Claire McGing and Adrian Kavanagh (August 5, 2010)
** This post has been updated to take account of the role of incumbency factors **
In light of ongoing discussion in relation to number of female TDs, this piece – a section from an article we wrote on last year’s local elections that we never managed to find a home for (sob!) – might be of interest as it gives an overview of female particicipation in electoral politics at a local level, with specific reference to last year’s contests.
17.1% of all candidates in the 2009 local elections were females. This figure marginally bucks the trend set over the previous two decades of increasing levels of female participation in local electoral contests, wherein female participation rates had increased from 11.0% in 1985 to 14.0% in 1991, 15.6% in 1999 and 18.1% in 2004. Table 1 uncovers significant differences between the larger parties and the smaller, more ideological, parties in terms of their propensity to select female election candidates, although the smaller parties all failed to meet the gender quota targets that they had adopted for these elections. Labour and Sinn Féin had both proposed quotas of 30%, while the Green Party had been even more ambitious in their aspiration for an increase in female candidacies by pursuing a quota of 40% (Liam Weeks, 2009: 101).
Table 1: Number of male and female candidates selected by political parties to contest the 2009 local elections.
While the percentage of female candidates selected by Labour (up by 4.1%) and Sinn Féin (up by 2.7%) did improve on their 2004 levels, the proportion of Green Party female candidates actually declined, marking a decrease of 15.2% from their 2004 levels. Fianna Fáil has a target to have a third of all its candidates female in the 2014 local elections (Weeks, 2009: 101) and had announced prior to the candidate selection process that it would interview “young people and females in particular” around the country as part of this (Regan, 2009), but despite this it only registered a 2.4% increase on its relatively low 2004 female candidacies levels.
Significant spatial variations exist in terms of the likelihood of women being selected as candidates, mirroring the general trend observed in recent general and local elections, with the percentage of female candidacies considerably higher in Dublin and its immediate commuter hinterland, as well as in some of the other city council areas. Dublin City (27.1%) had the highest number of female candidacies, followed by Dún Laoghaire (26.2%), Meath (24.2%), Kilkenny (23.5%), South Dublin (23.0%), Fingal (21.0%) and Waterford City (20.0%), although female participation levels in Cork City (16.9%) and Limerick City (12.8%) were lower than the national average. Especially high female participation levels were found in the Dublin Inner City electoral areas (45.7%), and indeed only two of the candidates selected by the three larger parties in the two South Inner City electoral areas were male. Women were considerably underrepresented as candidates in the more rural constituencies, with especially low female participation levels found in Tipperary South Riding and Clare (10.3%), Leitrim (10.8%), Mayo (11.8%), Monaghan (12.1%), Tipperary North Riding (12.2%), Longford (12.2%) and Waterford County (12.5%). The regional analysis conveyed in Table 7 further confirms the urban bias in female candidate selection. Although parties speak out about rectifying the disproportionate nature of gender with regard to candidate tickets, a geographical analysis of female candidates in the 2009 local elections contends that there has been a failure on the part of party central organisations in doing so, especially in rural areas.
|Region||Female candidates (%)||Success rate (%)|
|Dublin Commuter Belt||18.8%||40.8%|
|Connacht and West Munster||15.5%||45.5%|
Table 2: Number of female local election candidates selected by region, and their relative success levels.
Nationally, the success rate of female candidates in these local elections stood at 46.8%, marking an improvement on the 2004 local elections when 42.5% of female candidates won seats. A review of other past local elections places the respective figures at 44.8% in 1999, 44.8% in 1991 and at 34.0% in 1985. Despite the sharp increase between 1985 and 1991, the amount of women winning council seats has remained relatively static since then. Notable differences existed between parties, with 65.9% of female Fine Gael and 62.4% of female Labour candidates proving successful in these elections, as against just 41.2% of female Fianna Fáil candidates and 35.3% of female Sinn Féin candidates. The Green Party failed to elect any women to county and city councils in 2009. In the “Others” category, 31.3% of female candidates won seats, with significant successes for female Socialist Party and People Before Profit Alliance candidates in Dublin City and Fingal. In geographical terms, an urban bias is again evident, with females shown to be more likely to win seats in Dublin than in any of the other regions (Table 2), although it also shows that female candidates fared better electorally in the Border, West and Midlands regions than they did in the more urban Dublin Commuter Belt and South East regions.
