I have a long-standing record of campaigning on women’s rights issues as a Feminist activist. 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 for providing information on abortion to women with crisis pregnancies, 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 women’s rights and equality campaigns.
I have campaigned on issues such as childcare rights, abortion rights, paid paternity leave, educational equality, the separation of church and state, the introduction of paid paternity leave.
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:
An ‘Oireachtas Women’ day in December 2008 to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the 1918 election in which women first had the right to vote;
A Report on women’s participation in politics which I wrote for the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice in 2009, and which paved the way for the adoption of gender quota legislation in 2012 - the Electoral (Amendment)(Political Funding) Act 2012, which will require political parties to select at least 30% of their candidates of each gender for the General Election in 2016 and to adopt similar selection quotas for all subsequent general elections, rising eventually to a 40% minimum for each gender.
A Bill to prohibit Female Genital Mutilation, which was accepted by the Government in 2010 and became law finally in 2012.
I played a very active role in the debate on the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013, which aimed to clarified the law on when doctors may terminate pregnancy in order to save women’s lives. I will continue to campaign for repeal of the Eighth Amendment and the introduction of genuinely pro-choice abortion legislation and am proud to have been the rapporteur for the Labour Women Commission and Report outlining legislation post a repeal of the 8th amendment. Here is the link to that report. http://www.labour.ie/download/pdf/labour_women_8th_amendment_report_copy.pdf
You will see more detail about my work on these and a range of other women’s rights campaigns and initiatives elsewhere on this website.
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.
It was a pleasure to launch the National Print Museum seminar: "Protest through Print: Women's Suffrage and Print Media Centenary Seminar" as part of the excellent exhibition Print, Protest and the Polls.
I highly recommend visiting the exhibition before it ends next month.
More information available on the Print Museum's website https://www.nationalprintmuseum.ie/print-protest-and-the-polls-the-irish-suffrage-campaign-and-the-power-of-print-media/
The Irish Women's Parliamentary Caucus hosted the first International Congress of Parliamentary Women's Caucuses on 9-10 September 2018 in Dublin Castle, Ireland.
The conference brought together female parliamentarians from more than 40 countries to discuss issues facing women and how parliamentarians can work to address them.
You can find out more on the Oireachtas website here: https://www.oireachtas.ie/en/inter-parliamentary-work/womens-caucus/programme/