Belfast Telegraph

NI Election: Women power way to record number of seats in new intake at Stormont

By Suzanne Breen

A record-breaking proportion of female politicians have been elected to the new Assembly. Women will make up 30% of MLAs - putting Stormont ahead of both the Dail and the House of Commons in terms of gender equality.

A total of 27 women won seats in last week's election, with nationalist parties well in front of unionists in terms of female representation.

The share of women MLAs has risen from 28% in the previous intake elected last May, which had itself surpassed all past records in terms of successful female candidates.

In 2011 women made up 19% of MLAs, and in the first Assembly election in 1998 only 14 female politicians were returned - comprising just 13% of the chamber.

The new Assembly will have 11 Sinn Fein, six DUP, four SDLP, and three Alliance women.

Ulster Unionist MLA Rosemary Barton, Clare Bailey of the Green Party, and independent unionist Claire Sugden complete the numbers. Sinn Fein leads the way on gender equality among the big parties, with 41% of its MLAs female, Alliance comes in second on 38% and the SDLP third on 33%.

The DUP lags behind significantly with 21% of its MLAs female, and the UUP is last on 10%.

There are almost twice as many nationalist as unionist women in Stormont - 15 compared to eight.

South Belfast SDLP MLA Claire Hanna said she was delighted that a record proportion of women had been elected.

"It's great to see, but I'm disappointed that two very capable Ulster Unionist women - Jo-Anne Dobson and Sandra Overend - didn't get elected.

"They will be hugely missed from their party's team," she said.

Ms Hanna stated that women MLAs' visibility would encourage other females to become involved in politics.

"I'm not just talking about sending out a message to young women, older women have a huge role to play too," she said.

"My mum Carmel didn't stand for election until she was nearly 50.

"Dolores Kelly has just made a remarkable comeback, and is clearly in her political prime at 57."

South Antrim DUP MLA Pam Cameron said: "It's been so hectic that I didn't realise such a fantastic number of women were elected.

"I'm delighted at the progress that has been made.

"But I'm devastated for my party colleagues Brenda Hale and Emma Little Pengelly, who were passionate about what they believed in and I hope they will be back soon."

In terms of gender equality in political representation, Northern Ireland is now well in front of the Republic, where women make up 22% of TDs in the Dail, and it has just nudged ahead of Westminster, where women account for 29% of MPs.

But even with the advances made, Stormont still lags behind the other devolved institutions in the UK, with women making up 48% of the Welsh Assembly and 35% of the Scottish Parliament.

However, women have still made huge advances in politics here in the past year.

"Three of our five main political party leaders are female - the DUP's Arlene Foster, Sinn Fein's Michelle O'Neill and Alliance's Naomi Long.

The trio all topped the poll in their respective constituencies.

In terms of female representation, the most progressive constituency isn't trendy South Belfast, as might be anticipated, but Fermanagh and South Tyrone, where four out of five MLAs are female.

Four constituencies have no women MLAs - North Antrim, East Antrim, Lagan Valley and North Down.

Lagan Valley's two female representatives - the UUP's Jenny Palmer and the DUP's Brenda Hale - both lost their seats.

Foyle, which previously had no women elected to Stormont, now has one - Sinn Fein's Elisha McCallion, who topped the poll.

Another strong female performer who did the same was the DUP's Carla Lockhart in Upper Bann.

In the ultra-competitive South Belfast, the Greens' Ms Bailey and Alliance's Paula Bradshaw were both successful.

The DUP's Ms Cameron said that, despite the advances, there wasn't room for complacency.

"I don't believe in quotas or positive discrimination, but women do need encouragement to put themselves forward in politics whereas men tend to be over-confident," she said.

"It also must be acknowledged that women face challenges men don't.

"I've never heard a male MLA say they had to get home to cook dinner or do the washing or ironing.

"They tend to have wives who look after all that for them."

Results centre - select a constituency - every result as it happened -

North Antrim - East Antrim - South Antrim - North Belfast - East Belfast - South Belfast - West Belfast - Strangford - South Down - Lagan Valley - Upper Bann - Newry and Armagh - Fermanagh & South Tyrone - West Tyrone - Mid Ulster - East Londonderry - Foyle - North Down

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