Fine Gael’s Peggy Nolan received the highest number of first preferences of any of the forty-one candidates that contested the 2009 Longford County Council election and she believes many women analyse themselves out of politics.
The poll topper, who secured 977 votes five years ago and is seeking re-election, says she would ‘recommend politics to anyone’.
Just five women contested the County Council election in ’09, and among the 34 candidates that have declared their intention to seek election on May 23 , there are seven women – outgoing Cllrs Nolan and Mae Sexton (Ind), Granard Town Council member Maura Kilbride-Harkin (FG) who previously served as a County Councillor, Independents Niamh Moran and Mary Lillis (who left FF), Yvonne Ní Mhurchú (FG) and Barbara Smyth (Sinn Féin).
So in percentage terms, women make up 21% of the candidates, compared to 12% in 2009.
Fianna Fáil’s ten-candidate team in Co Longford features no females and indeed FF has fared poorly in terms of gender balance nationally, reaching only 17% of female candidates when they were aspiring to reach 30%. FG is on 22%, with Labour (who have yet to unveil candidates in Longford) and Sinn Féin falling just short of 30%.
The May elections will be the last where there is no statutory requirement for a minimum percentage of male or female candidates.
A new law introduced by Minister Phil Hogan will result in parties losing a portion of their State funding from the next general election if they fail to meet a 30% threshold of female or male candidates.
Cllr Nolan isn’t in favour of gender quotas. “I’m passionate about representing my community and I don’t believe in gender quotas. Anyone can seek election and if you think you can make a difference then go for it. I know I wouldn’t want to be seen as a token woman candidate.”
She added, “If you are a woman, you can be a wife, mother, organiser, accountant and cook. You know the price of products and the cost of and how the health service works. You have all these attributes and if you’ve the desire to bring these to the community, I’d recommend running for election to any woman.”
Sinn Féin’s Barbara Smyth supports gender quotas ‘as a way to progress’ initially but doesn’t see them as a long term solution. “We need to empower women and inspire them to seek election to public office by dealing with the barriers, namely childcare costs, confidence and culture.”
Independent Niamh Moran is the only female candidate in the Ballymahon electoral area and she suggests that the question of female participation in politics is a complex one. “More women will become attracted to politics when the political arena becomes more attractive to women. When you consider that women make up more than 50% of the population of Longford, then of course the total of seven female candidates is totally inadequate, but the focus for change must rest with women themselves.”
Meanwhile, FG’s Yvonne Ní Mhurchú will appear on TG4’s programme ‘Róisín’ next Monday, March 31 at 8pm to discuss ‘Mná sa Pholaitíocht’ – ‘Women in Politics’ with presenter Róisín Ní Eadhra.
Ms Ní Mhurchú states, “More female voices are needed in Irish politics to tackle societal imbalances.”