Northern Ireland news

UUP 'must take responsibility' for its lack of female MLAs

Ulster Unionist leader Doug Beattie. Picture by Mal McCann

THE Ulster Unionists must "take responsibility" for their lack of female representation at Stormont, a group working to increase the number of women standing for election has said.

The UUP decided to stand two candidates in Fermanagh and South Tyrone in last week's assembly election - former party leader Tom Elliott alongside sitting MLA Rosemary Barton.

The decision cost Ms Barton - the party's only female MLA - her seat.

Ms Barton said the party needed a strategy which would see more women running for election.

"I am concerned," she said.

"I think we need to have a strategy to look forward. It needs to be more long-term."

Party leader Doug Beattie yesterday defended the decision.

He said the party had nine women running - a third of all its candidates.

"A lot of them went through a selection process which I as a leader had to stay out of," he told The Nolan Show.

"That selection process took recommendations from associations throughout the country.

"The association in Fermanagh and South Tyrone had a say on who they wanted to run to represent them. They wanted Tom Elliott to run."

Mr Beattie agreed the party needed a strategy but said the change in representation may take "three elections".

"If you look at the other political parties who now have elected female MLAs, those elected female MLAs ran in multiple elections and started from a very low base," he said.

Aoife Clements from 50:50 NI, which runs schemes helping women to get into politics, told The Irish News the UUP did not take the right approach.

She said many of the candidates were either there to sweep up any remaining votes or were put in constituencies they had no chance of winning.

"They ran a woman in West Belfast. She was never going to get that seat," she said.

Ms Clements rejected the suggestion that it may take three elections before the party sees real change.

"Look at Sinn Féin, they put women in seats they knew they were going to win," she said.

"50 per cent of their candidates were women."

She said the UUP "needs to take responsibility" and it is not good enough to say that the local association wanted Mr Elliott to run.

"Other parties have the same process of local associations but they have said 50 per cent of (candidates) have to be women and that's it," she said.

Ms Clements said although it would have been unreasonable to expect the party's first-time female candidates to be elected, the UUP still "needs to do more".

She said other parties have seen co-options as an opportunity to raise the profile of their female candidates.

"It is true that it takes a long time to get elected but there are different ways of (increasing female representation)," she said.

"They can have internal quotas, they can build on their women's network. They just need to prioritise it."

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