Male Dominance in Political Recruitment: Gender, Power, and Institutions in the Republic of Ireland

  • Leah Culhane

Student thesis: Phd


Abstract Political institutions remain male-dominated, both nominally and substantively. The problem of male dominance in parliamentary representation is increasingly recognised as a threat to democracy, with candidate recruitment and selection positioned as the key process that must be tackled in order to address this issue. Accordingly, attempts to reform legislatures have most commonly been made through new institutional rules that seek to challenge male dominance in recruitment and selection: gender quotas. Over the past two decades, over one hundred countries have adopted these measures in one form or another, with varying degrees of success. Unsurprisingly, this has produced a rich body of work on the impact of these mechanisms. While this work has provided fruitful insights, it has largely focused on the impact of new rules on the election of women to parliament. How these new rules interact with and challenge male dominance at the recruitment and selection stage remains largely unknown. A central question for feminist activists and scholars is, therefore, what is the impact on male dominance in political recruitment and selection of a new institutional rule designed to challenge it? Through an in-depth case study of the implementation of legislative gender quotas in the Republic of Ireland, this thesis addresses this question. In July 2012, The Electoral (Amendment) (Political Funding) Act changed the criteria for state funding to political parties in the Republic of Ireland. The legislation obliged political parties to put forward no less than 30 per cent male and female candidates for the 2016 general election. For the first time in the history of the state, political parties were obliged to consider the sex of their candidates and examine their own internal practices. Using data collected through in-depth interviews with political actors, process tracing and document analysis, this thesis shows the impact of these rules on practices in the four main parties in the Republic of Ireland: Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, the Labour Party and Sinn Féin. Using a feminist institutionalist approach, this thesis demonstrates how political parties challenge or facilitate male dominance following the introduction of gender quotas, mapping changes and continuities in political recruitment and selection. It points to the gendered nature of the pre-existing institutions, particularly localism, x showing the ways in which seemingly neutral formal and informal rules have traditionally bestowed power to men. Following the introduction of new institutional measures, it demonstrates continuities in the traditional rules and the gendered legacies of these processes, while also drawing attention to the active ways in which powerful political elites use existing formal and informal institutions to maintain political power and resist change. While the thesis finds that, although male dominance was challenged, it was simultaneously reproduced and reimagined in the new context. The Irish case demonstrates the difficulties in disrupting male dominance, while also highlighting the possibility of transformation.
Date of Award1 Aug 2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorFrancesca Gains (Supervisor) & Georgina Waylen (Supervisor)


  • feminist institutionalism
  • power
  • male dominance
  • representation
  • gender quotas
  • political recruitment and selection
  • political parties
  • gender
  • Ireland

Cite this