Record number of women TDs not just down to quotas
Many of the women elected to the 32nd Dáil have a strong political track record
Sinn Féin’s Louise O’Reilly with Mary Lou McDonald celebrating her election in the Dublin Fingal constituency. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw
A very modest record was broken in the general election, as the greatest-ever number of women TDs were returned to the Dáil.
Back in 2011, a total of 25 women were elected, three more than in 2007 and 2002.
Although 25 is a relatively paltry figure by international standards, it was then the highest number of women ever elected in Ireland.
With 166 TDs in the 31st Dáil, just 15 per cent of deputies were women, although the figure had crept up to 16 per cent following byelections.
By yesterday afternoon, the record had been smashed with the election of Sinn Féin’s Dublin Fingal candidate Louise O’Reilly as the 28th woman TD to the 32nd Dáil.
For the first time, political parties had to implement a 30 per cent gender quota for general election candidates or risk facing severe financial penalties. State funding for parties was to be cut by half unless at least 30 per cent of candidates put forward were women.
A significant number of new female names will be entering the Dáil, but they would surely be loath to hear themselves described as “quota” candidates.
Indeed, in the vast majority of cases it would be most inaccurate.
Many of the women who have broken through have a strong political track record. They have been local councillors or have contested before, meaning they were not newcomers to the political scene.
New Green TD
It is true that a small number of low-profile women were added to party tickets late in the day. This allowed them little time to conduct decent campaigns that would have allowed prospective constituents adequate time to familiarise themselves with the candidates.
As expected, these “added on” women have not been successful.
A number of high-profile women who were TDs in the 31st Dáil did not manage to retain their seats.
The irony is that the issue of quotas has not been a significant one for parties such as Labour. Along with Sinn Féin, it has a good track record in putting forward women candidates and had been well ahead of the 30 per cent mark for some time.
However, for Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, the introduction of the cultural change had been a painful and sometimes embarrassing process.
Two women TDs retired from the last Dáil: Fine Gael’s Olivia Mitchell and Sinn Féin’s Sandra McLellan, although the circumstances of McLellan’s departure are particular. She recently revealed she intended to defend her seat but opted to step down because of the impact on her family of “efforts to undermine” her.
New candidates have now been blooded, and may succeed at their next attempt.
Green leader Eamon Ryan has suggested the election of a woman Ceann Comhairle would be a good idea.
The British House of Commons had its first and to date only woman speaker in the 1990s. The question is: who could be Ireland’s Betty Boothroyd?