Leading ladies of Oireachtas: ‘Rare birds’ on hunt for equality

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Women senators and TDs outside Leinster House

Irish Independent,   Lise Hand – 29 January 2014

THE Seanad chamber is always a handy place for a parliamentary photo shoot. For a start, it’s a beautiful room, all corniced high ceilings, sparkly chandeliers and plush blue leather seats.

Therefore, it made the ideal venue for a photo shoot to mark the 95th anniversary of the election of the nation’s first woman Teachta Dala, Constance Markiewicz.

Most of the current women members of the Oireachtas turned up to hear the event’s co-ordinator, Labour senator Ivana Bacik, read aloud the depressing statistics about female representation in the Upper and Lower Houses since that historic day, when Constance took her place in Dail Eireann.

She reminded the assembly how a paltry 26 out of 166 TDs and 19 out of 60 senators are women in the current administration. “This means that the Dail has always been at least 84pc male,” said Ivana. “Ireland is currently in 87th place in the world tables of women’s representation in the lower or single house of national parliaments.”

The women present looked grim. Ivana pointed out that the introduction of gender quotas should address this imbalance, but not everyone was optimistic.

The gathering then departed the chamber and posed for more photos on the staircase topped by a large portrait of Constance, then congregated on the plinth for a last shot.

One senator, Labour’s Marie Moloney, managed to halt the chatter by casually mentioning that her grandfather, Thomas Redican, had been Constance Markiewicz’s chauffeur.

Michelle Mulherin pointed to the curious onlookers outside the gates of Leinster House who were watching the ongoing photo shoot. “We look like a selection of rare birds – in every sense of the word,” she reckoned.

Afterwards, junior minister Kathleen Lynch discussed the dearth of women in the Oireachtas. “There’ll be no real political reform until we have a better gender balance,” she said. “The status quo is working just fine for the men”.

She also had little time for women who didn’t support gender quotas, citing the reason being that they didn’t want to vote for “mediocre women”. The feisty Kathleen sniffed: “I always reply that I’d love the chance to vote for a mediocre woman. After all, I’ve spent years voting for mediocre men.” Indeed.

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