I thank Deputy Corcoran Kennedy for raising this subject and commend her academic and professional treatment of it.
The introduction of the third Home Rule Bill to Parliament at Westminster on 11 April 1912 was a pivotal moment in our history. This Bill is the point of departure for the centenary commemorative programme which will take place over the coming decade and which will centre on the proclamation of the Irish Republic at Easter 1916. With the introduction of the Home Rule Bill, a series of events gathered pace that culminated in the establishment of this State. It was a period of profound change for Ireland, Britain, Europe and the wider world. States and societies were transformed and the outcomes have shaped the world we know today.
It is my intention that the commemorative programme will address the key political events and, most important, provide a comprehensive presentation of the economic, social and cultural issues of the period. It is appropriate that we keep these events in mind as their centenaries approach. A centenary anniversary is of special significance. It is perhaps the earliest opportunity for a generation without direct contact with the period to assess the historic events and their consequences. A more balanced and informed understanding can be achieved than is possible in the aftermath of such profound changes. It can also be expected that a better understanding of the issues and circumstances will be assisted by the release of records and the progress of research over the years. I believe that this may particularly be the case with regard to the roles and contributions of women in the revolutionary period. With some distinguished exceptions, the role of women has not always been fully recognised over this period. I hope that this may be redressed in the commemorative programme. With this in mind, in discussions with colleagues with regard to the composition of the expert advisory group emphasis was placed on the need for particular consideration to be given to women's history, experience and contribution throughout the period.
The initial events of the official commemorative programme this year related to Carson and Redmond and were arranged around the anniversary of the Home Rule Bill. In these presentations, it was noted that the Home Rule debate was not insulated from the other issues of the day. This perception was particularly reflected in the photograph presented in March to the First Minister of Northern Ireland following the Carson lecture in Dublin. The photograph shows Sir Edward Carson being confronted by suffragette protestors at Iveagh House in 1912 while he was campaigning to resist the Home Rule Bill. The suffragettes were very prominent in political demonstrations of the time and were doubtless also involved in the hostile reception given to Winston Churchill in Belfast that year.
It is not unique to Ireland that the pages of history are dominated by the political and military headlines that define a period. The progress of society in the same period in matters of employment, migration, health and education does not often provide the equivalent moments and anniversaries that facilitate commemoration. Nonetheless, these issues are of fundamental importance, essential to an informed understanding of the period.
The transformation of society by the Reform Acts of the 19th century, incrementally extending the franchise for men, brought a consciousness of future possibilities for all. It has been suggested that the Representation of the People Act 1832, which specified that only "male persons" were to vote, was the first explicit statutory bar to women's suffrage and itself a trigger to campaigning for equality.
New Zealand was the first nation in the world to achieve universal suffrage in 1893 and Australia followed in 1902. The campaign for reform in Britain and Ireland reflected this growing consciousness of the times. The Women's Social and Political Union was founded in Manchester in 1903 by six women, including Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst, who soon emerged as the group's leaders.
The Irish Women's Franchise League was founded in 1908 by Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington. Members pursued their campaign through civil disobedience, demonstration and protest - commonly including, as the Deputy mentioned, window breaking. Arrests and imprisonment resulted in hunger strike, for which the authorities introduced release under the Prisoner's (Temporary Discharge for Ill Health) Act, followed in due course by re-arrest. The campaign for voting rights brought interaction with the other issues of the day and during the 1913 lockout suffragists worked in Liberty Hall, providing food for the families of the strikers.
As with the Home Rule Bill, the progress of the campaign for voting equality was overtaken by the coming of the Great War. However, the experience of the war - both the horrors for men fighting at the front and the experience of the women mobilised to sustain industry and output at home - ensured that the future would be different from the past.
The Representation of the People Act 1918 extended the franchise to men over 21 and women over 30 with certain conditions. With this restriction women accounted for approximately 43% of the electorate and would otherwise have been in the majority owing to the loss of men in the war. Following the passing of the Representation of the People Act, the Eligibility of Women Act was passed, allowing women to be elected into Parliament. The first election held under the new system was the 1918 general election. Polling took place in December 1918. Several women stood for election. However, only one, Constance Markievicz, was elected for the constituency of Dublin St. Patrick's.
Perhaps the final vindication of the suffragette campaign came with the provision of the 1922 Irish Free State Constitution which, in theory at least, removed the limitations on Irish women's access to the full rights of citizenship. It was to the detriment of our society that this provision of the 1922 Constitution was the last real advancement of the rights of women for the following half century.
Mindful of their campaign sustained to 1918, I am confident that the campaign for women's voting rights and the activities of the suffragettes in Ireland will be a consistent consideration in the commemorative programme. The events planned for later this year focus on the signing of the Ulster Covenant and the associated Declaration which was signed by a 250,000 women. As the commemorative programme continues, I would be very pleased to see initiatives that bring attention to the suffragettes' campaign and the other activities of women in this historic decade.