Meeting the women running in the local elections as numbers rise by a quarter

Fine Gael Cork City South-West ward candidate Sinead Ronan, chatting with Bill Eger in Bishopstown. Picture: David Keane

Joyce Fegan looks at the rising number of females on the ballot paper, and meets first-time candidates.

There are 25% more women running in May’s local elections compared with the number who ran in 2014.

A total of 354 women ran in 2014 and, this year, that number has increased to 441.

However, looking at the total number of candidates, there has been an increase of just 6% in the number of women running.

In 2014, 1,398 candidates ran nationally, 354 of whom were female — meaning a representation of 25% of women on your ballot sheet.

This year there are 1,438 candidates selected to run on May 24, 441 of whom are women, so 31% of all candidates this year are female.

This means there has been an overall percentage increase of just 6% in the number of women running.

Eleven political parties are fielding candidates. They and the Independents, have both been included in the Irish Examiner’s data.

While most parties have completed their selections, there are several selection conventions still to be held.

The party with the highest percentage of women candidates this year, at 56%, is People Before Profit (PBP). They are running 45 candidates, and 25 of them are women.

Second, percentage wise are the Social Democrats (SD) with 53%. Of their 58 candidates, 31 are female.

Next is the Solidarity Party, on 47%, with nine of their 19 local election candidates being women.

The Green Party and the Workers’ Party both have a 43% representation of female candidates. The Greens are running 72 candidates so far, and 31 of them are women. The Workers’ Party is running seven candidates, three of whom are women.

In terms of the parties running the highest number of women, Fine Gael comes out on top. They are running 398 candidates so far, and 115, or 29% of them, are women.

Fianna Fáil is running the next highest number of women, even though they are fielding the lowest percentage wise. Fianna Fáil will have 411 candidates on the ballot sheets around Ireland, and 84, or 20% of them, will be women.

Sinn Féin is running the third highest number of women. The party has 242 candidates selected to run and 76, or 31%, are female.

The Labour Party, which is running nearly 50% fewer candidates when compared with 2014, is fielding more women percentage-wise than it did in the last elections. This year Labour is running 100 candidates, 40% of whom are women. In 2014, the party ran 190 candidates, 55, or 29%, of whom were female. The party recently set its own quota of running at least 40% women.

Renua and Aontú (the party recently founded by TD Peadar Tóibín formerly of Sinn Féin), are running almost the same percentage of women candidates.

Renua is running 26 candidates, eight, or 31%, of whom are women. Aontú have selected 60 candidates so far, and 19, or 32%, of them are women. Mr Tóibín has indicated his new party may field as many as 70 candidates.

Gender aside, the party with the highest increase in candidates overall compared with 2014’s elections, is Sinn Féin. The party ran 196 candidates in 2014 and this year it will run 242. The Green Party is next, running 32 more candidates than in 2014. In the last elections they fielded 40 candidates and now they have 72 selected, with a spokesman for the party indicating that they have been approached by a significant number of first-time candidates in recent weeks, who are considering standing in May.

Of the newer parties — Renua, Aontú, and the Social Democrats — Aontú is running the most candidates with 60 selected so far, then the Social Democrats have 58, followed by Renua’s 26.

The three more established parties are all running fewer candidates compared with 2014.

In 2014, Fianna Fáil ran 415 individuals compared with 411 this time around, Fine Gael ran 467 compared with 2019’s 398, and Labour is running 100 candidates in comparison with 2014’s 190 figure.

Returning to gender, of first-time female candidates, the majority interviewed by the Irish Examiner, said they were running after becoming politicised by last year’s referendum on the Eighth Amendment.

While there are gender quotas for general elections — first implemented for the 2016 general election — there are no such regulations for local elections.

As it stands, 79% of all 949 local council seats in Ireland are held by men, meaning that there is a representation of just 21% women. There are no women on Offaly County Council at the moment.

When it comes to a national level, 77.8% of the 158 seats in Dáil Éireann are held by men, meaning there is a representation of just 22.2% women. Currently, we have no female TDs in Clare, Cork East, Cork North Central, Cork North West, Cork South Central, Donegal, Kerry, Laois, Limerick County, Longford-Westmeath, Meath West, Roscommon-Galway, Sligo-Leitrim, Tipperary, Wexford or Wicklow.

Commenting on the political landscape in the run-up to May’s local elections, Ciairín de Buis of Women for Election, said we need a system that reflects the electorate.

“As women, we make up just over half the population, but we are just over one-fifth of our elected politicians. This needs to change.

“We welcome any step forward to ensure there are more women in political life, we need a political system that reflects the electorate — which means we need more women, in all our diversity, elected at local and national level,” Ms de Buis told the Irish Examiner.

Women for Election is a non-profit, non-partisan organisation that trains women in communications and campaigns. Last year, it worked with around 500 women, with an eye on this year’s local and European elections, and it will be working with more this year.

