Centenary of 1918 General Election: Statements

The general election of 1918 was an extraordinary act of self-determination by the people. It is entirely right and appropriate that we in Dáil Éireann take this time, on the eve of the centenary, to remember and reflect on this most significant act in our journey to independence and nationhood. This week, a century ago, the voice of the people was heard as never before - not through force of arms but through the ballot box, the transformative power of participatory democracy, and pen and paper.

It was truly the first occasion in Irish history when all the people of Ireland, men and women, could take centre stage in shaping the future of their country. Like all the events we remember as part of the decade of centenaries, the election was not a simple or isolated one. It was not experienced at the time, nor can it be remembered now, through a single political perspective. It was the election which saw women vote and run for parliamentary seats for the first time, and the one which saw large swathes of Ireland’s disenfranchised poor, that is, those without property, vote for the first time, too. As a result, more than 1.9 million Irish people were able to exercise their political rights. Two thirds of them had never voted before in any election. It was truly an act of mass political participation, never witnessed before on this island.

The independence movement, or national movement, won more than two thirds of the available seats in Ireland. It was accepted as a mandate from the electorate to assemble in Dublin as Dáil Éireann, to win international recognition and start building up the institutions of what would become an independent Irish State. In another moment that broke new political ground, Countess Markievicz became the first woman elected to the Westminster Parliament, although she chose instead to take her seat as a Deputy in the Dáil.

It was also the election which saw the Irish Parliamentary Party, having dedicated so many long years of service to the establishment of a self-governing Home Rule Parliament in Dublin, eclipsed by the demand for greater self-government and overwhelmed by the events of the previous few years. It is fitting that we, the current guardians of the Irish parliamentary tradition, should acknowledge the role of that party in our nation’s story.

Of course, the 1918 election also underlined a profound political gulf on the island with the increase in seats for the Unionist Party, concentrated in the north eastern part of the island. As I said, much had passed since the last election had taken place in 1910: the 1913 Lockout, the Home Rule Crisis, the slaughter and destruction of the First World War, the Easter Rising and the executions and repression which followed, the failed Lloyd George negotiations of 1916 and an anti-climactic Irish Convention and in 1918, the mounting threat of conscription.

Through our commemorations of the centenaries of the major events of those years we have, I hope, engaged with our shared history in a way that is honest, measured, authentic and appropriate. We have done it in a way that has been open to the participation and contribution of all traditions and communities on the island. We have done it in the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement, which was another historic moment of transformative democratic self-determination on this island.

We will soon commemorate the sitting of the First Dáil in January and other events for which the election in 1918 crucially set the stage. In the months and years to come, we will mark and reflect on the struggle for Independence; the foundation of this State; the tragedy of our Civil War; partition and the establishment of Northern Ireland; the experience of minorities and Border communities on the island in Ireland in the period 1919-1923; and finally “taking her place among the nations of the earth” when we joined the League of Nations in September 1923.

As we mark the centenaries to come, there is an even greater need for us to do so in an inclusive manner, without either apology or partisan glorification, mindful that the events surrounding the achievement of statehood did not come without a price, a very heavy price in some cases, leaving painful legacies that echo to this day. How we mark our history is a sign of how we want to live our future. Today, it is fitting that we, as a House, take this moment to recall the extraordinary achievement which the general election of 1918 represented.

A Leas-Cheann Comhairle, ar an 14 Nollaig 1918, tharla eachtra a bhí thar a bheith stairiúil i stair na hÉireann. Ba é sin, ar bhonn 32 chontae vótáil an pobal ar son rialtas neamhspleách. Ba é an chéad toghchán riamh a ritheadh sa tír seo a raibh vóta ag gach fear os cionn 21 bhliain agus ag na mná a bhí os cionn 30 bliain d'aois. Bhí ar na mná fanacht go raibh Rialtas dúchasach an go dtí go bhfaighidís an vóta ar an mbonn céanna agus a raibh sé ag na fir.

Toghadh an Cuntaois Markievicz agus go gairid ina dhiaidh sin ceapadh í ina céad bhean a bhí mar Aire Rialtais in áit ar bith san Eoraip. Is fiú tógáil san áireamh freisin go raibh seisear ban tofa sa Dara Dáil.

