Posts Tagged ‘irish politics’

According to the UN Global Report on Women in Tourism the tourism sector, one of the most significant generators of wealth and employment globally, is also credited with providing valuable income-generation and career opportunities for women. In contrast with other sectors women are almost twice as likely hold positions as employers in tourism and the leadership possibilities span the whole spectrum of roles from hotel proprietors right up to government ministers; women hold one in five tourism ministries worldwide, more than in any other branch of government. However, despite this relatively high representation it should be pointed out in this context that 20% is still appalling and that our own Leo Varadkar is quite clearly a man.

The issue is that, despite this high level of involvement in tourism, the women working in this sector are all too often “concentrated in low-skill, low-paid and precarious jobs,” and typically earn “10% to 15% less than their male counterparts.” The jobs that women are most likely to perform tend to include cooking, cleaning and hospitality, states the report. While the UN focused specifically on the developing world, a quick glance at this key industry here in Ireland is disheartening. Fáilte Ireland Authority members and holders of key positions are overwhelmingly male as are the boards and senior management of both major airlines.

I’m not offering any specific criticisms of the way tourism is organised and represented in Ireland. To date we have done very well in attracting and satisfying our overseas visitors. I simply feel saddened yet again that here is another  important and potentially very dynamic sector that is skewed at the upper levels in favour of men. In the future tourism represents a mechanism of attracting overseas cash into the country, enhancing our natural resources to the benefit of visitors and residents alike and, perhaps most importantly of all, improving our tarnished reputation globally. I would like to see a few more women at the helm determining and implementing policy rather than simply serving up the full Irish breakfast.

Anyone any ideas or opinions as to why this is the case?

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Jane Suiter is a former economics journalist at the Irish Times and the Sunday Times and is now lecturing in politics at UCC.

We need an election not a phoney budget consensus among parties. Ever since Irish Green party leader John Gormley called for the opposition parties to be given a full briefing on the truly appalling state of the state’s finances many otherwise sensible commentators have been backing the call.,seeming to believe that the leaders of the various political parties sitting down together to agree on the framework of a four year budgetary plan is a sign of political maturity and the least that is needed to get us out of our economic mess. The public for its part, sick of the sound of politicians bickering, was in broad agreement.

House of Pain

Yet, this is nonsense and anti-democratic nonsense at that. What we need  is an election and a government that has a mandate to deliver a budget and a four year plan that will bring the economy back from the abyss. The figures are as Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan said with some under statement “daunting”. In order for the Irish government to meet EU rules it needs to cut more than €3billion in the budget this year and as much as €12 billion over four years. That means a lot of unhappy citizens but it also means a lot of difficult choices for any incumbent government.

Demanding a consensus is simply a fig leaf for the current government and a barrier to the people holding the politicians to account. It is rubbish and potentially dangerous for a number of reasons, not least that it effectively disenfranchises the people. Second, it negates the reason for an election, if all parties agree why ask the people? The current crisis may be the most serious in the history of this state but it is not akin to the second world war where the British had a clearly defined enemy. It is also nonsensical from the point of view of expecting the opposition parties to come up with detailed plans following a 90 minute briefing from the Department of Finance which cannot realistically be expected to give full information.

Enda Kenny’s demand that the figures be given to a third party may be a stalling tactic but that does not lessen the underlying logic that the Department of Finance has a poor forecasting record at the best of times. Giving the figures to independent academic economists at TCD, UCD or the ESRI surely makes eminent sense in terms of devising a budgetary strategy. The current government’s strategy of relying solely on the mostly “gifted amateurs” in the Department has been shown to be seriously deficient already and is a policy that could be wisely rethought.

When the NTMA left the bond markets last month it created a window of opportunity for us to attempt to put our affairs in order. We need to take advantage of this and have an election within the next or six weeks, emerging at the end of the year with a government which has a mandate to implement a four year plan. Whatever the details of that plan it will be politically unpalatable for the majority of the population as all parties will need to look at cutting wages and social services as well as raising and introducing new taxes. If the people turn out to vote for parties which have such proposals in their manifestos it would go a long way to assuaging the fears of Europe as well as the markets and the rating agencies that we have the means and the determination to get out of this. Simply put, if all the parties set out their economic plans and the public vote on them then the resulting mandate is far more powerful than any photo op with four party leaders on the plinth of Leinster House.

