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Mná na hÉireann

We now have more female TDs than ever before - but do we really have gender quotas to thank?

A comprehensive analysis of the historic election of 35 women to the 32nd Dáil.


THERE ARE NOW more women in the lower house of our national parliament than ever before.

In all, 35 women were elected to Dáil Éireann over the weekend – taking 22.3% of the seats being contested, and now composing 22.2% of all deputies.

That’s a whopping 40% increase from the previous record of 25 women elected in 2011, composing 15% of Dáil Éireann at the time.

Many observers have pointed to this rise as being directly attributable to the introduction of gender quotas, which allow for a party’s state funding to be cut by half unless 30% of their general election candidates are women (and 30% are men).

However, a closer analysis of the numbers suggests this conclusion might be a bit of an oversimplification, and shows that – despite a massive increase in female candidates – parties subject to gender quotas only elected four extra women.

First, an overview.


There were 35 women elected to the Dáil this year - 40% more than 2011, and the highest in Irish history.

Remarkably, 19 of the women elected this weekend are entering the Dáil for the first time, and 14 were first-time candidates.

Two women decided not to contest (Olivia Mitchell and Sandra McLellan), and seven lost their seats: Áine Collins, Joanna Tuffy, Ann Phelan, Lucinda Creighton, Michelle Mulherin, Ciara Conway and Anne Ferris.

Gabrielle McFadden, who replaced her late sister Nicky in a by-election in 2014, also lost her seat.

With her re-election, the Social Democrats’ Róisín Shortall becomes the longest continuously-serving woman in the new Dáil, having won every election since 1992.

In November, she will surpass former Tánaiste Mary Coughlan and become the second-longest serving female TD in history, after Mary Harney, who held her seat from 1981 until 2011.

roisinshortall Sam Boal / Sam Boal / /

There have also been several major breakthroughs and interesting developments across the country, in this election.

In particular, there has been something of a revolution in Galway.

Up until this weekend, only two women had ever represented the county – Fianna Fáil’s Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, who held a seat in Galway West from 1975-1997, and Fine Gael’s Brigid Hogan-Higgins, who sat in various Galway constituencies from 1957-1977.

This election added three.

  • Margaret Murphy-O’Mahony (Fianna Fáil) – first female TD ever in Cork South-West
  • Imelda Munster (Sinn Féin) – first female TD ever in Louth
  • Anne Rabbitte (Fianna Fáil) – first female TD in Galway East since 1977
  • Catherine Connolly (Independent) and Hildegarde Naughton (Fine Gael) – first female TDs in Galway West since 1997
  • Katherine Zappone (Independent) – first female TD in Dublin South-West since Mary Harney in 1997
  • Fiona O’Loughlin (Fianna Fáil) – first female TD in Kildare South since the constituency was created in 1997. Only the third woman ever to represent Kildare (after Aíne Brady and Catherine Murphy)
  • Mary Butler (Fianna Fáil) – replaced Ciara Conway (Labour) in Waterford, and became only the third woman ever to represent the constituency.

This map shows how things have changed since five years ago.


Although female representation has faded in certain areas – most notably Cork – it has extended in the West.

In all, 25 of 40 constituencies (62.5%) now have at least one female representative in the national parliament, as opposed to 22 of 43 (51%) in 2011.

However, the increased number of female TDs is mainly accounted for by intensified representation elsewhere, with several constituencies doubling their number of female TDs.

One constituency – Dublin South-Central – now has three female TDs out of four: Catherine Byrne, Joan Collins and Bríd Smith.


The new Dáil still ranks 17th out of 27 EU member states, when it comes to female representation in the main house of parliament, according to our analysis of figures from the Inter-Parliamentary Union, and we rank 75th in the world.

Before last weekend, however, we ranked 22nd in the EU and 111th in the world.

Did gender quotas achieve this?

This will be one of the main questions emerging from Election 2016, and will no doubt be studied in great detail over the lifetime of the 32nd Dáil.

However, there are a few observations we can make at this stage.


Of the 551 candidates at this election, 163 were women, a ratio of 29.6%, well up from 2011, when 86 of 566 (15.1%) were women.

But while the number of female candidates and TDs increased significantly, successful women only made up 21% of the 163 female candidates this year, as opposed to 29% (25 of 86 candidates) taking a seat in 2011.

That year, female candidates had almost the exact same success rate as their male counterparts.


This suggests that, as was predicted, it will likely take one or two more election cycles for the massively expanded female candidate base to translate into massively increased Dáil representation.

This will be especially true if women selected to run in 2016 retain their local council positions, and are chosen by party conventions to run again in the next general election, when voters will only be more familiar with them and their achievements.

