Today marks the centenary of Countess Markievicz being appointed Secretary for Labour and a member of the executive – making her the first woman to hold a ministerial position in Great Britain and Ireland, and the first female Minister in Western Europe.Countess Markievicz was one of the two women who stood for election in Ireland in 1918, the other being Winifred Carney, and she was the only woman elected in Britain or Ireland. Born into a life of privilege, she was presented to Queen Victoria at Buckingham Palace in 1887. However she chose instead to pursue art, theatre and political causes including women’s suffrage, socialism and Irish republicanism.By 1911 she was a member of Sinn Féin and was arrested while protesting against the visit to Dublin of King George V. Madame de Markievicz, as she sometimes styled herself, supported the striking workers during the 1913 lock-out and organised soup kitchens to feed the poor of Dublin. She fought in the 1916 Rising as a member of the Irish Citizen Army, and was second in command at St. Stephen’s Green. On her release from prison in June 1917 she continued to work with Sinn Féin.She was back in prison at the time of the 1918 election but won over 65% of the votes and became the first woman elected to the House of Commons. She was still imprisoned when elected to the House of Commons, and celebrated the historic win from her cell, where she received a letter from 10 Downing Street inviting her to attend the state opening of parliament, addressed “Dear Sir…”. However, she never took her seat in Westminster. Constance Markievicz was released from Holloway Gaol on 10 March 1919 and along with the majority of Sinn Féin TDs elected was absent from the first sitting on 21 January 1919 due to her imprisonment. Before returning to Dublin, she visited Westminster to look at the peg reserved for her in the MPs’ vestibule. It was located next to that of Sir Edward Carson. She went on to become a dedicated Teachta Dála and speaking in the Dáil Éireann Debate on Thursday on 2 Mar 1922, ‘That a decree be passed having for its object the admission of Irish women to the Parliamentary Franchise on the same terms as Irish men,’ which lowered the voting age for women to 21 years on the same terms as men, Markievicz said that:
I rise to support this just measure for women because it is one of the things that I have worked for wherever I was since I was a young girl. My first realisation of tyranny came from some chance words spoken in favour of woman's suffrage and it raised a question of the tyranny it was intended to prevent —women voicing their opinions publicly in the ordinary and simple manner of registering their votes at the polling booth. That was my first bite, you may say, at the apple of freedom and soon I got on to the other freedom, freedom to the nation, freedom to the workers. This question of votes for women, with the bigger thing, freedom for women and opening of the professions to women, has been one of the things that I have worked for and given my influence and time to procuring all my life whenever I got an opportunity. I have worked in Ireland, I have even worked in England, to help the women to obtain their freedom. I would work for it anywhere, as one of the crying wrongs of the world, that women, because of their sex, should be debarred from any position or any right that their brains entitle them a right to hold.
One of the main events of the year marking Countess Markievicz, was the presentation by Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl of a portrait of Markievicz to Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow on the 19 July last year. The Vótáil 100 committee were in attendance for the presentation in the Speaker’s House in Westminster and on that same day we visited the grave of Constance’s sister Eva Gore-Booth in Hampstead Heath. The presentation was the first formal recognition by the House of Commons of Markievicz being elected as the first woman MP, albeit not taking her seat. The picture, which is a photographic reproduction of a 1901 oil painting of Markievicz owned by Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane, went on public display in Parliament’s ‘Voice and Vote’ exhibition until 6 October when it was transferred to Portcullis House for public display.
Almost 30 years ago, I was threatened with prison by SPUC (Society for the Protection of Unborn Children). It was September 1989. I was president of Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU), and SPUC were seeking to imprison our four TCDSU sabbatical officers for providing information on abortion in our students’ union handbooks during Freshers’ Week.
A few years previously, the 1983 Eighth Amendment had been passed, equating the lives of “mother” and “unborn”.
Senator Ivana Bacik: I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time." I am delighted to be here to propose this Bill. I welcome the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Leo Varadkar, to the House. I have received an indication from the Government that it will not be opposing this Bill on Second Stage. I am very grateful for and delighted about that news. I acknowledge the presence in the Visitors Gallery of Dr. David Parris and Mr. Gerhard Scully and I thank them for being here to support the Bill and for their bravery and courage in raising publicly the important equality issue it seeks to address. The Bill is the Pensions (Equal Pension Treatment in Occupational Benefit Scheme) (Amendment) Bill 2016. I am delighted to be proposing it on behalf of Labour Party Senators. My colleague, Senator Ged Nash, will be seconding it and Senator Kevin Humphreys will be speaking on it. We are putting it forward as a Labour Party Private Members' Bill. We acknowledge the legal expertise and help provided on the Bill by our drafter, Mr. Finbarr O'Malley, and also by Professor Robert Wintemute of King's College, London, who has given us some very important legal input on the Bill. I also acknowledge the support of Ms Marguerite Bolger, senior counsel, who acted in the legal case that forms the impetus for the Bill. Let me outline the background to the Bill. It seeks to address the very small number of cases in which retired employees who, because of their sexual orientation, were not legally permitted to marry the person they desired to marry before a particular date were deprived of certain pension or survivor benefits as a result. It was drafted, as I have said, in response to a particular case which I know the Minister is aware of, namely, the case of David Parris v. Trinity College Dublin before the European Court of Justice. Judgment was given on 24 November 2016. In that case, David Parris had argued that the Trinity pension scheme was discriminatory as it provided that a Trinity employee's partner would only be entitled to a survivor's pension where the employee had married or entered a civil partnership before reaching the age of 60. The Bill seeks to address the issue that arose in that case. It will provide that if a pension scheme makes a survivor's pension entitlement dependent on the employee having married or entered civil partnership before a certain age, this would breach the principle of equal pension treatment on the sexual orientation ground where the reason the employee did not comply with the requirement was because he or she was legally incapable of marrying prior to the entry into force of civil partnership law.
Before I turn to the provisions of the Bill I will outline the facts of the Parris case in a little more detail. The applicant had been living for over 30 years in a stable relationship with his partner. His employer's pension scheme provided for the payment of a survivor's pension to the spouse or civil partner of a member. However, the survivor's pension was payable only if the member had married or entered into a civil partnership before reaching the age of 60.
This Bill seeks to address the small number of cases where retired employees who were legally not permitted to marry persons of the same sex before a particular date may be deprived of certain pension benefits.
Senator Ivana Bacik today welcomed confirmation from the Tánaiste that Ireland will admit an additional 260 Syrian refugees for resettlement here by autumn 2016, but criticised the delay in admission of refugees from Syria under the government’s resettlement programme to date.
Speaking this morning in the Seanad, Senator Ivana Bacik called for an urgent response from the Taoiseach and the Government to the ruling last week by the UN Human Rights Committee that Ireland had breached the rights of the applicant Amanda Mellet due to the prohibition in Irish law of termination of pregnancy under the Eighth Amendment, even in cases of fatal foetal abnormality.
Commending Amanda Mellet and the Termination for Medical Reasons group for their courage in taking their application to the UN and in raising the issue of fatal foetal abnormality, Senator Bacik said:
Trinity College Dublin organised an event last week 'Meet the Candidates', where all 16 #TCDSeanadElection candidates were given 4 minutes each to speak to the audience. It was also live streamed on Periscoope TV for anyone who couldn't make it.
I took the opportunity to run through my Trinity life, my legal career and my Seanad record. Here are my 4 minutes - #VoteIvanaBacik No.1