Women in Politics: Discussion.

I am pleased to welcome Professor Yvonne Galligan to our meeting and to welcome former lady Members of the Oireachtas to the Visitors Gallery. Professor Galligan is a leading academic on the role of women in politics and has conducted a number of detailed studies in this area. The sub-committee is grateful to her for taking the time to appear before us to share her findings with us. I propose we invite Professor Galligan to make a brief opening statement and to follow this with a question and answer session.

Professor Yvonne Galligan

I thank the Chairman, Deputies and Senators for the invitation to appear before them today to speak on women's participation in politics. I would like to address the substantive areas contained in the terms of reference of this committee and look forward to having a conversation on these points and related issues after my presentation.

In Ireland, there is a general view that there should be more women in politics. In the Irish national election study of 2007, some two thirds of the public said they wanted to see more women in politics. Other surveys, such as the Eurobarometer survey of women and the European elections and the post-local elections survey by the National Women's Council, make the same point. This is in a context where women constitute less than 20% of general election candidates in 2007 and less than 25% of local election candidates in 2009. This committee has heard at first hand from the eminent women politicians who appeared before it of the practical challenges women face as they contemplate a political career. These challenges, which are found in all countries where women are poorly represented in politics, present particular challenges to women wishing to enter political life.

One of the major issues that arises time and again is that of child and family care. While a majority of the public support the idea that women are entitled to work while raising a family, they also expect women to be the primary care givers. Thus, for women actively considering a political career, the problems of reconciling family and political life loom large. A second issue that comes to the fore is that of confidence. This is more than just being shy about speaking in public. It is a consequence of women being less connected with politics than men in the first instance and so being less familiar with the world of politics. They see politics as a tough, confrontational arena and do not feel comfortable taking part in the power struggles that constitute political life.

Third, the difficulty women face in financing a political career needs to be considered. This is a particular hurdle for women who are economically dependent on another but would like to become public representatives. In recognition of this fact, many countries have an EMILY's List or similar financial support mechanism for women candidates.

Fourth is the issue of culture. In this regard, I would like to focus on the culture of political parties rather than on the wider societal culture. As parties are mainly led and run by men, the culture of behaviour and the informally accepted norms of language, views and expressions can mean that parties are uncomfortable places for women to be. Party networks too are often more at the disposal of aspiring men than women, and networks of influence and economic support are important elements in securing a nomination to run and in financing a campaign.

Finally, there is the candidate selection process. As we clearly see, this process is not working to bring women forward in any significant numbers. Although all parties have made efforts to attract more women to run, the result is less positive than everyone would wish. Therefore, it is incumbent on us to address closely how the proportion of women candidates can be increased. To turn candidacies into seats though, it is also important to consider where women run. Thus, two elements need to be considered in tandem: increasing the proportion of women candidates and selecting them in constituencies where their party has a chance of winning one seat or more.

Much attention has been given to practical ways to increase the proportion of women in elected office. One strand has addressed the supportive strategies needed to attract women into political careers. These include mentoring, training and actively supporting promising women. There are many examples in Europe, some of which are conducted by parties, some by independent women's organisations and others by governments. In the interests of brevity, I draw the committee's attention to the Council of Europe's Committee of Ministers Recommendation Rec (2003) 3 on the balanced participation of women and men in political and public decision making. This recommendation contains a comprehensive range of supportive measures to enhance women's participation in politics. It complements the EU recommendation of 1996 calling on member states to introduce appropriate measures to achieve the balanced participation of women and men in decision making.

Perhaps the most effective strategy to date has been that of gender quotas. The spread of quotas as an instrument for redressing the gender imbalance in parliaments has grown considerably since the signing of the UN Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action in 1995. Today, quotas of various kinds can be found in more than 100 countries. In Europe, five countries have passed candidate quota legislation, binding on all parties, ranging from a 33% gender quota in Portugal to a 50% quota in France and Belgium, with Spain and Slovenia in between at 40% and 35% respectively. Their enactment has made a difference. In Spain, women's representation in parliament has gone from 28% in 2000, before the passing of the quota law, to 36% in 2008. In Belgium, women members of parliament have increased from 12% in 1995 to 37% in 2007. In France, the application of the parity law to municipal elections increased women's representation from 26% in 1995 to 49% in 2008.

The second form of quota that is widely found in Europe and elsewhere is the voluntary party quota. As it is not a legal requirement, each party quota is adopted at a different time. Therefore, women's parliamentary representation improves more slowly than under the legislated quota provisions. Voluntary party quotas have been highly effective in list PR systems in Sweden, Germany and the Netherlands. Most parties have adopted a 40% or 50% gender quota. The requirement to alternate the candidates by gender, so that women and men have an equal chance of being elected, has been an important element in making this provision effective. The Christian Democrats in Sweden, for example, have a 50:50 party quota, which delivered 38% women MPs in the most recent election. The similar rules adopted by the German SPD party translated into women winning 36% of the party's parliamentary seats.

