Members of the National Women’s Council of Ireland (NWCI) in conjunction with Longford Women’s Link (LWL) gathered at the Family Centre, Longford last Thursday to engage in a discussion about women’s participation in politics. The meeting was chaired by NWCI Director, Susan McKay who said that despite the fact that women make up 50 per cent of the population, only 13 per cent of them are represented in the national political arena. Senator Marcella Corcoran-Kennedy, Fine Gael’s candidate for Laois/Offaly, Fianna Fail’s Cllr Rachel Doherty (Roscommon) and Ali Carr, Chairperson of the Labour’s Women’s Executive provided the platform on which the matter was discussed.
At the meeting, Tess Murphy and Tara Farrell of Longford Women’s Link gave a detailed presentation on the work of the Longford Women’s Manifesto. After the presentation, Cllr Doherty told the meeting that it is an “opportune time” for women to get involved in politics and that women would be in a position to represent everyone’s issues not just those of women. “I believe that this is an opportune time for women in politics,” she said, adding that women would be in a position to represent “everyone’s issues” and not just those of women. “Party structures need to be addressed so that more women can become involved in politics and we as women need to have more confidence and self belief in ourselves.”
Marcella Corcoran-Kennedy said that while she had been involved in politics from the age of 17, the support of family and friends and good mentoring had been fundamental to her political aspirations. “I grew up with politics,” she said, adding that politics was about decision making “that affected all of us”. “If you really want to influence, then you have to belong to a political party and work from within. You have to sell yourself to the electorate and lobby politicians so that your voices are heard. It is all about being strategic and finding out how you want to do things. I had family around me and to be honest that support enabled me to become involved in politics.”
Ali Carr is on the board of the Labour Women’s Executive in Co Clare. In conjunction with the NWCI, the executive succeed in introducing the Electoral (Gender Parity) Bill 2009. Once opposed to the gender quota system, Ms Carr now believes it would facilitate greater female representation in Dail Eireann. “Gender quotas allow for nature to take its course,” she said, adding that eventually it would lead to equal representation of men and women in the top echelons of the political arena. “It is important to know that you can’t do it on your own, be part of something bigger and that is how you bring about change.”
In conclusion, Ms McKay paid tribute to the “outstanding achievements” of the Longford Women’s Manifesto Group with regard to the influence that it has had with local women’s increasing understanding of politics at local level. “Longford Women’s link has taken the lead on the issue of women in politics,” she explained, adding that the Manifesto had become a template for groups across Ireland.