Gender law ‘a reasonable action’

A law requiring political parties to field 30% male and female candidates in the next two general elections if they are to continue to receive state funding is “a reasonable course of action to address the historic under-representation of women in Irish politics”, the High Court has been told.

Gender law ‘a reasonable action’

Fiona Buckley, a UCC lecturer specialising in gender politics, was giving evidence for the State in the continuing challenge by Fianna Fáil activist Brian Mohan.

He disputes the constitutionality of provisions of the Electoral (Political Funding) Act 2012 linking state funding of political parties to their achievement of gender quotas when selecting candidates for election.

He brought the challenge against the State after Fianna Fáil directed its sole general election candidate in the Dublin Central constituency, where he wished to go forward for selection, must be a woman. Mary Fitzpatrick was selected to run in Dublin central last October.

Yesterday, the court heard Ireland ranks 86th — with North Korea — of 140 countries in relation to political representation of women. It was 37th in 1990.

She said statistics on female political representation here between 1977-2011 suggest the electorate is not biased against women and women’s under-representation in the Dail is rather linked to the candidate selection process.

Irish political parties seem more inclined to select women as candidates for “second-order” elections, such as local elections, rather than first order elections, she added.

Since the foundation of the State, just 15 women have held Cabinet positions and those were generally in the socio-cultural area, she said.

Earlier, under cross-examination by Maurice Collins SC, for the State, Mr Mohan accepted he is “fundamentally at odds” with the policy of his own, and every other party in the Oireachtas, on the gender quota legislation.

He considered Fianna Fáil “is being held over a barrel” because it would lose half of its annual exchequer funding of €1.2m unless it meets the gender quota targets. It would be “impossible to function” without that funding.

He agreed low female political participation is “undesirable” but believed it could be improved via, for example, “training days” and the work of the National Women’s Council rather than gender quota laws to which he had a “personal political objection”.

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