Adrian Kavanagh, 27th May 2014 (with subsequent updates)
While May 23rd 2014 was not exactly Lá de na Mná, this year’s local elections did mark an improvement on the low levels of female candidacies and representation associated with previous local election contests. There were 127 more female candidates contesting the 2014 elections than contested the City and County Council elections in 2009. Female candidates won a total of 346,914 first preference votes in these elections – 20.4% of the total number of votes cast at the local elections. Female candidates’ share of the national vote increased from 17.0% to 20.3% between these two contests. The number of successful female local election candidates stood at 196 (20.4% of the total number of successful candidates), marking a notable increase on the number of females who were elected at the 2009 (147) and 2004 (151) elections.It is still worth noting, however, that after these elections female local representatives will still only account for little more than one in five out of every City and County Councillor within the state. This does mark an improvement nonetheless on the 2009 context, in which females only accounted for one in six (16.6%) of the successful City and County Councillors at those elections.
44.6% of the 440 female candidates who contested these elections were successful, while 47.1% of the 1,598 male candidates who contested these elections won seats.
There were some exceptional electoral performances by female candidates in these elections. Independent Jennifer Whitmore’s result in Greystones was particularly noteworthy, where she won 2,328 first preference votes, or 28% of all the votes cast in that electoral area. Labour’s Lettie McCarthy also did exceptionally well in the Glencullen-Sandyford electoral area – despite the collapse in her party’s vote nationally, she succeeded in topping the poll there with 1,577 and brought in a running mate, marking this as one of only two gains for Labour at these local elections. A number of the younger female candidates fared especially well in these elections. Fianna Fáil’s Niamh Smyth topped the poll in Bailieborough-Cootehill with 1,886 votes, setting her up for a possible run at the next Dáil elections should Brendan Smith decide to retire or else follow his West Cavan base into the new Sligo-Leitrim four-seat constituency. First-time independent candidate, Karey Hugh, did exceptionally well to win a seat in the Tuam electoral area. The Greens’ electoral recovery at these elections was built on strong performances by successful female candidates such as Catherine Martin, Claire Byrne and Marianne Butler, as well as other candidates who fared well at these elections but ultimately just missed out (such as Celine Moorkens, Cara Augustenborg and Liz Dunphy).
Female candidates for the Sinn Féin, People Before Profit, Anti Austerity Alliance and other left of centre political groupings fared exceptionally well. Females from these parties/groups won over 100,000 votes at Friday’s local election contests and together accounted for roughly 30% of all the votes won across these different groupings. Female candidates for these parties/groupings did especially well in winning seats in areas outside these parties/groups’ traditional heartlands, with a number of these successful candidates being drawn from the younger age cohorts. For Sinn Féin, 20 year old Lisa Marie Sheehy’s win in Cappamore-Kilmallock was especially notable given that she entered the contest only a few weeks before polling day. There was also a strong performance in neighbouring Adara-Rathkeale by her party colleague, Ciara McMahon, while Carol Nolan did well in the Birr electoral area in Co. Offaly and took a seat there. Mairead Farrell also surpassed expectations for the party in Galway City East with a very strong performance there. In addition to Niamh Smyth, there were strong performances for Fianna Fail also from a number of their younger female candidates, including Lisa Chambers (Castlebar), Jennifer Cuffe (Killiney-Shankill), Kate Feeney (Blackrock), Catherine Ardagh (Crumlin-Kimmage) and Claire O’Driscoll (Ashbourne).
For the government parties, a number of young female candidates performed very well in these elections despite the overall loss in support by those parties. Successful younger female Fine Gael candidates at this election included Maura Hopkins (Boyle), Niamh Byrne (Conamara), Louise McLoughlin (Tipperary), Ciara McPhillips (Ballybay-Clones) and Kate O’Connell (Rathgar-Rathmines). In the case of the Labour Party, Grace Tallon (Dundrum), Elena Secas (Limerick City East), Deirdre Kingston (Blackrock), Jane Horgan-Jones (Clontarf), Martina Genockey (Tallaght South), Rebecca Moynihan (Crumlin-Kimmage) and Aoife Breslin (Athy) all managed to swing against the electoral tide and took seats for their beleaguered party.
In all, younger females proved to be especially successful at these elections, with 43 female candidates in the 18-35 age cohort winning seats in these elections, amounting to 28.7% of all the successful candidates in the 18-35 age category. 59.7% of the these younger female candidates won seats at this election, with this percentage rising to as high as 91.7% in the case of the younger Sinn Fein candidates.
Female candidates fared especially well in certain parts of the state, but less well elsewhere. There was a notable urban-rural divide in terms of female vote and representation levels at these elections. In Dublin, female candidates won nearly one third of all the votes cast there (31.6%) and took 61 (33.3%) of the seats that were being contested across the different Dublin electoral areas. In Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, 17 of the 40 (42.5%) Council seats were won by female candidates, who in turn accounted for 42.8% of all the first preference votes cast in that county. This was the highest female vote share of any county (local authority areas) at these local elections by some distances. Other counties/local authority areas in which female candidates fared relatively well in terms of support levels included Dublin City (31.4%), South Dublin County (29.7%), Galway City (28.3%), Meath (26.6%), Sligo (24.8%), Kildare (23.9%) and Fingal (23.3%), as illustrated in the map below.
By contrast, female candidates only won 9.4% of the first preference votes in Donegal and 11.2% of the first preference votes in Clare, with low levels of support also recorded in Offaly (12.0%), Wexford (13.6%), Carlow (14.1%) and Mayo (14.5%).
