Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly version

National Women’s Council of Ireland Research Launch Mr John Paul Phelan TD, Minister for State for Local Government and Electoral Reform at the Mansion House, November 14th 2019

Published on Thursday, 14 Nov 2019
John Paul Phelan TD
  • Thank you for your warm welcome and kind introduction.
     
  • Thank you to the National Women’s Council of Ireland for inviting me to be here today.   
     
  • Since the local elections in May, I have attended a number of events recognising and promoting the role and natural place of women in local government.  It is extremely important that we continue to have such events.
     
  • For me, they have also been hugely important learning experiences. And, indeed, the research being launched today will continue to inform all of us - as policy makers and policy influencers - into the future.
     
  • I want to take this opportunity to acknowledge the excellent work that the National Women’s Council of Ireland and its membership do in encouraging women to consider and pursue a role or career in local government. You can take considerable pride in the hugely positive impact that your work is having. 
     
  • But the research published today shows that all our work must continue.   
     
  • We are here this morning to consider the work of Dr Pauline Cullen and Clare McGing, who conducted the research presented and published today. Your presentation was both impressive, insightful and indeed challenging.  
     
  • The findings of this research confirm that in order for there to be equality between women and men in decision-making structures, there is much more work that must be done.
     
  • I resolutely believe that the balanced representation of women and men makes for better local government and indeed better governance at local level.
     
  • The evidence presented today gives an opportunity to reflect on the issues at hand and consider the important work that lies ahead. A stronger evidence base in relation to the factors influencing women’s decision to enter local politics was necessary. I am convinced that the research presented will inform future longer term policymaking in this regard. 
     
  • From the perspective of women and their place in local government, I think it important to acknowledge that positives can be taken from this year’s local elections:
    • There was a record number of women candidates running in this election, up from 22% in 2014 to around 28% in 2019.
    • There were also more women elected to Councils.
    •  Some Councils are at or approaching balanced representation.
       
  • Despite these significant advances, we must also accept that there were also disappointments and frustrations:
    • While the 2019 Local Elections resulted in the highest proportion of Councillors who are women, 226 in all, this still represents only some 24% of the overall number of Councillors.
    • While there were considerable improvements across the board, some of the political parties did not quite achieve the 30% proportion of women candidates in these elections.
    • There also remains a marked urban-rural disparity in the level of representation of women across the country, which was highlighted in the report. The level of female representation in Longford County Council over the last 20 years was identified in the research – it currently stands at one women councillor out of 18.
       
  • This research provides a key starting point for all political parties to take a look inward and see how can they be more representative of their constituency going forward – and that means balance in every regard.
     
  • For these reasons, I am determined to move forward with measures to support the greater participation of women in local government.
     
  • Work towards the 2024 Local Elections has already started within my Department, as we look to implement longer-term measures to increase both the candidacy of women, and the overall diversity of local government.
     
  • On the issue of the low levels of female candidacy in rural areas, we are committed to funding Longford Women’s Link to continue their She Project until the end of next year. This will provide training and support for female candidates in rural constituencies in the North West of the country.
     
  • This project was first supported by my Department in advance of the May elections, where Longford Women’s Link were able to train 24 rural women candidates, within a short timeframe.
     
  • As highlighted in the research report, training is one of the key supports for women who wish to seek political office. It is crucial as in providing both education and confidence to women candidates.
     
  • The Longford Women’s Link programme is the first for women that we have committed to supported for next year, but more programmes like this will also have my full support next year.
     
  • Women for Election is an very important partner for my Department and we are proud to continue to support the work that the organisation is doing across the country in building the capacity of women entering politics.
     
  • The results they have achieved in this regard have been outstanding, and I look forward to working with them in their next stage of work.
     
  • My Department is commited to increasing awareness and supports among women on the role of a Councillor and the supports and information that are available.  On this point, I think it is essential to continuously inform the general public on the role of the councillor.  As seen in the research, some candidates had negative experiences in terms of attitudes and behaviours from communities when canvassing this year.
     
  • Recently the National Women’s Council of Ireland proposed the establishment of a local or regional caucus, which I am happy to endorse. As mentioned, localism is a key issue that affects women’s access to policitical office in Ireland where local networks play a central role. Both existing councillors and future candidates need to feel they have a network of supports and contacts to share knowledge and experiences.
     