The success of legislated and voluntary party quotas has a strong relationship with the rules governing the rank ordering of candidates. The Irish system is different in so far as the electorate does the rank ordering, which makes the selection of women for seats that a party perceives as winnable even more important. In this regard, a party's prospects of winning more than one seat in a constituency need to be taken into account. While parties can introduce voluntary quota requirements, the European experience points to the agreement of local party organisations to the voluntary quota as being essential if this form of affirmative action is to be implemented successfully. Such agreement contributes to the incremental nature of voluntary quotas. It is important the introduction of voluntary or legislated candidate quotas initiates a process within political parties in which the recruitment of women candidates is taken more seriously than it has been.

We need to consider where Ireland can go from here. The form of quota that is adopted tends to be closely related to the relevant electoral system. Some political parties in the UK, which has single member constituencies, have decided that the introduction of a quota at the aspirant stage, which shapes the pool of potential candidates, is the most appropriate system. The UK Labour Party requires all-woman shortlists for half of its vacant seats. In list PR systems, a candidate quota with rank order rules can be applied. While our system of PR — the single transferable vote — rules out rank ordering by parties, it allows parties to make choices at the aspirant and candidate selection stages. In advance of the 2007 general election, 17 Deputies across Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Labour Party indicated they were retiring from their constituency seats. The 17 vacancies were contested by 29 non-Deputy candidates from the parties in question, of whom six, or 20%, were women. If a gender balanced replacement policy had been in effect, it would have resulted in the fielding of approximately 15 women and 15 men. This would have raised the overall gender ratio of the candidates from the parties in question from 84% male and 16% female to 80% male and 20% female.

A relatively small numerical change in candidate gender balance when considering the filling of party vacancies can increase the proportion of women running for election. If it had been decided that vacant seat contests should involve a gender balance of 40:60 in favour of women, 18 women and 11 men would have been selected to fill the vacancies I have mentioned. This would have improved the overall candidate gender ratio to 78% male and 22% female. This small illustration points to the value of gender balancing candidate selection when vacancies arise through the retirement of sitting Deputies. It can be part of a wider effort to gender balance party candidate tickets at constituency and national level. After all, in a democratic society it is incumbent on parties to provide voters with choices that reflect the geographical, social and gender diversity of the public. This will not come about of its own accord as women's representation has remained stagnant since 1992.

It is important to have a combination of efforts to encourage women into politics and provide opportunities for women to run for office. Encouragement can take the form of practical measures to make women with an interest in politics feel they belong to a particular political party, are respected and valued for the skills, views and experience they bring and are supported by party members in developing their leadership role. Providing opportunities for such women calls for carefully crafted affirmative action that combats entrenched privilege. Quotas are a means to achieving this end. This is a programme with a medium to long-term view. European experience shows that it takes about three elections to evaluate the effectiveness of measures of this kind.

I am aware that quotas are a controversial subject and have given rise to concerns that some women will be seen as so-called quota women and their legitimacy as political representatives will be diminished as a result. This view stems from viewing politics as being the efforts of individuals rather than the structuring of opportunities for some and exclusion for others. Democratic representation is about making use of the widest range of a polity's views, talents and resources to the greater good. Women are an equal part of the polity and have a responsibility to share in the decisions made for society. Our political system must find ways of bringing women's knowledge to bear on the challenges Irish society faces. In this task, the report of the sub-committee will be of great significance and I wish members well in their deliberations.

May we publish Professor Galligan's statement?

Professor Yvonne Galligan

Yes.

As rapporteur to the sub-committee, I thank Professor Galligan for making my job much easier by outlining in a clear and concise manner some of the key findings from research done elsewhere and expressing some important ideas on where we can apply this research and various models in Ireland. This will make the task of the sub-committee easier when we draw up our report in the coming weeks.

I seek more detail on several of the points raised by Professor Galligan. She pointed out that different strategies are needed to increase levels of women's political representation and referred to a range of a supportive strategies which are outlined in the Council of Europe's 2003 recommendation. Will Professor Galligan expand on which of these supportive measures she regards as most important? I note, in particular, the example she cited of the EMILY's List system, under which financial support is provided for women candidates in different countries. Could we apply this mechanism in Ireland and, if so, how could it be done?

