Northern Ireland isn’t ready for women leaders

Iris Robinson’s “predatory” behaviour won’t affect the prospects for women in NI politics, according to two people well versed in women’s roles, Susan McKay, now director of the National Women’s council of Ireland and Yvonne Galligan Director of the Centre for the advancement of Women at Queen’s. The two gender studies experts were being interviewed about the Iris fallout on Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour. Not that those prospects are all that glowing, they might have added. Nor did they get round to discussing dynasties. Arlene Foster, the first woman head of an administration since Margaret Thatcher, is regarded by the DUP as a safe pair of hands : “It was a smart move to appoint one woman after the disgrace of another woman. But her appointment is purely temporary – “ even in the event that Peter Robinson doesn’t return… Northern Ireland isn’t ready for such a radical departureWith the notion of the armed patrimony, policing and justice would be seen as a man’s job” said Susan. She dismissed the view ( wrongly in my view) that Mo Mowlam was replaced because a change in political handling was needed though unionist sexism certainly came into it. But Susan’s main point is essential point is surely right about Mo: “She was referred to as a “Jezebel – a woman who was eaten by dogs because she didn’t obey her husband.. Many unionists thought the role of secretary of state wasn’t a suitable job for a woman.. Her replacement by Peter Mandelson was seen as putting a man into a man’s job.

Yvonne gave the stats for the Assembly, fewer than in the Scottish Parliament and welsh Assembly:

“17%, i.e. 18 women out of 108 MLAs, comparable to Westminster and the Dail.

Next question – are dynasties coming to an end and will this depress the number of women representatives? There must be other ways of getting name recognition than by being a mamber of the same family.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London