Ireland’s Approach to SDG 5.5, Gender Equality, Supported By Local Government

SDG Target 5.5 states: “Ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life”. Gendelity reviews Ireland’s approach to SDG 5.5 at local government level.

In Ireland the primary responsibilities of local government are: Housing, Planning, Arts, Heritage & Archives, Roads & Transport, Environment, Water & Waste Water, Community, and Libraries. Firstly the status of relevant SDG 5 indicator is explored. This is followed by an exploration of the make-up of local government decision makers. Finally we consider how these decision makers are acting to progress SDG 5.

UN’s SDG Goal -> Target -> Indicator Status

The UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 5, or SDG 5, targets gender inequality. All sustainable development goals use a nested structure. Goals become targets, with progress against targets measured using indicators.

Gender Imbalance in Local Government Elected Representatives

SDG indicator 5.5.1 – Seats held by women in […] local Government, addressing gender imbalance in leadership positions in local government, is the first SDG 5.5 indicator. The map below by Geohive.ie shows that Ireland has yet to meet indicator 5.5.1. Most of the country is a paler blue indicating that women make up 25% or less of Ireland’s 949 local councilors, albeit an improvement from 1970 and 1980 when women made up less than 10%.

Ireland’s Public Sector Pillars -> Indicators

September 2020 saw the Irish Government launch new indicators for the public sector. This approach, organized around themes called ‘Pillars’, includes Pillar 3, “Developing Our People and Organisations” with indicator 7 “local government seats held by women”.

UN SDG 5.5.1 = Ireland’s Pillar 3 -> Indicator 7

Ireland SDG 5.5.1 - gender in local government elected representatives. Most areas have 80-76% men and 20-14% women.
Political Representation by Gender Ireland by Geohive.ie

Local Government Decision Makers

Local government decision makers come from three groups, elected representatives (as above), civil servants and community. We now look at gender balance of decision makers in the local public sector and local community representation.

Gender Balance in Local Civil Servant Leadership & Decision Making

Our 31 city and county councils, made up of both elected councilors (as above) and civil servants from local and state agencies, work in cooperation with civic society through Public Participant Networks (PPNs) and others. In 2019, these 31 local government authorities employed almost 28,000 people and had a budget of ~€5 billion.

A 2013 analysis showed civil servant leadership roles dominated by men. By 2019, 58% of all civil servant (not just local government) were women, yet 82% of the top positions were occupied by men. An indicator for gender balance in Ireland’s civil servant leadership would be a welcome addition to Pillar 3.

Actions for Gender Balance In Civil Servants

In 2019, the public service (OPS 2020) selected “priority actions for implementation” including action 16 which states “promote equality, diversity and inclusion.” By Sept 2020 action 16 has produced two “resource documents”, a vision and maturity model for equality diversity and inclusion. There are other actions on-going to improve gender balance in the civil service. Local indicators that rolled up to the national indicator would be welcome.

Gender Balance in Local Civil Representation & Decision Making

PPNs represent three sections of society; environmental, social inclusion and voluntary organisations. PPN participants must be with registered charities and aim to include the local community in decision making. ‘Linkage groups‘ aim to bring together PPN participants with similar interests. For example Fingal’s PPN Linkage groups in 2018 were themed around the SDGs. SDG 5 is not covered. Gender balance in PPNs would be a welcome improvement.

Local Community Development Committees (LCDCs)

Together the elected councilors, civil servants and the PPNs make up a decision making body called Local Community Development Committee (LCDC) which is “responsible for coordinating, planning and overseeing local development initiatives” (Fingal LCDC). LCDC guidance states that “every effort should be made to ensure an equitable gender balance” amongst members. The LCDC bring national policies into communities, and provide community input into local plans. Therefore women’s inclusion in elected representatives, civil servants and PPN is important.

In April 2017, Longford Women’s Link explored gender balance on 11 LCDC and found 70:30 gender ratio in favour of men. Additionally in 2015, Laois’ LCDC was made up of 17 members, 4 (23%) of whom were women.

Strategic Policy Committees (SPCs)

Each Local Authority has Strategic Policy Committees (SPCs) to “broaden involvement in local government through the participation of sectoral and community interests”. These are the committees where your elected councilors participate. SPCs formulate, evaluate and report on policy. The number and topics of SPCs varies across the country. In 2020 Fingal had 6 SPCs whereas Dublin City Council had 7 . On your local authority website you will find minutes of previous SPC meeting. Here’s an example from Tipperary SPCs.

However, deciding on policies remains the role of the LCDC.