Professor Galligan then focused on the issue of gender quotas and affirmative action measures, noting that the former have been the most effective strategy to date in other countries for increasing women's representation. She also helpfully outlined the widespread use of different types of quota. My assistant, Aoife O'Driscoll, and I have prepared and circulated by e-mail a briefing note for sub-committee members. The note includes a table listing the types of quota systems and levels of women's representation in the countries of the European Union and European Economic Area. We may use this table in our deliberations. Professor Galligan's paper also gives a clear summary of the use of these systems. On the issue of quotas, my focus is on how we can apply a similar idea and if a quota system is the best way of achieving change in Ireland. As Professor Galligan states there has been stagnation in the level of women's representation since 1992, so clearly something is needed beyond the supportive measure she mentioned. If we are looking at some form of affirmative action, should it be a mandatory or a voluntary system? Professor Galligan emphasises the need to look at the type of electoral system, that voluntary quotas have been effective in list proportional representation systems where the political parties present a national list to the electorate and it is easy then to provide for a 50:50 gender balance list. Is that appropriate in a proportional representation single transferable vote system such as in Ireland?

If we are looking at some form of affirmative action, be it mandatory through the legislative model or voluntary, where the political parties all agree to take on a target, how do we counter the argument to which Professor Galligan referred at the end of her presentation, where she pointed out that quotas can be controversial and that there are concerns that some women will be seen as quota women and their legitimacy diminished? Those are some of the arguments that have been used against quotas. In our briefing document for other members we have presented some of the arguments for and against quotas and perhaps the key arguments against them are as follows: first, an element of tokenism in their use, an argument raised by Professor Galligan; second, that they are in some way undemocratic; and third, they are discriminatory against potential male candidates. I would welcome Professor Galligan's views on how that argument can be countered in an Irish context if the sub-committee is to recommend some form of target or affirmative action policy.

I thank Professor Galligan for her excellent presentation.

Professor Yvonne Galligan

I thank Senator Bacik for raising a range of questions that all strike at the heart of women's political representation and their under representation. I will begin by addressing the different strategies that have been used in other countries and those that have proved most effective. It is very clear that in order to encourage women into political life, a wide range of strategies and different forms of encouragement need to be used. These can range from civic education taken at school level but also perhaps importantly in communities at adult level, encouraging women to feel engaged with the political process and then further developing their interest in becoming politically active. My colleagues in Belfast in Northern Ireland in the organisation Women into Politics do major work in that regard in terms of sensitising women in the community to political engagement and activism and that is a very good model in terms at looking at what works in a particular context and what brings women into political life. The other important area in terms of encouraging women to run as candidates is actions that mentor women and support them in different ways. Many women are sometimes hesitant to make the step from being a member of a political party to actively seeking candidate selection. Sometimes that concern can be alleviated by good mentoring policies and practices that demystify the role of the public representative and show women that they can bring their talents and skills to bear on that function. Again there are many examples of mentoring and shadowing of political women done formally and informally and I understand the Labour Party here has a mentoring system for women who are aspiring candidates.

The third area is finance. In all my meetings with political party women of all persuasions and from all backgrounds the issue of how they finance political campaigns has come up repeatedly. This obviously is a bigger question for women than for men because it often brings into play the personal aspect of politics in addition to the more public aspects, particularly when women may not have independent incomes from employment in their own right. Consequently, programmes such as EMILY's List which operates in the United States and Australia, in particular, as well as in other countries, are ones under which donations are gathered from the public and given to an independent finance organisation which holds them in trust and donates finance to female candidates. There are various rules governing whatever setting it is in which such donations take place which may be of interest in an Irish context. One way or another, political parties must address the issue of financing women's political campaigns in a particular manner. Moreover, they must explore these questions with female candidates because their financial needs often extend beyond the issue of election literature. They may extend to support for housekeeping or family care services and similar issues that male candidates often are not obliged to address.

Broadly, it is necessary to have in place such soft measures and supportive strategies which can assist women to enter political life and certainly raise their ambitions to so do. Moreover, using political women who are already there as role models is an important way of bringing women into political life, as is engaging women's interest in politics.

As for the voluntary and mandated measures under discussion regarding the entire area of affirmative action, one noticeable pattern one finds across the world is that those countries in which women's representation in parliament is 30% or more are the ones that have in place affirmative action policies. Consequently, it is no accident that, for example, the Netherlands, Sweden and Spain have highly positive levels and a more gender-balanced parliament in each case because this comes directly from the effect of some form of affirmative action, be it legislated or voluntary. This pattern also holds beyond Europe. In many instances, such affirmative action measures have been adopted because in each of these democracies it is considered necessary to have women's talents and experiences engaged in problem solving for society and the public good.

