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DEVOLVED ELECTIONS 2003

NORTHERN IRELAND ASSEMBLY ELECTION, 2003
The long awaited elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly took place on Wednesday 26 November 2003. Sinn Féin, with seven, has the most women elected. The SDLP has five women MLAs, and the DUP, UUP and APNI each has two women MLAs. The list of successful female MLAs and elected women as a proportion of party seats can be viewed here >>>>. Although the number of female MLAs has increased to eighteen, unfortunately some former MLAs who stood were not re-elected. These include Monica McWilliams and Jane Morrice of the NIWC, and Dara O'Hagan of Sinn Féin. Annie Courtney stood as an Independent Nationalist, and Pauline Armitage stood for the UK unionist party, but neither were re-elected.
In the run up to the election, once again Sinn Féin nominated the most female candidates with 12 of their 38 candidates being women, although Alliance, at 38%, had the largest percentage of women from among their candidates. See Table 1. While Northern Ireland's parties nominated fewer women than those in other devolved regions, the figures are better than during previous periods of devolution. All female candidates are listed on a separate page. Total numbers of men and women candidates are listed by constituency in Table 2.

Table 1:  NI Assembly candidates by gender, 1998 and 2003

Party

Election

Women

Men
Women %

% change on 1998

UUP

2003
1998

4
4

39
44

9
8

+1

SDLP

2003
1998

6
6

30
32

17
16

+1

DUP

2003
1998

4
4

36
30

10
12

-2

Sinn Féin

2003
1998

12
8

26
29

32
22

+10

Alliance

2003
1998

8
6

13
16

38
27

+11

NIWC

2003
1998

7
8

0
0

100
100

Not applicable

Others

2003
1998

8
13

64
96

11
12

-1

Total

2003
1998

49
49

207
247

19
17

+2

Table 2:  NI Assembly candidates November 2003, by constituency,

Constituency

Women

Men
Women %

East Londonderry

4

10

29

East Antrim
2
17
11

North Antrim

1

11

8

Foyle

4

9

31

West Tyrone

0

12

0

Fermanagh/South Tyrone

4

8

33

Mid Ulster

2

10

17

Newry and Armagh

2

11

15

South Down

4

12

25

South Antrim

1

13

7

Upper Bann

2

12

14

Lagan Valley

4

9

31

Strangford

1

12

8

North Down

4

15

21

North Belfast

4

12

25

West Belfast

4

10

29

East Belfast

1

14

7

South Belfast

5

12

29

Total

49

207

19

Since the last Assembly election the UK government has passed a law enabling parties to use positive discrimination to facilitate the nomination of women (read about the Act here). Although the media has focused on this Act's implications for Labour and the Conservatives, the Act also applies at the devolved level and it is in Northern Ireland where it could make the greatest difference. In May 2003, CAWP has asked the main parties in Northern Ireland if they intend to take advantage of this new law. The UUP's election director revealed that the party has urged its constituency associations to pay heed to gender and age in candidate selection, and the SDLP similarly encouraged selectors to consider age, gender and geography but neither have any set policies. The DUP's campaign director reiterated his party's opposition to positive discrimination but expressed the hope that women would come forward and be selected as candidates. The Alliance has no policy for facilitating the nomination of women but nonetheless has achieved one of the best gender-balances in its slate of candidates, and we received no reply from the PUP. Alone among the parties Sinn Féin identified policies in place to encourage women. Their Women's Forum provides training for women candidates, and the party provides funds for child care expenses to candidates of either gender.

Apart from Alliance and Sinn Féin, who have raised their women's representation by 11 and 10% respectively, the remaining parties have nominated a similar percentage of women to what they achieved in 1998. This suggests that any increased awareness of this issue raised by the debate at Westminster has had little or no impact in Northern Ireland. The much-heralded election of a record three women MPs in 2001, and the less high profile but nonetheless significant election of a record number of women councillors that year, were obviously not the start of a trend. With nominations as they currently stand this election is unlikely to witness a repeat the breakthroughs of recent elections but will at best see the number of women MLAs hold steady, at the bottom of the UK rankings.

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