Politics still an exclusive and largely male pursuit, Fianna Fáil councillors say

Three female councillors rule themselves out of Roscommon-South Leitrim byelection

Politics will continue to be an exclusive and largely male pursuit until political parties take a serious look at a more representative system, two female councillors with a strong family background in Fianna Fáil have said.

Rachel Doherty, daughter of former Fianna Fáíl justice minister the late Seán Doherty, and Orla Leyden, daughter of Senator Terry Leyden, both ruled themselves out of running in their party's selection convention for the Roscommon-South Leitrim byelection this week. A third female councillor, Sinéad Guckian, with a strong Leitrim base, followed suit, leaving two men to contend the nomination. It was won by Athleague auctioneer and first-time councillor Ivan Connaughton (31) on Wednesday.

Ms Doherty said it was "disappointing" for the constituency's electorate that experienced female councillors had opted not to run. She has been a member of Roscommon County Council for 10 years. "This is not about having women for the sake of it, but about offering choice, taking geography and other factors into consideration,"she said.

Fianna Fáil emerged as the largest party after the local elections, but just 14 per cent of its councillors are women. While Dáil reform was an acknowledged issue, Ms Doherty said that “until parties themselves start looking seriously at likely female candidates and giving them platforms, there will be no change.


“Fianna Fáil has been in opposition now for over there years, and you can’t just look at promoting women at particular events,” she added. “You have to be consistent. There is just never enough done in terms of promotion of women in the party and asking why it is that female councillors and excellent community leaders are not running for national office.”

Ms Doherty said it was particularly difficult for female rurally based politicians. Individuals who had a strong family background in politics appreciated this perhaps more than most and recognised the sacrifices made by families, she pointed out. “It is one thing for women with children in Dublin to try and manage when the Dáil sits late, but it is quite another challenge for women who have to travel and spend four days minimum in Dublin with late sittings.”

Ms Doherty said she was had a virus immediately after the recent local elections and the party’s decision to hold the selectionconvention so soon afterwards had given her no lead-in time.

Ms Leyden, who has also been on the local authority for 10 years, said she had ruled herself out of both the byelection and the next general election as she had a seven-year-old daughter. “It will be interesting to see how the gender quotas which the Government has brought in for the next general election work, given that the Dáil system itself was moulded for a very different time,” she said.

“I am in favour of quotas, but until there is a serious attempt at reform, women, and men who wish to be with their families, and minorities, will not be represented. We have a clientilist system which means that even as a TD, you have to be there to do all the work of a councillor.”

Ms Leyden, whose background is in poltical science, said she believed a subcommittee within the parliamentary party had to look consistently at the barriers with a view to reform. “It is something I may research myself. One goes into politics to make a change, but perhaps it will be a change for the next generation of women.”

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins is the former western and marine correspondent of The Irish Times