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Northern Ireland local election results for women

Duncan Sutherland
Centre for Advancement of Women in Politics, Queen's University Belfast


The voters of Northern Ireland not only chose a record three women MPs on 7 June 2001 but after the votes were counted the following week a record number of women had also been elected to the city, borough and district councils. As Table 2 shows, the Alliance Party and SDLP each fielded the largest proportion of women candidates and returned the largest proportion of women councillors. The other parties were far behind with 15 to 16 per cent each.

Sinn Fein was the only party not to improve its percentage of women candidates over the 1997 tally, as their number of women candidates did not keep pace with the considerable increase in their overall number of candidates. This is disappointing, given the support expressed in their general election manifesto for 'measures to achieve equality of representation both in political life and in all public appointments'.

Table 1: Women candidates and councillors in Northern Ireland local
government, 2001

Party
Women
Nominated
Men
nominated
Women's
per cent of
total
Women
elected
Men
elected
Women's
per cent of
total
UUP
35
178
16
27
127
18
DUP
30
158
15
19
112
16
SDLP
44
124
26
32
85
27
SF
25
128
16
17
91
16
Alliance
23
35
39
11
17
39
Other
29
173
14
2
42
5
Total
186
796
19
108
474
19

However, the party's proportion of women councillors did increase as it did for all parties, and women now form 19 per cent of local government councillors in Northern Ireland. This is considerably less than the 27 per cent average across Great Britain, according to a UNISON study of last year (The Times, 3 April 2000), but an improvement over the 15 per cent of council seats won by women at the election of 1997. This progress is even more impressive when it is remembered that as late as 1993 only sixteen women councillors were elected, forming 3 per cent of the total.

Of the 108 women elected this year, thirty won enough first-preference votes to be elected on the first count, ten won on the second count, and a further ten won on the third count. (Unlike the rest of the UK, councils in Northern Ireland are elected by single-transferable votes, whereby voters mark a series of preferences on their ballots rather than simply a first choice.) Former DUP Mayor of Castlereagh Iris Robinson's 4093 first preference votes was the most polled by any of the more than 900 candidates province-wide. There remain three all-male councils in Northern Ireland (Antrim, Ballymoney, and Dungannon), while at the opposite end of the scale North Down borough council includes ten women among its twenty-five members (40 per cent), including the only Women's Coalition and UK Unionist women councillors. In England, according to last year's study, only Aylesbury Vale in Buckinghamshire had a female majority (57 per cent).

Table 2: Women candidates and councillors in Northern Ireland local
government, 1997

Party
Women
Nominated
Men
nominated
Women's
per cent of
total
Women
elected
Men
elected
Women's
per cent of
total
UUP
32
207
13
25
165
14
DUP
25
139
15
11
80
12
SDLP
39
127
23
21
99
17
SF
16
79
17
10
64
12
Alliance
27
63
29
14
41
34
Other
47
176
21
5*
71
7
Total
186
791
19
86
520
14

*The Conservatives and Women's Coalition each elected one woman councillor, the UK Unionists elected two, and there was one independent. In terms of leadership roles in local government, there are now five women mayors and council chairmen (in Armagh, Ards, Derry, Down, and Newtownabbey), a gain of two over last year. The number of women deputy mayors and vice-chairmen has decreased from six to four.

 


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