We need to remember that the other side of that coin once  you make the decision to leave the bond markets is that it can be extraordinarily difficult to re-enter. On its own the current government simply may not have enough credibility with the markets to allow the NTMA back in the New Year. A consensus would increase our chances of being able to borrow again and EU Commissioner Oli Rehn cannot of course demand an election. But the truth is that a new government with a fresh mandate from the people can only make the job of selling Irish debt easier.

Our funds run out next spring and thus if we cannot re-enter the markets before that it will mean that we will have to go to the European Stabilisation Fund and the IMF. Of course all parties desperately want to avoid the legacy of being the people who ask the EU and IMF to come in. This is a real dilemma for the Opposition parties.  An election before Christmas means that the danger period when we try to go back in the markets next year likely occurs on their watch.  A spring election on the other hand means the first auctions and the real danger period occurs on the current government’s watch.

Some argue that the intervention of the EU and IMF would be the preferable policy, allowing the hard decisions to be outsourced but the problem is of course that if you lose your sovereignty you cannot make decisions on even the basics such as the balance between tax rises and spending cuts or even the retention of specifics such as the low corporate tax rate which looks to be in the EU’s sights. In addition, there is even doubt that if we were to request funds how much would be available. the Fund is not pre-funded and all involved would be praying that the request would not spark wider bond market contagion.

For now, the detail of the plans to reduce the deficit does not matter to either the Commission or the markets; all they care about is simply that there is a credible plan and a likelihood of success. This is just as well as the prescriptions from Fine Gael and Labour may be radically different. Labour leader Eamonn Gilmore said this week that he would not touch tax for lower and middle income earners or make changes to social welfare or child benefit. Fine Gael, on the other hand, is talking about hard medicine. This is part of the party’s culture which is so intrinsically bound up with saving the institutions of the state and being seen to do the “right thing”, the bottom line though does not differentiate it much from Fianna Fail economically. In addition,  Fine Gael has indicated that it is looking to a balance of 80% spending cuts and 20% tax rises, Labour has not set out its  plans but they are likely to be the reverse of this. Unless Labour takes the decision to stay out of Government, compromise will be inevitable perhaps with an even balance between tax and spending. But for that to have credibility the parties cannot be fully bound in now. Thus the Opposition parties have to argue that they do not get full disclosure on Monday morning allowing them to declare once they reach office that things are in fact much worse than they thought giving leeway to make compromises. They also need to stress the radical change in political and business culture needed where both are singing off a similar hymn sheet. New politics, open government, reform of party financing, an end to crony capitalism which has transferred seamlessly from Taca to the Galway Tent, are all areas where both parties have a lot in common.

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Guest Post by Miriam Cotton: Who is Merit, when she’s around?

The unexpected announcements by Olwyn Enright and Liz McManus of their intention not to seek re-election in 2011 have sparked national discussion about the under-representation of women in Irish politics. Their leaving is all the more significant given the recent, failed attempt to introduce a quota system to ensure more women candidates. Merit and merit alone, we are told, should be the sole deciding factor for selecting candidates for the Dáil. Of the 23 women TDs in the Dáil, 14 of them were opposed to quotas on the grounds, not that women elected by a quota system would actually be less capable but that they would be viewed as token women TDs. In the words of Maureen O’ Sullivan TD – quoted during a special report on the matter on last night’s Prime Time:

“they would ‘be crucified at every turn’ about their status in hostile, male-dominated parliamentary debate.”

This logic implies, ironically, that it is actually fear of how the men would behave rather than the merits of gender quotas per se that is determining what a majority of our women TDs are saying about the matter.

If that is really the prevailing attitude among male TDs toward gender quotas then it is hogwash, cant and hypocrisy. For a very long time, to be the owner of the wrong set of gender signifiers was an automatic bar to entry into politics – a state of affairs that did lasting injury to women and one moreover which manifestly has not yet been put right. Besides, are we seriously being asked to believe that the network of interlinking family dynasties of which the Dail and Seanad are substantially made up has anything to do with merit? Does the incompetence with which the country has been run into the ground over the last decade suggest that merit was ever even a consideration? Didn’t Bertie Ahern reassure the nation that he only appointed certain people to positions of power because they were his friends?

