Women’s rights activist Sylvia Meehan dies aged 89

Ms Meehan’s ‘pioneering work paved the way for a generation of feminists’ – Ictu

Activist Sylvia Meehan, whose roles included president of   the Irish Senior Citizens Parliament, has died aged 89.  File photograph: Alan Betson

Activist Sylvia Meehan, whose roles included president of the Irish Senior Citizens Parliament, has died aged 89. File photograph: Alan Betson

 

Áine McMahon

Tributes have been paid to Irish women’s rights activist and trade unionist Sylvia Meehan, who has died aged 89.

Her death follows a long illness, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (Ictu) has said.

Ms Meehan studied legal and political science at UCD, where she was the first woman to win the UCD Literary and Historical Association gold medal in 1951.

She began her career in teaching, becoming heavily involved with the Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland trade union during her teaching years and the Women’s Committee of Ictu.

She served as the first chair and chief executive of the Employment Equality Authority, from its establishment in 1997 until 1992.

In 1977, she left teaching to become the first chief executive of the Employment Equality Agency, which was established to oversee the enforcement of the Employment Equality Act.She has been particularly credited with being instrumental in the movement towards achieving equal pay for women.

In more recent years, she served as President of the Irish Senior Citizens Parliament.

The President, Michael D Higgins, said her pioneering work on equality in education and employment had left a lasting legacy.

“In her life, Sylvia Meehan overcame many challenges, becoming a tenacious campaigner for workers’ rights, determined to promote the inclusion and empowerment of women, older people and all vulnerable sections of society.

“Her energy, vision and dynamism were directed at making Ireland a more empowering, informed and welcoming society.”

Ictu General Secretary Patricia King said Ms Meehan’s “pioneering work paved the way for a generation of feminists”.

“Sylvia believed that woman must demand their place at the negotiating table and encouraged greater participation by women in the trade union movement, in civic society and in politics,” said Ms King.

Director of the National Women’s Council of Ireland Orla O’Connor said Ms Meehan “will be a great loss not only for her family but for the women’s movement in Ireland.”

Minister for Equality, Immigration and Integration, David Stanton said he was “very saddened” to learn of Ms Meehan’s death.

“An inspiring role model and a campaigner for equality when it was far from fashionable, she has been hugely influential across a long career which spanned teaching, public service as the first Chair of the Employment Equality Agency, and advocacy,” he said.

“We take inspiration from her example as we continue to work for full gender equality. On behalf of Minister Flanagan and on my own behalf, I extend our deepest sympathies to Sylvia’s family and friends.”

Sinn Féin spokesman for workers’ rights David Cullinane said Ms Meehan was an “outstanding advocate and activist”.

Ms Meehan is survived by her five children, John, Niall, Sarah, Richard and Rosa.