Will a gender quota address the lack of women in politics?

Since the re-establishment of the Galway Borough Council in 1937, very few women have been elected to the Galway City Council or Galway Corporation, as it was then known.

Over the years we have had Margaret Ann Ashe, Sue Emerson, Mary Byrne, Angela Lupton, Margaret Cox, Bridie Flaherty and Shelia Jordan who have all now sadly left us. In recent years there has been Liz Hackett from the Workers Party and Mary Leahy, who recently lost her seat.

The Local Elections in June saw the return of councillors Catherine Connolly, Terry Flaherty (Bridie’s daughter ), Colette Connolly, and first time candidate Hildegarde Naughton.

However Insider considers it a pity that there are only four women on a council of 15. After all, this is 2009.

Cllr Catherine Connolly, a full time barrister, is known for her straight talking and determination to seek out the truth at any cost. Cllr O’Flaherty has come out of her mother’s shadow in recent years and is known for her compassion towards the elderly.

Cllr Colette Connolly is like a dog with a bone when it comes to planning irregularities and has been proven spot on many times. Cllr Hildegarde Naughton has not been tried and tested so Insider will reserve judgement. However she has proven her ability to poll extremely well through unseating John Mullholland

Despite the lack of women in politics, Galway is blessed with some strong women councillors and in the past produced real trailblazers. Sue Emerson, Margaret Ann Ashe (better know to old Galwegians as Maggie Ann Ashe ), Bridie Flaherty, and Shelia Jordan were there for the people and did not flinch from calling a spade a spade.

Margaret Ann Ashe was the most colourful of all: she was a publican and landowner from Cross Street and was a determined lady who would bow to no one. It was said she would take on God Himself if He were in the chamber.

She called the members of the Harbour Board “cowards” when they failed to act on pollution coming from the Hygeia plant going into the Docks, and grown men were afraid of her especially if her, umbrella was at hand.

A single woman of independent means, she was under no compliment to anyone. Most women of her time would be dependent of their husbands, she answered to no one.

Shelia Jordan and Bridie Flaherty were great community activists, they worked tirelessly for the communities they lived in. Their boldness and brass neck is legendary. However their hearts were always in the right place and the same could be said of Maggie Ann Ashe when dealing with people down on their luck. Sue Emerson did a lot for business in Galway, she is still remembered as a very capable lady.

Liz Hackett did Trojan work for the vulnerable and ordinary working people, despite this fact she was unable to keep her seat. “Eaten bread is soon forgotten” and it was true in this case.

Galway West’s first woman TD was Fianna Fáil’s Maire Geoghegan Quinn. Galway West has not had a woman representative in the Dáil since she retired in 1997.

She took her father Johnny Geoghegan,s place in the Dáil in a by-election after his death in 1975. She was forward thinking and had her own style. One of her great achievements was the decriminalisation of homosexuality as Minister for Justice.

In the Seanad for Galway West we had Margaret Cox while Fine Gael’s Fidelma Healy Eames is there at present. We all know that the Seanad is used as a waiting station for future TDs. It did not work for Margaret, but will it work for Fidelma?

Time will tell but Insider suspects that Cllr Catherine Connolly will be there also to give her a run for her money in the next General Election.

We are not yet at a stage in Irish politics where you have a gender balance of 50/50. It will take a lot of soul searching for political parties to even imagine such a stage.

Labour at leadership level has begun to tackle this issue by insisting that, if there are two candidates going forward, one must be a woman. Time will tell if this will be successful. Other parties seem to shy away from this in case it might jeopardise any long-standing (sitting ) seats.

Getting nominated is one thing. Getting elected is a different ball game. In Scandinavia political parties insisted on a quota for gender balance way back in the 1970s and women’s representation in government is now up to 30 per cent. Maybe there needs to be a quota to shake things up a bit in Ireland, otherwise progress will be very slow.

Today men and women have equal opportunities, both in education and career choice. So the slow progress of gender balance in politics is puzzling. Maybe politics is looked on as a ‘man thing’ unless you come from a political family.

In Ireland a young man interested in politics learns very quickly on his first canvass trail that if you are in any way connected with sports you will pull in votes by the hundreds.

If you have made a name for yourself on the pitch, 500 votes at least. If you coach young kids 300 votes, if you are always on the side line as a supporter with a season ticket you should at least pull in 200 votes. All figures above are low estimates.

This does not work for women, as a rule they get into the Dáil because their father, uncle, or sibling has already been a TD. It takes hard graft for a woman to make it on her own merits. If she has total party support or comes from a very large extended family she may make it to the council. However getting a Dáil seat with the type of cronyism that is Irish politics is a really daunting task.

Yet, the chance of seeing at least two women from Galway West in the next Dáil is not beyond the imagination of the public. However it is still beyond the imagination of the political parties and the media. They are still at the stage of the ‘token’ woman.

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