Rud eile a bhí suntasach faoi, ar ndóigh, ná go raibh go leor, go leor de na hiarrthóirí imtheorannaithe i bpríosún ag an am i Sasana. Is as an toghchán seo a bunaíodh Dáil Éireann, an Chéad Dáil agus táimid sa Tríochadóú Dáil anois. I measc na ndaoine a bhí i bpríosún Lincoln ag an am bhí mo sheanathair Éamon de Valera agus is fiú a nótáil ní amháin go raibh sé ina Theachta Dála don Chlár ach bhí sé ina Theachta Dála do Mhaigh Eo Thoir i ndiaidh an toghcháin sin freisin.

This is a very important commemoration. First because it was the first election in which all men over 21 and women over 30 years of age had a vote. Women had to wait until we had a native Government before they got votes on the same basis as men. It was historic because it was the election that decided to form this Dáil or independent Parliament. It also was very important because, as has been said by the Tánaiste, Countess Markievicz, who obviously took her seat in Dáil Éireann, became the first elected woman either in Britain or Ireland. Mar sin, is dóigh liom gur lá fíorthábhachtach é seo.

Is mór an onóir dom labhairt anseo ar son Fhianna Fáil mar gheall ar an ócáid thábhachtach seo.

In remembering the 1918 election the single greatest theme that emerges is that of democratisation across a whole host of areas: the participation of women both within the electorate and as candidates, the participation for the first time of young working class men, and of course, the trebling of the electorate for the first election that had been held in seven years. The result and the changes were absolutely seismic.

What were the messages from that election? The electorate spoke out against conscription. They spoke out in democratic acceptance of the need to establish the First Dáil and indeed independence and spoke out in electing a woman for the very first time. Countess Markievicz, a warrior queen, powerful, fearless and a decisive and a forceful leader fought for women to be part of society on an equal footing with men, and thus started a century of struggle for equality and for justice. This year was and has been an opportunity to celebrate exceptional women like Constance, like Hanna Sheehy Skeffington, Winnie Kearney and others who have gone before us. We stand on their shoulders and the shoulders of women over the past 100 years. I include our mothers and our grandmothers in that. Women who day by day, step by step, carried us forward and created opportunity and gave us choice. They were women who lived through changing times and in small acts and great gestures, they threw off and tore apart the matrix of discrimination. It has to be accepted that 100 years on from that moment we have still not ended the journey which saw its first major achievement in 1918.

We should use this milestone to reflect on the road ahead and also recognise the achievements of 1918 and to acknowledge, in my limited speaking time, the work of the Houses of the Oireachtas in this, the Vótáil 100 committee chaired by Senator Bacik and the Women's Caucus chaired by Deputy Catherine Martin. This has been a seminal year for feminism. The battle for equal rights absolutely continues and to get greater female participation in politics. More work needs to be done on important societal issues such as sexual and domestic violence, gender pay gaps, pension inequality and maternal and reproductive health, to name but a few. We need to enable men to be homemakers and to support women.

Táim lán-sásta labhairt ar an ócáid stairiúil seo.

The 1918 general election remains a seminal moment in our country’s history. A defining point when poets, visionaries and soldiers came together with the mass of our nation to build a republic. They voted for equality and independence. They voted to break the link with Britain.

They voted to make good the promises of the Proclamation, and they voted for Sinn Féin. The election in 1918 was described as the "Sinn Féin election". The Sinn Féin manifesto of 1918 stated unequivocally that Sinn Féin would achieve its aims by withdrawing Irish representation from the British Parliament and by denying the right and opposing the will of the British Government, or any other foreign Government, to legislate for Ireland.

As we meet almost 100 years to the day, it is, therefore, telling and ironic that there are those in this Dáil today who would espouse otherwise. Some of them might well be very comfortable on the benches of the House of Commons or even in the House of Lords. They might be very much at home in the Palace of Westminster. They might cross their fingers and swear an oath to the British crown in exchange for privilege and the pretence of power. That is nothing new and achieves nothing. That might be their way but it is not our way. It is not the Sinn Féin way. We stand by the people who vote today for Sinn Féin MPs and who look to Dublin and not London for leadership.

