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Gender incentive for local elections 'too soft and slow'


Criticism: Orla O’Connor. Picture: Caroline Quinn

Criticism: Orla O’Connor. Picture: Caroline Quinn

Criticism: Orla O’Connor. Picture: Caroline Quinn

The Government's decision to incentivise parties to field more female candidates in local elections, instead of implementing quotas, has come under fire.

The Minister of State with responsibility for local government, John Paul Phelan, plans to introduce a scheme which will provide funding for an equality officer for parties who have at least 30pc female candidates contesting next year's elections.

But the head of the National Women's Council of Ireland, Orla O'Connor, has hit out at the Government for failing to show leadership.

"We have seen gender quotas work at a national level so why not introduce them at local level. Why is there this reluctance?" she said, writing in today's Irish Independent.

She said with the referendum on repealing the Eighth Amendment and the upcoming referendum on the place of women in the home, there is a "real momentum for change".

"But we need the Government to show leadership on this issue," Ms O'Connor said.

"Soft measures don't bring about the change that's needed," she added, while noting that the funding for equality measures were welcome but should be introduced in tandem with mandatory quotas. "It isn't going to deliver the change that's needed, the pace is far too slow at local level. In 1999, women represented 16pc of those elected and in 2014 that was 21pc so we've had 5pc since 1999," she said.

However, the minister defended the move and said party funding cannot and will not be linked with local elections.

"The quotas worked in the general election because there was a big stick hanging over the parties in terms of their funding, and parties' funding is not now nor will it be dependent on the vote that they get in a local election, so therefore we don't have that stick hanging over them," he said.

The Government has yet to decide a definitive plan for how it will promote gender equality in the coming elections but the minister plans a fund of up to €500,000 for his proposed scheme and other initiatives, such as continued funding for non-partisan advocacy group Women for Election, which works to boost female participation in politics.

The plan will not be a flat-rate scheme but will be linked to the number of women parties run, with the threshold set at a 30pc minimum.

"It would be an amount based on the parties reaching 30pc and secondly the number of candidates who are actually running," Mr Phelan said.

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While the details have yet to be ironed out and are subject to Cabinet approval, it is planned that any cash incentive scheme will be linked with the official quotas and the limits will rise in line with the national thresholds.

Gender quotas were in place for the 2016 general election which saw the number of women TDs elected hit a record high, with 22pc of seats filled by female politicians.

Under the quota system, parties risk losing State funding if they do not field at least 30pc female candidates. That threshold will rise to 40pc in 2023. In the 2014 elections, 196 women were elected to county council seats nationwide.

The election also saw an increase in the number of women put forward for election.

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