Women prioritised in dead heat contests for top Irish jobs

By on 31/01/2017
Dáil Éireann, the lower house, and principal chamber, of the Oireachtas

Women are to be favoured in selection processes that find two candidates to be of equal merit, under new rules applying to senior jobs in Ireland’s civil service.

On 16 January the minister for public expenditure and reform, Paschal Donohoe, announced a range of initiatives designed to produce a 50/50 gender split in civil service jobs, particularly at senior level.

While recruitment processes will continue to use a merit-based system, the new rules mean that women will be prioritised for Top Level Appointments Committee (TLAC) positions where they are under-represented in the department or management board in question.

Donohoe said that the initiatives are “part of our efforts to reform our approach to HR generally in the civil service and adopt a new strategic direction to better manage our staff and help put us on the road to becoming an employer of choice”.

He has also asked the Economic and Social Research Institute to examine why women are under-represented at senior civil service level. Other initiatives include the launch of a principal officer-level leadership programme, following the senior public service executive leadership programme launched late last year. “There is a strong expectation that nominations for these leadership programmes would be balanced 50/50 from a gender perspective,” said the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.

The department will be reviewing the effectiveness of these measures – which will be incorporated into a new HR strategy – on a regular basis.

Orla O’Connor, director of the National Women’s Council of Ireland, told the Irish Independent that positive discrimination for senior government jobs is a necessity. “You have to intervene. You have to do these positive actions in order to get equality,” she said.

However, Ireland’s Public Sector Executive Union (PSEU) said that the new measures have been introduced without any consultation – despite PSEU’s longstanding attempts to persuade the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform to update its Gender Equality Policy and its policy on Diversity in the Civil Service, which date back to 2001 and 2002 respectively.

A PSEU spokesperson told Global Government Forum: “The new gender balance policy measures announced by the Minister have not been the subject of any discussion with the Unions who have been corresponding with the minister and his department since 2010.”

Given the union’s history of work on the issue, the spokesperson added, it is “ironic that the Minister would announce the outcome of a review before it has even been commenced. Gender inequalities in the makeup of civil service grades is not confined to the senior management cadre.”

A PSEU motion passed at the Irish Congress of Trade Unions’ Women’s Conference last March noted that the union had been asking for new strategies for five years, and expressed “serious concern at the ongoing failure of the Department to take any action whatsoever on the issue.”

At the moment just two of Ireland’s secretaries general – the permanent heads of government departments – are women. Figures from 2015 indicate that while women made up 44% of lower ranking assistant principals in the civil service, just 20% of top-tier managers were female.

In 2012 the Irish parliament, Dáil Éireann, introduced legislation that requires political parties to field at least 30% female and at least 30% male candidates in a general election, or forego some state funding. The 2016 election produced a 40% rise in the number of female parliamentarians elected.

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About Tamsin Rutter

Tamsin Rutter is a journalist based in Brussels, Belgium. She writes on a variety of topics, including public services, cities, local and central government and education. She was formerly the deputy editor of the Guardian's Public Leaders Network and Housing Network.

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