A special Cabinet meeting was held recently to mark the Government collecting the last few tokens it required to claim a new kettle for the ministerial kitchenette.

The celebratory gathering last Friday may have been a short one, but it was “special”, requiring a special off-campus venue and special photographs to record the occasion.

The meeting also marked International Women’s Day. There was a particular focus on gender equality as it comes with extra tokens, which is wonderful because the Taoiseach has his eye on a four-slice toaster.

The Cabinet, of course, meets every week to discuss issues of national importance which are deemed relevant enough to make the agenda as a matter of course and don’t need to be designated as special.

This is where the real decisions are made.

Just 21 per cent of women were elected at local level in 2014, a figure well below the European average

Nonetheless, despite the token song and dance made about an International Women’s Day Cabinet meeting, it came with the good news announcement that Ireland has ratified the Istanbul Convention.

The convention is a significant international agreement obliging governments to fully address the issue of violence against women, to protect women against all forms of violence and to prosecute perpetrators.

Ireland signed the convention three years ago and is now the 34th out of 47 Council of Europe member states to ratify it.

There were many announcements in the wake of this special Cabinet meeting, including one which was so good it had to be made twice.

On Monday, Minister for State John Paul Phelan issued a press release announcing how he and senior Minister Eoghan Murphy “secured Cabinet agreement on a range of new measures to promote increased participation by women in the upcoming local elections and greater gender equality on local councils”.

Good idea. Just 21 per cent of women were elected at local level in 2014, a figure well below the European average. Following “consultations with key stakeholders” the Government agreed a series of measures designed to redress the balance.

Funding scheme

These include an information campaign, special training and network events, the introduction of family-friendly policies in local councils and continuing financial support for the Women for Election organisation.

One measure has gone down well with the political parties. A new funding scheme is being rolled out in time for the elections in May “to incentivise political parties to increase the proportion of female candidates”.

The money will be paid over after the election and is “ring-fenced for political party activities to promote the participation of women in local elections”.

Good news for the parties, but not much help to the many women intending to stand as Independents. Samantha Long, who is running in Dublin’s Kimmage-Rathmines ward, immediately rattled off a letter to The Irish Times complaining that the proposal is unfair to Independent candidates who will receive nothing.

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She pointed out that political parties received almost €6 million in State funding in 2017. This latest injection would allocate a further €500,000 to “already generously funded party machines”.

She wrote that if the Government really wanted to see more women elected to public office it wouldn’t bring in a scheme “where some candidates are more equal than others, namely the women who hold a political party membership card, particularly given the strong swing towards non-aligned Independents recorded in last week’s Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll”.

Long tweeted the letter, drawing it to the particular attention of all the female Independent TDs.

‘Open to all’

John Paul Phelan swiftly tweeted a reply: “I’ve instructed officials to make sure the scheme is open to all.”



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