Leo and his version of diversity

Sunday, 2nd July 2017

By Dr Christine Cross, Kemmy Business School, University of Limerick.

In the last week much has been written and spoken about Leo Vardakar’s new Cabinet. He has been criticised for naming only seven women among the 34 appointees he has chosen since becoming Taoiseach. Mr Vardakar says the number of women holding ministerial office is in line with the number of women available to choose from and that his cabinet is ‘diverse’. His notion of diversity, however, does not match with the espoused views on diversity in the Irish context. While diversity is a concept with many definitions, it can be simply described as all the ways in which we differ. This includes the obvious differences such as gender, ethnicity, age or disability, as well as more subtle differences such as education, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, family status and many more. In Ireland gender is one of the primary areas we talk about when we discuss diversity – not geographical diversity.

As such, the Taoiseach should be concerned with equality rather than diversity. In the Irish context the issue of gender equality in politics is one which has been advanced in the recent general election. Part 6 of the Electoral (Amendment) (Political Funding) Act 2012 provides that parties will lose half of their state funding unless at least 30% of their candidates at the election are female and at least 30% are male. This contributed in part to the highest percentage of women ever elected to the Dáil; at 35 TDs, this was 22% of the 158 TDs, an increase from 15% at the previous general election. So, Mr Vardaker is correct when he states that in his new cabinet "About 20% of our TDs are women, and as a result about 20% of our ministers are women”. Yet, he did not avail of the increased number of women appointed in the 2016 election. The Taoiseach said he would include more women in his Cabinet if there were more women in the Dáil; but there are more women in the Dail than ever before.

While diversity is essentially an aim, equality is a legislative right. Other newly elected premiers have embraced the concept of equality of gender in their governments. The French president named a gender-balanced cabinet last month, while the Canadian premier created Canada’s first cabinet with an equal number of men and women. In Ireland we have an abysmal record of gender equality in the Dail. The figure of 35 women TDs places Ireland in 76th place in the world tables of women’s representation in the lower or single house of national parliaments. It is shocking that Ireland is placed 25th out of 28 in the EU.

Mr Vardakar’s approach to his Cabinet composition is unlikely to create a situation where more women get involved in running for the Dail and will possibly undo the positive strides made in the 2016 election.