Some people who come here today laud the achievement of those who refused to take their seats in the British Parliament in 1918 on the basis of a mandate from the people, and yet they espouse the utter nonsense and hypocrisy of urging the Sinn Féin of today to go against that very mandate.

The circumstances are very different now.

So 100 years on, let me put it very clearly: there is nothing stopping Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael from contesting elections in the North. They can go ahead, and as happened 100 years ago, let the people be the judges and have their say on that. Until then and beyond, Sinn Féin will represent our people on the basis of the mandate and their instruction.

The 1918 general election was unique in being the first election held on this island in which women could vote, although it was restricted to women over the age of 30. It was also the first election in which all men over the age of 21 could vote. That was defining. For the first time in history, a woman MP was returned. She was an abstentionist MP, Constance Markievicz, the most unmanageable of revolutionaries. As an Irish woman and the President of Sinn Féin, I pay a particular tribute to her today, and also to Winifred Carney, who contested the same election in the Victoria ward of east Belfast, but who sadly was not returned. Markievicz was a disrupter and a rebel of her time. She was a woman who stood on picket lines with workers. She stood with tenants against landlords and she stood on battle lines against the British. She was the scourge of the establishment and she still troubles those in power today. She remains an inspiration for all of those who hold to the principles of freedom and unity. I wonder what she would make of the Dáil today, where party-political self-interest pretends to be the national interest. I have no doubt she would berate those in power and stand for citizens' rights, for equality and for Irish unity, as we do still. One hundred years on, we are still about transforming Ireland and uniting our country. We are about building, shaping and leading the Republic. Our task, like the Sinn Féin MPs elected in 1918, is to realise the Republic of the 1916 Proclamation.

Today should not simply be about commemoration or remembrance. It is not good enough to bow our heads to the past. It is about lifting our faces to the future, delivering on the sacrifices of the past, and building a new united Ireland and a Republic worthy of the name. Today is an opportunity to reflect on the need to end the division of our country, definitively, and to bring about a united Ireland. That is Sinn Féin's central task. Unfortunately, there are people gathered in this place who take a different view. Every time Irish unity is raised, they bow the head and say, "Not now", that this is not the time. I say otherwise, because now is the time to build a united Ireland. Let us plan for a referendum on Irish unity. Let us give the people of this island their say, North and South, in accordance with provisions of the Good Friday Agreement. Let us not just look back in awe of the great men and women of 1918, but let us look forward and let us finish their work. That is the only fitting way to honour their legacy. An Phoblacht abú.

Divisive as ever.

That is no surprise.

December 1918 was a time of great change in Ireland and across the world. The Great War had just ended. A total of 19 million were dead and many more were injured. There had never before been warfare on that scale, or with such brutality. The price paid in blood accelerated the already legitimate claim by working people for political equality, and as others have said, they secured the vote for the first time in the momentous election of 1918. The choice before the people was to vote for a party, nationalist or unionist, which would take its seats in London, or for the new pro-independence party, led by Eamon de Valera, which would not. As a UK-wide general election, it was conducted using the single-seat, first-past-the-post voting system, not our multi-seat, single-transferable vote. As such, where three or four candidates were in serious contention, there was a possibility of the vote being split, which would give the seat to the leading candidate, even with a minority of votes. That was the context. The result of the 1918 election could not be known in advance, but it could be anticipated.

In the December 1910 general election, Labour had taken 42 seats. Unfortunately, they were almost all in England, with a few in Scotland and Wales. It was still a debate as to whether the cause of working people would be better served by the nascent British Labour Party or by the establishment of a separate Irish party. In 1912, in Clonmel, that question was answered decisively with the foundation of my party, the Irish Labour Party and Trade Union Congress, a single political body designed to further the interests of working people. James Connolly had taken part in the 1916 Rising. Connolly's immortal words were that: "The cause of labour is the cause of Ireland, the cause of Ireland is the cause of labour." 1916, and later 1922, split the Labour movement, especially in the North where many workers were also unionists. In 1918, the Irish Labour Party and Trade Union Congress stood aside from the election. That avoided any situation where the nationalist vote would be split. As one test of that, Labour had taken 43% of the vote in Dublin College Green in the 1915 by-election. It was a probability that Labour would have taken a number of seats all around Ireland, but instead, the people were given a clear choice on the national question.

