State Papers: Fennell complained about lack of women’s progress

Minister had dossier of ‘capable, skilled and experienced’ women in virtually every field

A strongly worded complaint about the government's record of promoting women to State boards was sent to then finance minister Alan Dukes in 1985 by a Fine Gael colleague.

Nuala Fennell, then minister of state for women's affairs, said she had taken all possible measures open to her to ensure that the coalition went as far as possible to address the "appalling imbalance" in gender representation on such boards.

“I am sorry to say that our record over the past two years does not stand up to scrutiny and in fact in some areas this Administration, despite all commitments, is proving worse than others,” she wrote.

Fennell said Fine Gael had a long-time commitment to improving gender balance in key areas and it was also her view that then taoiseach Garret FitzGerald was committed to demonstrating the policy through action while the party was in power.


Suitable women

The Fine Gael-Labour administration needed to promote suitable women to boards of State and semi-State organisations, she said. Her letter was released by the National Archives under the 30-year rule.

Fennell told Dukes she had compiled a substantial dossier of “capable, skilled and experienced” women in virtually every field which was available to him for reference and when vacancies occurred she had been sending a selected list of names for consideration, she added.

Meanwhile, in 1984, an organisation called the National Women's Talent Bank wrote to FitzGerald requesting that the Council for the Status of Women be designated an official nominating body in respect of appointments to boards.

A file released by the National Archives showed a civil servant suggested that a reply from FitzGerald indicating that all ministers would be asked to consider the Talent Bank’s request seemed appropriate.However, a handwritten note on the document suggested that another civil servant disagreed.

“Whereas one might – in an attempt to be positive – recommend to the Council that they identify certain ladies of interest to them, in the same way as the NYC [National Youth Council], I would not recommend this course of action at present, as the Council are having some problems at present and a new executive may emerge.”

Mary Minihan

Mary Minihan

Mary Minihan is Features Editor of The Irish Times