Niamh Kennedy is an independent councillor in north west Donegal, one of only three women out of 34 men on Donegal County Council. She loves the job and especially enjoys dealing with people.
To Niamh, being on the council was just a natural progression from the local community council.
In 2006 she joined Killybegs Parish Council and became chair in 2009. Over the years she has been involved in projects concerned with the development of a playground locally, tidy towns, and the move to build a marina in the town.
More recently as a councillor she has been active in the campaign to reclaim Killybegs Hospital from being used as a care home and retain the much needed respite care facility.
Niamh would like to see more women on the council and thinks one of the reasons there aren’t because of childcare, family responsibilities and the need to earn a living.
“As a councillor you’re pulled from pillar to post and sometimes it can be difficult to fit it in with family responsibilities and full-time work,” Niamh said.
“However, when women take their place in local politics they have many skills to offer. They are good at listening and reading a situation. In my experience they try to give the job their full attention by thinking hard and doing their homework.
“The women I know in local politics are hugely aware that it’s a great responsibility and especially important because the wrong decisions can have such a detrimental effect on peoples’ lives.”
Niamh points out that in order encourage more women in politics, society needs to change.
More women need to be promoted in the workplace, and women need to be encouraged to sit on boards and on strategic working groups in the community.
She believes women can be empowered by this participation and stimulated into entering politics. Niamh argues that just as the community recognises the need to give young people a voice, then the same should be happening for women.
I asked Niamh about some of the negative aspects of her job. She recounted the experience of residents in Glenties who argued that a plan to install windfarms ruined the scenery, devalued their property and damaged the eco system of the fresh water pearl mussels in the river.
Despite all their protests the County Council managers recommended that the windfarms go ahead. However, when it came to the vote a coalition of the independents and several of the other parties won the day. However, it was short lived as Donegal County Council referred the matter to the minister who overturned the decision.
“That is not democracy, when local people are ignored,” Niamh added. “I feel passionately that it is the job of the local council to listen to their communities and act accordingly.
“It’s part of the reason I stood as an independent because I feel that the two main political parties don’t listen to people on the ground.”
For Niamh one of the best things about being on the council is getting to meet such a wide variety of people and being in a situation where you can help them.
She feels passionately that all too often ordinary people are bamboozled by bureaucracy and it’s her job to help them cut through it.
“I would urge any women with an interest in their local community to go for it and get involved in local politics,” she said.
“It’s a fantastic experience, you have a great sense of freedom and learn such a lot. Sometimes things don’t go your way but you just pick yourself up and move on. The rewards are that you can make a huge difference in peoples’ lives.”