As I outlined in my presentation, there are different methods and mechanisms. However, in the Irish context, the reason I chose the example of vacant seats was that in the case of such seats the individualised and personalised nature of Irish politics is less pronounced than in contests being fought by, for example, sitting Deputies. A vacant seat provides an opportunity to gender balance the composition of the party ticket. It can occur in two ways: it can occur through the retirement of a sitting Deputy or through a political party deciding that it wants to add another candidate to the list. In a way that is a seat not spoken for in an Irish context. It is likely that if parties were prepared to voluntarily commit to gender balancing where there was a vacancy or where a new candidate was to be added to a list, over time it would enable an increase in the proportion of women running as candidates. Importantly, as I raised in my presentation, it would also give those women candidates a decent chance of winning a seat because where an incumbent steps down for one reason or another, there is obviously party support which provides an opportunity for the party to retain the seat. I included that example in my presentation to show how in an Irish context the STV and list system could make it possible to gender balance party candidates.

The other issue with regard to increasing women's low representation is that of voter choice. When one looked at the candidate lists or lists presented by parties in constituencies in the last election, it was very clear that for the two larger parties, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, at least 60% of the constituencies were male dominated with no women candidates from these parties. Fianna Fáil fielded no women candidates in 28 constituencies, while Fine Gael did not field a woman candidate in 30 constituencies. Parties are there to filter the representatives they put forward from which people make choices as to whom they want to select. In these cases voters had no gender choice; there may have been a geographical or social choice but there was no gender choice available. In redressing this, some attention in the form of affirmative action needs to be paid to it. That is why I raised the issue of vacant seats as a strategy and one route to addressing this problem.

The third question suggests women who come through such a system in some way feel as tokens, that it undermines their legitimacy and is discriminatory against male candidates. The point of the discussion is that quotas are really not seen as a way of discriminating against men per se but of compensating for the structural problems and barriers I discussed in the earlier part of my statement. One cannot state there are inadequate women in politics or that they are less skilled or experienced in terms of the knowledge they can bring to and the contribution they can make in solving the problems we face today. In fact, as politics have become an entrenched, male dominated endeavour, it has become increasingly difficult for women to break through that cultural and structural barrier. Quotas represent an effort to break the barrier which excludes women from political life and to give voters a choice. Quotas or, more correctly, affirmative action can be used as temporary measures to address particularly persistent problems. It is surprising that women’s representation has not increased since 1992, given that there is equal representation in so many other areas. The measures could be reviewed after three elections or some other defined period of time and if they were effective at breaking through the cultural barrier, they could be removed because women’s participation would have become self-sustaining.

In her reply to Senator Bacik Professor Galligan noted that a women's group in the United Kingdom was funding various female candidates. From where did that group get its funding?

Professor Yvonne Galligan

The organisation in question is a private one and is funded by its donors. It was probably established by women entrepreneurs or philanthropists. It was not necessarily funded from the state's purse in the United Kingdom.

I warmly welcome Professor Galligan and thank her for her assistance to various Oireachtas committees. I also acknowledge the attendance of former Members and pay tribute to them for the contributions they have made individually and collectively as women parliamentarians.

Professor Galligan stated: "Our political system must find ways of bringing women's knowledge to bear on the challenges society faces." I agree wholeheartedly but this is a huge challenge. I do not know the correct formula to achieve this goal. Irrespective of the nature of the formula, however, if it increases the number of women in politics, there will be no danger that they will be treated with less respect. As a male politician with 27 years experience, it is my opinion that once a women is elected, she receives the same rights and respect as her male counterparts. That is only as it should be.

The difficulty arises in finding a formula to deliver elected women to the political system. My party has attempted to achieve this objective. This year we even changed our selection process from a very democratic system of selecting candidates for election at conventions to an interview process in order to create a gender balance on the ticket. Regrettably, we lost out on two counts. First, we lost the goodwill of our organisation by denying members their democratic right to select the candidates they considered to be most suitable and, second, we lost the goodwill of the electorate. Of course, that was not the fault of the women concerned.

It may have been for other reasons.

I can understand that. We tried to change our system to deliver but were excoriated in certain areas for so doing. There are three electoral areas in my constituency and we re-elected one woman in each. All three were very good outgoing councillors. In the last but one local elections we selected an additional candidate in line with the suggestion made today. This is the best way to deliver female candidates and one or two ended up in Parliament after being added to the ticket at the last general election. It gives a guarantee that a person will be on the party ticket, although individual parties will have their own system in that regard. The person whom we selected at the last but one local elections was highly professional and well regarded but was, unfortunately, beaten by a single vote. We were sure we would have the same candidate this time around and our intention was that she would be ready for national politics in the future. However, try as we might, we could not persuade her to re-enter the arena. I am sure women will agree that if a woman is unsuccessful in her first attempt, she tends not to have a second go. This is also a challenge.