The Irish Parliamentary Party, the legacy of Parnell and Redmond, only retained six of out its 73 seats from the previous election. The independence movement gained 73 MPs, while Irish Unionists had 26 MPs, five more than in 1910, including three Labour Unionist MPs who won seats in Belfast. In this decade of centenaries, there is a need for deeper reflection on the complex and nuanced set of political preferences that prevailed in Ireland 100 years ago.

Had Labour stood candidates in that important 1918 election, there could have been a split in the independence vote and the overturning of the Irish Parliamentary Party would probably have been significantly less total. To have had more Labour MPs and fewer of de Valera's elected then might have been a good thing for Ireland, as things worked out, given partition, civil war and a repressive clerical State, the legacy of which we are still unwinding. However, none of these things was visible at the time.

In Connolly's words, the cause of Ireland was to be resolved, and that was the central focus. Labour stood aside to allow people to choose whether or not they wanted to back the national drive for independence. However, Labour was not entirely absent from the First Dáil. The leader of the Labour Party, Tom Johnson, was asked to write the democratic programme of the First Dáil, which we will commemorate next year. It was read into the record of the Dáil on 17 January 1919, pledging Labour's values of "Liberty, Equality and Justice for all".

I wish to share time with Deputy Bríd Smith.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

We have to place the 1918 election in its international context, and that is a context of war and of revolution, the reverberations of the Russian Revolution in particular. The election happened just over one month from the ending of the First World War. Contrary to establishment versions of history, that war ended because of revolution. It ended because of German soldiers and sailors refusing to continue the war and, instead, establishing workers, sailors and soldiers councils, with the Kaiser abdicating in a desperate attempt to save capitalism in Germany. That was one of the many reverberations of the Russian Revolution that had happened a year previously and which spread ideas like workers' control, the liberation of women and national self-determination across Europe and around the world. It was widely welcomed by workers, the oppressed and those seeking an end to the war.

It was no different in Ireland, which, for example, saw over 10,000 pack into the Mansion House to welcome the October Revolution. The 1918 election is widely known for being the first parliamentary election here where there was universal male franchise and, after decades of struggle, women winning right to vote. The key event in 1918 was the mass movement against conscription earlier in the year, which was successful and saw Ireland's first general strike. That general strike also saw the decisive break with the pro-war, pro-imperialist Irish Parliamentary Party, which was then reflected in the general election. It demonstrated the power of the working class and the labour movement, which was seen in an explosion in militancy and membership of the trade union movement, with whole new sections becoming unionised.

In 1918 Labour had a stronger base across the island than Sinn Féin. The result of the election was the manifestation of the desire for self-determination and a rejection of imperialism, but the result also illustrated sectarian division; for example, in Ulster most contests were along sectarian lines, although in Belfast Labour did contest. It was a lost opportunity for the labour movement. It was a mistake for Labour to decide to wait and to allow Sinn Féin to take a majority in the Dáil. It was a missed opportunity to put forward working class politics - an internationalist anti-imperialism that would appeal to and unite working class people. It came just before momentous class battles like the engineers strike in Belfast and the Limerick Soviet. It was a missed opportunity to bring together working-class people, Catholic and Protestant, to fight for a socialist Ireland where the wealth would be under democratic control, which would be internationalist in outlook and would naturally align with working-class people in Britain and across Europe. That is a struggle we are still committed to today.

I am very proud to commemorate the election of 1918. We should remind ourselves that what brought this about was a mass movement against conscription and, before that, the 1913 Lockout and the Easter rebellion, as well as, in no small measure, the Suffragettes, who at one stage threw a hatchet at Herbert Asquith, smashed windows in Belfast and Dublin and used very strong civil disobedience to get their right to be recognised and to vote. Having won recognition of the right to vote, masses of people did vote, with the results we know.

We should commemorate that as the first explosion of the democratic right of the people to vote. What we need to do now is look at what still needs to be achieved. If that was a democratic revolution, we now need an economic one. The democratic programme of the First Dáil states:

[N]o child shall suffer hunger or cold from lack of food, clothing, or shelter ... [there shall be a] scheme for the care of the Nation’s aged and infirm, who shall not be regarded as a burden, but rather entitled to the Nation’s gratitude and consideration. ... It shall be our duty to promote the development of the Nation’s resources ... in the interests and for the benefit of the Irish people.

