Ireland still has a low number of female TDs and Councillors, despite some increases in recent years.
In the run-up to International Women’s Day on Wednesday March 8th, MEP for Ireland South Grace O’Sullivan has called on the women of Ireland to consider putting their “hands up” and taking a step forward to represent their local communities in the upcoming local, European and general elections.
A relative newcomer to politics, O’Sullivan first put herself forward for election in the 2014 European election. While her first run was unsuccessful, she would later be elected to Seanad Éireann in 2016, before finally being elected to the European Parliament in 2019 on her second attempt. O’Sullivan shares that she had never planned or thought of herself as a politician, having dedicated her work until then to more “activist and environmental” causes, as well as raising her 3 daughters.
“When I first received a call from Green Party Leader Eamon Ryan in late 2013 asking me to run, I almost laughed down the phone at him” O’Sullivan shared. “It took a few more phone calls for me to finally take that step forward, and I’ve been quite lucky since then to have a relatively successful political career. If I hadn’t received that push then, from within the Green Party and from my family and friends, I wouldn’t be standing here today, and some of the legislation I have led on would not be enacted in the way that it has” the MEP continued.
O’Sullivan notes that just 225 of 949 councillors in Ireland elected in 2019 were women. While a slight increase in this figure has come with the co-option of female councillors throughout the council term, it is still far below where a representative democracy should be. While gender quotas for general elections have been introduced, and will rise to 40% of candidates being from either gender from this year, no such obligation exists for council elections, where many politicians are first elected.
“Pay conditions for local councillors have recently improved, and the introduction of maternity leave for councillors is now being progressed through the Houses of the Oireachtas” O’Sullivan notes. “Women for Election have done an excellent job in building up candidates – across all parties – to run for office, and we can already see more gender focused policy being passed into legislation. This includes the expansion of free contraception for women under 30 here in Ireland, and the Pay Transparency Directive in the European Parliament which will help us to eliminate the gender pay gap” the MEP continued. “When we elect more women, we get better policies for society in general,” she shared.
O’Sullivan does express, however, that there are still many deterrents present which prevent women from running and being elected to office, including social expectations of motherhood and caregiving, and the gender specific and often sexualised online abuse sent to public representatives. “It’s important here that we support each other, encourage our colleagues to continue with their work, and work together to reduce this gendered abuse” she expressed. “I want to particularly encourage women in rural areas to put themselves forward, where we are particularly under-represented at the moment”.
O’Sullivan will also host an open event titled “Hands Up” this Saturday 11th March at 3pm in her Constituency Office on 12D Washington Street West, Cork. The event will include a panel discussion and networking afternoon exploring the reality of political life for women in politics, and the intersection it can hold with environmental activism.