Call me a traitor but I don't believe in quotas

Patricia Feehily


Patricia Feehily

Call me a traitor but I don't believe in quotas

Is five out of 19 good or bad? Leo's new Cabinet top lady is Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald

ALL this hoo-ha over the so-called gender imbalance in the new Government leaves me cold. The geographic imbalance is a much greater threat to some of us and that doesn’t seem to bother us in the least.

I was all for women’s’ liberation back in the 1970’s, when women were tied to the kitchen sink and regarded at best, as delicate flowers. I like to think that I belonged to the militant wing, but obviously I’ve mellowed. This, however, feels more like a high-handed attempt to seize power, and my biggest concern is that, if we’re not careful, they’ll ditch democracy altogether and impose a feminist dictatorship on us.

Then, as sure as eggs, I’ll be jailed for anarchy before I can summon enough reverence to mutter the password ‘mná na h-Eireann’.

Call me a traitor to the cause if you like, but I don’t believe in gender quotas in the first place – at least not in a democracy where every voter has an equal say, regardless of his or her gender. I believe in a level playing field for everyone, regardless of gender. Anyway, in my book, you can’t make a woman-friendly democracy out of a sow’s ear. As an electorate, laden with baggage, hang-ups and an undue sense of entitlement, we’re only half tuned in to the process, not to talk of the intrigue.

At this stage of our evolution, I don’t think that women still need a leg up. If they do, it’s just embarrassing. Actually it’s an insult to the rest of us to see women looking for a head start under the guise of equality. We should be able to stand on our own two feet by now and if we’re half as smart as we think we are - and if we really want equal treatment - then we should be aiming for a scratch handicap, instead of seeking special advantages over our male colleagues. Surely we’re above that at this stage?

On the other hand, why anyone would have expected to see more women in Leo’s new Cabinet is beyond me, because the statistics certainly don’t back up the expectation. Of the 158 deputies returned to the Dáil in 2016, less than a quarter of them were women and only 11 of those women represented the Fine Gael party – not even enough to fill a Cabinet on their own.

The much vaunted gender quotas didn’t exactly fill the chamber with women deputies, although the new system did, unfortunately, manage to distort what should have been a democratic selection process at the lowest level. Some very able male candidates were pushed out in several convention centres around the country, simply because there HAD to be a woman on the ticket.

What’s a man to do, for heaven’s sake? The FG women got three senior Ministries, including the post of Tánaiste, as well as a super junior Ministry, while Katherine Zappone was also returned to the senior ranks. With only 15 senior Ministries on offer, I think that - proportionally speaking - the fairer sex did very well in the scramble for power. But they’re still whingeing.

Or is this ridiculous row just another media campaign to generate a supply of copy for the forthcoming silly season when they all go on holidays for months? Many of those outraged commentators are not exactly women -friendly themselves when it comes to power, and it seems to me that they love nothing better than pulling a good woman down a soon as she has smashed the glass ceiling. I wouldn’t be one bit surprised if, faced with a choice between Margaret Thatcher and Oliver Cromwell for ‘person of the millennium’, they chose the latter.

We were, of course, very fortunate over the years with the calibre of the women Ministers we have had in this country. They were bright, steady and capable women – with the possible exception of Constance Markievicz, who according to the record, went a bit hysterical when emotions were running high during the Dáil Treaty debate in 1921/22, no doubt feeding the stereotype of female behaviour. I’ll be shot for saying that too, I suppose.

Also, it’s grand to be campaigning for more women in power, but the campaigners in the media expect a lot more from their female protégés than they would ever expect from a man. Whatever they were before their empowerment, they now have to be style icons, empathetic mammy figures and smart cookies all at the same time. That’s not always possible, as, I’m sure, Theresa May and Arlene Foster can testify. I don’t know how Mary McAleese managed it, but then, what power did she really have?

At the end of the day, there are far bigger problems facing the country right now than the provision of a gender balanced Cabinet in Leinster House. We have 36 women in the Dáil which isn’t bad at all, considering that in the 20th Dáil just over 40 years ago, we saw only three women elected among the 144 deputies – and all three came from political dynasties.

As for the more pressing problems, there is no evidence whatsoever that a woman Minister would make a better hand than a man of solving the enigma of the disastrous health service or that a Woman Housing Minister might very well solve the homelessness problem overnight after a single flash of female intuition. On the other hand there is a possibility that she might argue until ‘her voice grew shrill’ - as Yeats put it of his old friend Constance – and end up helping to push us all towards anarchy, God forbid.