Bringing balance to political arena

Noirin Clancy

Harry KeaneySligo Champion

Nóirín Clancy is an advocate for women. Women in politics and public life, that is.

The Glenfarne native, now living in Cliffoney, is the chairperson of 5050.

It's a national organisation that has been campaigning for gender quota legislation.

However, when Nóirín looks at Sligo, she's disappointed.

She said: "So far 26 candidates have been nominated to run for election to Sligo County Council.

"Just five are women.

"As it stands, Sligo County Council has 25 members of which six are women.

"However, with the recent changes to the electoral areas, the number of seats is reduced to 18.

"So the competition is greater and more challenging for any newcomers to the field."

For many women – and men – becoming a councillor is often a stepping stone to a seat in the Dáil.

Nóirín says it is therefore sensible for parties to pull out all the stops to get women selected to run in the local elections.

She added: "It is very positive to see a newcomer, Marie Casserley, who is running as an Independent.

"However, it is very disappointing that Fine Gael have no women candidates, particularly with two of their councillors, Aoife McLoughlin and Mary Barrett, stepping down.

"Sinn Fein also have no woman running.

"Labour's Marcella McGarry and Fianna Fail's Rosaleen O'Grady are seeking re-election, as are Independents, Veronica Cawley and Margaret Gormley."

New gender quota legislation, which will ensure more women candidates, does not take effect until the next general election.

However, the impact of the legislation is beginning to be felt.

Nóirín says: "Across the country so far, almost 23% of all local election candidates are women.

"This compares with 17% five years ago in 2009.

"We have become used to the majority of our public representatives being men.

"Currently, men account for 84% of all our elected representatives.

"One imagines there would be outrage if men were as poorly represented as women currently are right across the country and in the Dáil and Seanad."

So what can be done?

Implementation of the gender quota legislation is key

Nóirín also said: "On-going pressure is vital to ensure political parties encourage more women to run – and succeed – as candidates.

"Then we may see more women in the council chamber.

"The 5050 Group plans to observe the progress of the local elections as political parties and independents gear up for the campaign trail and the elections in May.

"It will also encourage and support the election of women.

"One certain way to improve the number of women in our council chambers is for every elector to consider all the candidates carefully and to think about the lack of equality in our political process.

"Just over 50% of the population are women; that figure should be echoed in our political system."

Nóirín's own background is in community development work.

She added: "More recently, I was involved with a cross-Border project involving Donegal County Council, Derry and Scotland.

"That was about women in public life. It was out of that project we set up 5050 North West.

"I have been involved in 5050 North West and I have now taken on the national chair."

Nóirín, who's in her 50s, currently works part-time with the Longford Women's Manifesto Group.

She explained: "It's about engaging local women in decision-making structures.

"One of the things we do is attend council meetings.

"It's about demystifying politics.

"We have also set up Manifesto groups in Leitrim and Donegal."

While nationally there is an increase in the number of female candidates in this year's local elections, an interesting geographical dimension is emerging.

In the more urban constituencies, female candidates account for 29%.

But it's only 18.2% in the more rural constituencies.

The 5050 Group says quotas are part of the solution but insists it is evident much more is required to transform the male dominated political system.

Nóirín says: "More women need to make the leap from the community to the political arena.

"Political parties need to examine more closely what is stopping women coming forward and getting selected.

"Parties also need to use their power to start making politics more women and family friendly."