Either Rocking the Cradle or the System; Women in Irish Politics

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It is a sad fact of reality that women, despite making up 51% of the population, only hold less than 13% of seats in the Dáil, leaving Ireland ranking 59th out of 120 nations examined for parliamentary representation of women in 2006. Apologists for this pitiful situation will of course either a) blame the electorate or b) refer us to the gender index published by the World Economic Forum in November 2007.

This index gives Ireland a glowing report in the “political empowerment of women” category – eighth in the whole world in fact. Largely due to the number of Ministerial positions and female presidents there have been. What apologists may not be so quick to refer to is the fact that the World Economic Forum was unimpressed with only 22 out of 166 parliamentary seats being held by women (at the time the report was compiled). Ireland was then awarded 74th place out of the 128 countries examined.
Women are perpetually under-represented in Irish politics and in decision making structures. Every sphere of decision-making is dominated by men and the belief that real gender equality exists in this state is a myth. According to the Central Statistics Office, the employment rate for women last year was 60% compared with over 77% for men and women’s average income was only two-thirds of that of men’s. Taking into account adjustments for hours worked, women still only received 86% of men’s earnings. Ireland ranks 41st out of the world for gender pay equality. It hardly reflects a society that empowers women in general.

While it could be said that there has been painstakingly slow progress made in terms of Irish political representation for women it seems to have stalled at the 12 or 13%; the number of female seats in the Dáil was reduced in the last election. Female representation in Irish politics is less than that in the Nordic countries, Continental Europe, the Americas and Sub-Saharan Africa. And although most of the barriers that prevented women from going down anything other than the house-wife route have now gone (contraceptives being illegal, the civil service ban on married women etc) female participation in politics and subsequent representation in government is shockingly low in international terms. The male domination of the legal, cultural and political institutions in Ireland is an indictment of Irish society. Female representation is clearly not a priority for the Irish Government and it is believed by many that now is the time to have real debate on the question of affirmative action for women in Irish politics. If it was high on the priority list, the gender quota discussion would have begun years ago.

In the run-up to the 2007 General Election women’s groups in Ireland and the National Women’s Council of Ireland called for the government to bring forward legislation that would ensure that there was “at least 40% of either sex in both houses of the Oireachtas”. Bertie Ahern in turn pledged to increase the numbers of women in the Dáil and work towards more female representation in Irish politics- he then appointed two women to cabinet positions after forming the new government. It is quite clear that women are not adequately represented in politics until there is at least a 35-40% female level of parliamentary representation.

A prime example of this is the lack of government action regarding cervical cancer. 180 women are diagnosed with this every year in this state. It is caused by the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) which 80% of Irish women come into contact with at some point in their lives. 73 women will die from this in 2008. There is a HPV vaccine that is freely available for girls from the age of 12 in many countries alongside cervical cancer screening programmes rolled-out nationwide. In Ireland we have no nationwide screening programme and if you want the vaccine you have to pay €600. There is no sign of this changing anytime soon. If HPV was something that could affect the male 87% of Dáil Eireann this may be a different story.

It is not so much that female members of parliament are absolutely guaranteed to legislate progressively on women’s issues (you only have to look at the Minister for Health to prove this), but a democratic parliament that is truly reflective of the society it is to represent should have a guaranteed proportional gender balance. Affirmative action is the way to achieve this, because let’s be realistic, there is no other option. This situation is not suddenly going to resolve itself and affirmative action is not to give preferential treatment to women, but to remove the negativity and discrimination that they face. It is plausible then, that with higher female representation in government, issues such as HPV vaccinations and equal pay standards may be addressed more efficiently. Affirmative action in politics, in conjunction with initiatives to resolve the primary causes of discrimination in society could work wonders, after all, inequality is not something that is inherent in society, it is caused by inherent inequalities in the current power structure which can be changed.

Affirmative action that would guarantee larger numbers of women in politics is something that most of the left-leaning parties agree on – at least, in theory. While Sinn Fein have explicitly stated their support for the NWCI call for affirmative action guaranteeing 40% of either gender in the Dáil, they say they would go further and ensure a 50/50 representation level. The Green Party have also stated “…the accepted critical mass of one or other gender of at least 30% is adhered to in all political and policy decision making bodies”. Labour have said that a critical mass of 30-40% needed for women to make an impact in politics, but have not gone so far as to put forward specific gender quota proposals. So, in reality there is a general agreement across the left and/or left leaning members of political parties on the need for gender quotas in other to make the political system more representative. This in itself is to be welcomed.

