Quotas: Sanctions ‘probably the only option’

Financial sanctions are “probably the only option” for getting political parties to reach quotas aimed at having them run more women in general elections, the High Court has been told.

Fiona Buckley agreed she had described as “robust” the sanctions set out in the Electoral (Political Funding) Act 2012 for parties who fail to ensure at least 30% of their general election candidates are women and 30% are men.

Parties can choose to comply but, if they do not, the act provides they will lose half of their State funding, she said. The sanction was “probably the only option” available to incentivise parties to meet the quotas.

She agreed she had expressed the view, in a blog for the National Women’s Council, that the 2012 law, when compared to measures in other European countries, will be amongst the “most acute and robust” sanctions for non-compliance.

The Irish law is not “prescriptive” concerning what parties do internally to achieve compliance with quotas, she added.

Ms Buckley, a UCC lecturer specialising in gender politics, was being cross-examined as an expert witness for the State in the challenge by Fianna Fáil activist Brian Mohan to the constitutionality of provisions of the 2012 act. Mr Justice David Keane said he hopes to give judgment next week.

Mr Mohan brought the case against the State after Fianna Fáil directed last September its sole general election candidate in the Dublin Central constituency, where he wished to go forward for selection, must be a woman.

Closing the case for the State, Maurice Collins SC argued Mr Mohan has no legal standing to bring a “derivative” challenge clashing with Fianna Fáil policy on quotas.

The Oireachtas was also clearly entitled to legislate to regulate elections including nomination of candidates; to promote the constitutional guarantee of equality and in the public interest, he said.

Closing Mr Mohan’s case, Mr McDowell said he was advancing the “stark” argument the Constitution does not entitle the legislature to sanction parties over failure to select particular types of people to contest general elections. There was no evidence women are being rejected by parties, he said.

Fianna Fáil stands to be penalised unless it makes certain decisions on gender quotas and Mr Mohan and all other ordinary members of the party would be affected if the party’s funding was halved, counsel said. That gave him clear legal standing to bring this case.


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