Female candidates did particularly well in a number of electoral areas in the Greater Dublin area – winning more votes than male candidates in the Blackrock (67.3%), Rathfarnham (57.1%) Greystones (53.3%), Crumlin-Kimmage (52.1%) and Ballymun (51.8%) electoral areas. There were also good results in some other city constituencies, such as Galway City East (42.3%), or other constituencies located in the Dublin commuter belt, such as Kildare-Newbridge (43.5%), where female candidates filled the first three seats and accounted for four of the seats in this constituency, and Laytown-Bettystown (44.7%). The view was not as good in the more rural constituencies, where less than one in six votes (16.4%) were cast for female candidates. The lowest female vote shares by county came in Clare (11.1%), as well as Offaly (12.0%), Wexford (12.5%) and Mayo (14.5%). Females accounted for only two seats on the Monaghan, Carlow, Longford and Offaly County Councils.
The urban-rural divide was even evident within rural Ireland, with females tending to fare better in the constituencies that took in the largest towns (the “County Town” constituencies) – for instance, all the three females elected to the Clare and Laois County Councils were elected from the “County Town” constituencies of Ennis and Portlaoise respectively.
As Figure 3 shows, the percentage share of the vote won by female candidates increased in most local authority areas, although it fell in some counties. The biggest increase in the female candidate vote share came in Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown, where the share of the vote won by female candidates was 15.9% higher than at the 2009 elections. Other notable increases were observed in Louth (10.8%), Galway City (9.7%), Kildare (9.2%), Leitrim (7.8%) and Laois (7.6%). By contrast, the share of the vote won by female candidates fell by 6.3% in Offaly, with declines in the female candidate vote share also evident in Kilkenny (3.2%), Donegal (2.0%), Cavan (2.0%), Fingal (1.7%) and Wexford (0.2%).
As noted above, 196 female candidates won seats at these elections. One of these candidates, Ruth Coppinger (Socialist Party/Anti Austerity Alliance), however resigned her seat after the election due to having won a Dail seat at the Dublin West by-election, which was held on the same day as the local elections. As she was replaced by Matthew Waine, this means that there are now, at present, 195 female councillors sitting on the different City and County Councils.
In terms of the number of female candidates that were elected, Fine Gael was the most successful party in this regard with 50 of their female candidates winning seats at these elections. However, Sinn Fein came very close to the Fine Gael number with 46 of their 62 female candidates (74.2%) winning seats at these elections. The Fine Gael number marked a decline of 9 on the 59 female Fine Gael candidates who won seats at the 2009 contests, despite the notable overall increase in Fine Gael female candidate numbers (from 85 to 106) between the 2009 and 2014 contests. By contrast, the number of successful Sinn Fein female candidates marked a very notable increase on the 11 female candidates who won seats at the 2009 City and County Council elections. The overall increase in female Sinn Fein local election candidate numbers from 34 in 2009 to 62 in 2014 no doubt played a role in this regard. Females accounted for 21.3% of the successful Fine Gael candidates at these elections – marking an increase on the 17.4% level recorded at the 2009 contest – and 28.9% of the successful Sinn Fein candidates – marking an increase on the 20.4% level recorded at the 2009 contest .
36 female Fianna Fail candidates won seats at these elections, marking an increase on the 31 seats won by female Fianna Fail candidates at the 2009 City and County Council Elections despite the overall reduction in female candidate selections by that party (down from 80 to 71) between the 2009 and 2014 elections. However, in all females only accounted for 13.5% of all the seats won by Fianna Fail at these elections, marking a decline on the 14.2% level recorded at the 2009 contest. There was a notable increase in the number of successful female non-party candidates at these elections (increasing from 13 at the 2009 City and County Council Elections to 33 at the 2014 contests). Despite the very poor overall electoral performance by the Labour Party, a significant number of female candidates went on to win seats at these elections (17, although this did mark a decline on the 29 seats won by female Labour candidates in 2009). Females accounted for one third (33.3%) of all the seats won by the Labour Party at the 2014 City and County Council elections. By contrast, females had accounted for 22.0% of all the seats won by Labour at the 2009 City and County Council elections.
Six seats were won by female candidates from the People Before Profit Alliance (42.9% of their total number of seats and marking an increase on the two seats won by female People Before Profit Alliance candidates in 2009). Five seats were won by female candidates from the Anti Austerity Alliance (35.7% of their total number of seats – just one female Socialist Party candidate was successful in 2009). Three seats were won by female candidates from the Green Party (amounting to 25.0% of the Greens’ total number of seats). No female Green candidate had been successful in 2009, although Marianne Butler was one of just two Green Party candidates defending their seats at the 2014 contests after having been co-opted to Mark Dearey’s seat on Louth County Council after he had been appointed a Senator.
So, this was a good election for female candidates, but perhaps not a great one. A lot more ground needs to be made up in terms of improving female electoral participation and representation levels and most of this ground needs to be made up in rural Ireland. The increased number of female candidates did lead to a similar increase in female vote numbers and seat levels, so this does seem to offer merit to the argument that gender quotas offer a useful first step in terms of improving female participation in Irish electoral politics.
Updates: Ruth Coppinger’s election to Dail Eireann at the Dublin West by-election (held on the same day as the Council elections), followed by the co-option of Matthew Waine to take her seat on Fingal County Council in Summer 2014, brings the number of female Anti Austerity Alliance/Socialist Party councillors down to 4. The co-option of Deborah Callaghan (Naas) to Kildare County Council in January 2015 brings the number of female Fianna Fail councillors up to 37. The overall number of female City and County Councillors, hence, still remains at 196 (out of 949), or 20.7% of the total.