Things are going in the right direction now. I am glad Deputy Ó Snodaigh acknowledged this spontaneously. I find it somewhat rich that people who cannot organise their own party on gender equality lines tell the Government how it should act on this matter. The Progressive Democrats said from the beginning it would have no woman's section but rather a party of total equality. Ours was the first party to be led by a woman, which is strange after 80 years of Irish independence. Our party has always had a significant number of women Deputies in its Dáil membership. At present it is 50-50. It is not good enough for Sinn Féin to say it is twiddling around with its Ard Comhairle membership and so on. If the party wants to achieve the number, it must set out to do that, and if its members when selecting candidates want to achieve it, they must go out and do so.
It may be that when a party is coming in from the cold, which has had activists who are predominantly male, it is difficult to suddenly put forward women as candidates in elections. However, Sinn Féin should take a look at the Progressive Democrats and ask how it was possible to be led by a woman and have 50% of a party's Dáil membership female. The difference is that we take it seriously. We do not posture about it. We do not make noise about it. We just go and do it. Sinn Féin should follow the Progressive Democrats' example and elect a woman leader of the party. I would like to see that. It would be good and it might improve the party.
One of the problems with a rigid formula is that if a board has just reached the 40% quota, one way or another, and somebody resigns or retires, to be told that a good successor cannot be appointed because this would be illegal is the type of inflexibility that is not needed. Suppose, for instance, that an employee representative was eminently suited and was the elected choice of members of staff and he or she resigns and has to be replaced. To tell the staff that their first choice must have to stand aside in deference to quota complexities involving the appointment of a particular male or female board member would be nonsense. I would much prefer to see policy being implemented along the lines I am driving it, which is having dramatic effects. Right across the public service the trend is rapidly moving towards equalisation.
There is a problem with the question I have just raised, which is that women represent 30% in total of board members, but as a percentage of Government ministerial appointees, they are 36%. This means that the Government is well ahead of civic society. It is civic society that is letting us down in this regard. If 36% is the Government figure it is possible to work out through some mathematical formula that civic society is down to somewhere in the mid-20% range in the making of board nominations. The problem does not lie with Government, it lies outside. In future I propose to ask bodies, that traditionally give me nominations, for a male and female nominee so that I can put together a board which is broadly reflective of society as well as the normative interests that have to be represented on it. It may be a culture change for some of the nominating and partnership bodies to be told to put up two people rather than one. It is in their court that the most pronounced problem exists as regards equality.
When I come to appoint this authority Deputies will be pleasantly surprised by the gender balance that is finally struck. I agree with Deputy Deasy that the way to achieve this is not to establish rigid quotas because it can have the extraordinary effect that someone who is the most obvious choice, in effect, for the equivalent of a by-election vacancy has to be rejected on an artificial ground. It may be that on some occasion an obvious substitute is identified and it is decided to restore the gender balance the next time a vacancy arises on the authority in question. However, the effect of a rigid legal requirement of the kind suggested would rule out such an initiative.
There are different approaches to be taken to disparate bodies, for instance, the Judiciary. My aim is to have the Judiciary broadly reflective of the legal professions from which its membership is drawn. The number of women barristers and solicitors at the lower end of the pyramid in terms of age and experience has achieved gender balance, or nearly. With the passing of time, the Judiciary will reflect the gender balance in the legal profession. The same argument applies to the legislation I am currently moving in the Seanad, the Garda Síochána Bill 2004. That Bill provides that at least one of the three members of the Garda ombudsman commission must be of either gender. One could say that with a three person commission, 40% cannot be achieved. There is bound to be a two thirds-one third weighting.