Gender Balance in Direct Community Input

Community input was outlined necessary for the LCDC. This may be solicited directly from the public through focus groups, surveys and other requests for input. The input of “community development bodies, farming/agriculture interests, business/employer interests, trade union interests, and other relevant local and community interests” are also considered (from REVISED GUIDELINES FOR THE OPERATION OF LOCAL COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT COMMITTEES). The National Women’s Council of Ireland drew up a LCDC consultation checklist but it’s unclear if the gender representation of this community input is balanced.

For example the first Laois community consultation in 2015 reached 120 people across 6 briefing sessions, had 22 written submissions and 45 survey submissions (from clients of the Local Enterprise Office Laois). The second public consultation reached 150 people
and solicited 22 written submissions.

Dublin City Council runs the first local government-led online opinion panel “Your Dublin, Your Voice” which had 1,110 respondents in May 2020 for which respondents were gender balanced – hurrah!!!

Actions For Gender Balance in Local Economic and Community Plans (LECPs)

There are multiple interconnected planning approaches for local government. Following guidance from the Minister for Local Government in 2015, each of the 31 councils was tasked with developing an overarching Local Economic and Community Plan (LECPs), such as Fingal’s 2015 -2021 LECP and Wicklow’s 2016-2022 LECP. These LECPs indicate what should be done locally, incorporating community input (as above). LCDCs (elected councilors, civil servants and PPN reps) oversea these plans.

The LECPs are enacted by civil servants in the 31 local authorities in cooperation with national and local agencies. For example in the area of business and entrepreneurship, Enterprise Ireland, a national agency, works with local enterprise offices (LEOs) in each of the local authorities. Further, existing local agencies vary widely. For example rural communities receive €250 million in EU resources to engage with and direct local development via a programme called LEADER.

Various other plans are located within this LECP. Darndale’s, September 2020 socio-economic and community plan is one example, as is Dublin City Council’s corporate plan (blue box below)

Local Government Shorter Term Planning

Another example of the various plans which sit within the overall LECP framework are corporate plans. Dublin City Council has a bi-annual Dublin City Council Corporate Plan 2020 – 2024 which outline the approach “to deliver on the key priorities ….. and to respond to the defining global and local environmental, social and economic challenges”.

In 2020 the Dublin City Council corporate plans included reference to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, a welcome perspective. The summary, reproduced here, shows a ‘low’ contribution to SDG 5.

Excerpt from Dublin City Council Corporate Plan 2020 – 2024

Local Government Themes => High-Level Goals => Objectives => Actions

Similar to the SDGs, these LECPs use a cascading structure from ‘themes’ to ‘actions’. There are no indicators so in 2020 the critical measure of, not action but, impact is missing. The Guidelines on Local Economic and Community Plans call for “each objective within the economic and community elements will be achieved through the implementation of specific, time-bound and measurable actions.”

Excerpt From Fingal’s Local Economic Community Plan *2015 – 2021 (*The dates on this LECP refers variously to 2015 or 2016, through 2020 or 2021.)

In 2015 Donegal County Council LECP represented their priority goals as below. The graph below shows how these goals cascade, or map to actions.

  1. To Develop Donegal as a Connected Place
  2. To Harness Donegal’s Natural and Human Capital
  3. To Value, Sustain and Develop Our Culture and Creative resource
  4. To Promote Sustainable, Inclusive and Healthy Communities
  5. To Develop Donegal as a Lead Region for Learning, Research and Innovation
  6. To Develop the ‘Donegal’ Brand
  7. To Promote Entrepreneurship, Investment and Enterprise
Excerpt from Donegal’s 2015 LECP

How, or Do, LECPs Contribute to SDG 5.5?

As noted the LECPs aim to align and coordinate (join up) the various efforts, national, European and local, and the multiple committees, plans and strategies. Given Ireland’s ambition, reach and responsibilities of 31 local authorities, how do LECPs address the current lack of “women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in economic”?

Many LECP actions focus on new job creation via training and mentoring particularly for prospective entrepreneurs. For example Fingal’s plan to 2021 includes Action 20.

“A20: Identify needs and supports to promote entrepreneurial and employment initiatives with specific interest groups i.e. ethnic minorities, young people, travellers, disability, women’s groups, etc.”

=> Locate Your Local Economic and Community Plan Here

While not comprehensive, an informal review of these LECPs provides insight into local governmental efforts to work towards involving women as full and effective participants in of decisions concerning economics. Laois, reviewed in detail here, seems indicative of the approach taken by the 31 LECPs.

Laois => High-Level Goals (G)=> Objectives => Actions

The LECP for Laois identifies a 3 high level goals with relevance for SDG 5.5. These are goals 3, 4 and 5. We will look at each of these goals in turn.


High-level Goal G3 – Support innovation and Entrepreneurship.

Associated with this goal are 3 objectives including objective B which states:

“Promote entrepreneurship across diverse groups”. Various actions are identified including actions 1 and 2 which mention women.

