NOT SINCE the arrival of the Spice Girl in 1994 has ‘girl power’ been so much in evidence around the streets of Ennis and the highways and byways of the rest of the county. After a General Election in Clare which promised to change so much but ultimately delivered little beyond the status quo, the arrival of “the three ladies”, as they became known, was a breath of fresh air for the election process in the county.
When Ann Cronin, Sarah Ferrigan and Madeleine McAleer put themselves forward as candidates in Clare for this year’s General Election, there were few among the established polit- ical hacks in the county who suffered sleepless nights.
Yet while none of the candidates ever emerged as a genuine contender to pull off a surprise on election day, their very presence on the ballot paper was a victory in itself and a small sign that democracy in its purest terms could still be possible in Clare.
It was a campaign that started in a whirlwind, with furious rushing around Ennis Courthouse as the deadline for nominations was about to close. While Ann and Sarah had their nominations sorted out early in the morning, there was a rush to the courthouse as friends of the three “balance the ballot” candidates raced in to provide the 30 signatures and correct addresses needed to formalise Madeline’s nomination.
“This is a move towards how a ballot paper should look in an open, fair and functioning democracy. Without us, there would not have been a woman on the ballot paper in County Clare. We could not allow that to happen in 21st-century Ireland. There are many serious issues in the community, health and business sectors locally and nationally that need to be addressed by a range of voices,” said McAleer.
After beginning the campaign as a femininist ticket, the candidates gradually started to broaden their scope and attempt to speak to, and for, all under-represented peoples in the county.
“People are frustrated, disillusioned, disempowered and I thought, wouldn’t it be nice to offer them something different. I know from a psychology point of view that, if you don’t see something, then after a while it starts not to exist. So if people go into the ballot box and see 12 faces that are all male, it normalises the idea for people that females are not part of the political system,” she says. “So the idea came to me that we should run 12 women in this election in Clare and balance the ballot paper. That was the epiphany. It’s important to say that while we are females, we don’t wish to speak for females.
“I took this upon myself and I was lucky to have two other wonderful women who agreed to stand with me so that I wouldn’t be thrown to the wolves on my own.
“The disillusionment that I hear from people on the streets about politics is that it is the same sort of people who are running. It may not be the same people but it is the same thing over and over. There is such a disjoint between the people they represent. We have lost our connection with our politicians and that is a real shame.”
With no resources, party organisa tion or election history to rely on, the three female candidates ultimately struggled to involve themselves in the shake-up at the business end of the poll.