The Irish Times view on gender balance in politics: no sign of improvement

Ireland is in 22nd place out of the EU 27 for the number of women in local politics

Women for Election launch the #VoteWomen campaign for the local elections. Photograph: Paul Sharp/Sharppix

With all 949 seats now filled on local authorities across the country, it is possible to step back and consider the overall picture beyond just the parties’ share of the vote.

If nothing else, the final results demonstrate the power of incumbency. In total, 680 of the 949 successful candidates were returning councillors. Almost 85 per cent of sitting councillors who ran again were re-elected. Only 19 per cent of new candidates were successful.

The high barrier to election for new candidates is one of the factors that may explain why the diversity of the modern Irish electorate is not reflected among its political representatives.

The most obvious disparity is in gender balance. Despite a rise in the number of female candidates, only 26 per cent of those elected this week were women, exactly the same proportion as in 2019. Ireland is in 22nd place out of the EU 27 for the number of women in local politics. With a general election looming, that does not bode well for a breakthrough at national level, where the numbers are similarly low by international standards.

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Unsocial and family-unfriendly hours still make it difficult for many women to contemplate running for office. Recent research showing female politicians are particularly subject to threats and abuse only add to the impression that Irish political life remains a cold place for women.

Women for Election, which campaigns to increase the number of women in elected office, has called for the introduction of the 40 per cent candidate quota, which currently only applies to general elections, to be extended to local elections.

Political parties are certainly striving to achieve the general election quota, due to the financial penalties that apply for failing to reach it. But there were suggestions at the last election, when the quota stood at 30 per cent, that parties were adding female candidates late to their tickets with little expectation that they would be real contenders. If that is the case, it is a deeply regressive strategy. It suggests also that resistance to gender balance is entrenched in Irish political culture.