Why more women are needed in City Hall

With only 17 per cent of councillors being female, City Hall is below national average of 21 per cent for female representation

A number of the women running for election in May's Local Elections (LtoR): Sharon Nolan (Som Dems), Clodagh Higgins (FG), Colette Connolly (Ind), Mairead Farrell (SF), Pauline O'Reilly and Martina O'Connor (Greens), and Terry O'Flaherty (Ind)

A number of the women running for election in May's Local Elections (LtoR): Sharon Nolan (Som Dems), Clodagh Higgins (FG), Colette Connolly (Ind), Mairead Farrell (SF), Pauline O'Reilly and Martina O'Connor (Greens), and Terry O'Flaherty (Ind)

Irish politics needs more women. With the upcoming Local Elections, we are presented with a great opportunity to expand the number of women involved, especially as, currently, the national average of women’s representation at local councils is at 21 per cent.

The Galway City Council is performing under average with the sitting council having just three out of 18 seats (17 per cent ) being held by women. Galway city’s political history is somewhat sparse of women, but there have been some great representatives over the years. The first woman mayor of Galway city was Mary Byrne back in 1975, yet only seven women have ever held the mayorship in the history of our city.

The 2016 General Election was the first to have a 30 per cent gender quota. A similar quota is not being enforced for the upcoming Local Elections. As it stands, Fine Gael and Fianna Fail are both failing to meet the 30 per cent mark of women candidates, but smaller parties such as the Greens, Social Democrats, People Before Profit, Solidarity, and Labour are faring much more equally - with all these parties having at least 40 per cent of their candidates being women in the upcoming elections.

Barriers to women's participation

There are a huge number of barriers that can prevent women from entering politics in the first place. From the costs, family commitments, networking barriers, time constraints, everyday sexism - these are issues that disproportionately affect women, and even more so if these women are from more working-class or diverse backgrounds. There is also currently no systems to provide maternity leave of any kind while in elected office, which is a huge barrier to women’s participation. The lack of maternity leave options especially needs to be re-evaluated when looking to increase the participation of women in politics.

mairead farrell

Despite all of the above-listed barriers, there is still a great selection of female candidates who are putting their names forward for the 2019 locals in Galway city - many of whom are doing so for the first time, which Insider immensely commends.

Galway City East currently has Sinn Fein’s Cllr Mairéad Farrell [pictured above] as the only woman confirmed candidate thus far. Cllr Farrell has been a well-favoured representative since getting elected in 2014, and at 29 she shows that age is not a barrier to success in our city council.

Galway City Central has three women currently announced for the ticket. Fianna Fail is running Imelda Byrne, head of NUIG’s Access Programme and niece to the late Mary Byrne, on the ticket alongside Ollie Crowe. The Green Party is running Martina O’Connor, a nurse in UHG for close to 30 years from Shantalla; while the Social Democrats is running Galway Together for Yes co-convener and LGBT+ rights campaigner Sharon Nolan [pictured below].

Sharon Nolan 2

Galway City West has two confirmed candidates running at the moment - the Green Party’s Pauline O’Reilly and Fine Gael’s Clodagh Higgins. O’Reilly is a qualified solicitor and chair of the Galway Steiner National School, while Higgins is a psychologist and occupational consultant from Salthill.

At this time the above are all the confirmed declared candidates. Insider suspects that independent incumbents, councillors Terry O’Flaherty and Colette Connolly, will also be throwing their hats into the ring. At present, they have not officially declared to Insider’s knowledge.

How are female candidates likely to fare?

Insider predicts Cllr Farrell will be easily re-elected in the East, along with Cllr O’Flaherty if she runs. As Galway City Central has five of its six male incumbents declared to run, it is crying out for some female representation. FF would not be expected to bring enough of a vote to elect two in the area, and Imelda Byrne would have a huge challenge to poll above Cllr Crowe to secure a seat. With Labour’s Cllr Billy Cameron retiring, there is an open centre-left vote that could favour Soc Dem’s Sharon Nolan and aid the young activist in getting elected.

Insider is unsure whether Colette Connolly will be running, or if she will be running in the Central or West wards. Either way, Cllr Connolly will have a difficult time moving out of the shadow of her sister - TF Catherine Connolly - if she does run. She failed to get re-elected in 2014 on the Labour ticket and earned her current seat by being co-opted once Catherine was elected as TD in 2016. While her performance has been viewed by many as mixed, she has a strong track record on advocating for greater housing rights, which is greatly needed in Galway city’s current climate.

Galway City West is likely to see Pauline O’Reilly perform strongly - but if the recent rise in the polls rings true in May’s voting patterns this may allow FG to gain a second seat with Clodagh Higgins joining Pearce Flannery in City Hall.

Make minority voices heard at council

Galway is a city whose backbone is built through matriarchial communities where women rule the roost, but we are not seeing this reflected in our council chamber. Insider recently met a Westside woman who was calling for an all-women council “to really show them how it’s done”, but fielding enough candidates to make this a reality hasn’t been possible yet. Perhaps this woman will get her wish in years to come, but 2019 will not be that year.

Insider recognises that great political representation can come in any gender, but until our women candidates are as equal in numbers as our men candidates, and are just as supported, there will still be an uphill battle for women standing for election.

Along with increasing the representation of women in Galway City Council, Insider believes we should aim to increase the representation of those from minority communities. This is truly how we can increase the diversity of the representatives to reflect the diversity of our city. Initially, there was discussion surrounding proposing 40 per cent women and minorities quota for local elections within the recent Local Government Bill, but it was later removed from the Bill.

Having candidates running from largely unrepresented groups such as migrants and those from ethnic minority backgrounds, LGBT+ people, disabled people, members of the Travelling community, and many other unnamed barriers and struggles, could make a huge difference to our political system. Seeing these minority voices represented in our local councils could make a huge change in the engagement of local politics for all. It is hard to engage with a system that does not represent you, so we must support those who are standing up to represent their communities.

Youth and experience

There is also the question of age. While most of our current representatives are older, the ideal would be to see a variety of ages among the council to represent the modern Galway city. Age and experience come in many nuanced ways, and just because someone has been sitting on the council for decades does not make him/her any more or less able to be a councillor than anyone else currently running.

Overall - Insider hopes to see the proportion of women increase in Galway City Council after May 24. Greater representation of women in local politics would help us build more opportunities for women to participate in all levels of Ireland’s political landscape and allow it to blossom beyond the boys club of yesteryear. Insider will personally be rooting for progressive women like Cllr Farrell, Nolan, and O’Reilly to make it past the post - but it will only be made possible through the backing of their communities and having the necessary turnout of support.

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