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Ministers Murphy and Phelan announce new measures to promote greater gender equality on local councils

Published on Monday, 11 Mar 2019
John Paul Phelan TD
  • Special Cabinet Meeting focused on Gender Equality held to mark International Women’s Day
  • Government considered female candidacy at the last local elections and female representation on local councils
  • Ministers agreed new actions to promote more women candidacy at the 2019 local elections and greater gender balance on local council

The Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Eoghan Murphy, TD and his colleague, the Minister of State with special responsibility for Local Government and Electoral Reform, John Paul Phelan, TD,  announced they secured Cabinet agreement on a range of new measures to promote increased participation by women in the upcoming local elections and greater gender equality on local councils.

Speaking after Friday’s special Cabinet meeting to mark International Women’s Day, Minister Murphy said: “In the 2014 local elections, only 21% of those elected were women, placing Ireland well below the EU28 average of 32% for female representation in local politics. In some local Councils, particularly in rural areas, women have a significantly lower representation”

The Government considered the initial findings from consultations with key stakeholders, undertaken by the Department in the context of its commitments, under the National Strategy for Women and Girls 2017-2020 and The Action Programme for Effective Local Government ‘Putting People First’ to increase the number of women participating in local government.

The series of measures agreed at the Government meeting are designed to encourage political parties to put more female candidates forward for election and to  help address some of the barriers identified as inhibiting women from contesting local elections and serving on local councils.

The measures brought forward by Minister Murphy, and agreed by Government, were:

  1. A new funding scheme, to be introduced in advance of the 2019 local elections, to incentivise political parties to increase the proportion of female candidates.
  2. An information campaign to be launched before the local elections, highlighting the critical role of women in local government.
  3. Practical measures to be introduced to support family friendly policies in the operation of local Councils.
  4. Specific measures, such as bespoke training, networking  and capacity building events, to be made available in rural areas targeted at encouraging and supporting the participation of women on their local councils, and
  5. Building on these initial measures, research will be commissioned, following the 2019 elections, to delve deeper into the key issues holding women back from running for local elections and serving on local councils, to inform future policy in this area.

The new measures will be driven by Minister Phelan who commented “we need to increase the number of women running in the local elections and serving on local councils. It is a major issue in 2019 that some councils around the country, particularly outside the major urban areas, contain very few women. What we have announced to-day is a good start aimed at increasing the number of women contesting the 2019 elections. We will build on this after this year’s election and beyond to make sure our councils fully reflect and represent the communities they serve”.

Note to Editors:

The Measures in more detail

1. In order to increase the number of female candidates, political parties will be incentivised to ensure more balanced candidacy in the local elections. 

A new funding scheme will be introduced for the 2019 local elections. The scheme will provide funding to political parties, based on their performance in terms of the gender balance of their candidates in local elections. It will operate on the basis that funding will be provided to political parties that achieve a minimum of 30% female and male candidates or show a positive trend in that direction since the last local elections.

This funding will be payable post the 2019 election and will be ring-fenced for political party activities to promote the participation of women in local elections for example to support diversity officers.

​2. To increase the awareness among women of the role of a councillor and the supports and information that are available.

The Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, with the support of key stakeholders, will initiate a public information campaign highlighting the critical role of women on local councils. The campaign will reference the 120th anniversary of the first local government elections in Ireland and female “champions” will be encouraged to add their voice to this effort.

Local authorities will initiate similar campaigns locally including through and with local bodies, such as the Public Participation Networks.  

The Department will continue to provide financial support to the organisation Women for Election. This support, which commenced in 2018, is for training and capacity building of women candidates or those women interested in supporting candidates for local elections.

3. To support female councillors with young children or going on maternity related leave.

The approach adopted in Dublin City Council, which has a “Parenting (or Caring) Support Group”, comprising a number of elected members, will be established in all other local authorities.

This Group will be tasked with examining the issue in respect of their own local authority, and drafting a Council policy on parental/caring support and family 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 Department will pursue the issue of proxy voting for a councillor who wishes to avail of maternity-related leave.

4. To support women candidates in rural counties which have some of the lowest female councillor numbers

The support provided to Women for Election will be contingent on some training and capacity building events being held outside the main urban centres.

A pilot project will be launched to facilitate women in rural areas to engage the resources and training needed for a role in politics. Workshops and networking events will be arranged.

5. To build a stronger evidence base in relation to the obstacles and barriers faced by women in entering local politics and to inform future longer term policymaking.

The Department will commission a research project to commence immediately after the 2019 local elections, which will explore the experiences of women seeking to enter local politics.      

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