’Put women on the ballot paper and they get elected’ - advice to political parties

Dun Laoghaire best council for women; Donegal, Carlow, Longford, Clare worst

Socialist Party TD for Dublin West Ruth Coppinger, with Joe Higgins, at Leinster House on her first day at the Dail. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill / The Irish Times

Socialist Party TD for Dublin West Ruth Coppinger, with Joe Higgins, at Leinster House on her first day at the Dail. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill / The Irish Times

 

One of the big lessons for political parties from the local elections is: “When you put women on the ballot paper they get elected,” according to Fiona Buckley, lecturer at the Department of Government in UCC.

She said 21 per cent of councillors would be women, compared with 16 per cent in 2009.

Figures from campaign group Women for Election show that (allowing for the incomplete count in Monaghan) women won 197 out of 943 seats. Co-founder Niamh Gallagher said this represented a 33 per cent increase in the number of women sitting on councils, as the number of seats increased by only 7 per cent.

Projecting from those figures to the next general election, Buckley predicted that female representation could rise between four and five percentage points, allowing for various factors including running women in “winnable” as opposed to “marginal” seats. With the byelection victories of Gabrielle McFadden (Fine Gael) and Ruth Coppinger (Socialist) there are now 27 women in the Dáil – 16.3 per cent.

Even with the increase Ireland remains about 90th place in world rankings.

But the number of women running for the local elections rose from 314 in 2009 to 449 this time and the number of seats has risen from 876 to 949.

A certain amount of work has been done “but there is a lot more work to do”, Buckley said.

She said that in the 2011 general election, 77 per cent of new TDs had come through local government and this is “statistically more significant for women”.

The 30 per cent gender quota introduced by Minister for Environment Phil Hogan for the next general election has had a big impact on the parties, and money, as ever, plays a part.

“There’s a huge financial incentive for parties to have women candidates because they will lose 50 per cent of their (State) funding if they don’t meet the quota,” said Gallagher.

Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael failed to meet the informal targets they set for the local elections while Labour practically hit the target and Sinn Féin exceeded it.

In the results “no one went backwards”, said Buckley but while Fianna Fáil is set to be the biggest party overall at local level, just 14 per cent of its councillors are women.

The best grouping for women councillors is the People before Profit Alliance with 43 per cent; Labour has 35 per cent, the Anti-Austerity Alliance has 33 per cent, Sinn Féin 30 per cent, Green Party 25 per cent, Fine Gael 21 per cent and Independents are at 17 per cent.

Gallagher expressed her disappointment at Fianna Fáil. She said that when women were on the ticket, and given the right training and support, “they have just as good a chance as a man of getting elected”.

But Fianna Fáil did not give the electorate the opportunity to vote for a woman in many instances, she said. “Put simply Fianna Fáil ran the lowest percentage of female councillors and consequently returned the lowest proportion of women.”

Ironically the constituency of Blackrock in Co Dublin – where Fianna Fáil had its greatest local-election controversy over former minister Mary Hanafin – has the highest proportion of women, out of all electoral areas, at 67 per cent or four out of six councillors.

Last time around 27 electoral areas had no female candidates. This time there are five: Muinebeag (Carlow), Newcastle West (Limerick), Ballinasloe (Galway), Athlone (Westmeath) and Athlone (Roscommon).

Dún Laoghaire Rathdown council has the most women, at 43 per cent, followed by Dublin South at 33 per cent and then Dublin City Council, at 32 per cent.

The councils with the fewest women are Donegal with 8 per cent, Offaly on 10.5 per cent, and Carlow and Longford at 11 per cent.

The urban/rural divide is another issue: more women get elected in urban areas, including Dublin City Council (30 per cent) but Galway has just 16 per cent women and Cork just under 17 per cent. In Clare, Carlow, Longford and Donegal only 7 per cent to 11 per cent of councillors are women.

It is harder for Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, with some long-established councillors, while Sinn Féin, the smaller parties and Independents are putting up more new candidates.

It remains to be seen whether the traditional parties will reach their quotas through more urban representation or tackle the rural distortion and hit 30 per cent in the majority of constituencies.

Women for Election, which trained and supported almost 200 candidates, is holding a training day tomorrow for new councillors about local authorities and how to have influence on the council.

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