I have always campaigned for human rights and civil liberties. In 1989-90, as President of Trinity Students’ Union, I was taken to court along with fellow SU officers. We were threatened with prison by anti-abortion activists, in an important case that paved the way for legal change to legalise the provision of information on abortion to women with crisis pregnancies.
Since then, for many years I have been involved in a range of different rights campaigns; on anti-racism, on women’s rights, on trade union rights, on LGBT rights and disability rights; and on equality and social justice.
Because of my work as a legal academic and practitioner in the criminal law field, I have also been very involved in issues around education and criminal justice. Some years ago I worked with the Trinity Access Programme to extend scholarships in Law to students from targeted disadvantaged schools – a scheme now taken up College-wide.
There is a view abroad that the liberal agenda has been achieved – but there is still so much to be done. Since my election in 2007 and re-election in 2011, I have tried to use the Seanad as a launching pad for a new radical social agenda.
As a Senator, I have campaigned on issues such as LGBT marriage rights, childcare rights, abortion rights, paid paternity leave, educational equality, criminal justice reforms, environmental changes. I have also spoken in the Seanad to call for the separation of church and state, the extension of multi-denominational schooling; and for the introduction of paid paternity leave so that fathers could take time off work to help look after new babies.
In my capacity as a member of the Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality, I have worked hard on a range of campaigns such as these.
Among the initiatives I have taken as a Senator are:
A Climate Protection Bill in 2007 which I drafted with Friends of the Earth Ireland, and which was backed by a whole range of environmental and development NGOs.
A Bill to prohibit Female Genital Mutilation, which was accepted by the Government in 2010 and became law finally in 2012.
A Bill to give legal status to wedding ceremonies conducted by Humanist celebrants, which was accepted by Government and became law in 2013.
A Bill to amend the Civil Registration Act to remove the prohibition on marriage for same-sex couples – published but not yet debated.
A Bill to amend section 37 of the Employment Equality Act and prevent discrimination by religious-run schools and hospitals against LGBT employees – debated in the Seanad in March 2013 and passed second stage.
A Report on Penal Reform which I wrote for the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice, published in 2013, which made radical proposals for change to the penal system and which received wide cross-party support.
And extensive work on the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill 2015.
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.
Speech by Ivana Bacik on Eighth Amendment Committee Report
17 January 2018
Seanad Group Leader, Spokesperson on Communications, Climate Action and the Environment
As chairperson of the Vótáil100 committee which is organising the celebrations around the 2018 centenary of women's suffrage in Ireland, I am delighted that we will have so many exciting events and exhibitions taking place in Leinster House. The first year that Irish women had the right to vote and run in parliamentary elections was 1918. Over the course of 2018, the Houses of the Oireachtas will commemorate this important centenary with a programme of cultural, historical and educational events marking the work of the suffrage movement in Ireland going back to the early 19th century.