Part of legislation currently being put through the Houses of the Oireachtas by Environment Minister Phil Hogan dealing with gender quotas, may be unconstitutional, his constituency colleague Deputy John Paul Phelan told the Dáil.
Speaking on the Electoral (Amendment) (Political Funding) Bill, 2011, which requires political parties to have a minimum quote of 30% female candidates at the next general election or face cuts in funding, he said “given that a joint committee of the Oireachtas concluded less than two years ago that the imposition of gender quotas by way of legislation would be in conflict with the Kelly judgment and constitutionally dubious in respect of the Article 40 provisions on freedom of association, it seems extraordinary that the Government is now of the view that this difficulty can be overcome.”
He said he concurred with the opinion of Cork East Deputy Michael Creed that the advice of the Attorney General in this regard should be made public.
“The difficulty in getting more women and more people of diverse backgrounds into politics goes very much to the structure of our political system,” he said. “What we must confront are issues that cannot necessarily be corrected in legislation but may be tackled by changing how we do our business. We must ensure the Oireachtas becomes a more attractive place for women and other groups who are not currently represented if we are to encourage them to seek membership of this House in the future.”
Deputy Phelan told the Dáil he had not “seen sufficient evidence” as yet of the Government’s intent to enforce effective reform in terms of how the political system operates.
“I remain hopeful, however, that significant changes will be made,” he said. While he supported the notion of gender quotas, they were, to some extent, “merely window dressing”.
“What is required is a thorough review of how the political system operates and the barriers therein which prevent women and other groups from entering politics,” he said. “It is not something that can easily be addressed by legislation. The issues to be examined include, for instance, long Dáil sitting hours and local meetings which politicians are obliged to attend and which invariably take place in the evening and late into the night. Such practices discriminate against people with young children.”
Deputy Phelan said there was an entire structure in place that was the root cause of the failure of women to participate in larger numbers in politics. Unfortunately, the legislation did not go anywhere near addressing it.
“In fact, legislation in general is probably not the right place to seek to address it,” he said.