Careering to an inevitable conclusion - Two women under pressure

AT a moment when the air crackles with indignation over the gender balance of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s first cabinet and his chorus line of junior ministers, it may seem incongruous to speculate about which of two powerful women, each at a career pinnacle, will resign, be ushered gently towards the door, or simply be fired, first. 

That speculation must also include consideration about how long it will take for the already-swinging axes to fall — as they most certainly will. Will those women, or a successor, sign off on official Christmas cards? Have they uttered the opening lines in the closing acts of their executive roles?

Both women work at a level at which trustworthiness is far more important than anything as random as gender. Delivery, and respect, far outweigh any other issue. Both are expected to lead great change, while maintaining stability. Both are products of the system they lead and that has helped them climb the greasy pole, but those formative influences condemn them, too. Neither would take refuge in gender to deflect criticism. They may have had to tiptoe over the debris of the glass ceiling, but they did not have to break it.

One, British prime minister Theresa May, certainly waded through the debris of her predecessor’s career. It may be premature to suggest that she is deep-wading in the detritus of her own Downing St career, but her disastrous decision to call an unnecessary election, and an even more disastrous campaign and result, suggests it is not. That her closest allies are forced to defend her, as the Brexit pressure intensifies, adds to that impression. That younger Tories are plotting to remove her, and skip what they identify as the toxic generation that is leading their party today, certainly confirms it. The ebullient performance of Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, at Glastonbury on Saturday, which was cheered as loudly as any band, can only accelerate that plotting. It would take an unshakeably loyal Mayista to suggest she will sign the Downing St Christmas cards, but it would take and unhinged one, and there are a number of them, to suggest she will be prime minister when the tents are pitched in the Vale of Avalon for Glastonbury 2018.

There are parallels in the executive careers of Ms May and Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan, but not even a Tory leader bolstered by strident nationalists could survive the litany of scandal that has befallen the gardaí. Ms O’Sullivan frames these as legacy issues, even though she has been a senior office for two decades. It is as if Ms May argued that she only became a leading Conservative a few months ago. That would be as fantastic as the garda response to scandal — everything from imagined drink tests to squirrelling EU training money away in mystery bank accounts. However, Ms O’Sullivan’s response to questions at the Oireachtas PAC last week crossed a Rubicon. Her spoofing — it was nothing else — did her no credit. Rather, it was an affront to our democracy. In that light, and just as young Tories plot to axe Ms May, the weekend suggestion from minister of state, John Paul Phelan, that she “may well have to resign”, is, sadly, justified, and the first of many such calls.


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