Yesterday I met with the Irish organisation Women for Election during their visit to Brussels.

 This group is doing ground-breaking work in raising awareness about the need for increased female participation in Irish political life, giving training and support to candidates from across the spectrum. Ireland ranks very badly in comparison with other EU countries when it comes to electing women to political office – which is why organisations like theirs are so vital.

Discussing with them the progress we are making in Ireland brought me great satisfaction, from both a political and personal point of view.

In my previous role as Irish Minister for Environment and Local Government, I introduced legislation which for the first time in Irish history brought in gender quotas for general elections. In the upcoming Irish general election, this legislation has had the unprecedented effect of all major political parties selecting a minimum of 30% women candidates.
It is my firm belief that this will benefit Irish political life, and indeed Irish society as a whole. Yes, there will naturally be teething problems, but this necessary acceleration of equality will benefit us all in the coming years.

In my current role as Agriculture Commissioner, I am pleased to say that we are making progress at increasing the number of women in management in my Directorate General. Since taking up office in November 2014, 8 out of 11 high level appointments - at Director and Head of Unit level - have gone to female candidates.

This is a very positive sign given that Agriculture Policy would traditionally have been a male-dominated area.

I fully agree with the approach taken by Women for Election, which is to view the forthcoming general election as a starting point rather than the end of the journey. It was for this reason that the legislation I introduced raises the threshold to 40% for the next general election in 2021 or earlier. As Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, put it so eloquently: "We must raise both the ceiling and the floor".

And I'm very glad to be playing my part.

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