‘Geography over gender’ hits women in reshuffle
FORMER Tanaiste Frances Fitzgerald believes female Cabinet ministers have to be “over-assertive” for male colleagues to take notice.
In a new book Madam Politician — The Women at the Table of Irish Political Power, Fitzgerald recounts being regularly overlooked by Cabinet colleagues.
“I have experienced again and again and again in Cabinet and elsewhere of putting forward an idea [and] of having a man put forward the same idea and the reference being made back to the man, not me,” she told author Martina Fitzgerald.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced four new ministerial appointments yesterday. Fitzgerald, who was forced to resign form Cabinet last November over the Garda whistleblower scandal, was not one of those appointments.
Last Thursday, Justice Peter Charleton found Fitzgerald acted appropriately in her handling of the affair over which she lost her job. She feels she has been vindicated. However, she was not among the four appointments made by the Taoiseach.
The emergency reshuffle followed the shock resignation of Communications Minister Denis Naughten. It was made in haste ahead of the upcoming confidence and supply talks with Fianna Fail. The Taoiseach’s spokesperson said Richard Bruton was appointed Communications Minister because he was a solid pair of hands.
Joe McHugh from Donegal was appointed Education Minister. Sean Kyne replaced McHugh as chief whip, while Independent TD Sean Canney was appointed to a junior ministry. Canney and Kyne are both from Galway.
The spokesperson said the three appointments were made with “regional balance” in mind. You could call it geography over gender.
Yesterday, Fitzgerald told the Sunday Independent she “understands” and “respects” Varadkar’s decision and maybe she does.
The Taoiseach, however, is acutely aware of accusations of misogyny levelled against him. The thought was to the fore of his mind in the days leading up to Fitzgerald’s resignation.
He did not want to be seen as the young Taoiseach who sacked the most senior female cabinet minister during his first six months in office.
Varadkar came in for criticism when he was elected Taoiseach for not promoting women. In fact, the only demotion he handed out was to Mary Mitchell O’Connor, who was relegated to a junior ministry, albeit with Cabinet access. He also sacked Marcella Corcoran Kennedy.
In Madam Politician, Mitchell O’Connor says she was struck by the lack of women in the meetings she would attend as minister. “Nearly every meeting that I go to there’s a majority of men in the room,” she says. The Taoiseach’s reshuffle won’t be changing that.
The three female TDs who backed Simon Coveney during the leadership contest — Kate O’Connell, Hildegarde Naughton and Maria Bailey — are still out in the cold. Meanwhile, the Taoiseach is throwing his full support behind Junior Minister Pat Breen despite his questionable role in organising the private dinner which led to Mr Naughten’s resignation.
But then Breen did show loyalty to the Taoiseach during the leadership campaign. He also dealt Simon Coveney an embarrassing blow by declaring for Varadkar within hours of standing with the Tanaiste in his native Clare — one of those regions the Taoiseach likes. Female TDs will again have to wait their turn in Varadkar’s government.
POWER: Frances Fitzgerald, women have to be assertive