National Women’s Council: Strong Criticism from Politicians

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There is no NGO for men

The NWC has been in the news a lot in  recent weeks not always to its advantage. This reached a climax last week following the release of the line-up of speakers that NWC has engaged for its rally outside the Dail on March 5. Rarely has NWC come in for so much criticism on social media for its choice. The Rally operates under the slogan #No Woman Is Left Behind

It turns out that many women feel they were left behind as no speaker from a government party was included in the line-up, instead it includes Mary Lou McDonald, Ivana Bacik, Brid Smith and Roisin Shortall, all politicians from the left as well as a large number of activists.  Social media hummed with outraged comments.

Josepha Madigan: Very disappointed at the speaker list here. A lack of diversity and also a clear absence of female voices from government parties

Commentator Glenna Lynch described the NWC as “the most partisan NGO in the country not even pretending to be representative any more”.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Regina Doherty described the decision as juvenile and counterproductive. She said the NWC is not tolerant of the views of all women.

Senator Sharon Keogan called for the NWCI to be defunded. Aontú Councillor Sarah O’Reilly said that she was pro-life and asked “I wonder where I fit in with this gang”.

The most partisan NGO in the country not even pretending to be representative any more

On Feb 16 Fionnan Sheehan shed further light on the selection. This said that FG councillor Ted Leddy, a key ally of Leo Varadkar, pointed to the fact that NWC Head of Campaigns and Mobilisation Rachel Coyle has been a Sinn Féin activist for several years and was previously a party staff member. Before taking up her role with the NWC last month, Ms Coyle was on Sinn Féin’s staff for the previous eight years. Ms Coyle describes herself as feminist, socialist and republican and defended the exclusion .

“Why Government TDs would just assume they are entitled to slot at a protest rally is outrageous,” she said on Twitter.

However, the NWC failed to defend this stance when invited on  RTE News at One on Feb 16. They declined the offer but reiterated their stance in what may be a decision to regret. It was left to Minister Helen McEntee when asked to comment, to try to defuse the situation.

She is in the awkward position that the Third National Strategy on DSGBV is to be published in a few weeks and the NWC was allotted a key role in drawing up the strategy. This simply further underlines the extent to which the NWC is central to so much of government social policy. It also further confirms how so many Ministers are scared to offend the NWC not to mind lesser politicians.

The piece in the Independent closes with this: Among the Coalition ministers, TDs and senators to voice their criticism about the NWC event were Fianna Fáil’s Erin McGreehan, Fine Gael’s Josepha Madigan, Jennifer Carroll MacNeill and Mary Seery Kearney and the Greens’ Róisín Garvey.

NWC vote management:Every member organisation had one vote, no matter how many members it had

On Saturday Feb 19 Breda O’Brien who has often clashed with the NWC wrote a piece in the Irish Times under the heading: No Woman Left Behind’ is a Sham of a Slogan. In a previous piece on Feb 5 O’Brien drew attention to the way the independent chair of the review of the 2018 abortion legislation had been appointed by Health Minister Stephen Donnelly. This position should have been advertised openly but instead was chosen by the Minister, a decision that was greeted by applause by the NWC which manages the Abortion Working Group.

O’Brien gave an insight into the NWC: “The National Women’s Council consists of insiders with unparalleled, unaccountable access to the corridors of power which routinely excludes whole swathes of Irish women”. She describes it “as a membership organisation, allegedly a representative body for all sorts of women’s organisations.
There was a catch. Every member organisation had one vote, no matter how many members it had. So a 10-member organisation had the same amount of votes as the ICA, then the biggest Irish women’s organisation. It was a highly effective control mechanism as the policies were decided by votes of the member organisations at AGMs, but the proliferation of tiny, like-minded organisations could skew such votes”.

For fifty years the NWC has capitalised on its claim to be the leading national women’s membership organisation and has been funded generously by the state on that basis. Among its key values are
• We are a feminist organisation. We believe that feminism is about working to change society so that women and men have an equal say in the decisions that affect their lives.
• We are aware that women are not a homogenous group and very keen to reflect in our work the diversity that exists among all women.
A great many women would now vigorously contest the truth of the second value.