A century since Markievicz MP – are we much further on?

In the lead-up to the Assembly election I looked at the potential gender representation of the cohort returning to the Hill.

A record 27 out of 90 Assembly members (30%) were returned.

From looking at the 18 constituencies there are 12 seats that will be not be filled by female candidates. This is due, in most cases, to the almost certain re-election of incumbents or that the nearest challenger is another man.

Countess Markievicz was of course the first woman elected in a Westminster election in 1918 for the constituency of Dublin St Patrick’s. It wasn’t until 1953 that another woman, Patricia Ford, was elected in a Westminster election this side of the Irish Sea.

Since then there have been just 7 female MPs – Patricia McLaughlin, Bernadette Devlin, Margaret Ritchie. Michelle Gildernew, Iris Robinson, Sylvia Hermon and Naomi Long.

Gender balance within the Assembly has been put under the spotlight more and more in recent years but less so when it comes to the 18 MPs. Is this due to the fact that the public see the Assembly Members as their ‘primary’ representatives? Perhaps.

Nonetheless the current percentage of female MPs – at 11% – is abysmal.

In this election there is only one female candidate relatively assured of election – Sylvia Hermon in North Down. The only other incumbent is Margaret Ritchie who faces a strong challenge from Chris Hazzard in South Down.

There are just 4 other constituencies where women have a chance to be elected. Obviously Michelle Gildernew is the best placed of those, needing just a slight swing to regain Fermanagh and South Tyrone from the UUP’s Tom Elliott.

Emma Little Pengelly and Alliance’s Paula Bradshaw are in the hunt for that most diverse of constituencies South Belfast. Naomi Long is fighting to regain East Belfast from Gavin Robinson and Elisha McCallion is challenging to overturn the SDLP’s strongest seat held by Mark Durkan in Foyle.

Shockingly it is not outside the realms of possibility that only one female MP is elected next month. The best outcome possible is 28%.

None of the main parties with MPs have been very focussed on gender representation within their teams. Perhaps they will consider standing more female candidates in safe seats next time around?