Conference examines issues for women considering politics

Have a passion and belief, don’t over promise and obsess about the small stuff - advice for women considering politics

Have a passion and belief, don’t over promise and obsess about the small stuff - advice for women considering politics

“If you don’t feel it, then don’t do it. Politics and passion are interlinked; your passion will carry you through on the tough days”, stated Mayo Cllr. Rose Conway-Walsh as she addressed a recent seminar in Longford on ‘Women Succeeding in Local Government – Turning Inspiration into Action’. Organised by Longford Women’s Link, participants were certainly inspired as they listened to such nougats of advice from MEP Marian Harkin, Senator Susan O’Keeffe and Councillors from Mayo, Galway and Sligo.

Four Donegal participants from the ‘Going Public’ training programme run by Women into Public Life (WIPL) attended the event and its Coordinator, Noirin Clancy, chaired the morning panel. WIPL, a cross border project funded by the EU’s INTERREG IVA programme and managed by the Special European Programmes Body, recently organised this leadership programme for women in Letterkenny.

All of the speakers at the Longford seminar gave very practical advice as they encouraged women to consider entering local politics. Marian Harkin emphasised the importance of having a belief in something and challenged women to think about “what’s the worst thing that can happen if you decide to run”, pointing out that the thought of doing so is often the hardest part. She advised women to speak from the heart, not to over promise and to try and not take things too personally. “Good enough is good enough. No one expects you to be perfect, and have fun. Don’t take yourself too seriously, have a sense of humour about things”, advised Cllr. Rose Conway Walsh.

Tuam Fine Gael Cllr. Sally Ann Flannagan, at 22 years, was one of the youngest Mayors in the country and spoke about the importance of being honest, getting media training and knowing how local authorities work. Sligo Labour Councillor, Marcella McGarry, spoke of the challenge of making the leap from community development into politics and managing the often difficult dynamics at council meetings. All of the speakers emphasised that a most valuable asset for a career in politics is having the support of family and friends who believe in you. With gender quotas currently being debated in the Dáil, it is an exciting time in politics. The Electoral (Amendment) (Political Funding) Bill 2011, currently going through Committee stages, will see political parties lose half their State funding unless they have a 30% gender quota for general election candidates. Senator Susan O’Keeffe gave a presentation on the 50:50 Campaign, the national advocacy group promoting gender quotas. Susan made the point that the proposed legislation is the ‘beginning of the road’ towards equal representation and encouraged participants to do ‘soft canvassing’ such as chatting to friends and family about quotas.

The conference was also addressed by Niamh Gallagher, co-founder of Women for Election, and 2011 winner of the Social Entrepreneurs Ireland “IMPACT” Award. The Women for Election mission is to ‘inspire and equip women to succeed in politics’ through a selection of training programmes which are currently being rolled out around the country. Kirsi Hanafin, Women’s & Equality Officer with the Labour Party, also spoke about training and the specific supports provided by her Party to encourage women to go into politics.

Longford model of engaging with local council

The Longford Women’s Manifesto Group is also playing a key role in demystifying politics. An initiative which links women to local decision making structures, the group regularly attend Council meetings and have established constructive engagement with their Councillors. Eilish Corcoran, Development Officer, spoke of the significant relationship now established with local representatives where women know they are being listened to and their issues taken more seriously. This model, based on structured engagement with local council, local media and local decision-makers, has now received funding from the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust (UK) to support other groups to replicate it in their own areas. Donegal participants, with support from WIPL, are planning to meet with the group to explore how they might put this model into practice in the county.