*Photograph: Gary Collins
Ennis Municipal District will lose a seat and therefore a councillor following May’s local elections, Cllr Mary Howard is not in favour of the changes and feels the people of Clare need more female representatives on the Council.
Last month, Cllr Howard was selected alongside Cllr Paul Murphy and Cllr Johnny Flynn to represent Fine Gael in the Ennis MD for the 2019 local elections. She is frustrated that their MD will have one less seat as it could implicate the amount of work done in the town. “At the end of the day Ennis is the county town. When you think back to this time five years ago we had 18 representatives working for the town of Ennis, you had the nine councillor and the nine town councillors, of that there was three that were both town and county but it’s a very busy space and there is a lot going on in Ennis, we’ve a lot of community engagement which is great and I think we need to have more councillors representing the town of Ennis”.
A full-time councillor, she struggled to see how some councillors can combine their role on the local authority with another full-time position. “I don’t know how anybody could do this job part time. For me it is a full time job whether that’s because I’ve got involved with so many organisations I don’t know, I genuinely feel that in order to serve the town effectively you’ve got to do it full time”.
First elected to Clare County Council in 2014, Mary has for the last four years spoke about her love of the job and that remains the case. “I am so involved in so many things within the community because I really love where we come from, I think we are very privileged to have a capital town like Ennis which is busy and thriving, we have a super county, you couldn’t want for anything in any other county in Ireland we’ve got it all here in Clare. To be able to represent the people of the town and the county I’m hugely proud to do that at any stage when asked to do it. There’s a huge amount of positive stuff and I’m always inclined to beat the positive drum because people are very quick to stand up, complain and give out but there is a huge amount going on that people aren’t just aware”.
Prior to being elected to the local authority, Howard was a member of Ennis Town Council. She told The Clare Echo that the abolition of the town councils is one less gateway for women to enter politics. At present, there are just three female elected officials on the Council, all of which are in Ennis. “The town councils were a great place for women to be because for some reason they tended to gravitate towards that and we had great female representation on all the town councils. I think women have a huge amount to give, we have a different way of solving a problem, we look at it differently. We have great empathy for the people we’re dealing with and in fairness Council work you’re often dealing with people who are in crisis whether it’s a housing issue or debt. We need an awful lot more women, over half the population is female but women need to start supporting women”.
Four years ago, along with Cllr Clare Colleran Molloy, Mary received the lowest amount of first preference votes of the councillors elected. With local elections she feels there is a danger of candidates being deemed to be safe but pointed out that in the 2016 General Election, she received the most votes in Ennis town of all the female candidates.
“With local elections, there’s always this thing going out that such and such is safe and is strong, that’s very dangerous talk and certainly it did come back to me in the last local elections that it was being put out about me that I was safe, you’re never safe and if anybody wants to vote for you they should vote for you as opposed to being strategic with their vote, if they think you deserve their vote and you’ve worked hard enough and they feel or believe you are an effective councillor then absolutely they should give you their vote”.
Two years ago, she contested both the General and Seanad elections but was unsuccessful in both. When asked if she would consider running for either again, Mary said, “I truly don’t know, I haven’t thought about it. They were tough elections, I gave everything that I possibly could to try have an impact however it wasn’t to be”.
She added, “I don’t think you can plan like that in this job, I genuinely don’t think you can, a General Election can be called at any given time, I know the Fine Gael ticket has been confirmed for a number of months but you just never know, that’s the nature of politics you just don’t know what’s around the corner, everyday I enjoy the work and I don’t know what will be presented to me in the future or what opportunities I’ll have but I was never one to shy away, I was always willing what opportunity landed in front of me”.