Just over 20.5 percent of the 78 candidates running for Kildare’s new 40-seat council are women.
That puts the Lilywhite county slightly below the national average of 21.6 per cent.
Some 16 women are bidding for seats on the council come election day this Friday. The candidates are split evenly between the parties. Fianna Fail (FF) are fielding 3 women candidates out of 14 in total for the party; Fine Gael (FG) 3 out of at total of 16; Sinn Fein (SF) 3 out of a total of 7 and Labour (Lab) 3 out of a total of 12. Four female independents have thrown their hats into the ring out of a total of 26 county-wide.
There is no existing legal gender quota for political parties fielding candidates in local elections, but they will be obliged to select at least 30 percent women candidates in the next general election or lose a massive slice of the funding they get from the State.
If such criteria were to be applied to political parties’ Kildare selections for the local elections, just Sinn Fein at 42.9% would meet the quota, with Labour slightly short at 25%, Fianna Fail at 21.4% and Fine Gael at 18.8%.
The Naas Municipal District will see three female names on the ballot sheet out of a total of 16 - Anne Breen of Labour and Jacinta O’Sullivan of Fine Gael (both sitting town councillors) and Sorcha O’Neill of Sinn Fein.
The Kildare/Newbridge Municipal District has five female candidates out of 21 - sitting Fianna Fail councillors Fiona O’Loughlin and Suzanne Doyle of Fianna Fail; Fiona McLoughlin-Healy and Mary Donnelly of Fine Gael and independent Joanne Pender.
Up north, independent Jean Berry, Ide Cussen of Sinn Fein and Grainne Whelan of Fianna Fail will be the three female names out of 17 candidates on the ballot in the Celbridge/Leixlip Municipal District. Four female candidates out of a total of 15 will run in Maynooth - Labour’s Julie McNamara; independents Teresa Murray and Joan McGuire and Reada Cronin of Sinn Fein.
Labour’s Aoife Breslin is ploughing a lonely furrow as the sole female candidate out of a total of nine for Athy Municipal District.
Nationwide, women currently make up 16% of elected councillors, but just two women, Fianna Fail’s Suzanne Doyle and Fiona O’Loughlin, sit on the outgoing 25-seater Kildare County Council. Both represent the Kildare electoral area, and both are running again.
Women are massively under-represented on the soon-to-be abolished nine-seater Town Councils.
Athy Town Council has just two female councillors - Aoife Breslin (Lab) and Mary O’Sullivan (FG). Newbridge also has two - Fiona O’Loughlin (FF, also a county councillor) and Emma Kiernan (FG). Leixlip has just one, Teresa Byrne (FG).
Naas Town Council, cheeringly, bucks the trend, with five women town councillors - Rioghnagh Bracken (Ind); Anne Breen (Lab), Pat Clear (Ind); Emer McDaid (FG) and Jacinta O’Sullivan (FG).
However, of the 11 elected women currently serving on Kildare County and Town councils, just five are running again this Friday - Naas’ Breen and O’Sullivan; Kildare’s O’Loughlin and Doyle and Athy’s Breslin. This represents a significant loss of female political experience within the county.
The national organisation Women for Election, which has trained some 600 women in core political campaign skills since 2012, is calling for a vote for women in Friday’s election. “Without people on the ticket who represent us and our values, our voices will never be heard,” said co-founder Michelle O’Donnell Keating. “51% of the population are women in this country, yet they make up just 15% of the Dail and 16% of elected councillors.”
Labour’s Aoife Breslin was first elected to Athy Town Council in 2003. A single mother, she sometimes brought her young son to council meetings with her. She says a councillor’s workload is “horrific” and things need to be changed to make the job more family-friendly for both men and women.
She would suggest holding meetings directly after work hours rather than at 8pm at night, and getting rid of overnight Dail sittings, as a start.
Athy has never sent a woman to the full Council chamber and Breslin hopes to be the first to break that duck. A great-granddaughter of Jim Larkin, she says she has never been in favour of gender quotas in politics, although her opposition has softened slightly in recent years due to the continuing lack of female representation.
“Politics is a tough career and there is an awful lot which would not entice women into it,” she said. She says she doesn’t believe that being Athy’s lone female candidate will necessarily get her first-preferences, if voters have already selected their candidate on party or personality, but it might pick up a second or third place transfer for her.
Are the issues she is dealing with as a town councillor different from those of her male colleagues? Breslin says she probably wouldn’t hear different issues on the doorsteps, but women might feel more comfortable talking to her in private concerning difficulties over domestic violence or separations.
Sinn Fein’s Ide Cussen is running for the first time in Celbridge/Leixlip. A single parent of two teenage children, she was instrumental in setting up the local Sinn Fein cumann.
Cussen is proud of Sinn Fein’s policy of promoting women candidates, and says it was “quite a privilege” to be asked personally by party deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald to run.
However, she notes that she’s not encountering many people on the doorsteps who say they’re happy to see a female candidate running. “Most people are anti-the established parties and say they need someone to vote for. They say they’re delighted to have a Sinn Fein candidate.”
Water charges, property tax, high unemployment, crime and housing issues are those she’s running into the the doorstep.