Women in Irish Politics: Could gender quotas be the answer?

Women in Irish Politics: Could gender quotas be the answer?

Women in Irish Politics: Could gender quotas be the answer?

sign saying 'the future is female'
Rachael Kenny

25th June 2021

In April 2021, Minister for Justice Helen McEntee became the first female cabinet minister in Irish history to take paid maternity leave while in office. When Minister McEntee requested this maternity leave there were legal and constitutional questions over whether she, or any other female in office, could take paid maternity leave. The Irish Constitution, written over a century ago, did not consider the possibility that a female politician could be a minister. Although McEntee was eventually granted paid maternity leave, many women in Irish politics before her were not so lucky. In 2016, Fianna Fail TD Niamh Smyth was told to provide a “sick cert” after she gave birth to her first child. For this reason, she was forced to return to work just two weeks after giving birth. The fact of the matter is that currently in Ireland there are systematic barriers present that are discouraging women from running for election. As a result of these structural blockades,we do not have nearly enough women holding seats in the national government. 

 

Ireland currently ranks 101st in the world for female representation in national government, falling behind countries such as Iraq, China, and Afghanistan. At present, just 22.5% of Ireland’s national parliament are women. The lack of elected women in Irish politics is ‘’significantly tarnishing’’ the global perception of Ireland as an inclusive and progressive society, CEO of Women for Elections, Caitríona Gleeson, has said. Currently Sweden has the highest number of national parliament seats held by women in Europe with a figure of 47%. In fact, Ireland lies in the pit of Europe’s rankings with Germany at 31.2%, Denmark at 39.7%, Belgium as 41.3%, to name just a few.  

 

So why is it important to have more women in Irish government? Apart from the obvious reason of basic gender equality in society, there are countless benefits to having women in national government. A recent study published by The Global Institute for Women’s Leadership and Westminster Foundation for Democracy has outlined the importance of female political leaders to democracy and equality. The study has found that female political leaders are crucial for enhancing democratization and battling inequality in society.

 

“According to the extensive research presented in the study, women bring inclusive styles of leadership that have been found to be more democratic, co-operative, and inclusive. It has been indicated that female legislators’ impact on policy extends beyond just females and prioritises society as a whole.”

Female leaders tend to focus on society’s most vulnerable and prioritize their basic rights such as education, healthcare, and welfare. This has been explained by women’s considerable experience of inequality and deprivation, as well as the role traditionally played by women in looking after others. Although progress has been made in recent decades to improve gender equality in society, Ireland continues to seriously lack female political representation. There are still significant barriers to women’s equality of participation in politics, like the ones faced by Minister McEntee and Niamh Smyth. 

 

A gender quota has been introduced for Dáil Éireann, pushing for 40% women for 2024. However, is a gender quota really the answer to the problem? Many female politicians in the past have argued against gender quotas, claiming that they are condescending and insulting. While serving as a TD in 2011 Joanna Tuffy of the Labour Party said that “when it comes to democracy, the ends do not justify the means. Gender quotas subvert democracy by making the ends more important than the means.”Perhaps the solution to Ireland’s lack of female political leaders is not to introduce patronising measures but to change the Irish Constitution, a constitution that in 2021 does not recognise that a female politician could ever be a leader. 

 

 

 

 

Featured photo by Lindsay LaMont on Unsplash

This article was supported by: STAND Women Editor Ellen + Programme Assistant Rachel

 

Rainbow washing + the exploitation of the LGBTQ+ community by major corporations

Rainbow washing + the exploitation of the LGBTQ+ community by major corporations

Rainbow washing + the exploitation of the LGBTQ+ community by major corporations

neon light rainbow
Ciara Phelan

15th June 2021

 

We live in an age of “woke culture” and virtue hustling. In order to remain relevant and maintain image, companies engage in green-washing to portray environmental responsibility, “femvertising” to show progression in women’s rights, pink-washing to raise awareness for breast cancer, among other similar stunts. Now, for the month of June, we will be inundated with rainbow flags and Pride slogans in a feeble attempt by corporations to show they are LGBTQ+ friendly. 

 

Pride is a vibrant celebration of sexual diversity and acceptance. Marking the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in 1969, the Pride festival is simultaneously a ceremony of LGBTQ+ liberation, and a push for further reform and highlight inequalities globally. Towns and cities internationally mark this month by displaying rainbow-patterned Pride flags across the streets and filling storefronts with flashy colours. But what are these displays actually doing? What are these companies doing to enact real change within minority communities? 

 

Just like everything else that is good and pure in this world, the Pride festivities have been tarnished by corporate efforts to execute their own agenda and appeal to the huge market of consumers who support LGBTQ+-friendly businesses. Pink money – the purchasing power of the LGBTQ+ community and their allies – has an estimated value of $3.7 trillion, and these gluttonous organisations cannot afford to ignore this growing market. So, in their meagre efforts to appeal to this market, they plaster rainbow flags and cringey slogans across their existing products in an attempt to seem “woke” and socially aware.  

