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NWCI launches new research “Women Beyond the Dail: More Women in Local Government”

Published: Thursday, November 14, 2019

Women represent just 24% of councillors elected to local government in Ireland, and we need gender quotas implemented now to increase this by the next local elections in 2024.

This is one of the key recommendations from new research launched today by the National Women’s Council of Ireland, calling for the Government to commit to long term planning to increase the number of women in local politics.

  • Notably 54% of all men surveyed entering local government held a role in a sporting organisation, including the GAA, compared to 23% of women.
  • Incumbency remains a strong gendered effect. 69% of men surveyed held local office prior to 2019, compared to 34% of women
  • Almost all women in the research did not consider a run for public office until they were approached and encouraged.
  • When asked if they were considering a run for national office, 18% of women answered yes compared to 10% of men.
  • Research showed childcare a big barrier for women. One woman said “childcare is the biggest stumbling block.”
  • In total, 195 elected councillors responded to the survey – a 20% response rate

Orla O’Connor, Director of NWCI said,

“This research was commissioned to deepen our understanding of the barriers faced by women in running and getting elected to local office. The findings indicate the sheer number and complexity of barriers that women face in running for local office, and in being elected. These range from issues around care responsibilities and the cost of childcare, to the fact that women councillors are not entitled to maternity leave, and that parties are more likely to recruit candidates from traditionally male networks such as the GAA. Based on interviews with stakeholders and surveys responses from candidates in the 2019 local elections, the research provides a clear action plan to increase the number of women in local government. Importantly, the research provides recommendations for National Government, political parties and Local Government.”

Orla O’Connor continued,

“The single most important recommendation is that of the implementation of a gender quota for local elections. This alone is the fastest and quickest way to increase the number of women elected to local politics. One recurring feature that shines through the research is that women are often added late to the ticket, and therefore do not get the party support they need, nor the chance to build a profile. Almost all women surveyed did not consider a run for public office until they were approached and encouraged. It is clear that political parties must be encouraged to think long term about increasing their representation of women. There is therefore a real onus on the Government to introduce this local election quota now, so that political parties are encouraged to take steps now to recruit women, and not leave it until 2024.”

“The current pace of change for women in politics is glacial, and in the local elections this year, Fianna Fail and Fine Gael failed to run 30% women as candidates. Only seven out of thirty-one local authorities have achieved a critical mass of 30% women councillors. As was the case with the general elections, a gender quota for local elections is a necessity if we are serious about achieving gender equality in political life - this could be monitored by the Electoral Commission.”

Orla O’Connor concluded,

“In a representative democracy, it matters who represents us. The research indicates a clearer and more consistent interest in social issues, for instance more women than men reporting issues like poverty and racism as priority issues. The continued low numbers of women in local government means women have less access to power, and causes deficits in the quality of local democracy. We need to increase women’s presence and influence in local politics to improve trust in local government, to ensure better decisions are made and to ensure better pathways for women in national politics. The time for warm words are over, politicians must follow the evidence and show leadership”

Dr Pauline Cullen and Claire McGing of NUI Maynooth have carried out research on behalf of NWCI and will present their findings.

Martina Fitzgerald will chair the launch, while the Minister of State for Local Government and Electoral Reform, John Paul Phelan will respond to the research on the day.

Panel Discussion:

  • Orla O'Connor, Director of NWCI
  • Councillor Marie Sherlock, Labour Party
  • Maria Joyce, Coordinator, National Traveller Women’s Forum
  • Salome Mbugua, Director of Operations and Strategy, AkiDwA
  •  Ciairín de Buis CEO, Women for Election 

Ends /

For more information, please contact Sarah Clarkin, Communications Officer, 085 8619087.