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Boys look at political leaders and assume it is where they fit. Girls don't have the same comfort.

Posted on June 29, 2017 at 11:48 AM

Labour Party candidate for Dublin Bay North, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, believes that Leo Varadkar made the wrong decision in his ministerial promotions. Read below to find out why

Gender equality in politics has been one of the defining democratic debates of the last decade. The introduction, at Labour's insistence, of Gender Quota legislation was the first breakthrough for those who have campaigning for generations for practical steps to be taken to redress the balance in our legislature. The continuing image of mostly middle-aged men making the all the decisions for the country is one which is damaging to the aspirations of half of our young population. Perhaps it is because I spent eleven years teaching in an all-girls primary school, but the lack of females in senior decision-making positions throughout Irish society has a lasting impact on little minds. Boys look at political leaders and assume it is where they fit. Girls don't have the same comfort. They know there is a reason why 87% of members of the last Dáil were male. They know why men dominate news programmes and media debates. They've always run the show, and they like it that way. 

 

This we thought was universally accepted and that the political culture had moved on. That was until Taoiseach Varadkar made his junior ministerial appointments on Tuesday and the photograph of the beaming class of 2017 was posted online. Of a total of 13 Fine Gael Junior Ministers, only two are female. In overall terms the Taoiseach made eight promotions, with one female beneficiary. He demoted four of his colleagues - two of whom were women. Five backbenchers were promoted, all male. 

 

The immediate cry was made of making appointments on merit. So why were three of the four demotions Simon Coveney supporters? When legitimate questions where posed on social media about the issue, the response from the Fine Gael (or Fine Male) cheerleaders was close on disturbing. They just don't get it. It is clear when it comes to issues of equality that Fine Gael just don't have any level of understanding as to why this is important. If the same had happened in the Labour Party, the first out of the traps to criticise the move would be Labour members. But it wouldn't happen under the Labour Party. 

 

During the leadership election for the Fine Gael leadership, many of us in the Labour Party thought it bizarre how they were trumpeting achievements that they had once vehemently resisted. It is not in the culture of Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael to prioritise equality issues. They are viewed as extravagances, luxuries, not in touch with the real grassroots of Irish society. Marriage Equality was scoffed at in 2011. The x-case legislation almost brought down the government in 2013. Traveller Ethnicity was a head-scratcher too. They don't understand how vulnerable people really feel. So they can't empathise. 

 

I was back in my old school yesterday morning, going from class to class like a long-lost friend. I want to tell each and every girl in St Laurence O'Toole's GNS in Sheriff Street that there is no barrier they can't overcome. That they are as equal as anyone else. That they can rule the world if they want. I just wouldn't show them the photograph of the new collection of Junior Ministers. Because they wouldn't believe a word out of my mouth. 

 

Aodhán Ó Ríordáin is a Labour Party Senator

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