Introduction of the gender quota and challenges for political parties

Adrian Kavanagh, 6th January 2015 

The passing of gender quota legislation by Dail Eireann in July 2012 has linked the state funding of political parties to a requirement that female (and male) candidates will account for at least 30% of those parties’ total number of candidates at the next general election. On the day that this legislation was passed, I wrote a post outlining the different challenges and issues that may arise in relation to the implementation of this legislation, particularly as these parties progress with their selection of general election candidates over the following months. In this post, I will outline various scenarios that these parties may face in terms of meeting the requirements of this legislation and ascertain the minimum number of male/female candidates that these parties would need to select under two different scenarios.

1. If all male incumbents were to contest the election 

This analysis will only focus on the number of incumbents who are currently official members of the different parties (and will exclude Dail deputies who were elected for these parties back in 2011, but who have subsequently left these parties/lost the party whip). It will also exclude those incumbents who have stated definitively that they will not be contesting the next general election.

One knock-on effect of the party’s disappointing results in 2011 is that this is not a scenario that will impact on the Green Party’s selection process, while it will also have a limited effect on the smaller parties/groupings, including the Socialist Party and the People Before Profit Alliance as well as the new political party that is being formed by Deputy Lucinda Creighton and others such as Cllr. John Leahy. This stipulation would also have a limited effect on Sinn Fein, given that the party currently has just 12 male Dail deputies. If all these male incumbents were to contest the election, this would mean that at least six female candidates would need to contest the election, meaning that the minimum number of Sinn Fein candidates would be 18. The reality is that there will be a significantly larger number of Sinn Fein candidates contesting the next general election.

This stipulation will pose the greatest challenges for Fine Gael, reflecting that party’s level of success at the 2011 election but also reflecting the degree to which the party’s current list of Dail deputies is dominated by males. A series of defections from the Fine Gael ranks, in addition to the knock on effects of by-election results over the 2011-14 period, mean that the party currently has 11 female Dail deputies (15.9% of the total) and 58 male Dail deputies (84.1% of the total). (The Ceann Comhairle, Sean Barret, is included within these numbers.) With Dinny McGinley not contesting the next election, if the other 57 male incumbents were all to contest the next election this would mean that Fine Gael would need to select at least 25 female candidates to contest the next election – probably including the 11 female incumbents and 14 other non-incumbents. This would mean that the smallest number of candidates that Fine Gael could run in the next election would be 82, but this would mean that the party would be selecting absolutely no male non-incumbents/challengers to contest these elections in this scenario. This will be an even more problematic concern for Fine Gael, given that the 2012 Constituency Commission boundary changes and party support figures in recent opinion polls mean that the party may be seeking to notably reduce its number of general election candidates down from the 104 candidates who contested the 2011 election.

While males still account for just under eighty percent of the Labour Party’s current number of Dail deputies (7 female, 27 male), this stipulation should not prove to be particularly onerous on that party. With Ruairi Quinn not to contest the next election, if the other 26 male incumbents were to run this would mean that Labour would need to select at least 12 female candidates, which would probably include all of/most of the party’s current number of female deputies. This would mean that the minimum number of candidates that the Labour Party would be running in the next election under this scenario would be 38, with this figure again being based on the proviso that no male challengers/non-incumbents would be also selected.

Fianna Fail currently has no female Dail deputy, but the relatively small number of male deputies, following the “earthquake election” of 2011 and Colm Keaveney’s defection, means that this scenario does not seem to seem to unduly impact on the party’s selection approach. With Seamus Kirk not to contest the next election, if the party’s other (19) male incumbents were to contest the election (in addition to the recently selected Sen. Darragh O’Brien) then Fianna Fail would need to select at least 9 female candidates to contest the next election. The minimum number of Fianna Fail candidates here would thus be 29, with this scenario again being based on the proviso that no other male challengers/non-incumbents would be selected apart from Darragh O’Brien.

2. If the different parties were to run the same number of general election candidates as they did at the 2011 General Election

This scenario may be somewhat unlikely to pan out in a number of cases. The reduction in the overall number of Dail deputies (from 166 to 158) and Dail constituencies (from 43 to 40) means that some parties may be inclined to reduce their number of general election candidates. An obvious example here would be the Green Party, which has tended to run one candidate per Dail constituency in recent general election contests, with the notable exception of Dublin North in 2007 – if the same pattern emerges in 2015/2016 the party’s number of candidates would be likely to fall from 43 to 40. The results of recent opinion polls may also mean that parties such as Fine Gael and Labour may be disinclined to run as many candidates as they did in 2011 (and may also discourage Fianna Fail from significantly increasing on the number of candidates that they ran in that election). However, these poll results may encourage other parties/groupings, such as the Socialist Party, People Before Profit Alliance and Sinn Fein, to increase their number of general election candidates.