We have not achieved that, 100 years later. Our next step is to learn from the mass movements that led up to the 1918 election and to winning the democratic revolution which gave us all, men and women, the right to vote. We now have to fight for an economic revolution where we get to say what is produced, how it is produced and how it is distributed, where it is not the markets and a tiny elite of less than 5% around the globe who decide for the rest of us how we are serviced by our own labour and by society. That economic revolution will deliver the democratic programme of 1918. Ordinary men, women and children will be able, after an economic revolution, to say what is needed and how it is distributed. It will not be down to the vagaries of a ridiculous, chaotic market that drives us, ultimately, to war, which is what led to the revolutions Deputy Paul Murphy spoke about. We need that economic revolution and it should be the objective of future generations.

I call Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan, who is sharing time with Deputy Catherine Connolly.

I want to begin with a quotation from Wolfe Tone from 1791, when he declared the national demand was, "To break the connection with England, the never-failing source of all our political evils". It is rather ironic in light of Brexit. Breaking that connection meant different things to different people: repeal of the Union, some form of home rule or a republic. Of course, after 1916, there was no doubt what form breaking that connection would take. The change had come about because of the extent of the executions in 1916 and the very tragic stories behind some of them, and also the return to Ireland of those who had been imprisoned in England and Wales.

Before the 1918 election we had the by-elections in 1917 and the election of Count Plunkett and of Eamon de Valera. However, the 1918 election was a key moment in modern Irish history. It saw the defeat of the Irish Parliamentary Party, a considerable victory for the Sinn Féin Party and an increase for unionists, and the role of Labour has to be acknowledged. The historian F.S.L. Lyons called it a bitter, ugly election, but it was a result that completely transformed the face of politics.

It was significant that women, albeit those over the age of 30, were able to vote, along with men over the age of 21. It was significant also in that it led to the establishment of the First Dáil, which we will commemorate in January. It was significant for the election of Countess Markievicz, the first woman MP elected to Westminster in spite of British efforts to take that accolade from her. It was the last parliamentary election for a 32-county republic. It also saw the ascendancy of Carson and unionism, and the creation of a Protestant state for a Protestant people, which led to decades of institutional prejudice against Catholics, the effects of which we again see re-merging with Brexit.

It was significant for the fact of women voting, the election of Countess Markievicz and the progress that came from that for women in Ireland, albeit slowly. We are so far ahead of other countries in this regard. As a woman Teachta Dála, I am very conscious of those countries where women cannot vote and cannot be members of parliament, where they are not even allowed to drive a car and not allowed outside their homes without a male companion, where they have no say about their sexual health or about the number of children they can have.

Putting all that together, it is very important that we know our history, that we remember it and commemorate it, for example, in regard to the significance of the 1918 election and the First Dáil in January. It is ironic, however, that as we were coming into the decade of commemorations, history was being downgraded as a subject at junior certificate level, and it is good to see the Minister, Deputy McHugh, is reviewing that. It is important it is a compulsory subject so our young people can understand their history, know where we came from and develop the critical analysis that goes with the study of history.

Tomorrow, 14 December, is the 100th anniversary of the general election which saw the First Dáil in 1919. It was a significant election on so many levels, not least the fact it was the first general election in ten years and it occurred just over one month after Armistice Day, when the war to end all wars stopped. It was an election that saw the size of the electorate increase from 700,000 voters to 1.93 million by extending the franchise, albeit a franchise limited to women over 30, with specific conditions, and to all men over 21.

It is worth noting that voters were galvanised by anti-military and anti-conscription sentiment throughout the country. One woman, Countess Markievicz, was elected to that Dáil and became a Minister. Unbelievably and unfortunately, it took 60 years before we had another female Minister, when a fellow Galwegian, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, was appointed. From the First to the Thirty-second Dáil, we have gone from one female Minister out of 105 Members to 35 female Deputies, including Ministers, out of 158.