However, there are those who argue against the quotas. We are told that “women want to be elected on merit” –well of course they do and to think anything else would be plain ridiculous, but the fact is that women, regardless of their merit are very often overlooked because of their gender. Affirmative action gender quotas will not suddenly ensure that any “woman at all will do” but will take the discrimination against women out of the equation. Gender quotas will still allow for people to be chosen on merit. There are others who will argue that gender quotas are undemocratic. This would then imply that the current system in place is democratic and truly representative of society. So, is it democratic when 47% of Dáil members are lower-to-middle professionals when only 15% of Irish society is? Arguably not and yet this does not present those who argue against gender quotas with any great difficulty. Is it democratic when people residing in a certain county are left without Dáil representation? Perhaps not, but it is things such as this that are an integral part of what needs to be publicly discussed, debated and perhaps changed in order to make “Irish democracy” – more democratic.

It is incredibly sad of course that we now have to seriously contemplate putting a clause on the statute books to ensure that 51% of the population of the state is adequately represented in the parliament of the state. Some may even say that it is shameful. Whatever it is though – it is badly needed. Cross-party dialogue and co-operation could seriously advance the equality agenda for women’s rights. Now is the time to start it.

De Luas provided courtesy of Red Mum.

 

21 Responses

  1. simon

    February 25, 2008 6:02 pm

    Interesting. How far do you think equality should go. Should for instance in the education of our children possibly the most important thing we do should we have a 49% quota for male teachers?

    Also what form should this quota take. Considering that we elect on basis of local TD’s should 1/2 of the ballot paper be female? Say 50% of candidates are female what if 50% or not elected should the results be overturned to insure that it happens. Should we abandon local TD’s and go for party list systems? It would require a radical over haul perhaps even change of our voting system to get a quote system installed

    People can only elect what is on the paper. The question then has to be why are so few women on the ballot papers? It can’t be the parties fault solely there is a lack of female independent candidates as well. AS you point out the large proportion of lower to middle professionals are in the Dail. If you look at it it is teachers, farmers and publicans that make up alot of the TD’s. One of the things they have in common and not with women and “lower class” workers is free time.

  2. Wednesday

    February 26, 2008 7:16 am

    Hmm. Well, there’s not much I disagree with you on, but I wouldn’t be in favour of gender quotas. Forms of affirmative action stopping short of quotas, yes. But a system that could end up with the likes of Mary Hanafin or Mary Harney being elected over someone who is genuinely working on behalf of women’s equality but isn’t a woman himself – I don’t think that would work to our advantage in the long run.

  3. Stephanie

    February 27, 2008 10:56 am

    Simon and Wednesday,
    I’d like to see equality go as far as it possibly can. I mean, of course it would be nice if we could have a 50/50 gender split in teachers of our children but I’m not sure if you can legislate for a quota solely applicable to teachers. I understand your point with regard to people only being able to elect what’s on the ballot paper and the dangers of more Mary Hanafins being elected, but in the first instance I would like to see something akin to the Norwegian system where quotas are self-imposed and voluntary. Unfortunately though, I don’t believe that parties in this state would have the will or inclination to self-impose anything of the sort on themselves. The tokenistic gestures realistically paid to women’s equality by right-wing parties proves that in itself. I’d prefer not to have to legislate for something but unfortunately, I don’t really see a better route to take.

  4. simon

    February 27, 2008 6:25 pm

    The tokenistic gestures realistically paid to women’s equality by right-wing parties proves that in itself.

    Tokenism of right wing parties. The PD’s have had the highest ratio between genders 50/50 before and after the collapse. Sinn Fein have none. Greens have 1/6th Labour have about 1/3 so I am not sure what it proves at all really.

    Whats wrong with Mary Hanafin being elected? I don’t particularly like her myself but if your aim is for more women in the power why do you seem to think they have to be just people you agree with.

    You say you can’t legislate for a quota for teachers but you can have one for TDs? Why?

