SHAUN CONNOLLY: Our female politicians will continue to exit stage left

Former Fianna Fáil senator Averil Power and party leader Micheál Martin. Fianna Fáil is the only major political party that has failed to ensure that at least30% of its election candidates are femalePicture: Gareth Chaney Collins

Gender quotas will see more female election candidates in the field but not necessarily in the Dáil and the woman who spearheaded the policy, Joan Burton, could lose out in the capital’s battle royale, writes Shaun Connolly

GENDER quotas, aren’t they just awful?

Well no, they are not, unless we are talking about the unofficial, though omnipresent one that has existed since the beginning of this State which dictates that at least 85% of the Dáil must be male — regardless of ability or intelligence.

This one-sided regime is now under mild threat due to new rules saying parties will lose half their funding from taxpayers unless at least 30% of their candidates are women. While it would make more sense if the parties had to ensure at least 30% of actual TDs are women — after all, they are a majority of the population — more candidates is a start in the right direction. Or it would be if it were not for the unfortunate habit of “chick dumping” where female candidates are clustered in unwinnable seats in order to make up the numbers.

The main parties have all just about scraped past the 30% level with the exception of Fianna Fáil where Micheál Martin’s problem with women continues.

This is hardly surprising given the treatment meted out to Fianna Fáil’s one prominent woman Oireachtas member — Senator Averil Power.

It is deeply ironic Ms Power quit over what she called Fianna Fáil’s “cowardice” on the marriage equality referendum campaign given that Mr Martin leads a defiantly same-sex party with 20 male TDs and zero women.

Although saying Mr Martin “leads” Fianna Fáil could be overstating things, as far too often he merely follows his TDs. Which helps explain Mr Martin’s curious absence while the party publicly rips itself apart over whether it should go into coalition as junior partner to Fine Gael after the looming general election.

Finance spokesman Michael McGrath says yes, most of the others say no, and Mr Martin says nothing.

This reminds us of the old joke wherein some people say that Mr Martin is indecisive, but he cannot make up his mind whether they are right or not.

Given the way Fianna Fáil sucked in and spat out the PDs and the Greens before leaving both parties in a shallow political grave, it is hardly surprising the bulk of FF-ers baulk at the prospect of letting the Blueshirts do the same to them.

But then the anticipated endless reign of his Endaness has come to a somewhat abrupt, well, end, after he was forced into the highly embarrassing position of having to announce his retirement after the next election.

Authority will soon drain from him as a result as prime ministers have two key powers of control — timing and patronage.

Mr Kenny has the power to choose when the election will be most beneficial to him, and, if returned to power, he will then decide who sits in the Cabinet. But that will be his last significant act as authority will then dissipate from him, as all the ministers and backbenchers will know he will be out of office when the reshuffle occurs two years later, and thus openly jostle for position.

Foremost amongst these will be Simon Coveney and his arch rival Leo Varadkar. Though Leo likes to play it coy with his people describing the leadership option as a “bottle of smoke”. But, it would seem, there is no smoke without the burning ambition of little Leo to be taoiseach.

But then even the best laid leadership campaigns can go awry, as is currently happening with the British Labour Party where events have taken some most peculiar turns. Taking the old business maxim “Fail again. Fail better” to the extreme, a form of political fundamentalism seems to have gripped the party as evidenced by crusty old leftie Jeremy Corbyn emerging as the clear favourite to win when the results are announced on September 12. This is being dubbed Labour’s 9/12 scenario as a type of anti-politics seemed to have gripped the political party, which is most odd.

Like the Tea Party in America, Corbynistas do not seem to care that most people find him and the policies he espouses to be unelectable as they seem to have made the calculation that Labour is going to lose anyway, so why not lose on principle rather than attempting to win by diluting ideology by appealing to the centre ground?

Of all people, it was that little-known political sage Charlotte Church who summed-up Corbyn’s appeal, stating: “He doesn’t seem to have been trained in neuro-linguistic programming; unconflicted in his political views, and abstemious in his personal life, he is one of the only politicians of note who seems to recognise the dire inequality that exists in this country today, and actually have a problem with it. He has a chance of actually doing something to create a shift in the paradigm from corporate puppetry to conscientious societal representation.” Blimey.

But then the alternatives to Mr Corbyn are hardly appealing themselves with Blairite-lites in the form of Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendal duelling with synthetic leftie Andy Burnham. And things have gotten rather nasty, with the Kendal camp claiming that Cooper’s people have been using the fact she does not have children against her.

In a rough week for Ms Kendal, her recently divorced campaign chief has also had to officially deny the pair are having an affair after rivals were accused of peddling the rumour. Mr Burnham, on the other hand, has been forced into the even more embarrassing position of officially denying he wears guy-liner make-up around his eyes. This is because Burnham, the former favourite to lead Labour, has the unfortunate look of someone who is permanently on the brink of tears. While this is not an ideal look for a prime minister, especially during negotiations with the likes of Vladimir Putin, it is probably fitting for a British — or indeed Irish — Labour Party leader on election night as the losses roll in.

Indeed, with just one government seat left in the reduced Dublin West constituency next time out, Leo will have to take out Joan Burton in order to save his seat and thus challenge Simon for the top job.

One less woman in the Dáil, but, despite pushing through gender quotas, the loss of Ms Burton is probably something Fine Gael would be quite happy to live with next time out.

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