Last Friday, the Irish Government published draft legislation, which, if passed by Government, will introduce gender quotas in advance of the next general election. Under the legislation, parties that fail to run 30% female candidates will have their funding halved, rising to 40% in seven years. This move has been much anticipated and warmly welcomed. It is an historic day for women in Irish politics, and welcome acknowledgement that, to change the political imbalance that has been a feature of our politics since the foundation of the State, a kick-start is required. The penalties for non-compliance with the new law are serious, and had they been in place for the 2007 general election they would have seen parties collectively lost up to €6.7 million in 2010. This change – by challenging parties’ bottom line – will drive change quicker than even the firmest of commitments and most heartfelt promises of promises.
But, the legislation stops short: local politics is the training ground for national office, yet the quota does not apply at local level. To reach the quota at the 2011 general election, parties would have needed to run between just two (Labour) and fifteen (Fine Gael) more women. Not huge numbers. To really shift the balance in politics a groundswell of women are needed at local level, prepared ready and able to go forward for national office. Fianna Fail has responded to this need, by pledging that 30% of their candidates at the 2014 local election will be women. We call on other parties to follow suit.