More female candidates needed to address council gender imbalance

The marked gender imbalance on Mayo County Council looks unlikely to be addressed in a significant way in the upcoming Local Elections on May 23.

So far, of 34 confirmed candidates, just six are female although a few more female candidates are expected to come forward in the coming days as Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil wrap up their candidate selection.

In the last Local Election in 2009, seven of the 59 candidates were women.

As it stands, Mayo County Council has just three female elected members compared to 28 male councillors.

Long serving councillors Annie May Reape and Margaret Adams, both Fianna Fáil, were joined on the authority by Rose Conway Walsh, Sinn Féin, in 2009.

Ballina’s Michelle Mulherin was also elected but went on to win a Dáil seat in 2011 and party colleague John O’Hara was co-opted in her stead.

The national average for female representation in county councils is 16 per cent but in Mayo only 9.6 per cent of elected members are female.

Cllr Conway Walsh described the gender imbalance in the chamber as “very stark”.

“The first thing that hits you when you walk into any council meeting is the number of men, both among the elected representatives and on the executive,” said the Belmullet representative. “The chamber is more reflective of a masonic lodge than what a local democracy should look like. It’s one of the reaons I went into politics.”

Cllr Conway Walsh said the long culture of male dominated political structures, from grassroots up, is one of the biggest barriers for women while other barriers include childcare and funding.

She said women could also simply be wary that about entering such a profession. “Politics in general has such a bad name,” she outlined. “It has been dragged through the mud. Who would want to enter the most hated profession in the world when you could be doing other things? You really have to believe in what you’re doing, you have to be committed.”

Female candidates confirmed so far are Annie May Reape for Fianna Fáil, Tereasa McGuire and Breege Grealis for Fine Gael, Mags Sheehan for the Green Party, and Rose Conway Walsh and Therese Ruane for Sinn Fein.

New quota legislation will be in place for the next general election, compelling political parties to ensure 30 per cent of their candidates are female or face financial penalties.

However, with a shortage of female councillors cutting their teeth and gaining necessary political experience at a local level, it could leave parties struggling to find strong female candidates to go forward in the general election.

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