Belfast Telegraph

General Election 2019: Number of Northern Ireland women candidates 'an appalling representation'

The make-up of the next House of Commons will be decided in the December 12 poll.
The make-up of the next House of Commons will be decided in the December 12 poll.

By Eimear McGovern

A leading academic has branded as appalling that just 28 women out of 102 candidates are in the running for Northern Ireland's 18 seats in the forthcoming General Election.

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That was down from the 36 which ran in 2017 when 109 candidates ran.

The UUP is running just one female candidate, UUP councillor Jill Macauley in South Down. The party is on the ballot paper in 16 constituencies.

Speaking to the BBC Ulster Unionist leader Steve Aiken said: "We would love to have more [female] candidates.

"We are working with our young women coming through the party system and we're trying to get them into positions of leadership going forward."

The DUP has selected just two women to run in the election, Emma Little Pengelly in South Belfast and Carla Lockhart in Upper Bann. It is running 17 candidates in total. Four female candidates will stand in the election for Sinn Fein of a total of 15.

The Sinn Fein candidates are sitting MP Elisha McCallion in Foyle, along with Cara McShane in North Antrim, Michelle Gildernew in Fermanagh and South Tyrone and Orfhlaith Begley in West Tyrone.

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Ulster University's Professor Deirdre Heenan, who also serves as a member of the Council of State for Ireland, said the figures were striking.

"The UUP's figures are startling. It's an appalling representation in terms of female candidates.

"When you look on Twitter, the pictures of people nominated are all male - as well as their supporters and other party members.

"In a wider context the questions we have to ask are the women not being selected or are women deciding politics is a nasty game?

"The numbers nationally provide important context - if our representatives in the House of Commons are made up of fewer females, that has consequences on the decisions that are made.

"Parliament and parties need to be diverse and reflect a range of insights. They need to reflect the population and when you look at the candidates being chosen in Northern Ireland by parties like the DUP and the UUP, you do have to ask whether they reflect society?"

The SDLP and the Alliance Party are putting forward the most female representatives in the election, with eight and nine candidates respectively.

More than half of the SDLP's 15 candidates are women, while the Alliance Party is running 18 candidates - half of which are women.

Angela Mulholland in East Antrim, Margaret Anne McKillop in North Antrim, Roisin Lynch in South Antrim, Claire Hanna in South Belfast, Cara Hunter in East Londonderry, Ally Haydock in Lagan Valley, Denise Johnston in Mid Ulster and Dolores Kelly in Upper Bann were all selected by the SDLP.

Alliance selected Patricia O'Lynn in North Antrim, Naomi Long in East Belfast, Nuala McAllister in North Belfast, Paula Bradshaw in South Belfast, Donnamarie Higgins in West Belfast, Rachael Ferguson in Foyle, Sorcha Eastwood in Lagan Valley, Jackie Coade in Newry and Armagh, Kellie Armstrong in Strangford.

Pro-life party Aontu is also running two female candidates out of seven. They are Monica Digney in West Belfast and Anne McCloskey in Foyle.

Susan Glass is standing in West Tyrone and is the sole female candidate of the Green Party, which is running three candidates in total.

There is also one independent female candidate standing for election in the Fermanagh and South Tyrone constituency, Caroline Wheeler. She is standing on labour and trade union policies.

North Down is the only constituency without a single female candidate.

In Stormont, a 2017 survey revealed that women made up a higher proportion of the Assembly than they do in the House of Commons or the Dail.

Women comprise a total of 30% of the 90-Member Stormont chamber, although it is in political limbo, slightly up from the 28% they reached in the previous 108-Member Assembly.

The 30% proportion beats both the 29% of female MPs in the Commons and the 22% of female TDs in the Dail in Dublin, according to research by Democratic Audit.

However, only one in 10 MPs and 25% of local councillors here were women at the time of the survey.

Academic Ms Heenan added: "You can see why women might feel deterred - you see stories about personal attacks on appearance rather than policies."

She said in recent years, Northern Ireland had made gains when it comes to the representation of women across local government - but that progress cannot be taken for granted.

"Parties need to be pro-actively supporting women. Alliance and the SDLP try and support new, younger candidates and female candidates.

"It's the usual suspects when it comes to the older parties, candidates who have been there for a long time.

"Is it really the case that women are not as qualified as their male counterparts? It's up to parties to work hard to achieve representation and support women and ensure that being an elected representative is achievable and there are role models.

She cited recent online abuse suffered by the DUP candidate Carla Lockhart, which was condemned across the political spectrum.

"The political parties need to be adamant that behaviour is not acceptable and say they will have no truck with ridicule on a personal level.," she added.

"Those representing women need to reflect us in terms of age, gender and class. If we cannot relate to those representing, it will cause people to disengage."

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