Women are role models and have played a major role in politics. Successful political women have left a real mark on the politics of the island, North and South. Nowhere is this the case more than in Northern Ireland where Professor Galligan operates professionally. Ms Monica McWilliams and her colleagues in the Women's Coalition played a significant role in the peace process and did an outstanding job in a brave and open way, against huge odds. As with other politicians in Northern Ireland, they were not rewarded for their efforts but they were there when they were needed to bring common sense, reality and humanity to a difficult situation. Before them, Ms Mairead Corrigan, Ms Betty Williams and the Peace People had a difficult time but they provided huge leadership and commitment. It was high risk and very brave work which impacted at a critical time in Northern Ireland. Mrs. Nuala O'Loan also made an outstanding contribution, one that has changed the whole system in Northern Ireland. Her steadfast and even-handed leadership and capacity to absorb the challenges she faced speak for her contribution.

If we are to change the system, it will be for each political party to do so. We all have to find a mechanism whereby we can engage women and give them the role they should have. Society and politics are much better and more balanced with the engagement and involvement of women. I suggest we start at local authority level to create a structure and an environment — whether by quotas or otherwise — in which female candidates can participate. As it evolves and role models emerge, at both national and international level, we can tweak the system to ensure we have a greater percentage of women in the national Parliament. I am not sure if that is the right approach but it is my suggestion.

Professor Yvonne Galligan

I thank Deputy Treacy for his very interesting comments. The issues he raises are very important and address the practicalities which are the nitty-gritty of the problem. I am aware of the efforts Fianna Fáil has been making in candidate selection strategies and it is unfortunate that the goodwill of the party organisation at constituency level was lost. As I stated, for action in this area to be effective and sustainable in the longer term, the local party organisations must engage in the process within their parties and bring that to the discussion.

Sometimes parties turn their minds to candidate selection issues at a point when it is close or relatively close to an election but this issue needs a longer lead-in time in order to prepare a party organisation to accept that it may need to develop an ideal candidate. The picture that must appear in the minds of the local party organisation is one which includes women as well as men, rather than an automatic preference for male candidates. In a way, in its efforts to select more women candidates and in being more sensitive to the gender imbalance, Fianna Fáil was not really appreciated by its local organisations, which probably had a different picture of an appropriate candidate.

There is a process of learning which must take place and that is why it is very useful to open this to discussion internally. Fianna Fáil has been proactive in developing a national gender action plan for the party and for setting targets for bringing more women forward as candidates for various elections, as well as officerships throughout the party.

Some resistance to that point is probably inevitable but that is not a sufficient reason to abandon these efforts. I encourage Deputy Treacy and his party colleagues to continue their efforts in that regard.

The Deputy also hit on a very important point regarding women not running a second time around. That has been identified in many countries as a major problem as when women enter the political fray and are unsuccessful, they are less inclined to try again. This is where the support mechanisms I spoke about earlier can come into play so women do not have to feel as if they have not only failed to get a seat for the party but that they are somewhat inadequate as representatives. It is the job of the political party to be sensitive to that and support promising women by providing them with mentoring, connections to political party life and with a role in the party that can enable both the women and the party to keep their political ambitions alive until the following election. It is an important issue for political parties.

The Deputy mentioned the Women's Coalition, which sadly is no more. It had a notable effect in addition to its important role in the peace process. It sensitised the other political parties to the importance of running women candidates in their parties as well. Part of the success of the Women's Coalition is that it sensitised other parties to that question and those parties responded accordingly. It is quite likely that parties on the nationalist side in particular would not have the level of women's candidacies — over 25% — that they now have if it were not for the Women's Coalition. Many of the questions Deputy Treacy raised need to be teased out at party level and can also form part of the recommendations of the report as members go further into that during committee proceedings.

I thank the Professor. We will not mention our records.

I thank the Professor for her presentation and welcome her to the committee. I am sorry I missed the initial part of her presentation. I found what she said very interesting. Am I right in saying her principal suggestion is that we should concentrate on party quotas, or quotas for elections as they arise? I found it interesting that Deputy Treacy reckoned we should start at local level. That is probably the case but I imagine that representation at local level is higher than that at national level. Having served at both levels, my experience is that for a woman it is probably easier to be involved in politics at local level, given the constraints of child care etc. I imagine the cost of child care is not the same burden at local level that it is at national level, which brings me to my next question. Has Professor Galligan looked at the urban-rural divide in this regard? From my perspective, and as I look around Leinster House, there appears to be stronger representation from Dublin and the greater Dublin area from where one can commute to work, than from rural constituencies where one has to leave on a Tuesday and return on a Thursday. I imagine that if those statistics were further broken down one would see that by and large such women have foregone motherhood as an option in their pursuit of a political career. That is a shame because if we are to have women in politics they should not be only one type of woman. We need to have more mothers in politics. I say this, having a ten-week-old baby.