As Ivana Bacik said on Prime Time, there are all sorts of informal quotas in operation already that involve list systems of one kind or another – all of which continue to favour men. She also pointed to the two most impenetrable factors preventing women from entering politics: the culture of Irish politics and candidate selection. Miriam O’ Callaghan reported on last night’s programme that the National Women’s Council of Ireland have calculated that at the present rate at which women are entering the Dáil, it will take us 370 years to have equal representation. Meanwhile over 100 countries are using gender quotas in a serious effort to counter the prejudicial antipathy towards women in political culture and candidate selection.

A few years ago over lunch with a hospital consultant, he mentioned to a somewhat taken aback group of friends that measures were being taken to ‘do something’ about the higher numbers of women entering the medical profession. He complained about the effect on working life in hospitals of maternity leave in particular. Though this sort of rationale for it has been officially denied, the subsequent introduction of the HPAT test – a new IQ test which purports to be about identifying ability in ways other than by Leaving Certificate results (which young women were excelling in) – has indeed resulted in higher numbers of men entering the profession, though in many cases they will not have scored as many points as women in their Leaving Certificate exams. The euphemism for justifying this exercise has been that it is a necessary ‘re-balancing of the gender quota’.

While it has certainly attracted its fair share of criticism I don’t recall anything like the stubborn resistance to this measure among politicians – male or female – as has been evident when the subject of gender quotas for themselves comes up. It also says something about how far feminism has really succeeded in Ireland that no sooner than do women, on the basis of true merit alone, begin to surpass men in any influential walk of life than the general feeling is that something urgently needs to be done to call a halt to it. There are plans afoot to extend the requirement to sit this test into other professions as well.

As Brian Moore, Guidance Counsellor at Oatlands College, Stillorgan put it in an article in the Irish Times in 2009:

“Are we comfortable with a system that actively discriminates against females attaining medical places? Is the medical establishment supporting the change in the admissions system because it fears the feminisation of the medical profession will somehow reduce its status, and thus its financial rewards as it is reputed to have done in teaching and other professions? Are there those within the medical establishment who consider it a waste investing huge resources in training females as doctors if, after a number of years in practice, they decide to leave the active labour force or decide to work on a part-time basis to give time to care for their children? Where are the voices of those who would normally speak out in protection of equality of opportunity for women in the workplace?”

And riddle me this: if there is a concern to ensure a 50/50 gender balance in the medical profession, why is there no corresponding concern to ensure the same balance at the top of that or any other profession – still almost all massively biased towards men?

It seems we can proactively discriminate in favour of men but not women. But this is of course nothing new – only a new way of reviving and redefining the common-or-garden, old-fashioned chauvinism that continues to discriminate against women in any case – albeit generally less obviously so than before.

Media commentary in recent weeks has been depressing – at least for this feminist it has anyway. Of all that I have read and heard, John Drennan in The Independent takes the prize. I blush for him to quote from it here, since it would be best for John himself if it were just quietly forgotten but it surely goes to the heart of what Bacik means when she talks about the prevailing political culture. In an article ostensibly lamenting the loss of Olwyn Enright from politics he manages to say the following:

“THE day I first saw Olwyn Enright, she was draped seductively across what appeared to be a row of Toyota Corolla cars.”


“When Olwyn entered the Dail, even the driest political hacks immediately knew how Thomas Hardy felt when Tess of the D’Urbervilles first entered his imagination.”

as well as:

Instead, in what was — to put it mildly — a bit of a shock, Charlie Flanagan lost his seat and breathless, naive, happy little Olwyn scooped the pot.”


“It was understandable, for Enright allowed them to say, “Look we have women, they are young and pretty, Fine Gael is not the latterday equivalent of some dying Welsh coal-mining village.”


“Some of us even suggested she might make a perfect leader, but we should not be criticised too harshly, since the only alternative was another pretty doe-eyed blonde.”

And where to begin with this:

“Sadly, in spite of this fine beginning, we tired of Olwyn remarkably quickly. She was, like any well-brought-up convent girl, hard-working, quiet and diligent. But the Dail is a cruel judge, and she did not distinguish herself sufficiently to retain our attention.

Too often the breathless schoolgirlish style of delivery spoke of someone who was feeling the effects of a steep learning curve. And there were other brighter comets, such as John Deasy, who were far more capable of attracting our interest.