While no gender quota rules are planned for May, the Government has introduced incentives for the political parties to run more women in the local elections.

‘I have always held a very strong sense of civic duty’

Sinead Ronan

Fine Gael

Cork City South West ward

Q: Why are you running?

I have always held a very strong sense of civic duty and the idea that if you can in anyway positively impact the community around you, to try and do just that.

My background, through both college and work life (BSc Government from UCC and for the last number of years working for Tánaiste Simon Coveney in his constituency office) has been rooted in the political, and I think this is the most impactful way to make the most difference in your community.

Q: What has held you back from running until now?

To be honest, I held myself back until now.

If I had decided to run in 2014, I would have been 24, still in college (studying for a PostGrad in Political Communications & Public Affairs) and I don’t think I would have had enough life experience.

Now five years later, I am a little older, with more of a rounded outlook on life and with a better understanding of the issues which are directly affecting people in their day to day lives.

I also understand it is always daunting to put yourself before your own community.

However, if you have something to say and you believe you can represent the needs and interests of your community than nothing, including gender, should impact on that decision.

Q: What policies/priorities are you running on?

My main priorities are: building and promoting community, better public transport links and strong local government.

Q: What is your background?

I am 29 and grew up in Bishopstown. I was educated in St Catherine’s NS and Mount Mercy College.

‘I have strong views about equality and about fairness’

Ciara O’Reilly

Labour

Newbridge, Co Kildare

Q: Why are you running?

I’ve always been a trade union and Labour supporter, with strong views about social justice, equality of opportunity, and fairness.

I feel I can contribute towards bettering our lot and be a voice of reason and understanding.

I believe we are more liberal and progressive than we are given credit for, as a primarily rural area.

Q: What has held you back from running, until now?

For me, personally, this is the right time.

My children are older, so I feel I can commit more time and energy to my local area and hope to make small changes that grow to have a bigger impact.

For me, I would consider it a thought process and a culmination of factors you go through to get to this point.

Q: What policies/priorities are you running on?

We have become a county of commuters. We can build better families and communities if we have more quality time. For me, it’s about choice and quality of life.

I want my friends, families, and colleagues, here and abroad, to feel as if there is a choice and a life can be built here at home.

I’ve watched, time after time, many leave, never to return.

Q: What is your background?

Having grown up in rural Kildare, attending Cross and Passion College (CPC), in Kilcullen, I went on to study in Carlow IT, DIT, and WIT. I attained degrees in both architectural technology and architecture, spending the last 20 years in the construction and architecture industry, working in Kildare and Dublin.

I’m based in Kildare, 39-years-old, and my two children are aged 14 and 20.

‘If you change nothing, nothing will change’

Grace McManus

Sinn Féin

Bray East

Q: Why are you running?

It’s one thing to say how things should be done, it’s another to make change happen. I’ve been an activist for many years in Bray, and a political advisor for Sinn Féin for two years.

With my experience, knowledge and skills, I’m at the point where the time is right to run for office. My motto is: If you change nothing, nothing changes.

Q: What has held you back from running, until now?

Young people can, and should, be at the decision-making table, but you also need to be ready. Public service is not an entitlement, but something earned.

While there is always more to learn, I’m ready and confident in my abilities. I know I can really contribute at county council level.

Q: What policies/priorities are you running on?

Youth mental health is the issue that started my journey; I will never give up on it. But there is also ample evidence that many of our social services are failing: there is a crisis in healthcare and housing, and we are imprisoning asylum-seekers in direct provision centres. The effects are deeply felt at community level.

I will approach these issues with integrity, bringing my values, knowledge, and skills to the table to push for real change.

Q: What is your background?

I’m 27, born and raised in Bray.

Quality of people’s lives isn’t measured just by economics

Lourda Scott

Green Party

Greystones Municipal District, Wicklow

Q: Why are you running?

I’ve had a lot of anger and disillusionment with politics recently. I don’t feel represented by our male dominated government.

Last year, I campaigned for Repeal and it was incredibly empowering being part of a movement led by strong women. It made me want to step up, challenge the status quo and continue to lead change.

Q: What has held you back from running until now?

The fear of putting myself out there in the public eye. The idea that I don’t fit the mould of what I think a politician is. I’m very straight talking and I don’t “Do Politics”.

The lack of time to do any of this. The list is endless to be honest but if we are serious about driving change and having more diverse representation, we have to smash our way out of our comfort zones.

Q: What policies/priorities are you running on?

I’m a firm believer in the power of community. I want to see sustainable communities where everyone is valued and where quality of life isn’t just measured by economics.

We need to consider environmental impact with every decision made while equally looking after the need for adequate housing, public transport, safe cycle routes and enough school places.

Q: What is your background?

