Suzanne Collins is the Director of Operations and Campaigns for Women For Election. She writes for us about the success of female candidates in the 2016 General Election.
In 1990, the newly elected Irish President Mary Robinson who was the first woman to be elected to the office, thanked her voters the ‘women of Ireland, Mná na Éireann, who instead of rocking the cradle rocked the system.’ The system may have been rocked but it another 26 years and a change in the law for the seismic shift for women to occur.
As the recounting of the votes cast in GE16 continues one thing is already clear. This is an historic election for women. Currently, 32 women have been elected to the 32nd Dáil. With two recounts in Dublin South West and Dublin South Central certain to return two more women, the number is guaranteed to be 34. An additional two recounts could put two more women in the frame. In Dublin North Central (where a result is not likely for days rather than hours) Sinn Féin’s Denise Mitchel looks likely to take a seat. In Longford Westmeath, a recount was called by Fianna Fáil in the hopes that Connie Geraty Quinn will get over the line.
This is an increase from the 25 women elected in 2011 who made up 15% of the Dáil. Over the life-time of the Dáil and that number increased to 27 which was an historic high of 16%. The results of GE16 will see a minimum of 34 women which will mean, with reduced seats in the 32nd Dáil, women will make up at least 22% of the TDs.
When the gender quota for selection legislation was introduced Fine Gael’s General Secretary, Tom Curran predicted that there would be ‘blood on the floor’ with the displacement of male candidates. It turned out to be far from the case. The four larger parties selected over 80 women and there were only couple of so called ‘controversies’ the biggest of which seemed to be around the selection of Connie Geraty Quinn in Longford. The same Connie Geraty Quinn who is in contention for a seat.
Women for Election have been working with political activists and party members since 2012 and consistently these women told us just how hard it was to get on the ticket. The gender quota for selection changed that for many women and they showed just how electable they were as the results rolled in. Sixteen women of the 32 will be taking their seats for the very first time. Constituencies including Louth, Kildare South and Cork South West elected women for the very first time in the history of the state. The 30% of female candidates secured 26% of the first preference vote.
Interestingly 14 of 16 newly elected women were already elected at local government level and Hildegarde Naughton having been appointed to the Seanad by the Taoiseach giving her national representative experience. This emphasises a point that Women for Election make consistently. Creating a pipeline for women into national politics is absolutely vital if they are to prevail.
The success of women in this election has done more than rock the system but it is only an indication of the potential of the kind of positive change that can still happen. GE16 an important first step in attempting to create a gender balance in Dáil Éireann. It is vital that women who were elected get the support and training they require to flourish because they will act as an encouragement to other women in to step forward or stay in political life.