Equality campaigners want 1,000 women to contest 2024 local council elections

Senator Eileen Flynn warned that women and people from minority backgrounds were 'not looking for a hand out but a hand up'

Ralph Riegel

EQUALITY campaigners aim to have 1,000 women contest the 2024 Local Government Election with 250 women set to challenge for a Dáil berth at the next General Election.

The vow came as Taoiseach Leo Varadkar acknowledged that Ireland had "a Republic unfinished" until issues such as gender equality and minority rights were properly tackled.

A 'Count Her In' conference in Cork was warned that it was shameful that, in the 103 years between 1918 and 2021, just 131 women were elected to the Dáil - compared to 1,211 men.

That represented male representation of over 90pc.

Now, female party leaders including Sinn Féin's Mary Lou McDonald, Labour's Ivana Bacik and Social Democrat's Holly Cairns vowed to press for gender equality - and better representation in Irish councils and in the Dáil for minority groups.

All three attended the Cork City Hall conference which also featured female councillors, senators, academics, diplomats, business and community leaders.

The three party leaders agreed that next year's Local Government Elections was a landmark political moment for change.

Ms McDonald said she was hopeful a record number of women would contest elections over the next couple of years and help transform future Irish politics.

"It is absolutely vital we see more women involved in politics - and that we make it easier for women to get involved in politics, particularly at the local level," she said.

Ms Bacik said local government was the stepping stone to national political involvement and Irish political parties had to do more to encourage women as well as people from minority and different ethnic backgrounds to get involved.

The Labour Party leader warned that, for years, men were effectively taking decisions on behalf of women in the political system.

"The Local Government elections next year really will prove an acid test for our commitment to achieve equality in politics and representation."

Ms Cairns said the fact that so many Irish political parties now had female leaders was testimony to the work that had been done - but she warned much more needed to be achieved.

Ireland's first female Seanad member from the Traveller Community, Senator Eileen Flynn, warned that women and people from minority backgrounds were "not looking for a hand out but a hand up."

She said that when she looks at the Dáil and Seanad she asks herself: "Where are the Traveller men? Where are the black men? Where are the men and women from minority groups?"

"There is no such thing as positive discrimination - there is the creation of positive spaces," she said as she warned Ireland needed to learn lessons from countries like New Zealand about how to promote minority representation.

The 'Count Her In' campaign was launched as the conference was told that female politicians often faced bullying, harassment, ostracisation and demeaning treatment as they attempted to further their political careers.

Only 28pc of candidates in the 2019 Local Government Elections were women - however, they managed to win 24pc of the seats.

A special data hub - compiled by Maynooth University researchers - now offers an analysis of all Irish elections based on gender.

Researcher Justin Gleeson stressed that local councils are the key to achieving future gender equality in representation.

"If you don't have women in local councils, they are never going to get up the ladder and into the Dáil," he said.

“The Women for Election DataHub is a fantastic new tool that tells the story of the history of women in politics in Ireland since 1918."

"Using state of the art data visualisation and mapping technology, the hub brings to life a wide range of data on general, local and European elections in Ireland. The hub is a great step forward for evidence-based planning and another example of how Ireland is leading the way in developing national data tools to understand key social, economic and environmental issues.”

Entrepreneur and Women For Election chairperson Alison Cowzer said Ireland needed to see change.

"Today is really a call to action - we need to do more," she said.

Delegates heard the past decade had witnessed major steps towards gender equality in politics.

The Electoral Amendment (Political Funding) Act 2012 provided that political parties would face a cut of half their State funding if they did not have at least 30pc women and 30pc men candidates at the next general election.

In the 2016 General Election, all parties met the 30pc threshold and a record number of women TDs were elected.

The required proportion of women and men will increase to 40pc from February 2023.

At the 2020 General Election, 36 female TDs were elected.

The aim now is to see women increase their representation amongst Ireland's 949 councillors.

Women For Election chief executive Caitríona Gleeson said it was an exciting time of change in Irish politics.

"Having such an incredible line-up of speakers and a large attendance from political parties is a testament to how seriously Irish society is now taking gender equality in politics," she said.

"Next year, 2024, is our year to make a real change, a stamp on the Irish political system that proves to us that 50:50 gender equality is not just a pipe dream. It can and will happen."

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