  • The establishment of such a caucus or network is one of the mechanisms that could enable women to strengthen their impact, and bring about equality between women and men in the daily operations and work of the Local Authority
     
  • The research found that a combination of factors, including informal institutions, networks and gendered power dynamnics, shape the process that brings women from the status of aspirant to candidate and finally elected office.  Such networks are clearly active informally in many of our communities, in Public Participation Networks, tidy town committees, voluntary groups and management boards in schools, and could provide a rich pipeline of very suitable  candidates, with the acquired skills set and knowledge, to progress within local government. As mentioned by the researchers, such local associations are a key source of political capital.  
     
  • Interestingly, though perhaps not surprisingly, women respondents also reported higher levels of education.  Needless to say, women have the necessary skills set both in experience and education to be excellent councillors.  
     
  • The research report also highlights the need for more flexible working hours and meeting times for councillors.  This is something that has been highlighted in previous feedback and something that I believe can be achieved, working with local authorities.
     
  • A majority of both genders agreed on the need for better childcare options for politicians.  My Department, endorsed by Government,  has already committed to working with elected councils to establish a “Parenting (or Caring) Support Group”, from among its elected members, which will be tasked with drafting a Council policy on family and caring friendly measures to be endorsed by the Council, including issues such as childcare access and “family proofing” the times and duration of Council meetings.
     
  • The report notes the importance of the political parties, and how they should be a main driver for making local decision making structures more diverse. Findings in the report indicated that unsucccessful candidates said that the short time frame available to them was a significant factor in constraining their campaign and undermining their chances at success.  I recognise that political parties need to add women to the ticket earlier ensuring ample time to coach and fully support candidates and maximising election success.
     
  • One of the measures I put in place last year was a funding scheme to incentivise political parties to increase the proportion of women candidates in the 2019 local elections.
     
  • Based on their performance in the 2019 Local Elections in fielding women candidates, this funding will support political parties on an annual basis specifically for the purposes of promoting greater diversity within the party’s candidates and elected representatives.
     
  • For local government to be more indicative of our society, in all its complexity and diversity, more minority groups need to be represented.  Since the local elections, funding has also been provided to the Immigrant Council of Ireland, with a view to increasing the number and capacity of migrant candidates in the 2024 Local Elections. I believe that such measures are ever more important in the current climate of division in certain quarters of our society.
     
  • The overall issue of increasing the pipeline of underrepresented groups of society in local government is something my Department is examining. We have an opportunity over the next 5 years in the lead up to the 2024 elections to pursue measures that will make local government more accessible to such groups.
     
  • I also want to acknowledge the recommendation in this report on the implementation of legislation for a candidate gender quota, which will need careful consideration.
     
  • As you will be aware, the level of public funding to political parties is since 2016 dependent on their performance in fielding women candidates in general elections. The measures had a positive impact in the 2016 general elections.
     
  • The current threshold of a minimum of 30% women and men candidates will increase in the coming years to 40%. 
     
  • As political party funding is linked to general elections, it was not possible to apply the gender-related measures to local elections.  The expectation was always that the measures would also have a knock-on effect by providing an incentive to political parties to expand voluntarily their gender diversity.  
     
  • My own view is that there is no magic solution that will force immediate balanced representation in our politics at local level. Rather it is more likely to require a sustained and long term effort involving a multi-facted appoach by all of the many stakeholders involved. 
     
  • In my view, these approaches will involve:-
    • Ensuring that the role of Councillor is an attractive, manageable and sustainable one for women in terms of time commitment and financial reward for the work they do;
    • preparing women for the role of elected representative over the next number of years by building their understanding, capacity and confidence. This should include supporting current councillors and also working with unsucccessful candidates who may wish to run again;
    • creating a situation whereby women are as likely to be chosen as candidates by political parties as men. This involves changing attitudes both within politicial parties and communities alike;
    • identifying and addressing the particular obstacles to women outside of the largest urban centres entering politics.       
    • Ensuring we have a pipeline of underrepresented groups of society in place to run for local government in 2024.
       
  • Let me conclude my congratulating Dr Cullen and Ms Ging on their work in presenting this excellent research paper.
     
  • I can assure you that the information presented in this research will play a vital role in future decision making.  Your work will provide an important evidence base for the work ongoing in the Department to promote the increased the participation of women in the 2024 local elections and beyond.
     
  • I look forward to engaging proactively and working with you all as we strive towards our shared goal of the balanced representation of women in local government.  
     
  • To conclude, and taking from the report, in weighing up whether or not to run, women need to perceive the electoral terrain as navigable, political success as possible and officeholding as worthwhile.  It is up to us in Government, along with our partners and stakeholders to ensure this message is conveyed.
     
  • Thank you
Category