With only 36 female TDs, Niamh Finnegan asks if the number of women involved in youth wings can be translated into seats in the Dáil.
The 2020 General Election saw 36 female TDs win seats in the Dáil. Despite a record number of women running for election (almost one in three candidates were women) female TDs only make up 22.5% of the Dáil. There are many young women involved in youth politics in UCD and other universities around the country. The women interviewed for this piece cite helping people and changing things for the better as their main influences for becoming involved in politics. The main concern is encouraging these university students to pursue a career in politics and stay engaged after they graduate.
Three out of five committee members in the UCD Social Democrats are women. When asked how they have encouraged young women to join their party, Vice-Auditor Sophie Linnane, says that she never felt that she received targeted advertisements for her to join based on her gender, but also highlights how nice it is that the leaders of the main political party are both women, stating that she thinks this must have influenced her in some way. Linnane also highlighted how important equality and respect are in the society, “everyone is very much equal and everyone can say what they want to say”, and that everyone is encouraged to bring forward ideas.
Equality in the party is a key issue for Labour’s Vice-Chair and Events Officer, Lhamo Fitzsimons. “It’s a safe space, women can speak out, women are always at the forefront…, we’re not just on display.” Fitzsimons also highlights how at the beginning of every National Labour Youth meeting there is Safe Space training which encourages people to share their pronouns and identify the words or statements that people at the meeting might find offensive. This serves to create a more welcoming environment for everyone in Labour Youth.
Fitzsimons mentioned how delighted she was when she saw how many women were involved in youth politics in UCD, however, she pointed out that the 33rd Dáil has fewer female TDs than the 32nd. Fitzsimons would like to see training provided to women who don’t have family links to politics: “For a lot of people politics is hereditary, networking, it’s who do you know or who was your grandfather and for some women, they don’t want to have to be depending on who their grandfather was.” She wants separate training and networking opportunities for women which would provide support and assistance when fighting what appears as “a huge old boys club”.
Both UCD Social Democrats and UCD Labour mention contact with the main political parties as one of the most positive and helpful parts of being involved in youth politics. Fitzsimons spoke about how people elected to the National Youth Wing sit on a council with the National Party and are encouraged to run social media campaigns for the main party. Labour Youth are a valued part of its senior party. “Our youth wing can be ahead of the charge when it comes to our National Party… sometimes we’re more progressive than the National Party itself but we’re great at leading the National Party forward… some of the older members might be slower to know an issue is there or to adopt an issue and we can help them with that.”
NUIG Welfare Officer, Róisín Nic Lochlainn, has also highlighted the “lad’s club” element to Ógra Shinn Féin. Nic Lochlaninn has been vocal about her experiences in youth politics and highlights how the misogyny experienced by her and fellow female members have resulted in some of them leaving the party. Speaking to The University Observer she mentions how three women on the National Youth Committee have resigned from their posts. Nic Lochlainn believes that there could always be more done to encourage more women into politics and says that there has to be more done to solve the misogynist behaviour of some of the members, to make Ógra Shinn Féin a more welcoming place for women. When asked what advice she would give to young women interested in getting involved in politics, she suggests trying to avoid youth wings ‘unless you want secondary school drama’. However, Nic Lochlainn still advises young women to get involved in politics, saying that if there’s a party that aligns with one’s values it’s worthwhile to try it out.
Linnane is hopeful that many members of the UCD Social Democrats will pursue a career in politics. She expressed how surprised she was at the level of contact between the youth wing and the main party, mentioning Jennifer Whitmore, TD for Wicklow, attending their virtual AGM and meeting Róisín Shortall in the Dáil. As far as Linnane is concerned, the Social Democrats are aware of the need for young women in politics, and there is an effort to encourage young women from the youth wings to progress into mainstream politics. The Social Democrats are a relatively new party, only established in July 2015, but Linnane believes that there will be a pathway created in the next few years for women and non-binary people coming from the youth wing to join the main party and pursue a career in politics.
Labour’s Women and Trans Officer, Róisín Reid believes that to a certain extent the party’s message encourages women to join. She also highlights how Labour champions women’s rights, pointing out that they were the first political party to campaign for the removal of the Eighth Amendment. Before Covid-19 emerged she had plans to ask influential women to speak at UCD Labour events on issues such as FGM (female genital mutilation) and sexual liberation. She had also planned to invite Shawna Scott, owner of the Sex Siopa and an OnlyFans content creator to events in order to encourage more women and trans people to join Labour Youth.
Reid also believes that there could be more done to increase female and trans representation in politics. She highlights the lack of representation of Black women and women of different ethnicities and believes that “the fact that there is no representation” is a problem in Irish politics. When asked what she would like to see done to encourage women and trans people of different ethnicities to get involved in politics she thinks that it should start on a smaller scale with friends encouraging friends to speak up and educate themselves about issues that affect them. Reid believes that a call across social media platforms for women and trans people from different ethnic backgrounds highlighting the need for diverse representation would result in a more equal playing field.
Among those interviewed there is a hope that more women, trans, and non-binary people will join youth politics and will pursue a career in politics. With support from members in youth wings and from the main political parties, it is clear that pathways will be created for these groups to enter into the political world.