In the context of gender quotas, the level of female success from each party will no doubt be closely scrutinised in the coming weeks.

By far the most striking phenomenon, in that respect, was the performance of Fianna Fáil, who went from electing no women whatsoever in 2011, to electing 6.

Notably, Fine Gael did not elect any more women this time, although the reduction of their seat total from 76 to around 50 means women will make up a higher proportion of their TDs.

Sinn Féin tripled their female contingent in the Dáil, from two to six.


However, not every party or grouping was subject to gender quotas, so we have to drill even deeper to see what their effect might have been.

Let’s look at the parties who receive state funding, and so were subject to the new gender quota rules – Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, Labour, Sinn Féin, and AAA/PBP.

In 2011, these parties had 23 women elected to the Dáil, between them.

In 2016, that number is 27 – so only four more female TDs were elected by parties subject to gender quotas.

However, there were four defections between 2011 and 2016, which lowered the main parties’ base of female incumbents.

Róisín Shortall left Labour for the Social Democrats, Clare Daly left the Socialist Party and thus the AAA/PBP umbrella, Joan Collins left PBP, and Lucinda Creighton left Fine Gael.

Creighton lost her seat though, so the effect of her defection from Fine Gael is somewhat moot, in terms of distribution of female TDs between parties subject to gender quotas, and those not subject to them.

Of the 10 extra women elected in 2016, Independents added three, the Social Democrats added two, and one came from the Green Party.

Three female TDs were elected through by-elections, for which gender quotas didn’t apply – Helen McEntee for Fine Gael in 2013, Ruth Coppinger for AAA/PBP in 2014, and Gabrielle McFadden for Fine Gael in 2014.

McFadden lost her seat over the weekend.


It has been argued that the number of women elected this year would have been even higher, were it not for the overall collapse of Labour (who lost five female TDs), and the retirements of Sandra McLellan and Olivia Mitchell.

However, the same logic must also be applied to the 2011 general election, when 6 female TDs decided not to contest, and amid the devastation of Fianna Fáil, 8 women from the governing parties lost their seats.

By a similar rationale, this contributed to the relatively low base from which female representation has increased since 2011.

In any event, we can only fully analyse the actual trends, rather than counter-factuals.

This minimal increase in female TDs among the parties subject to gender quotas should also be viewed in light of the fact that the number of their female candidates grew significantly.

While the number of their candidates grew by 60% from 58 to 93, the number of their TDs only grew by 16%, from 23 to 27, as shown in the chart above.


firsttimecandidates The 14 first-time female candidates who won a seat in this election.

It would be difficult (and unfair) to assess whether a given female candidate was selected by the party simply in order to meet overall gender quotas.

There were several instances of messy selection conventions, female candidates added to constituency tickets at the last minute, lawsuits, and a lot of outrage.

As a more neutral and objective proxy, however, we can measure the performance of women selected by the main parties for the first time.

  • Of the 93 female candidates from the main parties, 55 were running for the very first time: 15 for Fine Gael, 16 for Fianna Fail, two for Labour, 10 for Sinn Fein, and 10 for AAA/PBP.
  • Of those, 12 (21.8%) were elected: three from Fine Gael, five from Fianna Fáil, none from Labour, four from Sinn Féin, and none for AAA/PBP.
  • Katherine Zappone (Independent) and Catherine Martin (Green Party) were also first-time candidates, but not subject to gender quotas.
  • The number of successful first-time female candidates rocketed from 6 in 2011 to 14 this year, 12 of them from the main parties.
  • Interestingly, the party with the highest success rate in this respect is Fianna Fáil, for whom 31% of first-time female candidates were elected.

This is particularly striking because the party had no female incumbents going into the election, and it had been suggested they might struggle most to reach the 30% required by the new legislation.

The overall 20% success rate for first-time female candidates compares to 32% among male first-time candidates.

So while overall, the number of female TDs shot up, this doesn’t necessarily mean gender quotas were entirely responsible.

Independents and parties not subject to gender quotas accounted for 7 out of 10 extra women in the Dáil.

But while the introduction of gender quotas only preceded a net gain of two TDs from the parties subject to them, this doesn’t tell the full story either.

There were three defections from the main parties, and an astonishing increase in the number of first-time female candidates elected, from 6 to 12.

This suggests that gender quotas absolutely had a role within the main parties.

In particular, Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin appear to have been rewarded by the electorate for selecting young, new female candidates.

That trend could mean the process of choosing women for the next general election might not be as messy and fraught with resistance as it was this time.

THE WINNERS: Here are all the TDs who have been elected so far>

Opinion: ‘Gender quotas won’t substantially alter the outcome of the next Dáil’>

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