This matter is a bugbear of mine and I shall speak to those involved when I get a chance in the near future. I was sitting having my breakfast on a day in July when there was a very close vote in the Seanad which the Government won, perhaps by one vote or by the casting of the Cathaoirleach's vote. A number of Senators were interviewed and asked why the numbers were so close. The truth is that it is a close-numbered situation, but I was cited as one of the reasons for the vote being so close. I nearly fell off my chair because I was paired and was no part of the reason for the closeness of the vote. I thought this was a despicable thing to say. It was not said by a member of my party but at the same time the perception is there that if a woman in politics has a child she can almost bring down the Government by having her child and being on maternity leave, mar dhea, because I must call it "maternity leave".

In the wider world and in Irish society maternity protection and other matters have moved on very much but here in Leinster House there seems to be a mystique about them. If one has a child and is in politics one is perceived as being weak, or as not having the time for one's profession. That is a shame. It is a cultural issue. I notice Professor Galligan mentioned culture in her speech but the culture needs to start here rather than end here. Although we have moved on in business and in wider spheres of employment this has not happened in Leinster House. When people rush back a week after having a child it does every woman a disservice. It is not realistic and is not the reason women are involved in politics. I make the point because in my view that reaction was a bit "off".

Has the Professor looked at the situation whereby parties tend to run dynastic candidates? Many women in politics were, so to speak, the daughters of their fathers before them. Perhaps that helps them with financial and fund-raising issues because there is an entire political machine in place and these people know where to go to get funding, etc. That culture is present. I would like to know what the professor thinks of the fact that Ireland is such a small country but it is difficult for a woman to enter the political sphere who is not part of this machine.

Professor Galligan and Deputy Treacy alluded the fact that a party will not accept women if they are not part of a dynasty, where one has a father who has, unfortunately, met an early demise or has decided to retire and is still around to keep an eye on things. There is a culture and unless one is part of it, especially in my party, Fianna Fáil, one will not ultimately be successful. As I said, it ties in with fund-raising.

Professor Galligan mentioned mentoring and it is a good idea, but the mentors need to be mentored. We need to examine it because a lot of mentoring goes on for all candidates, which is fair enough. Every new female or male candidate is mentored in the same way and that is perfectly acceptable. However, the mentors are used to dealing only with men because it is a man's world in the political sense. Women comprise 50% of the population but the rules were written by men. Mentors need to realise they are dealing with a different animal in terms of a female, and they will not give them the same "wink, wink, nudge, nudge, slap on the back" type of reaction they might get from a male candidate because women tend to be more straightforward, which is part of the reason they are not as successful with the electorate.

I noted that in the first part of her presentation Professor Galligan stated that in the national election study of 2007 two thirds of the public said they wanted to see more women in politics. I imagine if one asked the two thirds concerned if they voted for the women that were on the ballot papers in their constituencies, they would say "No". Women do not support women and we are divided into four subsections of our sexes whereby different women are competing with their own and there is a lot of guilt surrounding that. I would like to know what Professor Galligan has to say on those points.

Professor Yvonne Galligan

I thank Senator McDonald and congratulate her on her recent happy event. Is it a boy or a girl?

Professor Yvonne Galligan

She will have a wonderful role model in the Senator. The Senator raised a number of points. The first point I would like to address is the question of local elections, a point Deputy Treacy also raised and to which I forgot to respond. It is very clear that local elections and politics are very important stepping stones for national politics and very important arenas for local democracy in its own right. I suggest any of the thoughts and recommendations of this committee should bear the local, as well as the national, arena in mind and perhaps combine both rather than focusing on a particular one.

None the less, local elections and politics are very important. While women's representation at local level is better than that at national level, it is only marginally better at 16%, which says there is something happening within the political culture as a whole if political women are not getting selected to run at local level and, therefore, not getting the opportunity to be elected at local level. This question is multi-levelled and multi-layered and goes to the culture of political parties as much as anything else in terms of their ideal, identikit candidate, even at local level. I want to point to the importance of the local level and it being the pool from which national candidates come and the importance of nurturing women's local careers and ambitions at that level.

