A year of firsts for local female politicians

A year on from the General Election of 2020, Dan Dooner got the thoughts of two local women on their first year in the Oireachtas…


It’s just over a year since Sinn Féin TD Claire Kerrane became only the third woman from this constituency to be elected to Dáil Éireann, following the election of Joan Burke in 1964 and Mae Sexton in 2002.

She told the Roscommon People that first year has been shaped by the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“It has been nothing like I could have ever imagined,” she says, “I wanted to engage with people and to be visiting different places and groups this year but Covid-19 has unfortunately prevented that from happening –but I feel very lucky to represent Roscommon-East Galway.

“Social media has been really important and in some ways TDs have never been more accessible. There have been some positives but there are also people who like to have face-to-face meetings too and I’m very conscious of them,” she said.

As only the third female TD in Roscommon’s history, how does she assess the challenges facing local women in politics?

“When I think of women in politics, I think of women with families. My sister had her first baby last year, if that was me I think I’d find it hard to keep doing this job.

“There have been steps taken to make it easier for TDs with children, such as moving the voting block to Thursday afternoons, but everything is up in the air now due to Covid. Travel is a big issue as well. If you’re living away from Dublin, it’s automatically more difficult to be a TD.

“But there are several reasons why more women don’t get involved in politics, however, and it’s hard to pinpoint just one. There certainly aren’t enough women in the Dáil and even looking at Roscommon County Council it’s nowhere near the 50-50 mark,” she said.

The Tibohine native offered some advice for those thinking of altering the current political landscape.

“First of all, you should never think that you’re too young. While canvassing for the last election I had someone tell me they couldn’t vote for me because I didn’t have enough life experience. But you’re never too young if you care enough about the issues. You should never be afraid to make that stand if you believe in something,” she said.

Meanwhile, Fine Gael Senator Aisling Dolan is on course to complete her first year in the Seanad and she has also had to rely on Zoom and social media to engage with the public this year.

“It has been an honour and privilege to be another voice for the area in the Seanad and being able to highlight the positives and raise the challenges we face locally with Ministers,” she said.

The former Ballinasloe area councillor did admit, however, that more needs to be done to make it easier for women to enter the political sphere.

“The number of councillors was reduced (ahead of the last local elections in 2019) and, whatever way you slice that, Ireland now has one of the highest populations per representative in Europe.

“Many women would enter politics at the local level and use it as a starting point and to build a base, but now it’s harder to do that.

“Also, while I don’t have young children, some politicians do and so I think there also needs to be more supports put in place, such as maternity leave for example. Voting also needs to be looked at again in terms of the Dáil and Seanad because it’s not fair on those who have young families at home to be voting late in the evening,” she added.

In terms of representation, Senator Dolan said that political parties and local authorities have a responsibility towards helping women to gain access to the world of politics.

“I think the parties themselves need to change the dynamic too and find new ways of engaging with more people and (having them engage) in politics.

“It’s also up to the local authorities to be more focussed on bringing female candidates forward,” she concluded.