Record number of Wexford women aiming for the Dail
Published 15/12/2015 | 00:00
DURING the 2011 General Election, there was just one woman among the 13 candidates in Wexford. How times have changed.
At that time, Independent Siobhan Roseingrave polled the second lowest in the county, with just 175 votes.
The dynamics for the 2016 election are very different, with six women so far listed, or about to be, among the 16 candidates, two of them newcomers with the backing of major parties which had to meet their gender quotas. The truth is that call it geography or gender, their selection comes at the expense of able people who have been waiting for years for a crack at the Dail.
The question has to be asked, will some voters chose a woman over a man to represent them in Dail, and should it make any difference?
'Women are seriously under-represented in Irish politics and that really needs to be addressed,' said a Wexford businesswoman.
'If I thought a male candidate and female candidate were as good as each other I would vote for the woman, but if I thought a woman wasn't as good as man, I wouldn't vote for her just because she was a woman.'
The last Wexford woman to serve as deputy in Dail Eireann was Fine Gael's formidable Avril Doyle, who was a minister of state in the Fine Gael-Labour coalition governments of 1982-87 and 1994-97 and who lost her seat to party colleague Michael D'Arcy in the 1997 election.
'Every day I get up I have a different sense of the right thing to do,' said Ms Doyle, when asked her opinion of the quota system and the emergence of so many women candidates in the county, those recruited and selected by Fianna Fail and Fine Gael coming significantly later than the others who have put their names forward.
'It's important that the women being recruited by any of the parties could not in any way be referred to as token women. I do know some very worthy male candidates who will probably miss out this time round because of the introduction of gender quotas and they have every right to feel aggrieved
'But so long as there is a sunset clause in the legislation and this is a finite project, I would run with it,' she told this newspaper.
The legislation is aimed at bridging the divide between the sexes representing the electorate and the disproportianate number of men sitting in the Dail - it's aimed at seriously attracting women into the political arena, nationally and locally, because other policies seem to have failed or maybe some of the structures in the more established parties have made it more difficult for women to come through.
Ms Doyle, who served two terms as an MEP, said women were well represented in the European Parliament and during her time there two out of four members of Fine Gael were women, this was not the case at home.
'For some reason this is an issue for national parliamentary elections.'
'There was a time when I became a member of Wexford Corporation back in 1974 that I was for some time on my own. Then more women came along and within an election cycle there was Anna Fenlon and Phil Roche,' she said, adding that she was uncomfortable with the big deal that was being made about the issue.
'It would be doing a disservice to some of the very good women if the "token woman" tag is being put on them,' she said, adding that she would personally prefer that women candidates, good women with strong opinions, would develop organically.
'I hope we're doing what's right by women - I was in politics for 35 years and I was never accused of being a token woman,' she said.
'Perhaps there should be a little more thought at selection time in each constituency, for every last convention option to chose a male or female candidate subject to gender and geography. At the end of the day it's not really about men or women, it's all about getting the maximum number of seats.'
Chair and co-founder of Women for Election Michelle O'Donnell Keating has called on party leaders to make a commitment to support five practical measures that are achievable for those elected to form the next government.
These are: A 50:50 cabinet, 50:50 Committee Chairs and Vice-Chairs would place female TDs in the limelight; a 50:50 minimum for Taoiseach appointees to the Seanad, for sitting councillors who are elected to the Dáil or Seanad Éireann; parties should commit to 50:50 for newly co-opted councillors to fill vacant seats and parties should extend the adoption of the 30 per cent quota for local election candidates as this is essential to create the pipeline for the next Dáil and will assist parties in reaching the 40 per cent quota in seven years' time as required by the gender quota for selection legislation.
Female candidates who have so far declared or been selected are:
Julie Hogan, aged 44, from Saltmills, but who is living in Wexford town where she works for Eishtec, who is being put forward by Fine Gael. She says it's a fantastic time and opportunity for skilled, experienced, professional women to come forward to provide a balanced view and input in government.
Aoife Byrne, aged 37, the daughter of former minister Hugh Byrne has been selected by Fianna Fail. Saying the reaction to her selection has been hugely positive, she describes herself as a woman of integrity and determination, Ms Byrne says she is defintely not a 'token woman'.
Ann Walsh, aged 48, will contest the 2016 General Election as a candidate for the Green Party. She says a Green presence in the Dáil is essential to ensure that future governments take climate change, global warming and environmental issues seriously.
Breda Cahill, aged 55, from Bree will stand as an Independent candidate. Ms Cahill returned to Ireland three years ago after having emigrated to the United States in 1985. A former Vice President of the Irish Business organisation of New York, she says that she is 'appalled about how bad things are here and the lack of leadership.
Caroline Foxe, aged 47, will be running as a first-time Independent candidate. She is well-known through the Foulksmills area for her work as a postmistress. Her major campaign point revolves around 'keeping post offices open and local communities alive'.
Deirdre Wadding, aged 53, is a councillor on the Wexford County Council. She is a member of the People Before Profit Alliance, which is a far-left political party that is aligned with the Anti-Austerity Alliance. Cllr. Wadding is probably best known for her stance against water charges and other austerity policies as well as her desire to become the first pagan in the Dail.