At a more localised level, the three Dublin Inner City electoral areas warrant comment, given the success that female, and in particular young female, candidates experienced in, first of all, getting selected to contest these electoral areas by different political parties and then in winning seats in the local elections contests here. Indeed, more females (12 out of 22 candidates) than males were selected to run for the different political parties in these constituencies. In the three electoral areas, more female candidates (8) were elected than male candidates (6); four of these for Labour (Rebecca Moynihan, Maria Parodi, Claire O’Regan and Emer Costello), two for Fine Gael (Catherine Noone and Clare Byrne) and one for Sinn Fein (Criona ni Dalaigh) with one female independent candidate (Maureen O’Sullivan) also elected. While Fianna Fail had no female candidate elected (indeed they failed to win a seat in any of the three electoral areas) in the inner city constituencies, candidates such as Catherine Ardagh and Sarah Ryan polled well in relative terms, given the political context at the time the elections were called. On average, female candidates won 1,000 votes in the inner city electoral areas, as against an average vote of 717 for male candidates.
There was also a notable improvement in success levels for female candidates in Co. Meath where nine female candidates won seats on Meath County Council, as against just four in the 2004 local elections.
Was incumbency a key factor in determining the relative success levels of female candidates? Table 3 shows that female incumbents who contested the 2009 elections were slightly more successful (81%) in defending their seats than their male counterparts were (77%), but were significantly more successful in Dublin and the other cities (success rate of 84% for female incumbents against rate of 73% for male incumbents). Outside the cities, success rates for male (78%) and female (80%) incumbents tended to be roughly similar.
Where females compared less favourably to males was in terms of how likely successful candidates in 2004 were to defend their seats in 2009. When candidates who went on to be “promoted” (to TD, Senator or MEP) in the interim period are excluded, analysis shows that 25% of the successful female candidates (35 in total) in 2004 did not defend their seats in 2009, against a level of just 17% for successful 2004 male candidates (in total, 18% of elected councillors did not defend their seats in 2009), with gender differences significantly more evident in the rural electoral areas (24% of females against 15% of males) than in urban areas (29% of females against 25% of males). Dublin was the region were successful 2004 candidates were least likely to defend their seats (27%), contrasting with Connacht-Ulster where 90% of the successful 2004 candidates defended their seats in 2009. In the Dublin Inner City electoral areas, 40% of the successful 2004 candidates did not defend their seats.
Table 3: Relative success levels of male (“malein”) and female (“femalein”) incumbent candidates in the 2009 local elections.
Females accounted for 16% of the total number of incumbents who defended their seats successfully in 2009, but accounted for 33% of successful defences in Dublin as against a level of just 13% for the rural electoral areas.
Female co-optees tended to be more successful in defending their seats in the 2009 elections (80%) than male co-optees (just 59%), although the total number of female co-optees (15) was low relative to the number of male co-optees (64).
In terms of newly elected candidates, 236 non incumbent/cop-opted males won seats in this election (accounting for 32% of the total number of males elected), while 48 non incumbent/cop-opted females won seats (accounting for 32% of the total number of females elected). In total, females accounted for 17% of the total number of non incumbent/cop-opted candidates elected in the 2009 City and County Council elections, as against levels of 21% for Dublin and 22% for Leinster. Success levels for new female candidates were especially noticeable in Co. Meath (8 new female candidates elected, accounting for nearly two-thirds of the non incumbent/cop-opted candidates elected there) and the Dublin Inner City electoral areas Meath (8 new female candidates elected, accounting for nearly two-thirds of the non incumbent/cop-opted candidates elected there). What is interesting is that these areas both proved to be poor hunting grounds for incumbent candidates in the 2009 local elections. On average, 22% of all incumbent candidates in these elections failed to win a seat (154 out of 539 incumbent candidates), with the failure rate being slightly higher (25%) in Leinster than in other provinces. However the incumbent candidate failure rates were significantly higher in the Dublin Inner City electoral areas (33%) and especially in Co. Meath (37%).