Varadkar refutes criticism of Cabinet gender balance and ‘welcomes dissent’

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has no plans to meet with TDs who have openly criticised his failure to promote a number of women to senior positions, despite three colleagues lashing out at his decision in recent days.

Mr Varadkar dismissed the criticism, saying he welcomes “debate and dissent” after backbenchers Maria Bailey and Kate O’Connell followed demoted super junior minister Mary Mitchell O’Connor in hitting out at the make-up of his Cabinet.

In comments to a Sunday newspaper, Ms Bailey and Ms O’Connell — who were both high-profile supporters of Simon Coveney’s leadership campaign and were not promoted from the backbench — criticised the gender balance of Mr Varadkar’s cabinet.

Ms Bailey said Mr Varadkar’s public image as having modern liberal views on society have been called into question by the appointments, adding that the image is “a perception, we knew that he wasn’t liberal, that’s a veneer”.

Ms O’Connell went even further, saying her non-political friends see the Dáil as a “boys’ club” and that while she has given Mr Varadkar space to “work his magic”, she is “still waiting for the magic to happen”.

The comments followed Ms Mitchell O’Connor’s outspoken comments last week when she pointedly said “power just doesn’t come in a pinstripe suit” and accused Mr Varadkar of “not leading by example”.

However, speaking to reporters alongside Fine Gael TD Josepha Madigan at an event to celebrate the Muslim holiday Eid at the Islamic Cultural Centre in Clonskeagh, Dublin, Mr Varadkar said that he has no plans to silence the criticism.

“Fine Gael is a democratic party; it’s an open party,” he said. “I welcome debate and dissent, and criticism, and I’m certainly not going to be telling anyone what to say.

“As I’ve said before, there are 12 female TDs who support the Government, and seven of those 12 are ministers, including the Tánaiste and five senior ministers sitting around the cabinet table.

“Essentially what happens in our system — we select our ministers from the Dáil. In other countries you can appoint people from outside parliament but that’s not the case in Ireland.

“The way we can improve that [the numbers] in future is by having many more women elected to the Dáil, and that’s what I want to see happen.”

The gender imbalance in Mr Varadkar’s Cabinet has been a significant bone of contention during his first days in power, with party colleagues and opposition rivals pointing to it as proof inequality will continue under the new Taoiseach.

However, Mr Varadkar and his closest colleagues claimed the decisions were unavoidable due to other demands on cabinet positions and the need to reward those who supported his leadership campaign.


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