The glaring absence of female Deputies in the intervening 100 years has had profound and detrimental consequences for women and society in general. It led to a complete absence of open and balanced public discourse on subjects of vital importance. Indeed, successive male-dominated Governments worked hand in hand with a male-dominated Catholic hierarchy to shape a society that reflected their narrow and limited version of morality. They created an Ireland that was unequal and positively hostile to women and mothers. It gave us the Ireland of denial, deception and deceit in which church and State worked hand in hand with the male-dominated medical profession to defeat the most basic mother and baby scheme in 1951. It created the Ireland of the institutions, the legacy of which we are still dealing with. It was the Ireland of the Magdalen laundries, industrial schools and mother and baby homes. It gave us the Ireland of inequality which allowed men up to 65 to disinherit their wives completely. It permitted a marriage bar under which married women had to leave their jobs. It did not consider women fit to sit on juries until the very courageous Máirín de Burca took her case in 1973. It was an Ireland that thought it was acceptable to interfere in the marital privacy of the bed, forcing a very courageous woman, Mrs McGee, to go to the Supreme Court which led to the Irish solution to the Irish problem of 1979. I could go on and on but will restrict myself to a couple of other issues. Marital rape was unrecognised until 1991 and the eighth amendment took 35 years to remove from the Constitution. Deputies, particularly female Deputies, have a duty to recognise what has gone before and to shape a different Ireland in which a home and public health are basic human rights. We must be a voice for peace in circumstances in which we are shaping up, 100 years after a war, to have a European army.

We are celebrating the events which took place on 14 December 100 years ago. Women were allowed to vote for the first time, which was a huge milestone. It was the year Countess Markievicz was elected but refused to take her seat at Westminster. She chose to wait as a revolutionary to be elected to the First Dáil. She was an inspirational character. Deputy Howlin referred to the foundation of the Labour Party in my town of Clonmel, which is true. It has been a generous and hard-working party representing ordinary people and it was a pity that some years ago it was prevented by violent protests from holding the celebration of its 100th anniversary in the town. There is no place for intimidation like that in a democracy. We must support all political parties in that regard. The same is true of the celebration today. The extension of democracy and our Constitution were wonderful things in terms of the freedom they brought about. We were enabled to become a sovereign people.

Now, however, we look at Brexit and the discussions in Europe. In a lot of ways, a heavy-handed Europe is the cause of a lot of what is behind Brexit. It has not allowed member states to self-determine and there has been too much overreach on its part. It is sad because, as sovereign countries, we should be allowed to make our own laws and regulations within justifiable reason. We see also the ongoing persecution of women and children in the Middle East but have no debate on it in this Parliament. We had one debate about four years ago when a number of Members were able to raise a Topical Issue thanks to the Ceann Comhairle. However, we turn a blind eye to it in general. Our neutrality is also being challenged on a daily basis.

Above all, I note that Fine Gael, supported at the time by the Labour Party, abandoned and destroyed local democracy. There has been too much centralisation of power, which is enormously regressive. The Labour Party has accepted that a mistake was made - I commend Deputy Howlin on that - and is trying to introduce Private Members' legislation to reverse the removal of accountability and democracy from local people. Too much centralisation is the reason we are failing to build the houses we need to look after our homeless. There is too much bureaucracy and centralisation. I salute the former members of local town councils and local authorities who provided voluntary service out of a sense of community to improve their local areas. It was not about money. We have too much of the heavy hand and too much denial of democracy to people. As we celebrate the 1918 general election 100 years on, we must take a look at ourselves and ask what is happening. There are 10,000 people on the streets, nearly 4,000 of whom are children. A half dozen successive housing Ministers have failed utterly to deal with that. Local authorities are not delivering either. When we had town councils, borough and district councils, such as the council in Clonmel, there were people on those who gave service and were there to help the people.