You could not blame us for our lofty sighs about how it was simply not enough to be a lovely girl, for there was more than enough of old Tom in Olwyn to render her cautious.”

It’s an indictment of the state of our collective attitude that it is still possible for a journalist even to think of penning sexist bilge like this in the pages of a national newspaper. Yet Drennan moves comfortably about the political scene with little or no notice evidently being taken either by male or female TDs when he reinforces such an atrocious stereotype. The effect on young women thinking about a career in politics can only be damaging and discouraging – even if (as most will) they recognise this stuff for what it is.

In last Saturday’s Irish Times, Garrett Fitzgerald pondered the same imponderable: how to get more women into politics. Without a shred of self-consciousness he described how he stormed The Late Late Show studio one evening years ago during a programme dedicated to women. Twenty women had been invited along to discuss women in politics among other issues and they were not amused by his arrogant intrusion. He was infuriated by the effrontery of Mary Kenny who had dared to suggest that grassroots networking and seeking to influence change from the bottom up would be more effective than trying to break into the club to bring about change from within. Garrett, roused into action from his armchair at home, was single-handedly going to put the ladies straight on their mistaken notions. Never mind that Kenny has been proved completely right, Fitzgerald – despite the obvious failure of our political system to facilitate the entry of women into politics in equal numbers in the intervening years – still believes it is self-evident that trying to play the existing antipathetic political system is more likely to serve women better than any independent women-led initiative.

Mary Kenny was right in more ways than that too. Once in the door, women politicians drop the f-word from their vocabulary entirely, if they ever used it in the first place. Most are ashamed of it. There was a twitter moment in response to an interview with Lucinda Creighton on The John Murray Show this week when Creighton – who was there specifically to talk about being a woman in politics – felt it necessary to say that, while things could definitely be better for women, she was no ‘crazed feminist’ herself. Aaarrgh, Lucinda! Bad enough when men go reinforcing stereotypes but it is fatal when women do it to themselves. Nobody was accusing you of it – and anyway it’s OK to be a feminist! The ‘crazed feminist’ was always the fearful figment of uncomprehending male imaginations – a latter-day virtual witch to be held out for virtual ducking and burning. Don’t make out that she actually exists!

We live in what is still fundamentally a deeply chauvinistic society – both in the generic and specific sense of the word. Though we are lucky to have strong, capable feminists among us and though significant advances have been made, too many Irish women are to varying degrees still deferential to men – still consciously or subconsciously afraid to assert themselves reasonably for fear of alienating or irritating when interacting with men whether personally, socially or professionally. You can see it even in our body language when we are around them. And you can see it in the fear some women TDs have of gender quotas what is more.

It’s not just women who suffer from this fear affliction either. Deference is endemic in all aspects of Irish life. As Vincent Browne has written recently, we have even succeeded in being punished by the financial markets for excessive deference to them. We defer to corrupt and incompetent politicians. And despite the outpouring of anger against the abuses of the Catholic Church, the actual sanctions taken against its institutions have been pathetically deferential – if the term is even adequate to describe the legal indemnity they were granted. Hardly surprising, then, that in our society it has been that much harder for women to achieve equal status and representation in all walks of life. The potential is there for women to be the key to bringing this entire, decaying house of cards down to the benefit of all but, clearly, we will be a long time waiting if we don’t seize the initiative for doing so ourselves. Remedial action is regarded as a very ordinary, necessary requirement when righting a wrong in any other context. A hundred other countries have understood the point. If we don’t have gender quotas in Irish politics until we are equally represented and if we are not to lose the gains already made (and the signs are that this already happening) – then there will be no choice but for women to eschew politics and to build an alternative, powerful movement by and for themselves. Ideally, we need both.

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Miriam Cotton has been an editor of the media-monitoring website MediaBite with David Manning for five years and has contributed to numerous national and international print and internet publications including Village magazine, The Irish Examiner, The Real News Network, Counterpunch, Znet.com, Indymedia Ireland and others.)

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Another fabulous guest poster, just in time for election day! Aoife B of Sweet Oblivion asks why an election has become a beauty contest – for female candidates only.