I am 45, and my professional background is in Veterinary Medicine and Food Safety Management. I live in Greystones with my husband and three kids.

‘There are too few who have experience of the real world’

Carly Bailey

Social Democrats

Rathfarnham-Templeogue

Q: Why are you running?

I am running because I am tired of the lack of representation at local and national level.

There are too few women and too few people who have experience of what I call the real world, who understand how difficult it is for people and families to get by.

I am running because I have many years experience campaigning on issues around the housing crisis, childrens disability rights, access to education and the Repeal campaign. I have spent the last number of years studying law and political science at Trinity College and so I understand how the system works, what is wrong with it and what we can do to make it better.

Q: What has held you back from running until now?

I don’t come from a wealthy background or a political family and even now I feel very strange and uncomfortable when I tell people I am running.

So many people have been badly hurt by politics over the years, including my own family.

We lost our home in the crash. Our son is not getting the services he requires for his additional needs. We are waiting years to see a consultant because we cannot afford health insurance.

We struggle to afford childcare and rent and we have no security of tenure. I could go on.

Q: What policies/priorities are you running on?

Children and young people, housing, climate change, cycling, public libraries and illegal dumping.

Q: What is your background?

I live in Greenhills. I am 38, married to Brian who is from Perrystown and we have two children aged 9 and 7.

‘I’m fighting for a more progressive Ireland’

Tjitske de Vries

People Before Profit

Cork City South West (including Ballincollig)

Q: Why are you running?

I was asked last year. The first time I said ‘no’, because I thought I wouldn’t be ready for it. But after a persistent convener asked me a second time, and Bríd Smith convinced me it’s a good time to run, as a foreigner and a woman, I decided to run. I’m doing this because I believe in change, in fighting for a more progressive Ireland.

Q: What has held you back from running until now?

Confidence. I’m an activist foremost and I was unsure if I had the confidence to debate and to publicly speak. I’m a fluent English speaker, but it’s always more difficult to get into a heated debate when you’re not speaking in your first language, or, in my case, not even my second language.

Secondly, being a woman in politics is very daunting, as we’ve seen how women in the Dáil, for instance, are treated. We have to work three times as hard to be heard and taken seriously.

Q: What policies/priorities are you running on?

My priorities would be housing, health care, women’s health, and climate change. In my own ward, it would be mainly the lack of facilities for residents.

Q: What is your background?

I was born in Friesland, The Netherlands, but I’ve lived in Cork for about eight years now. I’m 37-years-old.

‘I want to tackle the issues facing working-class people’

Cathie Shiels

The Workers’ Party

Ballymun-Finglas

Q: Why are you running?

Watching successive governments reject progressive legislation, privatise public services and wring their hands while scandals unfolded politicised me.

In 2012, I helped found the Abortion Rights Campaign and have been surrounded by politically active women of all stripes ever since. My experience in fighting for abortion rights showed me the power we have when we are organised to fight for change.

I am running because we need more socialist women in office and because I want to tackle the issues facing working-class people.

Q: What has held you back from running until now?

I don’t feel as though I’ve been held back.

Q: What policies/priorities are you running on?

My main priority is campaigning for public housing to solve the housing crisis. The Workers’ Party has been to the forefront of housing campaigning in Dublin and I will continue that.

I will fight for better public services like public waste collection and childcare.

For all the talk of economic recovery, the reality is that working people in Dublin haven’t felt the benefits. I want to build a Dublin that works for the people not a tiny wealthy elite.

Q: What is your background?

I’m 33, from Donegal originally, but call Dublin home now. I’m a civil servant and I’m the chair of my branch in Fórsa Trade Union.

Sarah seeks to bring jobs back to rural Ireland

Sarah O’Reilly

Aontú

Bailieborough, Co Cavan

Q: Why are you running?

I decided to run because I am fed up waiting for any politician to stand for what they actually believe in and not be afraid to be who they really are. Politicians especially are watery and seek only to parrot the party line. They censor themselves to please party bosses and the media rather than saying what they think. We need to empower people with diverse views respectfully and responsibly articulated. I believe Aontú seeks to do this.

Q: What has held you back from running until now?

Rearing a family. I never saw myself as a politician. I supposed it was a closed shop only for those with a political family history or background. I have been more comfortable working on the ground in communities and in the background.

Q: What policies/priorities are you running on?

I have a real interest in regional development or decentralisation. Dublin is overheating.

A third of the country is a sprawling commuter belt and much of rural Ireland is emptying.

I am seeking to bring jobs back to rural Ireland. Working with local SMEs, finding what needs and skills they require and working with relevant, Local Enterprise Offices, Education Training Boards and Institutes of Technologies that are providing training and education to the workforce

Q: What is your background?

I’m 43 years old. I have children, four adult boys. I have worked in the family business (Agricultural Contractor) until the downturn.