  5. Stephanie

    February 27, 2008 6:55 pm

    When I was talking about tokenistic women’s equality I didn’t wasn’t referring to Dail representation – I was referring to their attitude to women’s equality in Ireland – the fact that women earn 86 cent for every euro a man earns etc etc and the complete unwillingness to do anything about it.
    I could list a number of things wrong with Mary Hanafin getting elected. But then again I didn’t actually say that it has to be people that only agree with me getting elected. Although, that would be really really nice.
    As for legislating for teachers gender quotas – well teachers are employees. The Employment Equality Act (2004) already says you can’t discriminate on the basis of gender in employment in a job (unless specifically needed i.e. a male actor needed for a male role in theatre). But this could always be changed. I don’t know if it’s necessarily imperative to change it at this stage though. I believe it’s different from elected reps as the parliament is (supposedly) meant to represent the society that it legislates for. Which it currently clearly does not.

  6. simon

    February 27, 2008 10:46 pm

    I believe it’s different from elected reps as the parliament is (supposedly) meant to represent the society that it legislates for. Which it currently clearly does not.

    But where does it stop? Should 10% be Gay, 10% dyslexic, 10% immigrants, x% (don’t know the number) single parents, 2-3% not able to read and write. Where does it stop? Why is one groups equality representation take precedence over anothers group. Why are women in more need of equality legislation then people in wheelchairs. Why are their not more people with disabilities in the Dail. The exact same arguments you make for women could be made for people with disabilities. But it never is. Why?

    Equality is not something that can be quotated, if it is then it is not equality. Equality comes from people being treated equally and legislation should be focused on doing just that, not make people more equal then others.

  7. Kate

    February 27, 2008 11:50 pm

    Applying a gender quota to teacher employment in schools would be impossible. Already the gender imbalance in Irish primary schools is dangerous. Not enough young men want to consider primary education as worthwhile careers, so the majority of teachers are women. Surely young children need father and mother role models?

    One good development in primary schools is the way the GAA has recognised the potential of girls for playing football and hurling. Girls really love these games and enjoy togging out on those schooldays when specially employed trainers come around for after-lunch coaching sessions.

  8. simon

    February 28, 2008 1:27 pm

    Not enough young men want to consider primary education as worthwhile careers

    From what I know it is not that men do not consider them worthwhile careers but are scared of being accused of abuse. But that is another story. The point on gender quota in teching would be to make it 50/50 male female. i.e doing the opposite that is proposed here for TDs

  9. WorldbyStorm

    February 28, 2008 7:50 pm

    simon, I’m not sure there is any contradiction there if one’s argument is based in equality.

    Still, I sort of agree with you that we have to be prepared for unintended consequence in terms of having voices appear which are far from what we might expect or want… one of the interesting things about the ‘New’ social conservatives that appear to be proliferating is how many women are involved…

  10. Ciarán

    February 29, 2008 5:17 pm

    It’s a pity the six counties has been completely ignored here because there are also questions to be asked about the representation of women in the Stormont Assembly (17% or 18 out of 108). In May a Sinn Féin motion to discuss the underrepresentation of women in the Assembly was shot down by the DUP. There hasn’t really been much heard about the situation since.

  11. WorldbyStorm

    March 1, 2008 3:44 pm

    Ciarán, that’s very true. In this period it’s essential to remember we’re now moving slowly but surely to an all-island footing on many different levels.

  12. Niall

    March 4, 2008 4:09 pm

    This proposal is absurd. Affirmative action is only necessary to correct what has been proven to be discriminatory recruitment practices, such as in the case of the RUC. Even you do not go so far as to suggest the Dail is discriminatory, only that people don’t vote along what you would consider ideal lines.

    The purpose of public bodies is first and foremost to work effectively by utilising the best people. Coercive measures should only be entertained when it has been proven that this is not happening due to discrimination. It is not de facto necessary that public bodies mirror the demographic structure of a society down to a tee, only that the most able candidates are selected and commit to working for all.

    The only accusation of discrimination you make in this piece is levelled at the Irish electorate, not the Dail, and you present your ideological assumption as if it was well-understood fact.

    “but the fact is that women, regardless of their merit are very often overlooked because of their gender. Affirmative action gender quotas will not suddenly ensure that any “woman at all will do” but will take the discrimination against women out of the equation.”

    Riddle me this: if 51% of the electorate are women, how can the results be discriminatory? It is an out-and-out paradox that the way to ensure that society is fairly represented is to ignore its wishes. It’s this type of communistic claptrap that gives socialism a bad name.

    I would like to see more women put themselves forward for election but this is not the way to do it. It would be the ultimate mockery of democracy.

  13. Dan Sullivan

    March 4, 2008 6:43 pm

    “the fact that women earn 86 cent for every euro a man earn”, hmm a fact that ignores the respectively different employments that men and women have.

