The inspiring business of Women For Election

Last weekend while the men enjoyed the football, a group of women were tucked away in a hotel in Galway, following an intensive course in politics.

The Women For Election ‘Inspire’ Programme was a day-long affair, held in the Harbour Hotel Galway and running right through from 8.30am to 5.30pm, that featured a cast of women politicians and activists, who certainly proved nothing short of inspiring.

The event was not free-of-charge but in fact cost a neat €99, for which, if you were lucky, the political party you belonged to paid. There, among the 30 or so women attendees from all over the west coast on the day were, from Mayo, two Sinn Fein councillors – Belmullet councillor, Cllr Rose Conway Walsh, Mayo County Council, and Cllr Therese Ruane, Castlebar Town Council – both of whom participated wholly and admirably, reflecting extremely well on the calibre of women politicians coming onstream in County Mayo.

Despite the agenda for the day being a heavy one, the team behind Women for Election proved that when it comes to organising things to plan, they were top notch. The programme ran exactly to schedule with brilliant speakers from the fields of politics, the media, and communications expertly working the room.

Proving admirable for her sheer cool and calm Claire Byrne-like demeanour, Galway Senator, Lorraine Higgins – challenged during her talk on why she had signed up with the Labour party – also proved her steely worth in defending her move from Independent to party politics. Mayor Hildegarde Naughton appeared warmer, yet just as wily, outlining her path in to the political world and the sometimes challenging but mostly rewarding nuts and bolts that go with the job.

Former senator Margaret Cox, a mum of four, was searingly honest in her anecdotal account of juggling politics with motherhood, and like the others, swore to not having regretted one minute of her time in politics. All in all, these three women agreed that while the political world is a tough, hard, male-dominated, cliquish and extremely demanding one, it also offers one of the most fulfilling work paths ever to a woman, through enabling her to effect change - albeit one tiny change at a time - to the world we all live in.

Such high calibre speakers addressing not only the issue of women and politics but the more nuanced theme of the day – ‘Women For Election’ – resulted in some premium contributions being evoked from the floor. As the women in attendance ranged across the age spectrum from early twenties to 60-plus, with participants seated cosily in fives and sixes around neighbouring tables, the result was an astoundingly informative and bright conversation, spanning all the way from far left to centre and far right politics.

As a networking exercise it proved ultimately inclusive and bonding, highlighting that no matter what the issue, women were all in this together, working to effect change for the betterment of society by pulling along as a force together.

The Women for Election movement is a new movement that is now set to snowball in Ireland. A not-for-profit non-partisan organisation backed by two progressive women entrepreneurs, it is responding to the dictat that all political parties in forthcoming elections must field at least 30 per cent of women candidates.

Whether people agree or disagree with this quota system is irrelevant right now. For political parties to secure full election funding rights, they must have women out there seeking election, and the end result will surely be more women in Irish politics very soon.

As communications expert on the day Orlaith Carmody outlined in her presentation, considering the 14 per cent of women that currently make up Dail Eireann, in graphic terms, represent only one row in the 166 seat parliament, even increasing women's representation to 30% would only join up the dots in a small portion of the Dáil chamber.

There is still a very long way to go before Irish politics become fully representational of Irish society, but at least we can rest assured there are many brilliant and genuine women out there, wanting right now to work on behalf of their country.

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