Politics is a closed gender shop

Young, vibrant and willing to go out on a limb, the surprise is that Averil Power lasted so long in among the FF boys, writes Alison O’Connor

To have just two female parliamentary party members in the first place could be regarded as a misfortune; to lose one of those, as Oscar Wilde may have put it, looks like definite carelessness.

It was with a great sense of regret that I heard of the decision of Senator Averil Power to resign from Fianna Fáil yesterday. She leaves Senator Mary White as the only female TD or senator in amongst the FF boys, God help us.

The surprise really is that she lasted as long as she did. Young, vibrant, committed, willing to go out on a limb, good at keeping her public profile up, a sincerity that resonated with the public, she must have stood out like a sore thumb amongst their ranks.

There she was on Saturday evening in Dublin Castle standing on the podium, along with the others who had swung it for the same sex marriage referendum, and they all looked so delighted after months of intense campaigning. She looked particularly thrilled, and equally so did Micheál Martin, the only other FF figure to have had any sort of national profile on the issue. He was also buoyed up at the signs that the party’s byelection hex was about to be broken in Carlow/Kilkenny.

It’s rather sad that on that day of all days, the sort of day that many politicians never get to see in their careers, she must have been going over her plan to jettison Fianna Fáil.

You would have to wonder at her timing in terms of hardly leaving the party time to enjoy the rare victory before she metaphorically kicked it in the groin. But that perhaps was a sign of her absolute annoyance and frustration.

The pity is that I imagine there are a number of her party colleagues who feel a sense of “good riddance” as they see the back of Averil. No doubt they found her a bit of a pain, banging on about stuff they didn’t rate and carving out a good profile for herself in the meantime. It is too easy to imagine the mirth and the smirks when she suggested that they would actively canvas in support of the referendum, when knocking on doors in the Carlow/Kilkenny by election. These are the same crowd who would stand with a straight face and criticise others for bullying in the workplace.

You see that’s how it is when you have such massive gender disparity in any group, and particularly where power and elections are involved. What else would this collective mass of middle-aged testosterone do except be irked by this female island of oestrogen and her uppity notions? Indeed she also suffers from the affliction of being female and having ambition.

She said yesterday that she never wished to be involved in politics “for the sake of it” and that was clear from the way that she has championed certain issues such as adoption and Palestine, and indeed same-sex marriage.

Dublin Bay North was never going to be an easy ask for Averil, either on her own or with running mates. I can imagine how, though, it would have further stuck in her craw, the notion of having Seán Haughey on the ticket along with her. Those two names together on a general election poster would have certainly been an example of old Fianna Fáil and new, and summed up the daftness of where this party is at right now.

Micheál Martin is feeling sore at her departure and the timing of it. He did support her in the Seanad election after she failed to win a seat in the 2011 election but how could he not have? Apart from her being obviously bright, she was also female and Dublin based.

This defection is yet another reason for bright and talented women, with a lot to offer, to decide to stay a million miles away from politics.

Fianna Fáil is not the only party without sin in this closed gender shop. But given the incredible lack of female representation in FF, the party, and its leader, had a particular duty to ensure that they held on to the women that they have, not to mention one with such talent, hunger and dedication.

On her Twitter profile Averil describes herself as a “Whitecollar boxer”. She took to the sport initially after getting involved in a charity event a few years ago. I’m not a fan of it myself but given what she was dealing with in Leinster House in hindsight it’s no great surprise that she needed something as extreme to help vent her frustrations.



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