The members are right when they say there is an urban-rural divide in that most of the women elected to the Dáil come from urban constituencies. It is almost as if in our urban constituencies, parties are more prepared to run the risk, in their eyes, of running women candidates. In the last local elections, in some of the Dublin council seats parties ran all-women tickets rather than the tickets of women and men, which was very interesting for me to see and the first time I have seen it. In rural areas the pattern of candidate selection is much more traditional and much less gender balanced than in urban areas. Therefore the Dublin area and the Leinster area in general are more gender balanced than any of the other regions of the country. This needs to be looked at. I do not know to what extent that relates to the fact that in urban areas, certainly in the Dublin and broad Leinster area, Leinster House is more accessible.

Certainly it has been said many times by parliamentary women that striking the balance between having a political career and having a family life is a very difficult struggle. That has been found right across the board in all societies. In the Scottish Parliament, for instance, which had the opportunity of setting its rules afresh and from the very beginning, one of the measures it put in place was a recognition that members of the Scottish Parliament, both men and women, were also fathers and mothers and were entitled to have time with their families in the course of their political careers and so organised the rules and the times of parliamentary sittings to reflect the fact that political women and men were more than just political representatives, that they had family lives as well. Being sensitive to that question is an important issue. How one balances for each individual person the political world and the family world also reflects the obligations that society imposes on mothers and fathers. Society often expects women to bear the bulk of the child caring and, therefore, political women often feel quite stressed because of the expectation that they have to bear this responsibility more than they perceive their male colleagues or their male partners need to bear it.

One suggestion may be that Leinster House itself, if it is to be the role model and send the signal out for society, considers for its political members and staff how it balances this work-life question and issue. This may open up another area where not only will it address the needs of political representatives but will send a strong signal to society as a whole that being a parent is the responsibility of both parents. This is something the committee may wish to consider.

In relation to the family seat question, it has been clear that many women rely on the family seat connection and certainly the political family connection somewhat more than political men do, although male political representatives also rely heavily on it. It works both ways but women rely marginally more heavily on it than political men do. Again that is partly a symptom of the difficulty women face in making the breakthrough into political life. At the end of the day there are only so many political families in the country and there are not enough to deliver a gender equal Dáil. There must be ways other than the political family route of bringing more women into politics. That is why the local elections route is so important. It is also why supportive measures are important because, again, political families serve the function of socialising the younger generations of that family to a career of public service and the demands political life presents. This is not necessarily a socialisation that people outside family dynasties receive and the parties need to compensate for that advantage which women and men from political families have. This is where the active, open and transparent measures of mentoring and supporting women in their political leadership roles come to bear and which are part and parcel of the committee's brief.

The Senator raised a point I have heard often, that women voters do not support women candidates. That is partly as a result, perhaps, of women voters not having the choice of women candidates from their party presented to them. However, it is a generally recognised fact on a wider, global basis that women voters do not always support women candidates and that many male voters support women candidates. Our objective, therefore, is to give voters maximum choice. That is what we are trying to do in this exercise and in other countries too. It is about giving voters a choice in order that democratic decision making is truly democratic, truly reflective of the wide range of interests that women and men hold in society and truly delivers a more rounded and comprehensive outcome in terms of the decisions taken for the public good.

In her reply Professor Galligan mentioned the importance of the local elections route. I agree. The committee is not focusing on just one route. The mistake made in the past was that we tended to look at our national Parliament and tried to increase the number of women in it. However, we will never do so if the pool of women candidates is not available. The only place one will find that pool of candidates is among the women who are members of local authorities. We must build from the ground up.

Professor Galligan also mentioned the culture of political parties more than once. Is that where we must start? If we do not put the foundations and building blocks in place, this will not work. We must go back to the local elections to start. It might take a little longer but what we have done has not worked. Professor Galligan said it would take three elections before we would find out whether it was working. Must we start there?

Professor Yvonne Galligan

The Chairman is right to identify local politics as the pool from which national candidates can come. It is only exceptional individuals who come through any other route. The Seanad is also a pool from which national candidates come.

They are often councillors because they are elected by councillors.

Professor Yvonne Galligan

Exactly. In the last local elections the overall proportion of women running as candidates was 25%. The overall outcome was that 16% of the councillors were women, which is, in fact, down from the previous local elections when 19% of the councillors were women. The Chairman is quite correct. Much attention must be paid to the selection of candidates for the local elections and that percentage needs to be increased significantly if, in the process of filtering out candidates for the national level, the national level number must be raised. I am suggesting that one may wish to look at both the local and the national level at the same time. There are still women at local level among that 16% who would be excellent candidates at national level and attention must be given to filtering the candidate selection process to enable the emergence of those women who are interested at the local level and who have the promise of being excellent candidates for Dáil Éireann. As the Chairman pointed out, the issue is very much how political parties within their organisations perceive women's candidacies to be legitimate candidacies in their own right, and the extent to which they accept women as political equals and having an equal entitlement to run for political office, be it at local or national level.

