Written for Trinity College Dublin's Covid-19 Law and Human Right's Observatory. A link to the article on their website is available here. Updated 14 September 2020
What is a ‘Lockdown’?
Over the past year, governments worldwide have used ‘lockdown’ strategies to suppress transmission of Covid-19. But this has meant different things in different countries. Some authoritarian regimes have imposed tough restrictions on public movement, with penal sanctions attached. But in Ireland - as in most Western democracies - ‘lockdown’ has involved a combination of ‘soft’ guidelines without sanctions for breach; and ‘hard’ rules carrying the force of criminal law.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
I welcome the Minister back to the House. I also welcome the opportunity to debate this important issue. All of us and others outside the House have spoken of the wider context in which the Bill is being proposed. All of us have seen horrific murders in recent weeks and months. Many have mentioned the shooting today in Lusk and there was another shooting last week very close to where I live in a busy shopping street in the south inner city. All of us have been shocked by the brutality of these murders and shootings and by the recent violence, although we acknowledge they represent only a small number of individuals who are connected to an international and national drugs trade and to criminal organisations. That is the context within which the Bill is being introduced and, clearly, a key aim of the Bill is to act to seek to tackle those involved in criminal organisations at low and middle level. I recognise that tackling organised crime at all levels is a priority for the Government and all of us acknowledge that. There is no doubt that the escalation of crime, particularly in inner city Dublin in recent months, requires a proactive approach.
I and my party colleagues in the Labour Party would emphasise, and I am sure most would agree, that tackling this level of this type of organised crime requires tackling the core issues of disadvantage, of drug use and of tackling these in a way where we do not only have a criminal justice approach. I share Senator Ruane's concern about criminalising addiction and my colleague, Senator Ó Ríordáin expressed that view recently in a debate on the misuse of drugs legislation. We would clearly support a model that would examine much broader issues and that would redirect attention and investment towards disadvantaged communities suffering from a lack of opportunity. We drafted our amendment along the lines of the amendment, to which Senator Mac Lochlainn referred, concerning the ring-fencing of any proceeds or money confiscated towards disadvantaged communities.