Women in Ireland and the Green Party
Speech given by Dr Lucille Ryan O'Shea, Mayo Greens, 
to a conference in Kracow, Poland  on  The role of women in the European Green Parties

He saw the daughters, wives
Mothers of heroes, or upstanding kings

The longhaired goldbound women who died

Of pestilence, famine, in slavery
And still queens, but they did not know

    ? [from: Odysseus Meets the Ghosts of the Women,?nbsp;
by Eilean Ni Chulleanain]




Good afternoon, everyone. This is my first visit to Poland and I am extremely pleased to be here in Krakow, and at this conference. I look forward to seeing more of the city before I leave on Tuesday.


I would like to introduce myself to you first of all.? I am a clinical psychologist in private consultancy.?I received my doctorate in America, and moved to the Republic of Ireland in the 1980s.? I have been involved with the Irish Green Party ?Comhaontas Glas (which means Green Alliance in Irish) for more than ten years. I am currently the Irish Green Party’s deputy delegate to the Council of the European Federation of Green Parties; I am Secretariat of the Green Islands Network, which is affiliated with the EFGP, and comprises delegates from England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, and the island of Jersey. I am chairperson of my local group in Mayo.


I live in the country, in the West of Ireland, which is made up of primarily agricultural land and small towns. There is a strong tourist industry, and some light industry, Most of the land is devoted to sheep, dry stock and dairy cattle. The land in the part of Ireland I live in is not the best in Ireland. Most farmers in the West of Ireland don’t earn a lot from their farms, as many of them have only small amounts of land. They work at other jobs for most of their income.?Only a few women would describe themselves as farmers.


My special interest however, is the European level of political interaction.?It is important to devote sufficient attention at local level to what is happening in Europe and we must safeguard our right to make decisions on a regional and local level.?This concept of subsidiarity is a basic Green principle, which I feel must not be compromised. On the other hand, intergovernmental co-operation on common campaigns, mutually beneficial regulations and?issues can be advantageous to all.?The strength of the EU to pull together has been responsible for what we have been accomplishing here today for the women of Poland.?It can set an example for women globally. Borders and languages need not prevent us from finding common ground, and pursuing common goals together. 


“In ancient Ireland ?women held a good position: and it may be said that as to social rights and property they were in most respects quite on a level with men?

( Joyce,P.W.?1903; p 8 )

More recently??there has been a low representation of women in areas of political decision making on the island of Ireland. Although women have been active on grassroots level, they have been much less likely to reach the higher echelons of political life. (Gallagher, Ward, Wilson; 1999; p. 185).

In early history of the Irish State, Margaret Curtain indicates that the women in the 1920s were a remarkable group. ?They had been involved in the campaign for women’s enfranchisement at the turn of the century, participated significantly in the 1916 Rising and they were active in the political campaigns in the newly freed country. But there were no political offices for them, nor were they taken into account in legislation.?There were notable exceptions however.


According to Rosemary Cullen-Owens (1984, p123) ?The sublimination of women’s issues to controversial national questions ensured that the position of Irish women remained subservient, a situation compounded by the deepening Catholic ethos of the country? (Gallagher, Ward, Wilson; 1999; p. 154).


The Irish Green Party

The Irish Green Party/Comhaontas Glas was founded in 1982 from an alliance of social movements and protest groups. The Party’s electoral breakthrough came in 1989 when the first Green TD was elected. This was followed by further electoral successes in local government elections, with another major breakthrough coming in the 1994 European elections when the electorate sent two Green MEPs to Brussels.

The emergence of Green politics in Ireland first came in the form of social movements protesting against mining, the chemical industry and most significantly against nuclear power. The Green Party did not emerge directly from these movements but rather was initiated by Christopher Fettes, a Dublin teacher. Active in the Vegetarian Society, the Esperanto movement and Friends of the Earth, Fettes became increasingly convinced of the need for a political party that would address Green issues. To achieve this he issued invitations to a meeting to form a Green Party, which was held on 3rd ?/span>December, 1981 in the Central Hotel, Dublin. Of the 80 people who attended, a majority were in favour of creating a political party. The Ecology Party of Ireland, (E.P.l.) was born. The Party experienced a minor split in 1986 on whether it should be a campaigning movement or concentrate its energies on the electoral process. A few favoured the former and left the party while the remaining majority concentrated on electoral politics. [Irish Green Party website:?http://wwwgreenparty.ie ]


About ten years ago, a small group of us in the town of Westport, formed a Green Party Local Group, mainly to support Richard Douthwaite, the Green Party candidate for the 1994 Euro elections. Douthwaite is an Irish economist who wrote The Growth Illusion and Short Circuit and more recently, for the Schumacher Society, The Ecology of Money. He ran, we helped him canvass and campaign, and while not elected to the European Parliament, he got 3.71% of the vote, in an election six weeks after the formation of the local Green group.

