Minister says conservative Irish State let women down for ‘far too long’

Josepha Madigan said the idealism of revolutionary generation was not fulfilled

Lea Taylor and Nicola Wright dressed in Suffragettes costume hold a mock protest on the Royal Mile on February 6th, 2018 in Edinburgh, Scotland. Photograph:  Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Lea Taylor and Nicola Wright dressed in Suffragettes costume hold a mock protest on the Royal Mile on February 6th, 2018 in Edinburgh, Scotland. Photograph: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

 

The Irish State “failed women for far too long,” Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Josepha Madigan has said.

Much of the idealism of the revolutionary period was lost in the conservative state that followed independence, the Minister said at the launch of the Government’s programme to mark 100 years since women got the vote.

Independence represented a “missed opportunity” to ensure that women played a full part in the State, she added.

Ms Madigan said it was “shocking” that it took 60 years between the appointment of the first woman cabinet minister, Constance Markievicz in 1919, and the appointment of the next woman to hold ministerial office, Maire Geoghegan Quinn in 1979.

She added: “One hundred years ago today marked the beginning of a long journey - which is not over yet - towards realising the full inclusion of Irish women in public and political life.

“It is right to celebrate that moment - but also to celebrate the role of women in Irish political life over the last 100 years. It is striking to note how few women have been able to participate in Irish political life until relevantly recently.”

Speaking at the launch in Marlay House, south Dublin, Ms Madigan quoted Markievicz who said in a debate in Dáil Éireann in 1922 that it was 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.

“Fix your mind on the ideal of Ireland free, with her women enjoying the full rights of citizenship in their own nation, and no one will be able to sidetrack you.”

One of the highlights of the Government programme will be a museum exhibition, curated by historian Sinéad McCoole, which will run from November until January 2019.

It will run in the Coach House, Dublin Castle and will tour the country. It will tell the story of the 114 women TDs who have been elected since the foundation of the State.

A formal process will begin to enable the commissioning of a new monument to mark the role of women in the revolutionary period leading to the foundation of the State.

Two new commemorative stamps on the theme of ‘popular democracy’ will be issued by An Post in October, 2018.

Eavan Boland will deliver her commissioned poem on women’s suffrage at the UN General Assembly - an initiative of the Department of Foreign Affairs in partnership with the Royal Irish Academy on the eve of the centenary of the 1918 General Election.

The Government programme is separate from Vótáil 100, the programme set by the members of the Oireachtas though Ms Madigan said as a member of the Oireachtas that she intended to participate in both.

The Minister also launched the publication by historian Sinead McCoole of the book Mná 1916/Women of 1916 based on the 2016 exhibition on the contribution of women to the Easter Rising.

The book tells the story of 300 women who participated in some way in the Rising.

Speaking at the launch, Ms McCoole said the role of women in Irish history must “never again be dismissed, under-estimated or trivialised”.