Representatives from all the main political parties of the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Houses of the Oireachtas gathered today in the Seanad Chamber of the Houses of the Oireachtas for the seventh plenary session of the North/South Inter-Parliamentary Association (NSIPA).
The Ceann Comhairle, Seán Barrett T.D., chaired the plenary session with his Co-Chair Speaker Mitchel McLaughlin MLA. The main topic for discussion was supporting women in public life and increasing participation.
The Association heard from Fiona Buckley, Lecturer in the Department of Government at University College Cork and from Judena Leslie, Commissioner for Public Appointments in Northern Ireland.
Ms. Buckley’s presentation had a particular focus on the representation of women in political life and decision-making in Ireland. She discussed the varied and complex reasons for the under-representation of women in politics, including historical and socio-cultural factors and outlined some of the measures aimed at addressing this.
Ms. Leslie’s presentation focused on the representation of women on boards in the private and public sectors. She noted evidence that boards with more balanced gender representation perform better in terms of decision-making, leadership and governance.
There followed a substantial and considered discussion by members, who widely welcomed the debate and recognised its timeliness and relevance. Members noted the importance of diversity in decision-making structures and the role of political leadership in delivering change.
Speaker McLaughlin reflected on the importance of political bodies being truly representative and noted that increased female participation is in the interest of political parties themselves.
The Ceann Comhairle called for changes to political structures to better enable a greater diversity of participation. He praised the expertise of the speakers and the quality of the debate, noting that the Association provided an ideal forum to bring people together to debate issues of common concern in a constructive way.
In closing, both Co-Chairs drew attention to the success of the Association to date in engendering meaningful debate on topics as varied as child protection, infrastructure, European funding, education, tourism, energy, infrastructure, human trafficking, and a wide range of health issues.
Members paid tribute to Co-Chairs past and present and looked forward to an eighth plenary session to take place in Stormont next year.