Women in Politics - There’s something about Buncrana’s Rena Donaghey

Colr. Rena Donaghey. (0302PG43)
Colr. Rena Donaghey. (0302PG43)

Rena Donaghy has no problem analyising the current situation: “Politics has changed so much since I was first elected as a Donegal County Councillor in 2009. Then there was an abundance of funding for roads and housing, now the development charges from the housing boom have gone, the Local Government grant has been halved and commercial rates have been lost as businesses have been forced to close doors. There has been a big turnaround.”

When Rena Donaghey was elected to Buncrana Town Council in 1994 she was the first female representative in the council chamber and the first Fianna Fail councillor in Buncrana in fifty years.

Where others had tried and failed, this Cockhill lady, perhaps not your average Fianna Fail member, had succeeded.

“I was never in a political party, ok my family would always have supported Fianna Fail, but I was not wasn’t really involved. I was asked by the party in 1994 to join them and run as a councillor so I thought, why not? I had a lot of involvement in community groups locally, and volunteered for a number of years at Citizens Advice.

“I also worked in the Social Welfare in Buncrana so people would have known me through these channel. I was delighted to get in, and even more so to be the only woman in Buncrana,” laughed Colr Donaghey.

Women minority

Despite being a popular face in the peninsula for 18 years, the Inishowen woman and her two other female councillor counterparts, Sinn Fein’s Cora Harvey and Marie-Therese Gallagher, are in a massive minority compared to the male councillors.

In a motion to Donegal County Council last year, Colr Donaghey called on council Officals to appoint a women’s officer to develop and support woman’s organisations in the county, as well as supporting female employees within the Council.

“Women’s representation in local authorities has been consistently low but after the 2009 elections things got even worse with women accounting for just 16% of councillors elected,” explained Colr Donaghey. “In Donegal there has never been more than four female councillors at one time and there are no women at all on DCC’s Senior Management team.

“There are too many barriers which inhibit women’s participation in politics, such as lack of family friendly policies, our lack of confidence and support in general. This is not a 9-5 job, it can be very demanding and days you could start first thing in the morning and finish at 12 o’clock at night, but it is worth it.

“Within Fianna Fail we have a new policy where we want at least one third of representatives to be women and I think this is something which should be enforced across the board. Not only that but within the council itself, such as Strategic Policy Committees, women are not represented at all despite females making up the largest percentages in community groups.”

Another passion of the Buncrana mother of four is her involvement in community groups in Buncrana and across the peninsula. From the Buncrana Tidy Towns to the Cockhill Youth Club, she still continues to be an active member in many groups.

“I helped set up Buncrana Tidy Towns, I was in the steering group behind Cashel na Cor and I set up the first Girl Guide group in the town. As well as that since my four children joined Cockhill Youth Club, I went along to help out….. 20 years later I’m still a member.

“It is difficult for community groups nowadays, they have to work so much harder to survive. People are finding it tough and our job is public representative is to help them where we can, I think we are needed by people a lot more now.”

Despite continually working hard for the people in Inishowen the local councillor is deter minded not to rest on her laurels, Colr Donaghey have recently completed a diploma in Local Government studies through the NUI Galway,

So sad

However it is not just local community groups which have faced trying times in recent years, the day to day effects of the recession have hit home for the Buncrana mother of four with devastating results

“Emigration has been the worst thing in this peninsula in the past number of years. We are losing our young, vibrant, intelligent people and it is so sad. This week 13 more young people left the town and this just keeps growing. Everyone is suffering, the businesses where the young people spent money like the hair dressers, bars and beauty salons, the taxi men and not to mention the distress parents are going through.

“Some of these young people won’t come back; they’ll set up a life for themselves in Australia or wherever they go and only come back here on holidays.”