The Seanad, consisting of 60 senators, is Ireland’s upper house, with the majority elected by outgoing members, plus TDs (equivalent to MPs in the UK), city and county councillors in what is a complex and much-criticised process. Voters for each party elect their own senators – but Fine Gael voters have failed to elect women to three of five vocational panels counted so far. In doing so, they ignored a letter sent by Mr Varadkar – already under pressure as he oversees Ireland’s fight with COVID-19 – to TDs, Senators and councillors prior to voting, in which he urged them to “consider gender balance” when casting their ballots.
If you are not giving at least four of your 10 first and second preferences to female candidates, there is something wrong
He added: “If you are not giving at least four of your 10 first and second preferences to female candidates, there is something wrong.
“We need more women in our parliamentary party to better reflect real Ireland and we need more women in the Seanad to meet the 40 per cent gender quota for the next Dail election.
“If we don’t have more female candidates there will be even fewer slots for male candidates next time out.”
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His pleas were ignored, just months after he was humbled as his Fine Gael party dropped to third place in the Irish general election.
Talks aimed at forming a new Government have dragged on for weeks.
Rules stipulate that the Seanad – which a 2013 referendum narrowly opted against abolishing – is elected via three separate categories – 43 from panels of candidates representing specified vocational interests, six from university panels and the remaining 11 nominated by the Taoiseach.
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The university panels are elected by 160,000 graduates from Trinity College and the Natinal University of Ireland (NUI), with the other panel voted on by roughly 1,000 ex-Senators, TDs, and councillors.
So far, two of Fine Gael’s four outgoing Senators, Gabrielle McFadden from Westmeath and Maria Byrne from Limerick, have been defeated, with Senator Maura Hopkins standing down for family reasons.
Senator Catherine Noone is hoping to win a place on the Industrial and Commercial panel, votes for which have yet to be counted.
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In addition, TD Kate O’Connell was not selected as a candidate and her sister, Mary Newman Julian, despite being a candidate on the Cultural and Educational panel, did not get elected.
The rejection of female candidates makes it likely Mr Varadkar will nominate a large number of women himself if Fine Gael forms the next Irish Government – although with Ireland currently facing enormous disruption as a result of the coronavirus, the situation remains unclear.
More than half of the 43 Senators on the vocational panels have now been decided upon.
Among their number are at least eight former TDs, including Ministers of State Michael D’Arcy and Sean Kyne, as well as Fianna Fail’s Shane Cassells, Pat Casey, Eugene Murphy, Niall Blaney, Lisa Chambers and Malcolm Byrne.
Ex-Sinn Fein Dublin MEP Lynn Boylan also won a seat.
Meanwhile, speaking yesterday, Mr Varadkar said Fine Gael and Fianna Fail could agree a joint government policy document either this week or next.
He explained: “We believe what’s required is a government that is going to last four to five years, which can deal with this crisis, the recovery, and putting our society and economy back together when we’ve got past this health crisis.”
Such a Government would require the support of a third party, he stressed, a process which could take weeks, while emphasising slowing the spread of COVID-19 remained Ireland’s top priority.
Pressed as to whether he would remain Taoiseach in a new Government, Mr Varadkar said the question was being discussed with Fianna Fail and its leader Micheal Martin.
However, he pointed out Fianna Fail had “slightly more seats”, a fact he said he and his party recognised.
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