    It may be news to the writer but we’ve actually had a debate about gender quotas stretching back a quarter of a century to the FG/Lab coalition of the 80s. The fact that it hasn’t been resolved in a manner the writer would like doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened.

    The political system is discouraging or alternately encouraging to a certain type of person. Many men too take a long hard look electoral politics and decide to pass on it. I would love to see more engineers in the Oireachtas because I believe it would result in a more solutions lead environment but I wouldn’t dream of mandating it. We have too many teachers in politics as a proportion of the population, are we going to ban them? Instead of looking to skew the electoral system, it would be far more sensible to find out why people of both genders from all backgrounds do not get involved and see if the nature of the execution of the work could be re-focused so that while still representative that some of the elements that some have identified as discouraging people from involvement are addressed.

  14. Ciarán

    March 4, 2008 6:45 pm

    But surely if women are on average earning 86% of the pay their male co-workers earn for the same work, there is discrimination going on. Of course, immigrant and agency workers are paid very poorly in comparison to their Irish counterparts, but who would argue from there that the answer is more immigrants, or people of immigrant extraction, in Leinster House.

    But getting back to the point at hand, why women are under-represented in the political sphere and how to deal with this issue are still major bones of contention. Stephie has suggested positive discrimination as a possible solution, but I suppose you could ask as well if that would really get to the core of the problem, though maybe more visible women in politics would encourage more women to get involved in politics generally. It also might be little more than a tokenistic gesture in the end.

  15. Conor McCabe

    March 4, 2008 10:09 pm

    The discrimination is taking place at branch level, across the parties. Did anyone happen to hear the RTE documentary on Mary Fitpatrick´s campaign for FF in Dublin Central. Basically, she was played like a violin by Bertie and his cohorts. Politics is such an overwhelmingly macho culture, that you´d need the balls of Hilary Clinton to survive.

    I´d tend to agree with Niall and Ciaran on this one. I’m not sure if quotas would be anything but cosmetic. The bigger problem is that politics is not a meritocracy. How we turn it into one is something that has alluded every system builder since Solon.

    What I mean is, how do we get women active in politics? Stephanie is completely correct about male blindness to women´s issues. My feeling is that unless quotas challenge the political culture they may end up giving the illusion of change.

  16. Dan Sullivan

    March 5, 2008 1:23 am

    Ciarán, the stats quoted are not for doing the same work, they are average earnings based on gender. Women are under represented in some of the more senior positions in some of the higher earning positions which is a basic fact related to the under representation of women in entry level positions in those professions 30 years ago. We’re not going to see an equal % of women as execs and senior managers when the numbers were so skewed when those people entered their professions.

  17. Stephanie

    March 7, 2008 3:31 pm

    Simon,
    Well, clearly equality can be quotated. Equality…equal measures….50/50….sameness or equalness in number…oops look I just quotated. Just because you’ve legislated for affirmative action measures doesn’t make it anti-equality, it just makes it so everyone has a FAIR crack of the whip. The argument that you should then have 10% gay, 10% dyslexic etc etc doesn’t cut it for me I’m afraid – you can be a gay woman or man, dyslexic regardless of gender, and single parent whether you’re male or female (although going by current statistics that one is more likely to mean that you’re female).

    I don’t agree that men do not consider teaching as a worthiwhile career because they are “scared of being accused of abuse”. I think it’s more to do with the fact that patriarchal societies teach that men should be carpenters, plumbers, bankers, and surgeons – women should be secretaries, domestic, teachers, nurses. Historically that has been the way it’s always been (especially in the primary sector). Saying that they don’t consider it worthwhile for fear of abuse accusations provides a handy get-out clause to guidance councilors and others who don’t think that a man should “waste his working-life” being a teacher.

    Ciarán
    Of course you raised a very important point with regard to the north which I should have dealt with in my original piece but time didn’t allow I’m afraid. As for the DUP It was disappointing that they voted down that motion in the Assembly considering that one of their own MLAs (Michelle McIlveen) was quite vocal on the under-representation of women in school-principal positions while 60% of 6 county teachers were female.

