Why did no women speak at the Rosie Hackett Bridge opening?

Labour Youth who campaigned for woman’s name say lack of female speakers was ‘ironic’

Today they opened the Rosie Hackett Bridge. A bridge to celebrate the life, achievements and fighting spirit of a young, working class Dublin woman. Rosie Hackett, a veteran of the 1913 Lockout who fought for the Irish Citizen Army in the Easter Rising, who helped establish and build the Irish Women Workers Union. Rosie Hackett, an activist, a campaigner for workers' rights, for womens' rights, for the rights of all people of Ireland.

"Rosie Hackett was an ordinary woman who lived in extraordinary times," according to Jeni Gartland, who, along with Angelina Cox and Lisa Connell, all members of Labour Youth, spearheaded the campaign to get a bridge in Dublin named after a woman for the first time. Three extraordinary, ordinary young women who did so much to get trams rolling across the Liffey for Rosie Hackett.

So were these young women asked to speak at the opening?

“We weren’t asked to speak and we don’t mind,” said Gartland. “We just think there should have been one woman speaker. It was ironic that the bridge was named after a woman and there weren’t any women speakers.”

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Mayor of Dublin Oisin Quinn, Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar and Siptu general secretary Joe O'Flynn did the honours for Rosie's bridge.

“So gender quotas don’t apply to openings, even of bridges named after a woman who fought for equaity,” tweeted UCD historian Mary McAuliffe. To be fair, Mr Varadkar was paying lip service to the vital role women played in the Easter Rising and pointing out the aspirations to equality for all in the Proclamation. Unfortunately, the fact that in 2014 only 15 per cent of the Dail are women, means such equality remains aspirational.

Rosie Hackett's nephew John Gray paid gracious tribute to his aunt and to the three young women campaigners. He also singled out historian Therese Moriarty for mention.

When the shortlist of the candidates for the naming of the new bridge was whittled down to the final five by members of Dublin City Council, Rosie Hackett, camogie player Kay Mills, Alone founder Willie Bermingham, Dracula author Bram Stoker and Legion of Mary founder Frank Duff found themselves unusual running mates.

But how quickly allegiances are traded. In the original stages of the campaign, Mr Varadkar's party, Fine Gael, wanted it to be the Willie Bermingham bridge, Quinn's party, Labour, quite fancied the James Connolly bridge to go with James Connolly hospital, Connolly Station and the James Connolly statue by Liberty Hall. Siptu stuck manfully with Connolly until he was eliminated from the race.

So what does Jeni Gartland think Rosie Hackett would have made of it all? “I don’t know how Rosie would have felt. Her nephew John Gray said she would think it strange having a bridge named after her. We are just delighted it has happened.”

Well dodged Ms Gartland. “I don’t want to put a dampener on the day and it is brilliant to get a bridge named after a woman, but it’s ironic that there wasn’t a woman speaker.”

So why weren’t there any women speaking at the opening of the Rosie Hackett Bridge today Mr Quinn?

“That’s a good point,” said Mayor Quinn, a little taken aback by the revelation contained within the question. “The Lord Mayor of Dublin is a man, the Minister for Transport is a man and the general secretary of Siptu happens to be a man.”

“Mind you there is a tram on the bridge with ‘Votes for Women’ on it. And Rosie’s here in spirit.” Thank goodness for that.

The Obstreporous Lassies on Rosie Hackett’s Bridge never got near a microphone. “Equal rights and equal opportunities” for all its citizens remained a beautiful Irish aspiration. Today everything in the garden was Rosie. Except it wasn’t. And it isn’t - even 100 years after Rosie Hackett played her extraordinary role in a series of remarkable events.

Maybe expecting equal rights for women - on the podium and in the parliament - is just a bridge too far.