 

In more cases than not, corporate Pride is only surface-level, and this façade of inclusivity and awareness has absolutely no backbone to it. A leading example of this is Gilead, which sponsors Pride parades worldwide, including in New York, LA, and even closer to home in Cork.

 

“Gilead is the pharmaceutical company behind Truvada for PrEP a medication taken daily to drastically reduce the spread of HIV during sex; but while the HIV epidemic disproportionately affects men within the LGBTQ+ community, these treatments are inaccessible to many due to their extortionate prices.”

In the US, Truvada typically costs $1,600-2,000 per month for those not lucky enough to have health insurance. Although generic versions of Truvada have been on sale elsewhere in the world, up until September 2020, Gilead held a patent in the US which prevented the entry of generic brands into the market. The blatant hypocrisy of their actions (mainly their sponsorship of Pride) would be almost comical if their actions weren’t preventing people from accessing lifesaving medication. 

 

Another offender of pitiful gestures devoid of any substance would be PINK, a division of Victoria’s Secret. During Pride Month 2019, PINK tweeted that they are “proud to celebrate our LGBTQ associates & customers that make an impact in their communities”, alongside a reimaged rainbow logo. Twitter users quickly remembered the comments made by Victoria’s Secret’s chief marketing officer, Ed Razek, surrounding their purposeful exclusion of transgender models from the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. Victoria’s Secret have since hired transgender models, and Razek has also since resigned, but there is no denying the thoughtlessness of this statement. 

 

In its defence, corporate Pride has its benefits, such as increasing visibility and giving marginalised groups a sense of welcome and belonging. This visibility is invaluable when it comes to teaching children about inclusivity – an example of this being LEGO’s “Everyone is Awesome” set, designed by Matthew Ashton, who is a member of the LGBTQ+ community himself.  

 

Although these companies mean well in their actions, some of these weak statements do very little to help the LGBTQ+ community. There is a fundamental risk to the Pride movement if companies continue to show their support through marketing efforts, but fail to follow through on substantial actions. This kind of rainbow-pandering creates a cultural blind spot, in which we, as consumers and as human beings, are given the illusion of progress, and are led to believe that the world is a more accepting and equal place than it is in reality. Pride Month is not an annual party that corporations can cash in on. Brands should support the LGBTQ+ community authentically, legitimately, and – most importantly – all year round. 

 

 

 

 

Featured photo by Jason Leong on Unsplash

This article was supported by: STAND Opinion Editor Olivia + Programme Assistant Rachel

 

The wild and crumbling Atlantic Way: Donegal’s mica crisis is out of our government’s reach

The wild and crumbling Atlantic Way: Donegal’s mica crisis is out of our government’s reach

The wild and crumbling Atlantic Way: Donegal’s mica crisis is out of our government’s reach 

house in Donegal country side with cracks
Rachel McGonigle

14th June 2021

 

Imagine this: on the glorious green of Ireland’s northwest coast you meet your future husband. You get married, buy a plot of land and start building your dream home. A few years later, you can finally move in, just in time for your first-born child’s arrival. You paint and furnish with an array of red curtains and yellow cushion covers, only reminiscent of the early 2000s, until your heart is content with the place you now call home. It’s your safe haven, your everything. It’s 2004 and apart from the imminent struggles of the financial crash which make you contemplate up and leaving your cherished home for a country offering greater stability, Donegal is where your heart belongs. Within the four walls that offer you shelter and warmth, the walls which will host every birthday celebration and death condolence, you are protected from the elements of the wild Atlantic coast. When your children are homesick while in college, they will always find comfort and security here. Nowhere else can offer you the emotional comfort and stability that your first home can. That is until the cracks begin to show, deepening and widening with every gust of wind and raindrop that the coastline has to offer. It’s 2010 and you wake up panicking in the night with the realisation that your forever home is falling down around you.  

 

Inishowen, Donegal’s most northerly peninsula, and surrounding areas (and some parts of Mayo) are existing through the worst localised humanitarian crisis of recent times. As homes were being built during the late 1990s and early 2000s, hopeful newlyweds were unaware of the catastrophic issues that would face them some fifteen years down the line.

 

“Locals recall noticing cracks in the plaster of their walls, both inside and out. But, as ignorance is best served with a side dish of bliss, these cracks were suspected to be nothing more significant than settling cracks, as the properties relaxed into their picturesque surroundings with views of Lough Swilly.”

 

However, there are only so many servings of ignorance that can be swallowed before you burst from worry with the ultimate acceptance that something more sinister is wrong with the infrastructure of your home.  

