Councils need more women, body told

THE nature of county councils is stopping women from entering local politics, a major conference was told over the weekend.

Leading academic Ann Wallace told delegates attending the General Council of County Councils (GCCC) conference that only 16% of the country’s 883 local politicians were women.

Ms Wallace, from the Department of Government at UCC, said starting times for council meetings and a lack of child care allowances were preventing women entering local politics.

Liam Kenny, director of the GCCC said he was aware in Britain child care allowances were paid to certain councillors who were entitled to them.

“Maybe it is something that has to be looked at in Ireland. There are only 132 women councillors and there is no great sign that figure will change come the local elections next year. It seems there are a number of barriers to women trying to take a full part in elective office,” Mr Kenny said.

Following the two-day conference in the Silver Springs Hotel, Cork, Mr Kenny said that the majority of county councillors came from either a farming or business background with only a comparative handful coming from the PAYE sector.

Another academic from the Department of Government at UCC, Dr Aodh Quinlivan, said county councils should look for a percentage of income tax to be paid at a local level which would fund local services.

Mr Kenny said the only problem with that was the divide between rich and poor counties which would have to be equalised.

Galway-based planning law specialist Risteard Ó Domhnaill defended rural housing. He asked why farmers in rural areas shouldn’t be able to make money selling off sites while it was okay for big builders to buy large tracts of land near cities and then develop them.

His comments drew loud applause from the conference floor, especially when he claimed conservationists were frustrating rural development by objecting to once-off bungalows. He said such objections were narrow because they ignored the fact that rural communities had to be sustained as much as the flora and fauna of their locality.

Mr Kenny said his organisation supported the removal of 125 TDs and senators from local authority under the dual mandate bill. The bill was passed by both the Dáil and Seanad last week and is being studied by President McAleese.

If she signs it into law it could face a legal challenge in the High Court from Mayo TD Michael Ring.

The GCCC has set up a new website, www.councillors.ie which will provide people with contact numbers and details on every local authority representative in the country.

Mr Kenny said the website would be an invaluable tool for the electorate in next June’s local elections.

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