Mná na hÉireann lose ground


WHILE THERE are more women running in this general election compared with 2007, percentage-wise the total is down. Some 15 per cent of the 566 candidates are women, a fall of 2 percent on the 2007 poll, writes MARY MINIHAN

 Of the 566 candidates, 86 are women while 480 are men. In 2007, when 470 candidates ran, 17 per cent were women. While three more women are running this time, because there are more candidates running, the proportion of women has fallen.

By the end of the 30th Dáil, 23 out of 163 seats were occupied by women deputies, five of whom are not contesting this election.

Despite drives by the parties to recruit more women, and renewed debate about gender balance, the make-up of the next Dáil is expected to be similar to that of the last. The percentage of women candidates has been dropping since a peak of close to 20 per cent in 1997.

The party with the lowest percentage of women candidates is Fianna Fáil, with 11 out of 75, or 14.6 per cent. Fine Gael does slightly better with over 16 per cent, as 17 of its 104 candidates are women.

Like Fine Gael, the Labour Party is also running 17 women candidates, but Labour has the best gender balance of all major political groupings, as one in four of its 68 candidates are women.

Eight of the Green Party’s 43 candidates (18.6 per cent) are women.

Sinn Féin’s percentage figure is 19.5, with eight women among its 41 candidates. It is the only party with no women TDs at present, although the party has taken the unusual step of running two women candidates in Mayo.

Turning to Independents and others, including the United Left Alliance, 25 of 235 candidates, or 10.6 per cent, are women.

There are no women candidates in the constituencies of Cork South West, Kildare South, Limerick and Roscommon-South Leitrim. In Clare, three women made last-minute dashes to register as Independent candidates in what was set to be a men-only constituency, saying they wanted to “balance the ballot”. The recently formed 50:50 Group, dedicated to equal representation of men and women in Irish politics, is hosting a “meet the women candidates” event in Cork city this morning.

Given the widespread attention paid to leaders’ debates, the Green Party deputy leader and only woman TD Mary White proposed broadcasters schedule debates between prominent female politicians. She said media outlets had a duty “to provide a good platform for females running for election”. White’s suggestion was shot down by former Fine Gael minister Gemma Hussey in a tweet: “Women’s debate a bad idea – when women are potential taoisigh it would be fine. Otherwise wd just make media targets of them.”

A televised deputy leaders’ debate would see all the main parties except Fine Gael fielding a woman candidate: Fianna Fáil’s Mary Hanafin, Labour’s Joan Burton, White and Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald.

Former Progressive Democrats leader Mary Harney is the only woman who has passed the “bridesmaid” position of deputy leader in Irish political parties. The former minister for health is one of the five women TDs stepping down, the others being Beverley Flynn of Fianna Fáil, Olwyn Enright of Fine Gael and the Labour Party’s Liz McManus and Mary Upton.

Fianna Fáil’s recently released proposals on political reform include a pledge to support the introduction of measures to favour gender balance within a national list which would “top up” a system of single-seat constituencies elected by single transferable vote to ensure proportional representation.

Fine Gael “recognises that there needs to be a substantial increase in the number of women in politics”. The party will leave it to its proposed citizens’ assembly to make recommendations on how the figure can be increased.

Labour says it will bring more women into politics by tying funding for political parties to the participation of women representatives. “Demanding targets for all political parties will be set out in legislation,” the party’s manifesto states.

The Green Party’s manifesto commits it to amending the system of State funding to political parties so that a proportion is linked to a requirement for parties to have at least 40 per cent of candidates of both genders. Such legislation would include a sunset clause for the ending of gender candidate quotas.

Sinn Féin proposes gender targets of at least 40 per cent for both genders in cabinet.

Young people are also under-represented in the outgoing Dáil, but four of the five main parties have candidates in their early 20s running in the general election. Sinn Féin’s youngest candidate is 22-year-old Kathryn Reilly, who is Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin’s running mate in Cavan-Monaghan.

Also in Cavan-Monaghan, the Green Party is running 21-year-old Darcy Lonergan. Fianna Fáil’s two youngest candidates are both 24 – Lisa Chambers in Mayo, running mate to Dara Calleary; and Dublin West’s David McGuinness, who is on the ticket with Brian Lenihan. Fine Gael’s youngest is 23-year-old Liam Quinn in Laois-Offaly, while Labour’s is Derek Nolan (28) in Galway West. Despite the discovery of an “Ógra generation” in Fianna Fáil last year, the average TD in that party in the last Dáil was in their mid-50s. The age profile was similar across most parties, with Green TDs a little younger and Labour deputies slightly older on average.