“I don’t think I’ll vote,” he announced loudly. “But if I do, I’ll vote for her, ‘cos she’s the best looking.” Sitting on a bus in Kildare one afternoon last week, I found myself listening to a group of men of varying ages chatting about the local elections. Talk had turned to who the best looking female candidates were and as I eavesdropped from a few seats away I heard one man say the above about Fine Gael candidate Emma Kiernan.
Kiernan, a young woman in her twenties, had recently found herself in the national news thanks to a photograph on Facebook of her messing about with friends ending up in the hands of the press.
As the bus trundled through Naas and into Newbridge, the faces of smiling – and in some cases, grimacing – election candidates whipped past us on eye-level posters.
With just over a week to go to the elections, it was only natural to assume that conversations around the country would be occupied by the fate of local candidates. But to hear that people were voting – if they voted at all – for female candidates based solely on their looks felt so depressingly unsurprising to me that it made me wonder if I was one of the only people to be bothered by this.
One of my first thoughts this year on looking at the local election posters in my area was: ‘There are loads of women!’ For the first time it really felt like there was a high representation of women running as candidates, and it felt great that so many of them were young women like myself. But I soon had the sinking feeling that it wouldn’t be long before the attractiveness of these women’s features was discussed, rather than the attractiveness of their policies.
Type in ‘best looking’ into Google and what is the first suggested option to come up? ‘best looking female politicians’. The second? ‘Best looking politicians’. The third? ‘Best looking women’. It’s certainly not just Kildare commuters who are concerned about how attractive their local politicians are. And to me, it’s just another way to show that women are too often judged on their outside appearance, on how good-looking or sexy they are, before their opinions, policies or anything else are considered. It happens in so many other areas, why should it not happen with politics too?
Part of my struggle with this is that I recognise that as human beings it is natural for us to be attracted to people and to size up potential mates. Personally, I wouldn’t expect people to look at someone and never, however momentarily, decide if they find them attractive or not. But when their attractiveness takes precedence over whatever else they stand for, and when it becomes about how ‘foxy’ a candidate is, and not how suitable for the job they are that gets most attention, then I feel distinctly uncomfortable. Particularly when it’s made out to be a perfectly natural question.
Boylesports, by the way, are the ones responsible for this ‘foxy’ idea – they conducted a poll into who the ‘foxiest’ candidates are in the current elections. But the most revealing thing wasn’t who they picked – it was the fact that 43% of respondents said they believe a candidate’s appearance would influence their voting decision; meanwhile, more than a third said they would vote for someone solely based on how they looked.
Is this what modern politics is about? Or is it all just fluffy propaganda created to ‘sex up’ the elections? While I don’t believe that the majority of people, male or female, would enter the polling booth determined to only vote for the best looking candidates, I do think that with the influx of female candidates this year there’s been far more of an emphasis on their looks than in previous years.
Some of the factors contributing to that of course have to include that the great majority of these women are young, fresh-faced and would be considered conventionally attractive.
Then perhaps for some there’s the ‘novelty’ factor – women are woefully underrepresented in Irish politics, with only 13% of Dáil members being female, and this new generation of young women is bound to be of interest to voters and journalists.
But at the end of the day, does all this talk about how ‘foxy’ a female candidate is translate into votes? Is there the chance that those who think these young women are attractive also think that they would be incapable of making serious political decisions? Is it the age-old question of whether people see female candidates as either good looking or intelligent – and does this have anything to do with the lack of women in Irish politics?
According to a recent article in the Irish Examiner: [http://examiner.ie/text/ireland/snmhkfcwoj/]“Studies by the Northwestern University based on the 2006 US congressional elections, showed that [a] woman’s chance of getting voted in depended on the perception of their competence combined with their attractiveness. This compares with male candidates where perception of competence is the main factor with attractiveness a significantly lesser consideration.”
If this study is to be believed, then female candidates do have to straddle the line between being perceived as attractive and intelligent.
We may be living in an age when women in Ireland have more freedom and rights than we have ever had, but there is a distinct gender imbalance in the Government that runs our country.
My own hope would be that following the local elections and into the next general election, because of the higher rate of female candidates women will become far more of a presence in Irish politics. And as more women enter the political game, perhaps we will have a more diverse representation of women holding political power.
But the emphasis needs to be taken off what these women look like and put onto what good they can do for us and our country. Let’s do the opposite to what the commuter I overheard in Kildare did, and take them at more than just face value.

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