Belfast Telegraph

Friday 27 May 2016

Lack of female MLAs shameful, says Speaker as he urges parties to act

By Noel McAdam

Published 08/03/2016

Stormont Speaker Mitchel McLaughlin
Stormont Speaker Mitchel McLaughlin

The proportion of women MLAs is "indefensible", it has been claimed.

Stormont Speaker Mitchel McLaughlin said almost four times as many men have been elected to the Assembly compared to women since the Good Friday Agreement 18 years ago.

Launching a special 'women's week' of events, the Sinn Fein speaker said that only 23 of the current 108 MLAs are female, the highest level of women to date.

But he added: "That is simply indefensible when a majority of our population is female."

Mr McLaughlin wrote to all party leaders last year encouraging them to keep the make-up of the Assembly in mind when selecting candidates, and suggesting an initial starting point of at least 40 female MLAs after the May elections.

"In last year's Westminster elections, the House of Commons achieved its highest ever female representation with 29% female members," he said.

"Similarly, in the recent elections to the Dáil, it too broke a record, returning 35 (female) TDs. There is no reason why this Assembly cannot exceed those figures and break our own record.

"It will require concentrated effort from parties but that will come, particularly if there is a demand for it in the electorate."

Mr McLaughlin, who is standing down when the Assembly breaks up later this month, said it was a problem which went beyond Stormont. "Only five of our top 100 businesses are led by women. Almost two-thirds of the managers, directors and senior staff posts in Northern Ireland firms are held by men," he said.

"The public sector is no better as, despite having almost twice as many women as men employed, seven out of 10 executive positions are still held by men.

"At board level, although 37% of members are female, only 21% of chairpersons are female.

"However, how can the Assembly hope to demand improvement in those realms without cleaning up its own act?"

Earlier yesterday, Mr McLaughlin told MLAs the better regulation of sitting times would encourage many people, and not just women, to consider elected office.

"We have made some progress in making that an active consideration in the last year but not nearly as much as I would have liked," he said.

"Once we get through the heavy load of legislation which hit us in the last few months, I hope that is something the new Assembly can look at afresh."

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