I went back to education, qualified as accountant technician, and worked in global company ATA in Cavan town as a procurement officer until I took the political road.

‘I’ll challenge the establishment political parties’

Rita Harrold

The Solidarity Party

Cabra-Glasnevin

Q: Why are you running?

We need a strong socialist voice on Dublin City Council to challenge the establishment parties on housing, living standards, workers rights, and to struggle on progressive social issues. If elected, I will use my platform to fight alongside the movement outside of the Dáil and the council chambers.

Q: What has held you back from running until now?

Many women and young people feel alienated by politics. The stale politics of permanent austerity has nothing to offer for the majority in society. I feel I can run now, having gained experience of how to organise people to overcome the roadblocks of establishment parties, having been involved with successful campaigns to repeal the Eighth Amendment, the boycott of water charges, and other important issues.

Q: What policies/priorities are you running on?

Solidarity wants to assist in building a mass campaign for public housing to be built on council land, real rent controls, and a ban on economic evictions to challenge the rule of profiteer landlords and property speculators. The cost of living crisis is exacerbated by stagnant wages.

All workers need a pay rise. The nurses’ and midwives’ strike shows how strike action can force the bosses to the table. We need massive investment in public transport to combat climate crisis, and no to privatisation and cuts.

Q: What is your background?

I’m 29-years-old and work as a childminder. I am a leading organiser in ROSA, a socialist feminist organisation which fights for abortion rights.

‘We must fight for and secure more investment’

Monica Barnwell

Renua

Birr, Co Offaly

Q: Why are your running?

I am running because I believe my community needs a new proactive voice.

We in this part of Offaly are very much the forgotten people. We are facing even more challenging times ahead and we must fight for and secure more investment and development initiatives for our county.

Q: What has held you back from running until now?

I wouldn’t say held back as such. It’s more so about the time being right for me. I feel I am now ready and have built a strong skillset to take on the challenges faced by our community.

Q: What policies/priorities are you running on?

Community first. The role of councillors is to represent and find the needs of the people from playgrounds to IDA factories.

I am also prioritising crime. Rural Ireland is no longer just under siege; the criminals have broken through and people are genuinely living in fear in their own homes.

Family first — affordable homes and childcare for mums and dads— recognising the needs of people who go to work in practice not theory. I often hear and read about calls for change. I do not want to just call for change. I want to make change happen.

Q: What’s your background?

I’m a mum of two little boys. I have worked all my life so far since leaving college in challenging but very rewarding roles.

‘I’m running for young families that are struggling’

Aisling Dempsey

Fianna Fáil

Trim Municipal District

Q: Why are you running?

I’m running for young families, like my own, struggling to build a life in the Meath area. The county is amongst the lowest in investment from central government.

Despite a growing population, we’ve no rail link, with thousands of Meath people having to spend three to four hours of their lives stuck in cars on the way into Dublin for work. Meath can attract more multinational employers, with the right support.

Q: What has held you back from running, until now?

I read somewhere that women generally will not apply for a job unless they meet over 90% of the criteria, whilst men will apply with just 60%. I now feel that I’ve the life experience to match the commitment and integrity required to work on behalf of the people of Meath.

In the past few years, I’ve become a full-time working mother, started commuting daily to Maynooth, whilst trying to contribute to my community. I experienced how difficult this balancing act can be.

Q: What policies/priorities are you running on?

Housing, housing, housing.

Q: What is your background?

I am a 35-year-old, mother-of-one to son, Liam, married to James. I’m currently working in administration management in the construction sector. I have worked in the telecoms and legal sectors, as well. I am a long-time member of Fianna Fáil and worked on a number of election campaigns over the years.

I currently serve on the board of directors of Coisceimeanna Community Child Care Service and have previously volunteered on local committees, such as The Swift Festival.

Traveller Julia wants to unite Irish society

Julia O’Reilly

Independent

Longford

Q: Why are you running?

As a Traveller woman, I have always had this ambition, since a young child, to do something, not just for my people, but for everyone. Peter Casey pushed me on another bit further.

We are a great nation and we need to be represented appropriately. There are high suicide rates among my community and in Ireland in general, and I moved to help people.

Q: What has held you back from running until now?

My children are growing up and I see them fighting the same issues I faced. It’s time we had no barriers.

I wanted them to say that I showed them never to be frightened.

Q: Why are you running as an independent?

I know what I stand for and I don’t have to stand for any political agenda. I have full control over my own campaign.

Q: What policies/priorities are you running on?

Community, equality, and respect. Leaders need to show how to compromise and show respect for one another, whether we believe in the same things or not. We need to unify a people.

Q: What is your background?

It would be incredible to be the first Traveller to be elected to local office.

Lady Gaga says if there is one person who believes in you when you walk into a room, you’ll be OK.

There’s always one person who believes in me: and that’s me.

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