    Niall,
    It is not at all absurd to suggest the use of affirmative action in a case like this. Your point that it is only necessary to introduce such measures when there have been proven “discriminatory recruitment practices” is redundant because you cannot “recruit” into the Dáil. The fact is that the Dáil as a whole cannot be discriminatory in its own right – the Government can, and the political parties and their internal structures which decide on election candidates can. That is where the discrimination lies. What I have said is not an “ideological assumption levelled at the electorate” by any stretch. The electorate may only vote for what’s on the ballot paper. It is very easy to ascertain voting patterns in constituencies, so selection conventions will know what seats are “winnable” are which hell would freeze over before they would get a candidate elected there. It is easy to pick your winnable-seat-candidate while saying “oh yes, but we are very progressive on gender-equality, didn’t we stand X amount of women in X amount of constituencies”. That is a well understood fact.
    So, Batman there is the answer to your riddle. 51% of the electorate are women but your assertion that this is “communistic claptrap” only backs up your own argument if you genuinely believe that women only vote for women.

    Dan,
    The discussion around gender equality has been going on for longer that the 80s. I don’t really get where you’re coming from saying that just because it hasn’t happened in the way that I’d like to see it doesn’t mean that it hasn’t happened. The discussion has been going on for years – now 13% of Dáil reps are female……which leads me to believe that eh, it hasn’t happened.

    I agree with Conor when he said that the discrimination is at branch level but I wouldn’t be happy with cosmetic changes on their own, I want real change to affect equality. Sitting on our laurels would not be an option after getting gender quotas. Gender quotas alone certainly would not be the be all and all of it for me but one thing was very interesting/telling with his comment; “Politics is such an overwhelmingly macho culture, that you´d need the balls of Hilary Clinton to survive” …….i.e. you have to be like a man….cos you can’t, y’know be a ‘real’ woman (whatever that is) in politics and survive….you have to be a woman –but with balls. Oh dear. But that’s a whole other debate I guess 😉

    Apologies for the really long reply here…..and happy international women’s day to all for tomorrow of course!

  18. simon

    March 9, 2008 10:39 am

    The argument that you should then have 10% gay, 10% dyslexic etc etc doesn’t cut it for me I’m afraid – you can be a gay woman or man, dyslexic regardless of gender, and single parent whether you’re male or female (although going by current statistics that one is more likely to mean that you’re female).

    Sorry that really does not explain why this doesn’t cut it. If women make up 50% of the population and not 50% of the Dail is wrong why is 10% of the population being dyslexic and not 10% of the dail not wrong. Is being dyslexic make you worthy of less equality then being female same goes for being gay. You certainly can’t say that dyslexic and homosexual rights are being well representative.

    Also have a chat to a few male friends about why they are not teaching I doubt you will get any that will say anything about patroical society.

  19. Niall

    March 10, 2008 11:18 am

    “the Government can, and the political parties and their internal structures which decide on election candidates can”

    The logical step from your point of view then would be to mandate that political parties have a certain amount of female candidates. This runs counter to the very notion of democracy, where anybody can start a party for any reason and put it before the electorate. A party campaigning on the issue of father’s rights would be up against it to meet the criteria, as would a party like the Women’s Coalition in Northern Ireland. Indeed affirmative action like this would work against a dedicated Feminist party organising and contesting elections.

    It’s up to the parties to decide who they want to put forward. It might be admirable if they select more women but legislating for this would be a travesty of the electoral process. If you don’t like it vote for somebody else.

  20. Stephanie

    March 14, 2008 4:23 pm

    Simon,
    I never at any point said that you were less entitled to equality if you are gay or dyslexic, and I certainly don’t think that dyslexic, disability, or homosexual rights agendas are adequately catered for in our political system. Personally, I advocate a 50/50 split which is in itself gender neutral as it sets a maximum amount of gender participation rather than stating a minimum. Taking action such as this, as I said before is not to discriminate as you imply (that advocating gender quotas would somehow not represent any other under-represented minority), we live in a male-dominated system that under-values women’s experience and qualifications. Nobody is less worthy of equality but the fact remains that a gay person is still a man or a woman (due to the narrow societal constructs of gender anyway) and so is a dyslexic person. The fact remains that 50% of society is female, perhaps 10% are gay, but they are still female. And they are under-represented, I’m not saying that gay people are not worthy of representation AT ALL. They are entitled to the same equality as the rest of us. They continue to suffer discrimination on a daily basis because of the hetro-norm society that disbars them from marrying because of their sexuality and subsequently treats them as 2nd class relationships.
    But if you advocated 50% women and 10% gay and 10% ethinic minority, would the knock-on of that be that as a gay person you would be entitled to more ‘equality’ than someone who was not gay and so on? And which bracket does the gay dyslexic male stand in? Would he have to decide if he was either dyslexic or gay for the purposes of elections? It would be ridiculous. Plus then you would have to decide an equality percentage threshold where the percentage of representation would be proportional to their representation in the population and you would of course inevitably run out of percentages for specific groups and it wouldn’t work.
    With regard to talking to male friends about why they did not want to become teachers – I did. Granted some of them said that they didn’t want to be a teacher because they wanted to be a plumber/fitter/graphic designer etc., some actually said they would have liked to have been teachers but didn’t feel that they had the “academic capabilities” (their words not mine) to be one but most of all, they mostly said that it never occurred to them….my thinking on this that it was never presented to them as a viable career option due to the patriarchal design of our society and what is acceptable and what is unacceptable for boys and girls to want to do when they grow up. People do not have to be aware of the power of patriarchy to be affected by it.

