This blog post marks a recently published symposium on Irish Political Studies: ‘Gender and Political Change in the Republic of Ireland: Sites of Progress and Contest’, edited by Dr Lisa Keenan and Dr Claire McGing.
lisa keenan is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at Trinity College Dublin (TCD). He does research on gender and politics, and politics in the Republic of Ireland.
Claire McGing she is a member of the senior management team at the Dún Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology (IADT), where she has strategic oversight for equality, diversity and inclusion. Her main research is on gender politics and electoral politics in Ireland.
This year’s International Women’s Day (IWD) comes as Ireland’s Centenary Decade comes to a close. Launched in 2012, the initiative was intended to commemorate a period of great transformation in Irish history, encompassing pivotal events such as the 1913 lockout, the 1916 rising, the expansion of suffrage rights, the sitting of the first Dáil, the establishment of the Irish Free State and the Civil War. For the women of Ireland, this period of turmoil offered opportunities to engage in political activism and led to major changes in their status. In 1918, the right to vote was granted for the first time to a limited constituency of women. Two women stood as candidates in that year’s general election in Ireland, with Constance Markievicz becoming the first woman to win a seat in the British parliament. The following year, she went on to sit on the first Dáil and was appointed Minister of Labor (which included responsibility for Social Welfare), becoming the second female minister in the world.
But Markievicz’s early success was made all the more remarkable by how women found themselves relegated to the margins once again in the post-revolutionary era. While a small number of women were elected to Dáil Éireann in the early years of the Free State, most were relatives of men who had died while in office; these women did little to advance gender equality. The position of Irish women on the fringes of public life was cemented by the terms of the 1937 Constitution, against which various feminist activists and women’s campaign groups had campaigned without success.
It is not until 1979 that Ireland saw a second woman appointed to the cabinet, until 1981 that the number of seats held by women increased to double digits, and until 1992 that women accounted for more than a tenth of DTs. And it was only with the intervention of a gender quota of candidates that the proportion of women DTs surpassed its peak level of 12 to 15 percent, where it had languished for more than two decades.
For those seeking to draw attention to the contributions of women in politics in Ireland, the relative absence of women in frontline electoral politics has given rise to a tendency to focus on a handful of notable women who have made their mark. in political life. Furthermore, the importance of the Dáil, together with the ongoing fight for women’s representation in that house, has ensured that the gender composition of the lower house remains the leading indicator of the position of women in Irish politics. in general.
We know, however, that while what happens in national electoral politics tends to absorb a lot of oxygen, it only provides a partial view of where politics happens and, more broadly, what it means to do politics. Our recent symposium in Irish political studies contributes to our understanding of the gendered nature of politics that occurs in other places, far from the national spotlight.
Keenan and McElroy’s article investigates the question of whether the encouragement to run for office is related to gender. Using an original survey of candidates running in the 2019 Irish local elections, they find that women running do so having received more encouragement to run as candidates and having received encouragement from particular sources (elected politicians, spouses, members of the family) . These results suggest that the calculation of whether to run for office is different for men and women. Understanding these differences is crucial to understanding the best way to increase the supply of female candidates for local office.
McGing’s article examines the factors that enable and limit the establishment and operation of assemblies for women councilors in local government in Ireland. She finds that gender awareness, a high level of interest and the support of a dedicated secretariat are among the factors that make it possible to establish a women’s caucus. However, the creation of a caucus is only one step to facilitate the cooperation of elected women from across the political spectrum and the extent to which these groupings have an ‘impact’. McGing argues that there is no guarantee that, once established, caucuses will constitute feminist or intersectional spaces.
Finally, Field considers the opportunity that deliberative democratic institutions represent for the achievement of gender equality in the Republic of Ireland. She assesses women’s participation in key deliberative mini-publics since 2011, examining to what extent they have been able to influence these processes to achieve so-called “women-friendly” outcomes.
As the title of our introduction to the symposium suggests, Irish democracy remains ‘unfinished’ as long as women are underrepresented at different levels throughout the system. Taken together, the three articles in this symposium contribute to our understanding of women’s participation and representation in political life 100 years after the Free State was first established. In different ways, they call attention to places where this understanding is still underdeveloped and where there are potentially fruitful areas of research to explore both the descriptive and substantive representation of women and how they interact.