Adrian Kavanagh, 26th June 2013
The aim of last year’s gender quota legislation is to increase female electoral participation levels in the Republic of Ireland relative to the current low levels observed at both the national and local levels. This legislation just applies to general election contests and not to local elections, which must be viewed as a notable shortcoming given that local election contests act as a key entry point into national politics for most politicians in this state. This can be evidenced in voting patterns at the most recent general election in February 2011, wherein 58 of the seats were won by candidates who were either City/Councillors (56 candidates) or Town Councillors (2 candidates) at the time of that election. In other words, City/County and Town Councillors accounted for 35.2% of all the seats won at this election (excluding the Ceann Comhairle) and 69.0% of all the seat gains (84 in all) at this contest. In addition to this, some of the other successful challengers at this election, in addition of course to some of the successful incumbents, had been councillors at some earlier period before becoming Senators or MEPs or losing/resigning from their Council seats in some cases. As such, there is strong evidence here that political experience at the local authority level offers a vital entry-point to those seeking to develop a career in national politics. Thus, in order for the gender quota legislation to be especially effective, political parties that are serious about putting this into effect (and not just doing the bare minimum to avoid penalties) need to use these local elections to identify and establish new female candidates in different constituencies across the state.
|Cork City North Central||5||3||2||40.0%||7|
|Cork City North East||4||4||0||0.0%||119|
|Cork City North West||4||4||0||0.0%||119|
|Cork City South Central||5||3||2||40.0%||7|
|Cork City South East||7||6||1||14.3%||93|
|Cork City South West||6||5||1||16.7%||80|
|North Inner City||8||4||2||33.3%||26|
|South Dublin County||40||17||9||34.6%|
|Galway City Central||6||3||1||25.0%||46|
|Galway City East||6||4||2||33.3%||26|
|Galway City West||6||3||2||40.0%||7|
|South and West Kerry||9||8||0||0.0%||119|
|Borris in Ossory-Mountmellick||6||15||1||6.3%||116|
|Limerick City East||8||3||2||40.0%||7|
|Limerick City North||6||9||1||10.0%||109|
|Limerick City West||7||7||1||12.5%||103|
|Waterford City East||6||7||1||12.5%||103|
|Waterford City South||6||5||0||0.0%||119|
|Tramore-Waterford City West||6||10||4||28.6%||35|
As noted in an earlier post, females account for little over one-fifth (20.4%) of all City/County Councillors and Borough/Town Councillors (of course making sure not to double-count those dual mandate councillors who serve both on County and Borough/Town Councils) in the state at present. This is somewhat short of the level of female electoral representation that would be evidenced in a number of other states and the level that the new gender quota legislation would appear to deem as desirable. That said, the level of female representation at the local authority level is somewhat higher that the level of female representation within Dail Eireann, where females currently account for 26 of the 166 TDs (15.7%).
Of course (as with everything in life!!!) there is a geography to this, as shown in the table above. Female representation levels tended to be highest in the Dublin region and lowest in the rest of Leinster, while levels in Munster and Connacht-Ulster tend to be similar to the state average. The relatively high levels of female representation in Connacht-Ulster and Munster, especially relative to Leinster, may be down to the relatively high number of Town Councils located within these regions, especially given that there is a higher percentage of females on Town/Borough Councils (23.7%) at present than there is on City/County Councils (17.7%).
Despite that, the local authority areas (counties and cities) that have the highest percentage of female representation tend to be those that do not have Borough/Town Councils located within their territory, with the sole exception of Fingal (Balbriggan Town Council) – Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown, South Dublin County, Galway City and Dublin City (with Monaghan having the highest level of the more rural County Council areas). This would suggest that female representation is especially low on the County Councils (excluding the three County Councils in the Dublin region). Do the fact bears this up? Of course. When the three remaining City Councils (Dublin, Galway, Cork) and the three County Councils in the Dublin region are excluded, female representation levels on the remaining County Councils falls to just 14.5% (100 out of 707 councillors). By contrast, female representation levels on Borough/Town Councils for the same area (effectively including all Borough/Town Councils with the exception of Balbriggan) stands at 23.5%. There are two conflicting messages arising from this. First, given that constituency sizes for Borough/Town Council elections (often involving nine seat constituencies) generally tended to be larger than for City/Council elections, this may offer some basis for hope that the larger constituency sizes for the 2014 City and County Council elections will facilitate higher levels of female electoral representation at the local authority level. The more negative take on this would be to suggest that the abolition of Borough and Town Councils will militate against improvements in female electoral representation levels, as this is removing the level of government on which females currently enjoy the highest levels of representation.
If we look at how female representation levels match up against the new local election constituencies, striking variations in representation levels again can be evidenced here, with these by and large mirroring the trends observed at the city or county level. Castleknock currently has the highest level of any of the new electoral areas, with females accounting for three of the four local representatives based in this area. Other electoral areas with (relatively) high percentages of female local representatives include Ashbourne, Blackrock, Dun Laoghaire and Tralee, although the overall number of local representatives identified within these areas (with the notable exception of Tralee) is much lower than in most other electoral areas. The electoral area with highest number of female representatives is Ballybay-Clones in Monaghan, with nine female local representatives, just ahead of the Tralee, East Cork, Boyle, Cavan-Belturbert, West Clare and West Cork electoral areas, which all currently have seven female local representatives. By contrast, there are currently no female local representatives based within the area of twenty of the new local election constituencies (14.5% of these).