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SHE Speaks about vacant council seats

SHE has been having a look at the vacancies left in County and City Councils after the 2020 general election. Of the 48 brand new TDs who entered Leinster House[1], 32 of them left a vacant seat behind them in their county or city council. Seing how councils act as a strong pipeline for advancement to the Dáil, it is encouraging to note that more vacant council seats were allocated to women than to men.

Unlike vacancies that occur in the Dáil and which require a by-election, vacancies in councils are filled through a process called co-option. Where the person vacating their county council seat is a member of a political party, then the Local Government Act of 2001 allows for that seat to be filled by the party. Political parties will have their own rules around how to select a replacement, with decisions being made at either the national or the local party level. Some parties operate different processes in different counties. For example Fianna Fáil HQ originally floated the idea of an interview process in Clare to replace Cathal Crowe’s seat, but instead a vote by the Shannon Muniple District membership voted in Pat O’Gorman[2]. In Longford Fianna Fail did not hold a convention to choose between Michael Connellan and Uremu Adejinmi to replace Joe Flaherty, with reports that the party’s national constituencies committee decided to interview both candidates[3].

Something of a grey area applies to the co-option of independent or non-party councillors as the law is silent but different arrangements are provided for in different local authority standing orders, and in most cases the departing independent councillor can generally decide on a replacement.

Marking the importance of co-option for women, more vacant council seats transferred to women than to men. 7 women councillors departed for the Dáil with 3 seats staying with women and 4 going to men. The 25 men who went directly from the council chamber to the Dáil were replaced by 15 women and 10 men. The break down by party is revealing with over half of Fianna Fáil’s seats changing to women, while Sinn Féin seats stayed with men. By contrast, the Green Party seats almost all went to new women councillors. The full distribution by party is below.

The co-option process forms part of SHE’s research programme to inform the work of addressing the over-representation of men in rural constituencies. Watch this space!

Table: New TDs Vacating a Council Seat

 New TDsReplacement Councillors
Fianna Fáil1643
Fine Gael2011
Green Party1881
Sinn Féin1616
Social Democrats2231


[1] https://www.rte.ie/news/politics/2020/0220/1116329-politics-dail/

[2] https://www.clareecho.ie/cratloes-pat-ogorman-to-fill-council-seat-vacated-by-cathal-crowe/

[3] https://www.shannonside.ie/news/local/longford/former-longford-councillor-chosen-fill-joe-flahertys-seat/?fbclid=IwAR2Bj7xE6U_BlpcJ69IAkVqipLzqa6GqkFHa7tch7PO5CizqJ76e3MWmHrc

[4] https://www.shannonside.ie/news/local/longford/longford-council-seat-still-vacant-co-option-halted/