entitled way for women to get jobs that they havent earned nor can they ever be respected for having a position given to them by way of a quota…..

  • Anonymous

    I thought forward thinking would be the best person for the job? Clearly we can see every with emperical proof quota’s have failed. How can having someone who isn’t the best candidate be good in any way, other than being good for the gender accountant?

  • Anonymous

    Domestic violence isn’t an oppression, it’s a crime, which also affects men in equal numbers as every emperical peer reviewed study has shown.