Jason OMahony - Irish political blogger, Irish politics, EU politics

Quotas for Women: A Good First Step.

Posted by Jason O on May 29, 2011 in Irish Politics |

The government’s proposals on female candidates, announced by Phil Hogan here, are to be welcomed. They seem practical, clear to understand, and with just enough carrot and stick in them to be viable. Of course,the devil, as always, will be in the detail. Take the European elections, for example. Fianna Fail will surely be tempted just to run a single candidate in each constituency (espc if today’s poll giving them 16% is reflective of where the party is now situated) but that means that, to be not in breech, Fianna Fail will have to run two female candidates. Or will the formula be calculated as an ongoing cumulative¬†figure? If a party runs a female candidate in a byelection (100% female candidates) can this be used to offset a lesser figure in other elections?¬†The 2014 local and European elections will be the key as to whether the parties (and the government, who will be enforcing it) are serious.

Of course, they’ll be subject to the usual anti-quota arguments, that they’re undemocratic and a sledgehammer to deal with a complex problem. What always irks me about the anti-quota argument is that the people who make it never actually have a concrete proposal which will have the same clear result. Under Phil Hogan’s proposals, if a party does not make at least 30% of its candidates female, it will be clobbered in state funding. Show me a non-quota alternative that will give us 30% female candidates for definite. I’m more than willing to listen.

Finally, we are all assuming that low female representation in politics is a bad thing. I think it is, but I’m always surprised by how many young women I meet who do not regard it as an issue at all. I wonder, will it peter out as an issue when the generation of women now in senior political positions leave politics?

Amendment: My apologies, but I read the original article in error. Apparently, the quota is proposed to only apply to general election candidates. If it’s implemented that way, then it’s a far less impressive reform. Apologies.


[...] the best of us can fall victim to a piece of boneheaded conventional wisdom from time to time, and the suggestion [...]

May 29, 2011 at 12:27 pm

I’m still unsure what to make of it. We have regional and gender quotas for NEC elections in the Green Party (rather than separate constituencies). I’ve seen some great people get shafted simply because of their location or gender, and when a gender quota is enforced, there can be a crushing sense of unfairness.

I know what you mean about anti-quota arguments tending to be negative and non-constructive, but that mightn’t be a big problem. Maybe there just isn’t a way to get to 30% representation, and maybe quotas just have too many problems. I don’t think that those who oppose quotas should be required to propose alternatives: it’s perfectly tenable to say that, yes, this is a major problem, but all the suggested solutions have too many problems of their own.

May 30, 2011 at 12:15 am

It’s completely undemocratic and not remotely a sledghammer cracking a nut. That would only be the case if there was a nut. There isn’t. We live in a democracy in which people can stand for election and people can vote for whoever the hell they like. And now we have this politically correct garbage telling us how we must vote and using our taxes to enforce their ideology; it’s a disgrace.

This is what we get everytime FG and Labour lose the run of themselves.

So a simple question, why a quota for women and not for every other so called under represented groups? The most under-represented group in Ireland is conservative Catholics. Or people opposed to EU membership. Or Spurs fans. It’s rubbish and nothing to do with living in a republic.

Jason O
May 30, 2011 at 6:46 am

I would be opposed to quotas for Spurs fans. As for conservative Catholics: We live in a country with no abortion, very restrictive divorce and where most of the schools are owned by the church. Oh, and the state shielded that same church from paying for its crimes against the nation’s children. Conservative Catholics aren’t doing that bad. When people always make the “where will it end” argument, I always tell them. With quotas for women. If someone wants to demand quotas for one-legged ukele playing badgers, that’s fine. But I won’t support it, and I won’t be expected to defend it either.

May 30, 2011 at 9:19 am

I don’t think Peter asked “where will it end?” but why should it start. It’s as undemocratic to have quotas for women as for one legged ukele badgers. As for Catholics doing well, well abortion was decided by voting, not some quota, same with laws on divorce. As for state shielding the Church from paying – as we see from follow up to Ryan Report – no prosecutions. Now some will regard this as evidence of further inaction or protection. Reality is it points to insufficiency of reliable evidence. If Church had played hardball on all the cases, including redress board, most of the claims would have been unsuccessful in court. It was State’s decision to offer money on easy terms with little or no evidence required.

As for women, where’s the evidence that they are in need of this? Think they are doing okay without patronising quotas.

Jason O
May 30, 2011 at 9:24 am

Ah, I see. So most alleged child sex abuse by priests didn’t actually happen. That’s a novel approach.
Fair point about divorce and abortion: Maybe we should put quotas to a referendum. I’d accept the result either way.

May 31, 2011 at 8:25 am

Jason, did I say most alleged child sex abuse didn’t happen? My point, clearly made, was that the evidence was not strong enough to justify prosecutions, and that, had the religious orders dug in their heels and let people sue, the great majority of cases, genuine though they may have been, would not have been successful. It’s one thing going into the Commission with a “I lived in a home some time in the fifties and a brother beat me, can’t remember his name or what year it was” – quite another suing in a civil court. The State chose to go down the Commission route, that’s fine, but in doing so it didn’t shield anyone from paying – cost us all a lot of money.

Now back to quotas for the moment – leaving aside the more ridiculous straw men – would it not be perfectly reasonable if a quota is applied for women, for someone to look at other equality legislation and point to the nine grounds under the Equal Status Act. It makes no sense to pick women, and exclude the disabled, travellers etc. One doesn’t have to go to extremes to point out how ridiculous it is select women only for special treatment.



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