Plans to introduce a 30 per cent gender quota for sporting bodies are aimed at helping women “break the last glass ceiling” , Minister of State for Sport Patrick O’Donovan has said.
Under new rules, which he says he hopes to introduce in the new year, sporting bodies will face cuts to their State funding unless at least 30 per cent of their board positions are filled by women.
“We need role models for women, on and off the field. This is one element in empowering them. We also need to look at coaching and mentoring,” he told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland.
An analysis by The Irish Times earlier this year showed that of the top 20 sports organisations in terms of 2015 State-funding, seven of them had a female representation of 10 per cent or less.
These included the three most popular and heavily-funded sporting bodies in the country.
Between the 50 places filled by the executive committees/boards of the FAI, IRFU and GAA there was just a single female representative.
The Minister of State said that there was no need for new legislation and the rules could be easily adopted.
If an organisation has ten or more employees, it will have until 2019 to comply, with smaller bodies getting an extra year’s grace. Failure to comply will result in cuts to State funding, although it hasn’t been decided by how much.
“I’m not getting hung up on the financial penalty. I’m just trying to provide an opportunity for women to break the last glass ceiling.”
Mr O’Donovan said: “This is a challenge for sporting organisations. I hope they use this as an opportunity to comply, we are giving them plenty of time to comply.
“The decision to introduce gender quotes in politics – that was seen as a success. We would much prefer if we did not need quotas. I would prefer a situation where we didn’t need to do this.”
He pointed out that sporting bodies received €25 million in funding and he wanted to be fair to everybody. “I have no axe to grind.”
Mr O’Donovan said he had an excellent working relationship with all sporting organisations with whom he had met in recent weeks “they could see this coming.”
He said this was not, in any way “dictating terms”.
“We are asking them to use the two year period to identify people of value to them in developing sport.”
He said that there had already been developments in the areas of women in sports journalism and broadcasting and that once a woman’s career on the field ended, there was no reason for her not to then take an administrative role.
The move mirrors steps taken in other jurisdicitions. Last January the state of Victoria in Australia announced it was cutting off funding to sporting bodies whose boards did not have at least 40 per cent female representation.
Initial reaction the proposal has been mixed, with former Irish women’s rugby captain Fiona Coghlan describing quotas as a “short term solution to a bigger problem”.
She told RTÉ Radio, she would like to see more diversity in the decision-making process in sport but “I personally would not be a fan of gender quotas”.
Former Fianna Fáil Minister Mary O’Rourke, a long-standing critic of gender quotas in politics, said there was no such thing as the glass ceiling and that if a woman wanted to achieve something she would make it happen.
“Women should be there on merit, not on the basis of their sex,” she told Newstalk Breakfast.
“If you are meritorious, you will get the job, if you’re not, you won’t.”
“Let’s see how this works,” she added. “It is a revolutionary idea. All these organisations are strapped for cash, so it will probably work.”