  1. Examine feasibility of developing special loan products for women, migrants & young people. (Measurement: Feasibility assessment completed by 2020)
  2. Promote enterprise and self-employment as a viable career option for women in particular through the Laois Enterprise Women Network. (Measurement: 6 meetings per annum)

High-level Goal G4 – Enrich Civic Participation & Empower Communities.

=> Objective A. To strengthen the capacity for community participation.

Actions include

7. Enable meaningful representation by community representatives on local authority
committees through the Laois Public Participation Network and establish a strong structure to support this. (No measurement stated. How will stakeholder know when this is achieved?)
8. Encourage community participation in the formulation of Local Government policy, e.g.,
County Development Plan Review and Local Area Plan reviews. (Measurement: 10 public meetings held 2016 – 2018 as part of Development Plan and Local Area Plans review.)


High-level Goal G5 – Promote Equality and Inclusiveness Across All Sectors.

G5 has 2 objectives. Neither mention gender or women.

  • Objective A. To ensure the voice of the most excluded is heard across sectors.
  • Objective B. Develop leadership capacity in promoting inclusion.

Indirectly, some goals, if appropriately scoped, might contribute to women’s “full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership in economic life”. For example Laois’ G2B5 may support all genders.

  • High-level Goal G2 states: “Diversify and Strengthen a Sustainable Laois Economy”
  • Objective B states: “Support Businesses to grow and improve performance”.
  • Action 5 states: “Organise a National and a Local Enterprise Week for existing Laois entrepreneurs and potential entrepreneurs”

Activity Versus Outcomes

G3A, states ‘support start-up enterprises and the growth of small businesses‘ and the action to achieve this is a presentation to the SPC (G3A1). Important as it is to keep the SPC informed, a presentation does nothing to support women (or anyone else) in start-ups and small businesses. This action falls foul to the common problem of ‘activity’ over ‘outcome’. A focus on indicators aims to avoid this problem.

Intersectionality & Women

Each LECP considers the population served. In Laois’ largest towns, 5 – 9% of the population are Black or Asian, and 1-2% are Travellers. Additionally many Laois residents were born outside Ireland in countries that recently joined the EU or in non-EU countries.

  • My Country of Birth Recently Joined EU: 12.6% in Portlaoise , 6.3% in Portarlington & 3% in Mountmellick.
  • My Country of Birth is Beyond the EU: 7.1% in Portlaoise, 4.2% in Portarlington, and 3.9% in Mountmellick.

Therefore an intersectional approach that consider not just gender but how gender interacts with other demographics would benefit at least 1 in 10 people, and perhaps as high as 29%, or 1 in 3 in Portlaoise.

Women in Leadership – Supporting Female Entrepreneurs

In 2020, the Local Enterprise Offices trained ~21,000 female entrepreneurs in the first 6 months of the year, an increase of 59% over 2019. It is unclear from 2017 and 2018 Impact Reports how well women (and minorities) are being supported.


In 2020, the National Women’s Council of Ireland, 2020 called on Ireland’s National politicians to:

  • Legislate for a quota system to be extended to local elections with an initial quota of
    30% women’s representation in the Local Elections 2024 & additional targets to
    improve diversity
    .
  • Legislate for a 50% gender quota and targets for diversity for decision-making structures in communities.
  • Support and resource the women’s community sector to advance equality and support marginalized women to participate in public and political life.

So are we moving towards “ensur[ing] women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at local decision-making in political and economic” in Ireland?

Gender Balance in Participation

A clearer focus on tackling the barriers to gender equality in leadership in local government would be welcome. As we saw above, Ireland has some way to go in achieving gender inclusion in elected local representation, local civil servants and through community participation. Develop the PPNs offers potential for improving gender balance in community participation.

Actions To Remove Barriers & Enable Gender Balanced Participation

Through the actions of the 31 local authorities, there is an opportunity to focus on women full and effective participation. Currently LECPs focus on inspiring new entrepreneurs, and by providing subsidized trainings through the LEOs. While female entrepreneurs likely benefit from other actions, such as 1-on-1 mentoring, the only women-focused action is the National Women’s Enterprise Day, an annual one-day event run by the LEOs.

Indicators To Focus on Outcomes, Not Just Actions For Gender Balance Participation

Implementing the recommendations of National Women’s Council of Ireland would be welcome. Reviewing plans through the lens of SDGs, as done in Dublin City Council’s Corporate Plan, offers a model to build gender focus into LECPs. In 2020 this approach seems likely to provide further evidence that women receive little support, and that local government is not acting on Ireland’s national ambitions to achieve SDG 5.5.


Your Actions To Move Ireland Towards SDG 5 – Gender Equality Locally