My column in The Kerryman. 27 November, 2013

Mayor of Tralee Pat Hussey has served this county for decades. He can look any Kerry person in the eye and say with pride and honesty, that he’s given back to his county. He’s done what we should all aspire to, he‘s tried to make the world he was born into, that little bit better. It grieves me then, that I have to disagree with his stance on gender quotas. His criticism of Fine Gael, a party he has been a member of for over 30 years, for trying to increase the level of participation by women in our political system, is most unfortunate.

I don’t believe for a second that Mayor Hussey is speaking out because of sour grapes, nor is it a fit of pique. I only wish it was a sulk, then he could be easily dismissed. Instead, I believe he’s motivated by a principal. He believes that it is wrong and discriminatory to engineer a situation, where regardless of talent, a certain minimum number of women candidates must be put forward for an election.

There’s nothing wrong with thinking this. It’s perfectly acceptable to view the candidate selection process as sacred. I myself think it a vital part of our democracy. I also happen to hold to the principal that the under representation of women in Irish politics, needs to be immediately addressed. In this, these two principals clash. Some think the purity of the selection process must win out, others think female participation is more important right now.

There has been extensive research into why women are so woefully under represented in our political system. This research shows five basic reasons for the present situation; childcare, cash, confidence, culture and candidate selection. The 5 Cs.

It may be 2013, but women are still overwhelmingly responsible for rearing children and even caring for relations who may need extra attention.

Women still make significantly less money than men and have less access to the wealth that does exist here.

With relatively few roles models and limited opportunities for participation, it’s been more difficult for women to acquire the confidence, both personal and professional, that men take as their due.

Politics can be a cutthroat business and is no respecter of time or any other commitments a politician may have. Parties have also been run by men, for men, since the beginning. They have become boys clubs with boys’ manners and boyish decorum.

Finally the most important C, candidate selection. Without time, money, inspiration and confidence, it’s far more difficult for women to develop the networks or acquire the resources necessary to just get onto bottom rung of the political process, selection to run in an election.

We cannot change the culture of Ireland, we can’t even change the culture of our politics, at the stroke of a pen. We can however get more women onto the bottom rung, we can at least get them onto the ballot paper. That’s all gender quotas will do, ensure women are selected as candidates. After that it’ll be up to them to get the votes and only then can they change the system which was designed for men, by men and that only benefits men, to one that benefits all.

I just wish Mayor Hussey could lend his considerable talents to that worthy cause.

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