What does the suffragette movement mean to young Irish women?

Vótáil 100 marks the 100th anniversary of the vote for Irish women

Senator Ivana Bacik, with students in TCD Muireann McQuillan, Maeve Peyton and Áine Hamm. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Senator Ivana Bacik, with students in TCD Muireann McQuillan, Maeve Peyton and Áine Hamm. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

In the early hours of June 12th, 1912, Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington and an accomplice Margaret Murphy broke windows in Dublin Castle.

It was one of the firsts act of a suffrage campaign which began in Britain and extended to Ireland, eventually leading to the passing of the Representation of the People Act on February 6th, 1918, giving women the vote for the first time.

On Tuesday, Sheehy-Skeffington’s granddaughter Micheline Sheehy-Skeffington will re-enact the window smashing exercise – except the windows will be made of sugar ice not glass.

She said: “This is the time to celebrate what the suffragettes achieved. There isn’t enough being done to remember them.”

But what does the suffragette movement mean to young Irish women today?

Muireann McQuillan (19), a clinical speech and language student at Trinity College Dublin, said “we’ve never had a female taoiseach so that’s not good”.

“I think it’s important to have a female leader because young girls growing up might be more inclined to go into politics. If you’re not seeing it, you’ll feel like there’s a glass ceiling before you even have tried. I think that’s really discouraging.”

Classmate Áine Hamm (18) said female involvement in Irish politics has stagnated since the first Dáil, when Constance Markievicz was elected minister for labour.

“I think it’s really sad that around 100 years ago there were so many women in politics and it was so progressive for the time, and now they have to try and enforce quotas to meet a minimum level and enforce equality.”

Law student Nicola Ó Corrbuí (19) said greater female representation was needed “now more than ever” with the upcoming vote on the Eighth Amendment.

Women’s voices

“If there’s ever going to be legislation on it, there needs to be a more even balance in the Dáil so that women’s voices can be heard evenly, especially since this is primarily a women’s topic,” said Ms Ó Corrbuí, one of a number of students who The Irish Times interviewed to seek their views on the suffrage movement.

The State centenary programme to remember women getting the vote, Vótáil 100, will be launched on Tuesday afternoon by Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Josepha Madigan.

She will also launch the book Women/Mná of 1916 by historian Sinéad McCoole. It lists 300 women who were involved in the Rising, twice as many as had previously been thought to be involved.

Ivana Bacik, Labour Party Senator and chair of Vótáil 100, said “it is really important that we mark these events and we note the significance of the centenary because until 1918 gender was a barrier to women’s participation as citizens”.

Initially, the right to vote was limited to women over the age of 30 who had property or were university graduates. By contrast all men over the age of 21 got the vote.