The best and worst councils for gender parity following 2024 local elections

Record number of women run in local elections but representation remains largely unchanged

A record number of women ran in this year’s local elections, with 681 putting their names on the ballot, a significant increase on the 561 who contested five years ago.

However, as the dust settles following the campaign, the level of female representation on councils across the country remains largely unchanged. About 26 per cent of the 949 seats have been won by women, a marginal improvement on the 25 per cent total beforehand.

Donegal County Council is the worst local authority in the country when it comes to gender balance, with women accounting for three of the 37 councillors elected. Mayo and Longford county councils have 10 and 11 per cent women councillors respectively.

South Dublin County Council is where Ireland comes closest to gender parity at local government level, with 19 of the 40 councillors elected women.


In comparison with the rest of the European Union, Ireland lags behind when it comes to female representation at local government level, ranked 22nd out of the 27 members states.

Brian Sheehan, chief executive of Women for Election, a non-profit organisation campaigning to increase the number of women in elected office, says “radical measures” are needed to tackle the gender imbalance in local politics.

The group is calling for the introduction of a 40 per cent candidate quota for parties contesting local elections, as is now the case in general elections. Quotas are a “crude instrument”, Sheehan says, but can be used to help close gaps in representation in our democracy – “in this context, it’s a lack of women in local government”.

Prof Yvonne Galligan, an expert in women’s political representation at Technological University Dublin, said quotas work. Citing France as an example, she says the introduction of quotas at local level led to a “stark increase” in female representation.

One of the obstacles to women running for local government is that most incumbents run for reelection – and, generally speaking, the majority of them are successful in retaining their seats. In this election, according to figures from Women for Election, 797 incumbent councillors ran again, with 680 of them returned.

When most incumbents are men, it is difficult for women to “make gains quickly”, Sheehan says, adding that he is not asking people to vote for women solely because they are women.

“People are elected on their own merits, we know that ... the choice is always with the voter.”

Rather, he says, having gender quotas is about levelling the playing field. “There are thousands of capable women across the country ... they’re just not given the same chance as men to run for politics.”

Prof Galligan notes that “the pipeline” into Dáil Éireann is through local government. Therefore, she says, parties serious about improving the representation of women at national level should be looking to increase the number of female candidates running at local level.

Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael ran 25 per cent and 29 per cent female candidates respectively. Of the candidates elected, 21 per cent of Fianna Fáil councillors are female, rising to 26 per cent in Fine Gael.

Prof Galligan says it is “very clear” from this election that “neither Fine Gael or Fine Gael are all that serious” about improving representation.

“Neither of them managed to break that 30 per cent mark,” she says.

Other parties were more balanced in their roster of candidates. Fifty-one per cent of the Social Democrats’ candidates were women, followed by the Green Party on 50 per cent, Sinn Féin on 44 per cent, Labour on 41 per cent, and People Before Profit and Aontú on 40 per cent. The hard-right Irish Freedom Party and Ireland First ran 26 per cent and 38 per cent women candidates respectively.

Independent Ireland ran seven women, just 13 per cent of its election hopefuls.

Sheehan says improving gender balance in government is ultimately about improving democracy. “All of the evidence shows more women at decision-making tables makes politics work better.”