This study examines how Ireland’s political parties responded to the implementation of legislative gender quotas for the first time at the 2016 Dáil election. Using a dataset that includes biographical and electoral information on all candidates for the 2007, 2011 and 2016 general elections, we assess whether the profile of candidates nominated in 2016 differed from previous elections. Although many parties ‘balanced the books’ by nominating fewer inexperienced male candidates, the evidence suggests that some parties engaged in ‘sacrificial lamb’ strategies when it came to the selection of women candidates. In 2016, women non-incumbents nominated by Fine Gael were significantly less experienced and less able to raise funds than in previous elections. In addition, women non-incumbents nominated by both Fine Gael and Labour in 2016 were significantly more likely to run non-competitive races even after controlling for party, experience, funding support and other factors. The paper concludes that political parties are not homogenous and respond differently to gender quotas depending on the available political opportunity structure (POS). In 2016, this POS was shaped by electoral context, party resources, male incumbency and resistance to gender quotas.