Like other Members, I refer to the banking collapse and the punitive behaviour of banks we bailed out. Permanent TSB is the most recent example as it sells off loans to vulture funds. A third force militia was operating in Roscommon last week, including, I am told, ex-UVF members from Northern Ireland. There is no place in our modern democracy for those people. We have An Garda Síochána, which we must support, and our Army if necessary. We do not need a third force acting at the behest of vulture funds and destroying people's lives. Those affected include sick and vulnerable people and families who have been split up. People have been forced into all kinds of situations by the greed of the bankers we bailed out. As we celebrate this 100th anniversary, we should not allow that to which I refer to go on under our noses. It is happening everywhere. Farmers are being evicted or threatened with eviction and ordinary householders are being evicted. We are trying to solve a housing crisis while turning a blind eye to the mayhem and treachery taking place in the use of a third force militia to evict people from houses and family farms. They are nothing short of thugs and they would have been dealt with a lot differently 100 years ago. They have no place in our modern democracy. We must stand up for our people and support them. Ní neart go cur le chéile. They are the people who have made the sacrifices to pay the taxes with which we are bailing out these so-called banks and this is the treatment they are receiving. The courts are not protecting them either while the situation with county sheriffs and their lucrative fees is a further sad indictment as we discuss this event 100 years later.

I wish to share time with Deputy Eamon Ryan.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

The general election of 1918 was a central aspect of a process which led to Irish independence. Not only did we see the franchise extended to some women in that year, we saw it extended also to a huge number of men who had never voted before. The result was in large part a legacy of the events of 1916 and the First World War when heavily resisted attempts to introduce conscription in Ireland had been made. Attempts were also made to conscript 1916 internees at Frongoch internment camp in Wales and those were also resisted through effective handling by the prisoners, in particular the camp commandant, Michael Staines, who subsequently stood and was elected in 1918. My grandfather, who was also an internee at Frongoch, was his director of elections. Frongoch was dubbed "the university of revolution" where prisoners were prepared for release through a major push to reorganise and strengthen the volunteers. Women played a huge role in the aftermath of the Rising through fundraising and supporting the families of internees. Many of those women who did not qualify to vote on age and income grounds worked actively on the election campaign as can be seen from the military service records. The election result was no accident but was highly organised by a cohesive movement. While the election elected people to a parliament which did not, in effect, exist, the optimism regarding what could be created must have been a major influence on the result. The democratic programme of the First Dáil was short, visionary and inclusive. It declared that the nation's sovereignty extended not only to all men and women of the nation, but to all its material possessions. It reaffirmed that all right to private property must be subordinated to the public right and welfare.

It went on to say "It shall be the first duty of the Government of the Republic to make provision for the physical, mental and spiritual well-being of the children, to secure that no child shall suffer hunger or cold from lack of food, clothing, or shelter". While much has been achieved in the last century, often in very difficult circumstances, the fact that we have a significant problem with homelessness and childhood poverty in 2018 is a major failure. It should also be a regret that we never built the republic aspired to in the Democratic Programme. Who would have thought 100 years ago that the War of Independence and Civil War would follow, that women would have been so written out of history, and that the war to end all wars would be followed by the Second World War?

That violent spark in 1916 set the flame of nationalist ambition which set up this democratic institution. The people who did that wrote the title deeds of the House in which we stand today. They opened the door for women to have a role in Irish public life for the first time. The work which has been done by the Vótail 100 committee and by the women's caucus has been useful in reminding us of the need to open that door ever wider. It is true that in the first 50 years as Members concentrated and looked inwards to set up the Constitution, to keep this House safe, and to make it stand, the door closed slightly on female emancipation, though no more than slightly.

Equally and worryingly, at the same time 2 million of our people closed the door as they left and took the boat to different parts of the world. We managed to turn our country around, however, through the work that was done in those first few years and through the building blocks which were laid, including an unarmed police force thanks to Mr. Michael Staines; an independent Judiciary; a free press; and this democratic House as the cornerstone of every decision that has been made. We can be proud of that, of what has happened to this country, and of what we have done in the past 100 years.

We need to go back further again, however, and look back to our deeper republican roots. Perhaps we should go back 200 years and ask what does it benefit us to be a country, a people and a Parliament in solidarity with peoples all over the world, particularly those suffering oppression or hardship, if we are still so alienated and removed from our own cousins, the Dissenting and Protestant traditions which exist up the road from us? Should it not be set as our goal for this House and our country to open up and reconcile the divide which still exists from that day?

We have done well. It was said the other day at a meeting in the Royal Irish Academy attended by a number of our most famous and best historians. My assessment of their assessment was that this democratic, constitutional Republic of ours has served our people well. We have to open the door to further equality, fraternity, female emancipation, and a new economy that lights a new flame for our times.