Those provisos noted, let’s look at the situation for the different parties if they were to run exactly the same number of candidates as they did at the last general election contest:

  • Fianna Fail selected 76 candidates to contest the 2011 General Election: 11 females (14.5%) and 65 males (85.5%). If they were to run the exact same number of candidates at the 2015/2016 General Election, the stipulations of the gender quota legislation means that they would need to select at least 23 female (or male) candidates at the next general election. If the party was to do so, it would need to increase its number of female candidates from 2011 by at least 12 (and reduce its number of male candidates accordingly). If the party was to reduce its overall number of candidates directly in proportion to the overall reduction in Dail seat numbers (i.e. down to 73 candidates), Fianna Fail would need to select at least 22 female (or male) candidates at the next general election. If the party was to do so, it would need to increase its number of female candidates from 2011 by at least 11 (and reduce its number of male candidates by 14).
  • Fine Gael selected 104 candidates to contest the 2011 General Election: 16 females (15.4%) and 88 males (84.6%). If they were to run the exact same number of candidates at the 2015/2016 General Election, the stipulations of the gender quota legislation means that they would need to select at least 32 female (or male) candidates at the next general election. If the party was to do so, it would need to increase its number of female candidates from 2011 by at least 16 (and reduce its number of male candidates accordingly). If the party was to reduce its overall number of candidates directly in proportion to the overall reduction in Dail seat numbers (i.e. down to 99 candidates), Fine Gael would need to select at least 30 female (or male) candidates at the next general election. If the party was to do so, it would need to increase its number of female candidates from 2011 by at least 14 (and reduce its number of male candidates by 17).
  • Sinn Fein selected 41 candidates to contest the 2011 General Election: 8 females (19.5%) and 33 males (80.5%). If they were to run the exact same number of candidates at the 2015/2016 General Election, the stipulations of the gender quota legislation means that they would need to select at least 13 female (or male) candidates at the next general election. If the party was to do so, it would need to increase its number of female candidates from 2011 by at least 5 (and reduce its number of male candidates accordingly). If the party was to reduce its overall number of candidates directly in proportion to the overall reduction in Dail seat numbers (i.e. down to 39 candidates), Sinn Fein would need to select at least 12 female (or male) candidates at the next general election. If the party was to do so, it would need to increase its number of female candidates from 2011 by at least 4 (and reduce its number of male candidates by 6).
  • Labour selected 68 candidates to contest the 2011 General Election: 18 females (26.5%) and 50 males (73.5%). If they were to run the exact same number of candidates at the 2015/2016 General Election, the stipulations of the gender quota legislation means that they would need to select at least 21 female (or male) candidates at the next general election. If the party was to do so, it would need to increase its number of female candidates from 2011 by at least 3 (and reduce its number of male candidates accordingly). If the party was to reduce its overall number of candidates directly in proportion to the overall reduction in Dail seat numbers (i.e. down to 39 candidates), Labour would need to select at least 20 female (or male) candidates at the next general election. If the party was to do so, it would need to increase its number of female candidates from 2011 by at least 2 (and reduce its number of male candidates by 5).
  • The Green Party selected 43 candidates to contest the 2011 General Election: 8 females (18.6%) and 35 males (81.4%). If they were to run the exact same number of candidates at the 2015/2016 General Election, the stipulations of the gender quota legislation means that they would need to select at least 13 female (or male) candidates at the next general election. If the party was to do so, it would need to increase its number of female candidates from 2011 by at least 5 (and reduce its number of male candidates accordingly). If the party was to reduce its overall number of candidates directly in proportion to the overall reduction in Dail constituency numbers (i.e. down to 40 candidates, or one candidate per constituency), The Green Party would need to select at least 12 female (or male) candidates at the next general election. If the party was to do so, it would need to increase its number of female candidates from 2011 by at least 4 (and reduce its number of male candidates by 7). (The same figures here – i.e. at least 12 female (or male) candidates – would apply in the case of any other smaller party that plans to run one candidate per constituency at the next general election.)
  • As the number of candidates selected by the other parties in 2011 were relatively small, these are not being focused on here, though it is worth noting that the People Before Profit Alliance would easily achieve the gender quota stipulations if it were to select the exact same candidates as in 2011, given that females accounted for 44.4% of the party’s 9 candidates in that election.

The general trend suggested by these figures is that the traditional “larger parties” of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael face the greatest challenges in terms of of meeting the stipulations set by the gender quota legislation, but this does not pose the same level of challenges for the other political parties.

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About Adrian Kavanagh

Lecturer in Maynooth University Department of Geography.
This entry was posted in Gender, General Election and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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