There are fewer women now in cabinet than there has been since 2004. Of course, when it’s a matter of either two or three out of fifteen, it’s a big proportionate difference. With Joan Burton as Minister for Social Protection and Frances Fitzgerald as Minister for Children, there is the unfortunate impression that they got soft female-friendly positions. There had been widespread assumption that Joan Burton, having been Labour Spokesperson on Finance, could expect the position of Public Expenditure and Reform, which went to Brendan Howlin. That decision rests with Eamon Gilmore, as the leaders of parties within a coalition is usually given free rein as to the distribution of personnel within the departments they have received.
At cabinet level, parties should of course focus on picking their best TDs for the job, regardless of other factors. They also seemed to ignore geography as a major factor, with a high concentration from both parties of Dublin TDs in cabinet. But this is not to say that some others of women mentioned like Róisín Shortall or Jan O’Sullivan wouldn’t be as good as one Labour’s former leaders.
Of course, we should recognise the first female Attorney General in Máire Whelan.
The proportion of women in the 31st Dáil is up marginally on the last Dáil. There has been only marginal change in the proportion of female representation in Ireland, and in any analysis it is our position relative to the rest of the world, not an absolute proportion that is worth considering.
There are 25 women in the current Dáil, including 11 of Fine Gael’s 76 TDs, 8 of Labour’s 37 TDs, 2 of Sinn Féin’s 14 TDs, 2 of the 5 United Left Alliance TDs and 2 of the 14 Independent TDs. Significantly, no women were elected for Fianna Fáil.