However, in that same election, on the other side of the country, two Irish women Green Party members, Patricia McKenna and Nuala Ahern, did get elected to the European Parliament. And they kept their seats in the election of 1999. These two women are totally different, and complement each other very well. MEP Nuala Ahern is a measured speaker, whose impact is felt long after her speech is over. She has been, for more than twenty years, a serious, indefatigable worker in the area of nuclear matters.?She was instrumental in preventing the building of a nuclear power plant in Ireland, and her tireless campaigning in this matter resulted in recognition and respect, which was demonstrated at the polls. ?/span>She is a counselling psychologist by profession.?

Her priorities are: to close the nuclear plant at Sellafield in England; to stop? the production of genetically modified food crops; to promote dialogue amongst Britain, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland toward peaceful resolution of the ongoing conflict; and the protection of the environment.
As a member of the Green Group in the European Parliament, she has influenced a wide range of EU legislation including legislation related to?genetically-engineered crops and food, microwave radiation, consumer protection and nuclear radiation.?She addressed the conference I organised, in April 2003, at Queens University in Belfast, entitled Beyond Nationalism in the Expanded European Union: Solving Ethnic Conflict at Local Community Level. Her speech is online at www.mnop.info/beyondnationalism/

MEP Patricia McKenna is a rapid-fire, intense woman, quick to speak her mind with the depth of her emotions projecting her message even further. The McKenna Judgement, a case she took to the Irish High Court, put an end to the use of taxpayer's money for biased campaigning by Government in referenda, and government was forced to supply complete information for both sides of the referendum. ?/span>In the European Parliament she is a substitute member of the Women's Rights Committee. Patricia is a full member of the Environment, Public Health and Consumer Protection Committee and the Fisheries Committee. She visited Iraq in February, and ?just off the plane and despite jet lag, contributed mightily to the debate in a forum: The Future of Europe.

In the European Parliament elections in 1999, the Greens ran three candidates: two women and one man, Ben Nutty. Of the fifteen MEPs elected in 1999, five are women, and two of those five are Green Party members Nuala Ahern and Patricia McKenna. In the last local elections also in 1999, there were?fifty eight Green candidates. Five were elected. There are now eight local Green Councillors because the Greens oppose the dual mandate, and when those TDs who held local council seats were elected to the IrishParliament last year, other Greens took over their responsibilities at local level. Three of the current eight local councillors are women.

In the 2002 National elections the Greens ran?thirty one candidates. Nine were women, twenty two were men. All of the six members elected last year to the Dáil ?the Irish Parliament, are men.

IN 2002, 45.06% of the membership of the Irish Green Party were women.?This figure currently lies at 48%. Comhaontas Glas?position on women, women’s rights and gender proofing has not appeared to be a strong focal point   It was enshrined in the 1997 constitution that the various bodies of the Party should be gender balanced 60/40%.?The membership would appear to be resistive to reminders about gender balance gender mainstreaming and genderproofing.?Though it is fair to say that in most cases, there is a genuine awareness?and support for gender balance both within the Party, and in the Irish Government by the Greens..


For a number of years there was an Equality and Law Reform policy group, which met from time to time, but no formal policy was adopted. However, in the Party’s last Manifesto, for the 2002 Elections the following statement was included:


Gender Rights

The Green Party/ Comhaontas Glas believes that Ireland can only benefit from a true gender balance in all aspects of life. We also believe that equality must encompass increasing life choices for all, enabling all individuals to pursue fulfilling careers and lifestyles.

In the present economic climate, women are now being actively encouraged into the work-force. However, women’s participation rates (47%) are still far below men’s (71%). The wage gap between men and women remains, and women are disproportionately employed in part-time occupations. Women are also under-represented on training and employment programmes, particularly on apprenticeships. Lack of childcare choices, including the choice to stay at home, are creating more barriers to equality. Women must be represented fairly in political life, at the levels where real decision-making is made.

