For the first time in the history of the State, more than 30% of the candidates running in the general election are women.
There are 531 candidates running in total — 162 of those are women. A total of 160 women ran in the 2016 general election, but the higher number this time means the “critical mass” or “tipping point” of 30% has finally been reached.
Furthermore, every constituency in Ireland has a female candidate.
The Irish Examiner spoke to two female candidates who are running for the first time in the general election, Patricia O’Dwyer in Cork South Central for the Social Democrats and Bernie Connolly for the Green Party in Cork South West.
Both women say their gender has only been met with positivity and that confidence has not been a personal issue for them.
“If I am the oldest woman running as a first-time candidate, it dispels the myth that you’re spent at 65. Now I’m hoping it’s my time,” says Patricia.
I’m probably a bit of an outlier. I can never see myself retiring, I took on a new job at 65, and I’m 66 next month.
As a former public health nurse, Patricia is undeterred by the act of knocking on strangers’ doors, so confidence to ‘cold call’ doesn’t even factor.
“I had a lot of knocking on doors to do in my career and I had to introduce myself,” she says. “That has been the one thing that has stood to me, from new mothers to older people, right across all the age categories.”
Her practical life experience has also won her promises of votes.
“My sense of it is that my life experience helps. I’ve been abroad 20 years, I’ve re-educated myself and studied law in UCC, I’ve been self-employed, and I’ve raised a son as a lone parent, I’ve had a range of practical experience and people can relate to that.”
But it is not just “people” relating to her, it’s women specifically, from voice messages she is left to those who want to canvass for her.
“I’ve picked up people on the doors and from people liking my posts on Facebook, who then come out and canvass for me.
“I have about 15 canvassers, most of whom are women, it’s about 60% women and 40% men.
Very pleased to confirm tonight that the @SocDems have made history. We are the first significant party in Irish history to be running with at least 50% women candidates. In fact, we are running 9 men and 11 women. pic.twitter.com/XVgzH7mkv9— Dermot Looney (@dlooney) January 22, 2020
“There are a lot of older women who I get voicemails from and they’ll just say: ‘We need more women.’ It’s wonderful, it’s really empowering. They’re happy to just leave the voicemail.”
Boosts like those are important fuel for her fire considering the constituency she is running in.
“I’m running in an all-male constituency. There are four seats and the incumbents are Micheál Martin, Simon Coveney, Michael McGrath, and Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire,” says Patricia, who is one of four women now running in Cork South Central.
But even against these political heavyweights, the issue of confidence does not register for Patricia. Running for election has been about timing instead, and it’s a point she always makes to women, no matter their path in life.
“I’ve raised my son and I’m very proud of that,” she says. “I always say to women that there are times you can do things and there are times you can’t. I couldn’t go back to do law until my son was in boarding school.
“But I’m at a time in my life now when I can give back, I couldn’t do it earlier. When I was self-employed there was no time, so it was a timing issue not a confidence one.”
Also running as a candidate for the first time, and without posters, is Bernie Connolly for Cork South West.
Exactly like Patricia, confidence is not an issue for the Green candidate, because her conviction to bring about positive climate action far outweighs anything else.
“I know people who wouldn’t put themselves forward,” says Bernie. “Some people shy away from the public eye, but what have I got to lose at this age in my life? I’m 55 and someone has to run, someone has to do it, if not me, then who? I’m as good as anyone else.”
The “tipping point” for Bernie was the lack of action, even erosion of progress, at a national level when it came to the climate.
“The tipping point for me was my concern and disappointment from what had been delivered in terms of the environment and biodiversity by the Government,” says Bernie, , who has been on the Cork Environmental Forum for 20 years now.
“Last November I only began to think about the idea of running, this, and knowing we only have 10 years [to take significant climate action to reduce CO2 emissions]. If we wait any longer, it’ll cost more and hurt humans more.”
She believes that change comes down to how people vote, and that the electorate needs to “be brave”.
“We’ll only get change if we change how we vote. People need to be brave and change how they vote. They don’t necessarily need to be so partisan in how they vote, but instead ask: ‘What does society need?’
“Making the world more sustainable can only bring about a better life. And we need to have the right people there, and have the right policy.”
Her approach, including not using posters, has gone down well with not just women, but with men and farmers, especially dairy farmers, too.
“I’m dying to get on the radio and talk about farming and the environment,” says Bernie. “We need landowners. They are our hope and we need to be working with them. The farmers are not the problem, they are trying to produce food, and they are put upon by the agri-food sector.
“They have a tough life and are locked into a system. We will give hope to people to have a future and to be producing in a way that they’re happier with.”
Farming aside, she hopes her candidacy will inspire others.
“There are some great young women doing the climate strikes and I’m hoping if I bring out a strong green vote then we can bring these women into politics,” says Bernie.
Someone who actively works on bringing more women into politics is Ciairín de Buis. She is CEO of Women for Election, a group that trains all types of candidates in how to communicate with confidence and to run a campaign.
She welcomes the fact that more than 30% of candidates are women, but acknowledges that the bar was “low” in the first place.
“It is great and it is positive,” says Ciairín.
It is a step forward, especially the 30% as that’s critical mass. It’s also great to have a woman running in every constituency — that’s progress. But we’re coming from a very low bar. It shows you how far we have to go. The majority of constituencies have a majority of men running in them. Being the only woman must be a very lonely place.
From the amount of women her organisation has trained, Ciairín has seen, first hand, the barriers that stand in their way.
“It’s back to confidence and that’s where Women for Election has come in,” she says. “Our training covers the three Cs — confidence, communications, and campaigning. The confidence part is the bit people find most useful and we are up for training more women.
“The vitriol and negativity that women get are disproportionate to what men get. But women we meet have decided that they’re running despite that.”
Her one request to anyone in the electorate, who is interested in seeing more women in the next Dáil, is to look at the list of women candidates on their website (womenforelection.ie) and find a candidate who aligns with their values and offer to campaign or canvass for them in the coming days.