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Is the Northern Ireland female MP about to become an extinct species?

By Suzanne Breen

Published 09/05/2015

Sinn Fein's Michelle Gildernew tastes defeat to the UUP candidate for Fermanagh and South Tyrone Tom Elliott
Sinn Fein's Michelle Gildernew tastes defeat to the UUP candidate for Fermanagh and South Tyrone Tom Elliott

After the last election, we had four women returned to Westminster, now we have two. If this pattern continues, next time round the Northern Ireland female MP will be an extinct species.

And what an embarrassing spectacle that would be. In Britain, more women have been voted into the House of Commons than ever before.

Around 30% of MPs are female. Here, we manage a miserly 11%.

We still have Lady Sylvia Hermon and the SDLP's Margaret Ritchie.

But in Naomi Long and Michelle Gildernew, we lost the two stars that blazed the brightest trail.

They were the role models to inspire a new generation of women into politics.

I'm sure hundreds of girls looked at Naomi and thought, 'I want to be like her'.

It took four men to withdraw from the election to ensure her defeat. Even with those odds, Naomi fought like a tiger.

Hers was not a timid, tepid campaign.

She had fire in her heart and steel in her soul.

Her performance belied the claim that women aren't cut out for confrontational politics.

Naomi was as combative as they come.

And she delivered results on the ground. She managed to increase her vote by almost a third - 4,000 votes.

It was not enough but, even her opponents admitted, she waged a formidable fight.

As the only female MP with young children, Michelle Gildernew showed girls that it is possible for mothers to have a career in politics.

She fought one previous election while seven months pregnant.

This time around, her car reflected her hectic lifestyle. Rollers (worn when she was on the move), a change of clothes, and her children's homework books were piled on top of her election literature.

Michelle chatted about being in meetings wondering what she had in the fridge for tea and if she'd have time to do a wash when she got home.

Her openness to talk about these things, about juggling politics and motherhood, made her the most realistic role model we had.

Naomi Long MP may be no longer but she is undoubtedly Alliance's next leader in waiting. Let's hope Sinn Fein ensures Michelle is back in the Assembly next year and holding ministerial office soon.

And the DUP and UUP really need to do something about their abysmal record in sending female MPs to Westminster which, once again, has left us lagging far behind Britain in terms of progressive politics.

Belfast Telegraph

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