Belfast Telegraph

UK Website Of The Year

Record number of women MLAs returned to Stormont

50% rise in female representation

By Suzanne Breen

Published 09/05/2016

Michelle Gildernew
Michelle Gildernew
Jenny Palmer

A record-breaking number of female MLAs were returned to Stormont in last week's Assembly election - 30 compared to just 20 in the 2011 poll.

That's a 50% rise in female representation.

It's also the highest number of women to take seats in Parliament Buildings since the political institutions were established under the Good Friday Agreement.

Female MLAs will now make up 28% of the Assembly compared to 19% in 2011. In the first Assembly election in 1998, only 14 women were returned - comprising just 13% of the chamber.

And women made up 27% of candidates in last week's election, compared to just 17% in 2011.

The figures have been compiled by Danielle Roberts, a PhD student at the Ulster University and a member of the Belfast Feminist Network.

The new Assembly will have 10 Sinn Fein women, eight DUP, four UUP, three SDLP, three Alliance, one Green MLA, Clare Bailey, and Independent unionist Claire Sugden.

Even with these increases, Stormont still lags behind the other devolved institutions in the UK, which had their elections on the same day. Women make up 48% of the Welsh Assembly and 35% of the Scottish Parliament.

However, the Northern Ireland Assembly has overtaken Dail Eireann - only 22% of TDs returned in February's election in the Republic were women.

Ms Roberts said that while the rise in women MLAs was to be welcomed, no openly LGBT candidates had been elected. "The Assembly is still overwhelmingly white and straight," she said.

Of the five largest parties, Alliance had the highest proportion of female MLAs in its ranks, 37.5%, closely followed by Sinn Fein on 36%. Women made up 25% of SDLP and UUP MLAs. Equal representation was lowest within the DUP with 21% of its Assembly team female.

South Belfast was the constituency leading the way in female representation - four of its six MLAs are women. But in Foyle, North Antrim, East Antrim and North Down, not one female candidate was elected.

In Foyle, Sinn Fein's Maeve McLaughlin lost her seat. In his acceptance speech, newly elected People Before Profit MLA, Eamonn McCann, noted the absence of female representatives going to Stormont from the constituency and stressed that the men elected in Foyle must do their utmost to champion women's rights.

Ms Roberts said that her research proved that female candidates were clearly popular. "I don't think that people are voting just for women because they're women. They're voting for women because they're good candidates," she said.

The DUP ran eight female candidates in the Assembly election. All of them were elected with three topping the poll and another three receiving the highest first preference votes of any DUP candidate in their constituency.

Four of the seven women candidates ran by the Ulster Unionists were elected. In Upper Bann, Jo-Anne Dobson received the highest number of first preference votes of any UUP candidate.

Former DUP councillor and whistle-blower Jenny Palmer, was elected in Lagan Valley as a UUP MLA where the DUP lost a seat.

In Newry and Armagh, in her first time running for the Assembly, 24-year-old Megan Fearon of Sinn Fein topped her party's vote in the constituency.

Michelle Gildernew, who was not initially picked by a Sinn Fein selection convention, did the same in Fermanagh and South Tyrone.

In terms of candidate selection of all the parties who returned MLAs to Stormont, the Green Party was the best with half of its candidates women. Sinn Fein came next with 38% female candidates followed by Alliance 35%, the SDLP 33%, and People Before Profit 33%.

Belfast Telegraph

Read More

From Belfast Telegraph