Last Friday’s sell-out conference on women’s participation in politics, the brainchild of Minister Kathleen Lynch, took as is its title a question: ‘How to elect more women?’ Addressing a packed hall (and an ante-room where those that missed the first batch of tickets watched proceedings on a screen) speakers – from at home and abroad – took on this challenge.

From those that had been elected one thing was clear: if you want to elect more women you have to start by asking them to run. On a panel including Catherine Byrne TD (FG) Sandra McLellan TD (SF) Catherine Murphy TD (IND) Senator Averil Power (FF) and Cllr. Jane Dillon (LAB) it became clear that each one of these women had run for office the first time because somebody asked them. Catherine Byrne was active in her community and was approached by Jim Mitchell to run, Sandra McLellan had it put to her by Sinn Fein that moving from her job as a trade union official to local politics would be a natural progression, Catherine Murphy was clear that the reason she got into politics was to change things but still that there was one reason she ran: “I was asked”, Averil Power was asked to become more involved by the Fianna Fail party’s youth officer while a student at Trinity College and Jane Dillon, though nine months pregnant in her first campaign, was also approached to run.

Later party general secretaries Tom Curran (FG) Sean Dorgan (FF) Ita McAuliffe (LAB) and Ailbhe Smyth (PBP) took the stage to outline party strategies to engage more women to meet the quota coming down the line in advance of the next general election. Each used made committed statements to women’s participation and outlined comprehensive strategies to meet their goals. But there was a lesson for them in the earlier panel that they should heed: if you want more women to run, start by asking them.

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