General election has a specific imbalance

WHEN the five Bruiser Boys of Fine Gael lined up to launch the party’s election manifesto this week, there was one thing noticeably missing from the top team.

The Fine Gael women who had waved to the cameras, and huddled around Enda Kenny for the “Family Photo” just two weeks earlier, no longer took centre stage.

“We want to see as many as possible,” Kenny declared when asked about female candidates at the Sunday morning photo-op at the outset of the campaign. They were seen but not heard.

Female voices were absent from the radio party political broadcast featuring many frontbench spokesmen; they did not feature in the main policy launches and press conferences on jobs, the economy and Five Point Plan.

And when asked about the gender profile of the six men launching the manifesto on Monday, Enda Kenny said this was simply coincidental: James Reilly, Phil Hogan, Leo Varadkar, Richard Bruton and Michael Noonan are the five main spokesmen for the five main policy areas.

The all-male line-up and Enda’s response to it demonstrated what the cabinet might look like when Fine Gael is in power, with possibly just two women likely for ministerial positions.

Just two of the party’s 21 spokespeople are women — with responsibilities for “Older Citizens” and for “Innovation and Research”.

The Fine Gael women who rebelled against Mr Kenny in the failed coup last summer were left out in the cold, while some of their more talented colleagues were welcomed back into the fold.

The party, which is edging closer to a single-party government, is running just 16 women out of 104 candidates.

Mr Kenny said that his party had more women running than in the 2007 general election. But it actually has relatively fewer women running in this election compared to four years ago, when 15 out of its 92 candidates were female — a 16.3% representation.

While still ahead of Fianna Fáil, it has the second lowest percentage of women candidates. And if Fine Gael returns around 80 seats it will still be lucky if 10 of these are held by women.

Just four of these are sitting TDs: Deirdre Clune, Olivia Mitchell, Catherine Byrne and Lucinda Creighton, meaning they will have a very small handful of experience to chose from.

Clune was appointed as spokesperson on innovation and research last year. But her elevation to ministerial ranks is highly unlikely, mainly based on geographical reasons as she shares the Cork South Central constituency with the party’s high profile Simon Coveney.

Similarly — Olivia Mitchell would be squeezed out by her constituency colleague in Dublin South, Alan Shatter, who is the party’s justice spokesperson.

It also comes down to loyalties because Deputy Mitchell was one of the “Green Isle Nine” who plotted to overthrow Enda Kenny last June. She was subsequently sacked from her frontbench position, leaving her more unlikely to share in the ministerial car pool.

ANOTHER dissident, Deputy Creighton, makes no secret of her ambitions. Disappointed not to have been given a frontbench position in her first term in the Dáil, she is unlikely to settle for the backbenches in government.

But given the personal animosity between the Dublin South East TD and Enda Kenny he would be slow to promote her to a ministerial role.

This leaves just two realistic possibilities for female representation at the cabinet table, Catherine Byrne of Dublin South Central and Frances Fitzgerald, the party’s Seanad leader who is contesting a seat in Dublin Mid West.

This shortage of Fine Gael women ministers would be re-balanced somewhat if it ended up in coalition with Labour, who have seven women on their frontbench of 19.

Joan Burton, Jan O’Sullivan, Rosin Shortall and Kathleen Lynch have been involved in many of their policy launches throughout the course of the election campaign and would be in line for a ministerial or junior ministerial role depending on the strength of Labour’s hand in coalition negotiations.

Like all parties, Fine Gael has been all talk about its plans to bring more balance to the ballot papers.

But when and if Enda Kenny is elected taoiseach, he will have a small handful of women to choose from in his cabinet — a result of a failure to address the gender imbalance in successive elections.

And the general election — which once promised change and reinvention for Ireland — will bring about even more gender imbalance than already exists in the leadership of the country.

Breaking Stories

Peadar Tóibín to travel the country with aim to establish new political party

Bandon sports club welcomes suggestion to breathalyse teens before discos

Dublin property described as a 'tinderbox' should be vacated immediately, court orders

Woman, 30s, secures early hearing of breast cancer case over alleged diagnosis delay

Breaking Stories

Pins and needles are usually harmless, but it’s best not to ignore them

Learning points: The truth is now being twisted in full view

’Tis the season to be sweet: What makes a good chocolate bar?

Gavin Bryars going with the flow

More From The Irish Examiner