. Other barriers, such as family unfriendly political structures, need be examined. We will also support the implementation of a 40/60 gender balance among election candidates as a condition to qualify for 50% party funding.

The Green Party will work to ensure that there is an increase in the numbers of women in decision-making civil service positions and similar management positions in semi-state bodies and state agencies.

Equally, discrimination against men in any forum cannot be tolerated. Men have equal rights to all jobs, membership of organisations, and support services. With regard to the area of custody and access to children when a partnership or marriage has dissolved, the Green Party believes that legislation should be examined so that there is absolutely no possibility of gender based discrimination against men. In all cases, the best interest of the child must be viewed as paramount and decisions on access and custody should be based on that premise, regardless of possible gender based conceptions.


In the current climate of an Irish Green Party with six (male) members of the Irish Parliament, and two (female) MEPs, the enthusiasm is running high.?The primary emphasis is on serving their constituencies, on getting elected, on getting re-elected. The current policy documents have not included policy-specific references to gender proofing or gender mainstreaming. 
Bronwen Maher is the  Green Party /Comhaontas Glas spokesperson on Women's Affairs and is currently involved in setting up mentoring and support for women in the party.  She is particularly interested in ensuring that the Southern Greens have a gender balanced return in the Local Elections next year. She also said recently, ?I also wish to set up a North / South network of women to explore ways we can support each other and promote the active involvement of women in Green Politics north and south.?[ email correspondence]

In addition, Bronwen and a number of prominent women in the Irish Green Party have set up GPW [Green Party Women]. GPW has been formed as a committee within the Green Party, which has as its aims the promotion of the equality agenda. Regional meetings are being organised, and membership and interest in them is growing.

Bronwen has organised a workshop, employing a political consultant to address the needs of women candidates, followed by four training sessions for women candidates, and the first meeting was held in June.

?/span>But it is a difficult task, with evidences of? resentment over the attention given to redress the balance expressed by both men and women in the Irish Greens.


Gender Proofing in Ireland


There have a number of initiatives underway in Ireland. One of these projects was the writing of the Gender Proofing Handbook. This project was co-sponsored by the?Gender Equality Unit of the Department of Justice Equality and Law Reform) and EU Structural Funds. This Handbook was produced conjunction with Development Boards of six Irish Counties.?http://www.ndpgenderequality.ie/publications/publications_01.html


The?Handbook includes key definitions: Gender: “…the social differences between men and women that are learned, changeable over time and have wide variations both within and between cultures. For example, while only women can give birth ( biologically determined) biology does not determine who will raise the child (gendered behaviour)? Gender Proofing: “the means whereby it is ensured that all policies and practices within organisations have equally beneficial effects on men and women? Gender Equality as meaning “… that women and men enjoy the same equality?. . . that the different behaviour, aspirations and needs of women and men are equally valued and favoured. Gender Mainstreaming ?involves the incorporation of gender considerations into all policies, programmes, practices and decision making so that at every stage of development and implementation, an analysis is made of the effects on women and men, and appropriate action taken. Gender Impact Assessment is one of the tools used in gender proofing. It involves an assessment of policies and practices to see whether they will affect women and men differently, with a view to adapting theses policies/practices to make sure that any discriminatory effects are neutralised.

I have included a link to the website, and the Handbook can be downloaded in Acrobat Reader.



On a Parliamentary level, the Irish TDs are challenging the government. In a recent (April, 2003) session of the?Irish Parliament, TD Ciaran Cuffe posed the following question:

“[he] asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the response his Department is intending to make to the campaign of the National Women's Council towards encouraging the greater involvement of women in the Government structures and agencies involved in public life. [8211/03]

Minister Willie O’Dea responded:

In relation to women in politics the equality for women measure, which is funded under the national development plan, is supporting projects involving three political parties, Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Sinn Féin to develop initiatives to increase the number of female electoral candidates and representatives.?A grant of approximately €254,000 has been awarded among the parties to develop their separate project proposals over a three-year period.?In addition, a representative of the Labour Party is on the management committee of a project on decision-making which is being led by Trinity College, Dublin and funded under the equality for women measure.

?In relation to the position of women on state boards, the Government has set a minimum target of 40% representation of both women and men.?Our commitment to achieving this target has been set out in An Agreed Programme for Government and the new partnership agreement, Sustaining Progress.? Significant progress has been made towards achieving the target with ministerial nominations reaching the 40% target in recent quarters.?Nevertheless, there is still an overall imbalance in representation which we are committed to eliminating.

