Voters struggle to rate women in Cabinet

The four female ministers are the most anonymous members of the Cabinet among rural voters, an Irish Examiner poll has revealed.

Tánaiste Simon Coveney is the most-recognised minister and has the highest approval rating. However, there is a lack of awareness of the female ministers, the annual Behaviour and Attitudes survey shows.

Nine out of 10 people surveyed could rate Mr Coveney’s performance. Scoring an average of 5.13 out of 10, the Cork South Central TD is rated second only to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.

However, just two thirds (68%) could rate the performance of Josepha Madigan, Minister for Culture, Heritage, and the Gaeltacht.

Those questioned as part of the Irish Examiner/ICMSA annual farming poll struggled most when rating female members of the Government.

One in four said they were not able to score Regina Doherty’s performance in the Department of Social Protection. Business Minister Heather Humphreys, who previously held the Government’s rural portfolio, fared slightly better, with 77% of people able to score her. She got an average of 3.59 out of 10.

Although presiding over a department that has a significant impact on farming families, 22% of those polled could not rate Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone. The Independent TD received an average mark of 3.56.

Ms Madigan, the newest member of Cabinet, after being appointed in the mini shuffle in the wake of Frances Fitzgerald’s resignation as justice minister, late last year, scored the worst, with an average mark of 2.91 out of 10.

Political scientist Theresa Reidy said while their numbers in politics and in power have increased, women are often promoted to “soft” or “gender-related” portfolios and are, therefore, not as high-profile.

“Although we have more women in Cabinet, the numbers are still very low and do not reflect the general population and do not reflect the number of women who are in leadership roles in business and the private sector,” she said.

Unlike departments such as health and finance, the Departments of Children, Culture, Business, and Social Protection, which are all occupied by women, are “less visible” and Dr Reidy said this may be why many were unable to rate them.

“It makes the case that we need to promote more women into Cabinet and give women more senior positions in Cabinet,” she said.

However, the UCC lecturer said Ms Madigan’s low rating, and the fact a considerable number were not able to assess her, may be due to the fact she is relatively new in the job.

Given the crisis in housing and growing numbers of homeless people, Eoghan Murphy is, perhaps unsurprisingly, rated second-worst member of Cabinet, gaining an average score of 3.19. This is followed by Transport Minister Shane Ross, who scored an average of 3.25, and Ms Doherty, who averaged 3.31.

At the other end of the scale, Education Minister Richard Bruton had the second highest score, of 4.36 out of 10, followed by Finance Minister Pascal Donohoe, on 4.34.

Health Minister Simon Harris was next best, on 4.43, with Minister for Rural and Community Development Michael Ring in the bottom half of the table, with 3.75.

Although Agriculture Minister Michael Creed came second for awareness, he is just fifth for satisfaction, scoring an average of 4.27. Mr Coveney was viewed as doing a better job, when he was in the Department of Agriculture, than Mr Creed.

In 2013, 9% of the farmers said Mr Coveney was doing an “excellent” job as Minister for Agriculture, 44% described his performance as good, while 32% rated him as fair. This year, just 1% of those polled gave Mr Creed over nine marks out of 10. But 55% of polled farmers gave him a mark between five and eight out of 10.

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