Ireland currently ranks 87 in the world for gender representation in politics with just 15.1% of Irish parliamentarians being women. This means in the world league tables Ireland lags behind Iraq, Burkina Faso and Turkmenistan for women’s representation.
However, after ground breaking news over the weekend that a Bill on legislative quotas for the Irish parliament has passed, all this may now be about to change.
The Electoral Amendment (Political Funding) Bill 2011 will halve State funding to parties unless 30% of their candidates at the next general election are women. This figure will rise to 40% at subsequent general elections. This is a measure without precedent in the English speaking world.
Women’s representation in the Irish parliament is consistently poor, even by UK standards. At the last General election four constituencies (Cork South-West, Kildare South, Limerick and Roscommon-South Leitrim) had no female candidates and one in four constituencies had no woman candidate from one of the three major parties. There were only two constituencies – Dún Laoghaire and Longford-Westmeath, where voters were offered a woman candidate by all three major parties.
The Electoral Amendment Bill is therefore a giant leap forward for gender representation in Ireland offering the hope that women may finally get an equal voice in how their country is run.
Ireland already has fair votes as the voting system used to elect representatives; the Single Transferable Vote (STV), removes safe seats which have been a major factor blocking fair representation in the UK. However as the parties have not been putting forward female candidates male dominance has remained a reality for the Dáil.
The new legislation aims to unblock the pipeline of female talent to the Dáil and with the next elections in Ireland, due no later than 8 April 2016, we’ll be able to see whether this bold step pays off.
The Electoral Reform Society supports the Counting Women IN campaign, fighting for 50:50 gender representation at all levels of national, local and devolved government. To find out more about the campaign visit www.countingwomenin.org