?In July 2002, the Minister of State with special responsibility for equality, Deputy Willie O'Dea, contacted all Ministers with a request to review the gender balance of the State boards under the aegis of his or her Department and to take measures to redress the gender imbalances where the 40% target has not been reached.?To ensure progress, the Minister of State intends bringing a six-monthly report to the Government on the gender composition of boards for each Department broken down between boards newly appointed during that period and boards already in existence.?The first progress report is being prepared and will be submitted to Government shortly.

?It should be noted that the Government's commitment to improving the position of women in decision-making is one element of a comprehensive programme aimed at the promotion of equality of opportunity between women and men.?The Government sees the involvement of significant numbers of women on State boards and in politics as an?important contribution to the achievement of equality of opportunity.?o:p>


In an earlier session (March 2003) of the Dáil, Irish Green Party TD Dan Boyle posed the following question:

Mr. Boyle: This week sees international women's day.?Does the Government have any plans to introduce legislation that would bring about a statutory obligation to have gender balance in appointments to State bodies??Can such appointments be made by a public appointments commission rather than by relevant Government Ministers?

?/span>An Ceann Comhairle: It would be more appropriate to submit the second question to the Minister for Finance.

?The Tánaiste: There are no plans to introduce legislation in this area.

The Tánaiste ?the deputy Prime Minister -?is a woman ?Mary Harney.



In Europe, according to Sidentop in Democracy in Europe, the “… moral critique of inherited status differences or forms of subjection, created what is arguably the deepest European urge, a passion that equality of status ? confirms our dignity as individuals?p.60). In their appraisal ?Is There A Gender Gap in Ireland Donoghue and Devine state: It has been argues that women are more conservative than men on issues of personal morality. This conservatism has been attributed to women’s greater religiousity and has been noted as a factor in countries where the views of the Catholic Church and conservative evangelistic Protestants have resulted in barriers to gender equality.? (Gallagher, Ward, Wilson; 1999; p250) Statistics   related to the first preference of the Green Party in Ireland was somewhat biased. In the early history of the Irish Greens men, more than women, voted Greens. The gap appears to be lessening.?I would guess that in the early history of the Greens in Ireland, the emphasis on things technological were not considered of importance to women, and classic social issues by the major parties attracted their vote.


What is our task??Here in Poland, in Ireland, In Scotland, in Hungary, in Russia??Throughout the EU,?Europe and the globe?   It is difficult to bring about the changes of generations of gender behaviour that have been passed on from one generation to the next. The motto of the Green Party: We do not inherit the Earth, we borrow it from our children should remind us that we must be aware of all of our own behaviour and not unconsciously pass on to them, either, the stereotypes we have been trained to respect and copy, and which we are attempting to replace.. We should be certain that our children are not limited by the prejudices of their parents or the stereotypes that limited them.

IS the answer Neofeminism?? Poststructural feminism? Postmodern feminism? As Rebecca West said back in 1913, "I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is; I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat."


Whilst researching for this paper I discovered the website of the Association of Libertarian Feminists, http://www.alf.org/ who advocate that we

Perhaps these goals, which certainly appear to be compatible with the Green Principles, would make a good place to start from. Thank you for listening.



Gallagher,Y; Ward, Eilis, Wilford,Rick; Contesting Politics Women in Ireland North and South.


Crawley,Marie and O’Meara,Louise; Gender Proofing Handbook; Dept of Justice and Law Reform, 2001


Siedentop, Larry; Democracy in Europe; Penguin Books, 2000


Ni Chuilleanain, Eilean; The Second Voyage, Gallery Books, 1986


Haberstroh, Patricia Boyle; Women Creating Women, Contemporary Irish Women Poets; Syracuse University Press, 1996


Lane,Jan Erik and Ersson, Svante; Politics and Society in Western Europe; 4th ed.; Sage Publications, 1999


Kelly, Fergus; A Guide to Early Irish Law; Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies; 1988


Joyce, P.W., A Social History of Ancient Ireland; Longman, Green & Co., 1903



Linville-Thomas, Sandra; The Neofeminism Definition;

[URL: http://www.suite101.com/



Green Party Comhaontas Glas [ http://www.greenparty.ie/ ]

?/span>Irish Government Department of Environment

?/span>[ http://www.environ.ie/electindex.html ]


Association of Libertarian Feminists








































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