    Niall,
    The logical step from my argument would to mandate political parties with x amount of female candidates? –it might be a ‘logical’ step but this doesn’t work; 30% of females candidates standing in an election does not result in 30% of female representation as an outcome. That is why I advocate the legislation option. It would only counter to ‘the very notion of democracy’ if we all believed that democracy was a situation where a room full of people got to sit in a room (13% women of course) and make policies and legislation that affect all of us. This of course would suit your point very well seeing as you appear to believe that a group campaigning on father’s rights should be or is solely composed of fathers (and by implication – men). I’m not in favour in single gender parties anyway (such as the Women’s Coalition) as I do not think they are conducive to inclusion. A parliament which is filled with 87% of either gender is not democratic.
    Anyway, if a legislative quota system was introduced it wouldn’t disbar single-gender parties from standing because they would have an equal shot on the ballot in the first place. Legislating for this would not be a travesty but (as even the European Commission have said) “an important tool for giving women access to leading political positions.”
    If I don’t like it, vote for someone else? Well, I listed a number of parties who are in favour of gender quotas of one form or another. By ‘it’ I think you mean the current state of affairs? Yes, you’re right, I don’t like ‘it.’ So I do vote for someone else and not the current shower. But thanks for the advice, I’ll eh, bear it in mind.

  21. Niall

    March 14, 2008 5:43 pm

    Stephanie, you’ve had a week to reply and this garbled nonsense is the best you can come up with?

    “30% of females candidates standing in an election does not result in 30% of female representation as an outcome. That is why I advocate the legislation option.”

    So if for example only 20% of candidates are female they should still have 30-50% representation in the Dail, regardless of how people vote? The only way this can be done is to discount the votes of large sections of the electorate. Every vote not being equal is not synonymous with democracy, whatever spin you want to put on it. Creating equality of opportunity by having more female candidates is admirable (though it cannot be legislated for), but gerrymandering the whole election process is an insult. You have blatant disrespect for the judgement of the electorate, 51% of which as you point out yourself are female.

    “you appear to believe that a group campaigning on father’s rights should be or is solely composed of fathers (and by implication – men).”

    You must wear yourself out jumping to all these conclusions. I don’t believe they should be; I’m just stating what every dog in the street could ascertain for itself – a group campaigning on father’s rights is obviously going to attract way more fathers than it is women. This is a simple observation of reality and human nature, and whether I think it is a good thing or bad thing is of no consequence. I state it because I live in the real world; you live in the world of textbook platitudes.

    I love the “and by implication – men” part.

    “I’m not in favour in single gender parties anyway (such as the Women’s Coalition) as I do not think they are conducive to inclusion.”

    It doesn’t matter what you think. The substantive issue is whether they have a right to form and put themselves before the electorate. Thankfully that right is enshrined in law.

    “Anyway, if a legislative quota system was introduced it wouldn’t disbar single-gender parties from standing because they would have an equal shot on the ballot in the first place.”

    No, they wouldn’t. If after the election results the allocation of Dail seats was based on other criteria, such as ensuring there was 50/50 gender representation, nobody on the ballot paper would have an equal shot.

    I would love to hear how you propose this affirmative action would work in practice.

    As for the parties you mention who are in favour of gender quotas, they can only account for quotas in their own party to maximise the opportunity to increase the number of female TDs, and if they are successful at election then allocate ministries based on that. They can’t legislate for an automatic 50:50 male/female carve-up for every Dail.