In my discussions with women from all parties engaged in the issue of women in politics, many women tell me that they feel uncomfortable in the male-dominated cultures of their political parties and while it is quite okay for them to take on supportive roles, they are not encouraged to take on leadership roles. In fact, in some cases they are actively discouraged from taking on individual leadership roles. This discouragement can take the form of remarks that may devalue their contributions to political debate. They may not be given the space to speak at local meetings. It may be that the meetings themselves are held in places where women feel somewhat less comfortable in going. If a constituency meeting or a political meeting is being held in a room above a pub, for instance, which is often where many political meetings were held traditionally, that is not often a place where political women will feel comfortable in going, and often if a political women appears at a meeting on her own for the purposes of engaging in that discussion, people might also find comments that question her motivation for being there in the first place. These subtle expressions that question a woman's right to engage in a political environment in her own right are signals which women pick up and which come from the culture of that political party in terms of how it perceives women and women's status in their party and in society.

I am not necessarily pointing the finger at any political party because these particular issues of culture to which I refer are witnessed in many political parties, not only in Ireland. For example, in other countries women who are prospective candidates can be asked who will mind their children while they run for political office whereas that question is not asked of male candidates who run for political office. The standing afforded to women and the extent to which they are accorded equality with men — in the context of the recognition of their right to be involved and respect for their contribution to political debate — must be addressed by political parties across the board.

Senator McDonald referred to the urban-rural divide. Obviously, it is far easier for a woman in Dublin to be involved in politics because she can return home at night. The position is not the same for someone who is obliged to travel to the capital city from elsewhere in the country. At a previous meeting Deputy Deenihan referred to the possibility of using video conferencing to allow women to remain at home while still permitting them to participate in some way. Has such a method ever been tried?

Professor Yvonne Galligan

To the best of my knowledge, I have not come across it but I am not stating it does not happen. However, I have not heard about it previously. It appears to be an excellent use of modern technology. While it might not work for plenary sessions, it might work quite well for committee meetings and other activities of the Houses. It is a very interesting idea. It might also relieve the pressure not only on female elected representatives but also on their male counterparts who live long distances from the Dáil and who have demands on their time which require them to be located close to home. If a male or female Member of the Houses was ill, was well enough to be able to communicate by means of video conferencing but was not sufficiently healthy to undertake a long journey, it would be an eminently sensible arrangement to put in place.

Yes. That is a matter we might pursue on another occasion.

I join Deputy Treacy in welcoming the former women Members and other observers with an interest in this matter to the Visitors Gallery. It is great to see so many people in attendance because it shows the interest there is in this issue. I also congratulate Senator McDonald on the birth of her child. As a mother of young children, I am conscious of the fact that it is easier to be involved in politics if one lives in Dublin. It is much easier thanks to the work of former women Members who lobbied hard for the establishment of the Oireachtas crèche, of which I have become a grateful user and which facilitated my attendance in the Houses last year when my baby was very young. These are matters which, as the Chairman stated, we must consider in the context of the organisation of the Oireachtas and how it operates. The crèche has proved extremely important for Dublin-based Members who are parents.

The information Professor Galligan has provided will inform our report in great measure. I am conscious that many of the comments made and questions put by members focused on the culture of political parties. It is clear from the literature that the political parties are the gatekeepers of what is often called "the secret garden of the nomination process". As Professor Galligan stated, the procedures employed in that secret garden can often be murky or opaque. It is important that the sub-committee should try to make recommendations that will address the difficulties for women in overcoming this political culture which continues to obtain within the parties and in the context of their gatekeeping activities regarding the way forward in increasing women's representation. We will be focusing on matters at both local and national level.

I hope to work with my assistant in preparing a draft report for the next meeting of the sub-committee. I suggest such a meeting be held in private in the next three to four weeks.

That is fine, particularly in view of the fact that we set ourselves a target of making our report by the end of October.

Yes, I am conscious of the deadline.

That should give us adequate time in which to prepare a report.

I will certainly have something to present to the sub-committee at its next meeting.

That is great. I sincerely thank Professor Galligan for attending. Her contribution was extremely informative and we thank her for assisting us in our deliberations on this matter. I thank members for their attendance and contributions. I also thank the former Members of the Oireachtas who are present in the Visitors Gallery for attending.

The sub-committee adjourned at 3.55 p.m. sine die.