 

Locally sourced concrete building blocks from as early as the 1980s have, of recent years, been found to be disproportionately mixed with high quantities of mineral mica, which weakens the concrete over time and causes the blocks to disintegrate and crumble. Worsened by dramatic weather conditions, which all north-westerly homes are not shy to, it is estimated that over 5,000 private homes and many more council and social homes have been infected with the defective blocks. An almost taboo subject in the 2010s, something to be embarrassed by and ashamed of, accepting that your home is inescapably crumbling down around you is not a reality anyone ever wanted to face. But the reality is that the number of family homes impacted by these defective blocks continues to rise. If not your own, then it’s your neighbour’s house, your brother’s or sister’s. Every life in the north of Donegal has been impacted by the money-saving, material-stretching tactics of family trade from over twenty years ago.  

 

The cracks widen. Gaps appear around windows and doorframes, exposing your family to the elements. Moisture ingression puts your furnishings at risk of growing mould. Just down the road, another woman’s son cries to his teacher that Mammy and Daddy are worried, and he now sleeps in his sister’s bedroom because his could fall in on him at any minute. It’s not safe to stay in here anymore; you need to get out. But it’s not so simple. On top of the psychological burden of leaving, the financial burden is insurmountable. 

 

In January 2020, the Irish government launched a redress grant scheme that would cost hundreds of millions of euros to rebuild the houses affected by defective blocks. The scheme, which was to be administered by respective county councils predominately in Donegal and Mayo, would give homeowners up to €275,000 if found that their house must be entirely demolished and rebuilt from the ground up. If your house doesn’t require complete demolition, then you’re unfortunately eligible for substantially less funding. The scheme was developed following years of campaigning by the Mica Action Group who brought light to the situation. In 2016, Prime Time revealed that the defective building blocks sold and bought in Donegal were not fit for purpose. The next year, a government-appointed expert panel found the blocks currently in use from the same supplier also not fit for purpose. Although the scheme was originally welcomed with open arms, a step in the right direction, it too is ultimately not fit for purpose.

 

“To be accepted onto the grant system, stressed parents and worried owners of these crumbling homes must pay a minimum of €5,000 for an engineer to confirm that the blocks are defective. All it takes is one look and it’s obvious that these buildings are no stronger than the box of Weetabix.”

This charge is one part of the current scheme, which will eventually reimburse you with 90% of your total expenses, leaving you, the heartbroken homeowner, liable to cover the remaining 10%. The scheme also only allows the exact same sized building frame to be reconstructed and one house can hold only one application, meaning if you apply and successfully rebuild but are met with the same trauma again a few years later, you cannot reapply. Donegal’s homeowners deserve more, 100% redress and no less. 

 

In recent weeks and months, an outcry has poured from the hills attempting to beckon the attention of the Irish Government. Stemming from a place of sheer frustration, the mica crisis can be compared to the pyrite scandal which hit the east of the country in recent years. When pyrite is exposed to moisture and oxygen, a series of chemical reactions occur leading to the cracking and heaving of ground floors and walls where the expansion is in highly compacted areas, such as dwellings. In response to these structural damages, the government put in place the Pyrite Remediation Scheme which covers 100% of the costs of repairing affected homes. What is the difference between a house in Dublin infected with pyrite and a house in Donegal infected with mica? How can our government condone anything shy of 100% remedial funding for a family home crumbling down around young children forced to share a bedroom, a retired couple who retreated to the Atlantic coast in search for serenity and peace or a newlywed husband and wife settling in fear that their home is now worthless? The answer: the short 150-mile distance from Inishowen to Dublin is a long enough stretch for our government to ignore a crisis stripping people of their human right to adequate and safe housing 

 

Although the suppliers of these defective blocks are at fault, the gravity to which our government is failing the affected counties is unsurprising, yet heart-wrenchingly frustrating. Just last week, following a presentation on the mica crisis, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar questioned whether it is reasonable to ask the taxpayer to fund the reconstruction of quite large houses given that the average cost of fixing pyrite affected homes was just €65,000. Described as being utterly “out of touch with reality”, the Tánaiste’s comments are a “calculated distraction by portraying the situation as affecting rich homeowners”, according to Cllr Jack Murray.  

 

thousands gathered at Buncrana's Shore Front to protest

 

And so, you take to the streets and protest for your voice to be heard. You’re just one family of thousands whose forever home is cracking at the seams. Over 10,000 people gathered on Buncrana’s Shore Front two weeks ago to demonstrate that they will not be forgotten, and a further 1,500 protested in Letterkenny. Although these demonstrations gained attention and showed the resilience of Donegal’s people, it wasn’t enough. Your house is crumbling and so is your hope. 

 

To show support for families affected by the mica crisis, you can join the thousands of protesters who are expected to march up to the gates of Dáil Éireann on Tuesday 15th June if it is safe for you to do so. If our government won’t acknowledge an issue too far beyond their reach, then the forgotten homeowners in Donegal will bring the problem to their doorstep. Donegal and other affected areas deserve a 100% redress scheme, and no less.  

 

 

 

 

Featured photo created using Canva + second photo author’s own