Ask anyone with any knowledge of local government in Limerick to name our most distinguished councillors over the past century and you can be fairly certain that the name of Frances Condell will be close to the top of their list. Limerick’s first female mayor in 750 years blazed a trail and she would, no doubt, have approved of the similarly historic mayoralty of Cllr Kathleen Leddin, the last incumbent before next month’s merger of the two local authorities. However, if Frances Condell is still keeping an eye on her beloved Limerick from up above, the paucity of women candidates going forward for the local elections on May 23 election will come as a serious disappointment.
What does it say about our society when, of 13 candidates on the ballot paper in the Newcastle West electoral area, there is not a single woman?
Only at the very last minute did a female candidate enter the race in Limerick City North, with Moyross woman Tina O’Gorman being hastily added to the Fine Gael ticket, amid no little amount of controversy among the party’s northside membership. Fifteen candidates, 14 of them men.
The situation does not greatly improve when one looks elsewhere around the new electoral areas. Voters in Limerick City West, where 18 candidates have declared, will have only two women on their ballot paper.
At a time when the amalgamated Limerick City and County Council needs 40 members of the highest possible standard – as well as a group of men and women who represent all of the people of Limerick –that pre-determined bias against the fairer sex is a real disappointment.
Added to the certainty that women will be greatly outnumbered in the new council is the equally disappointing fact that ethnic minorities – such a big part of local life these days, as we saw during the memorable Riverfest weekend – will also have scant representation, if any.
Labour’s Elena Secas, of Moldovan descent but for many years a part of the Limerick community, came close to being elected last time around and is standing in the biggest of the electoral areas, Limerick City East. She is one of four women among an impressive 19 candidates for eight seats, a comparatively respectable if far from ideal male-female ratio. Thankfully, a candidate drawn from our ethnic communities joined Ms Secas on the City East ballot paper at the last minute – Sunnymartins Duruagwu, a former Dell worker from Nigeria who runs is own business on Parnell Street.
It is also pleasing to see quite a number of young candidates in some – if not quite all – of the local areas. We can only hope that the apathy of youth when it comes to voting does not scupper their chances, because the energy of young people would undoubtedly be a welcome tonic.
Let us hope, too, that when the second elections for the new joint authority are held in 2019, the ballot paper for every electoral area will embrace more women and more representatives of the ‘new Limerick’.
In the meantime, we are fortunate that so many determined candidates have come forward, seeking to represent their communities. The vast majority are on the ballot paper because they have a desire to make a difference.
There is much that they can contribute.