Is Ireland ready for a female Taoiseach?

I am writing about the above topic this week because recently we have had the obvious race beginning between the successors to Enda Kenny.

The Taoiseach brought this on himself by saying he would fight the next election and that he would not be around for the one after that. So of course the race hots up.

The race was deemed to be between Leo Varadkar, the Minister for Health, and Simon Coveney, the Minister for Agriculture and Defence. However, a new person has entered the race in the Minister for Justice, Frances Fitzgerald.

Weeks ago in the Sunday Independent she garnered two full pages, all very benign reportage in which she declared quite openly that she is prepared to lead, but of course there was no vacancy.

This put the two men back in their boxes for a while, though since then we have had Leo Varadkar on The Late Late Show and Simon Coveney to the forefront about the exploits of the Irish Navy and their humanitarian work in the Mediterranean. Now, all of this parading and eulogising has to be seen in context. It is because there is still no certainty about when the next election is to be.

I had been of the opinion that it would not happen until March when the people would feel the ease in their pockets due to the favourable Budget. However, omens continue to be different and many are of the opinion the election will be somewhere between November 20 and 27, 2015. How about that?

It would explain many things. On Monday of this week, An Taoiseach was in the Strokestown Famine Museum and gave a very ambiguous answer when he was questioned about the date of the next election. In fact, it was the first ambiguous answer because heretofore he has been at pains to say it will not be until March.

Then, last Sunday, the Sunday Independent on its first page had the story that Fine Gael was preparing its armoury invective against Micheál Martin to be exhibited during the course of the General Election.

The Fine Gael Party know full well that the Taoiseach is not a fit contender for Micheál Martin or any other political leader in a full economic open debate on RTÉ or TV3. He has very good qualities of good humour, hard work, and an inexhaustible supply of good cheer wherever he goes about his public duties, but being a debater is not one of his qualities.

Hence the apparent decision of the backroom of Fine Gael to plot this plan against Micheál Martin. This is plain ridiculous. Why? I will tell you why: because the electorate have got sharper and smarter and will not be taken in by any such campaign. It is my opinion that the electorate view the latest offering of promise after promise after promise of delights to come with a healthy dose of cynicism, and why wouldn’t they?

For years they have been treated this way coming up to election times, and then once the election is over many of the promises fade away like gold dust. I am quite sure that this time the electorate will not be wooed by the soft sell or beguiled by the spin against various other people. They will quite simply sit back and judge the politicians at their worth.

This week, also, we had quite an unusual initiative among political parties. Lucinda Creighton’s Renua Ireland went online and advertised for people interested in running for her Party in the constituencies of Dun Laoghaire, Limerick City, and Cavan/Monaghan.

Quite a novel modern way to get candidates. So far, Renua have assembled quite a good raft of candidates. Again this week they came out with an attractive taxation policy, so they are really readying themselves for the campaign. Likewise Shane Ross and his Alliance candidates.

So everybody is gearing up and the pressure to have an early election in November is achieving its own momentum, which is going to be very difficult to stall. But going back to my question at the beginning of this piece: is Ireland ready for a female Taoiseach?

Looking back, there were two opportunities in our party when this writer, and later Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, were challenging the leadership election, myself to Albert Reynolds and Máire Geoghegan-Quinn to Bertie Ahern. Neither of our campaigns amounted to much, and yet I feel that perhaps it will be Frances Fitzgerald’s time. Yes: I feel the electorate will be prepared to look with approval at the idea of having a female Taoiseach.

And why not? I worked with Frances Fitzgerald on the Committee for the Referendum for Children. Firstly, I was chair of that committee and we had issued the wording which was accepted. Then she became the Minister who would be implementing the Referendum campaign. Through all of this I found her studious, competent, and far-seeing. But it is early times yet, and I guess the guys won’t give up all that easily!

See you next week,

Slán go Fóill,

MARY O’ROURKE

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