I welcome the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Josepha Madigan, and invite her to address the House.
100 Years of Women's Suffrage in Ireland: Statements
I thank Senators for the invitation to address the Seanad in its temporary home. On 6 February last, I launched the Government's programme to commemorate the centenary of the introduction of voting rights for women in parliamentary elections. The programme booklet reprints a remarkable piece of correspondence from Prime Minister Lloyd George to Countess Markievicz in the collection of the National Museum of Ireland. The letter is a short, formal three-sentence invitation to Countess Markievicz to attend the re-opening of Parliament at Westminster. It addresses the new Member of Parliament as "Sir" and the envelope has the original postal address of Dublin St. Patrick's, the constituency to which Countess Markievicz was elected and which, as it happens, is now the constituency of Dublin Rathdown that I represent. However, the address is written over and redirected to Holloway Prison London. In these two small details, we can detect the seismic changes in the political landscape of our world 100 years ago. While the system had just opened its doors to women's participation in political life, it still could not quite believe that the MP for Dublin St. Patrick's was not "Sir" but "Madam", and the self-same madam, instead of taking a seat in his majesty's parliament, was incarcerated in his majesty's prison as a result of her political activities in seeking an independent Irish republic. These two joint but separate campaigns - the struggle for Irish freedom and the struggle for women's political rights - were at the core of Countess Markievicz's work.
The Representation of the People Act 1918, enacted on the 6 February 100 years ago, gave some women aged over 30 years and all men over the age of 21 years the right to vote for the first time. The Act had the effect of tripling the size of the electorate, which no doubt had a significant impact on the subsequent election. The Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act 1918, which was passed in November 1918, further allowed women to stand for election on an equal footing with men for the first time. In the subsequent general election, 17 women stood but only Countess Markievicz was elected. In Ireland, Sinn Féin alone put forward women candidates, namely, Constance Markievicz who was victorious in the Dublin St. Patrick's constituency and Winifred Carney in Belfast Victoria. Women would have to await passage of the Constitution of the Irish Free State (Saorstát Eireann) Act 1922 by the Third Dáil for full and equal voting rights in time for the election to the Fourth Dáil on 27 August 1923. It is no consolation that women in the United Kingdom did not achieve equal franchise until 1928.
Meanwhile, Countess Markievicz would become a member of Dáil Éireann and became our first female Cabinet Minister in 1919. It would take another 60 years before another woman sat at the Cabinet table in Government Buildings. As Senators are no doubt aware, there have been 103 woman Senators in this House to date, including the 15 incumbents. While women have secured their seats in this House via a broad range of panels, it is noteworthy that thus far more than one third have been appointed by the Taoiseach of the day. I hope to see many more women serve in this House and the Dáil in future and, importantly, to see also a significant improvement in the proportion of Members of both Houses who are women. While many improvements have been already implemented to underpin progress in this area, our work is ongoing to ensure any remaining soft or hard barriers to women's participation in Parliament are eliminated and replaced by an environment in which all those who wish to serve have equal access to the resources required to facilitate that achievement, regardless of their gender. Some Senators may have a copy of the centenary programme I announced in February, which outlines some of the key commemorative events that will be held during the year, including exhibitions, celebrations, hedge schools, talks, stamps and seminars.
The programme complements the Vótáil 100 commemorations organised by the Houses of the Oireachtas and I recently distributed a copy to each Member of the Seanad. It will be delivered by many partners, including the national cultural institutions, History Ireland, the local authorities, trade unions and third level institutions. One highlight will be a pop-up museum depicting 100 years of involvement by women in politics and public life. It will look at the key women who contributed in the past 100 years to shaping the State, including the women who have served in Seanad Éireann and Dáil Éireann during that period. The exhibition which is curated by the historian Sinéad McCoole will be housed in Dublin Castle from November and then travel to regional venues.
We are reflecting on the significant contribution women have made to the country in the last century, but we are also reflecting on the missed opportunities for women and society in the conservative state which came into being after Independence. The Houses of the Oireachtas have done much to progress the legislative framework to provide better and equal opportunities for all, but we still have a way to travel. It is timely, during the centenary year of such a key milestone for women, to redouble our efforts to further expand and enhance the scope for women to realise opportunities.
Saying today that there was a time when women could not vote, same-sex marriage was not allowed and slavery was legal seems insane in our modern world. Things that are now normal and taken for granted were unheard of 100 years ago, yet there are things that are still perceived to be normal that in 50 years will seem to be insane. In the 100 years since women won the right to vote, there have been millions upon millions of stories of strong women forging the way ahead, fighting for equality of treatment, thought and action. Today wives, daughters, aunts, mothers, grandmothers and sisters are still fighting and it is not for special treatment but for the same treatment. In the #MeToo campaign women are simply asking for decency in thought, treatment, action and opportunities.
Recently, while carrying a large amount of baggage outside this very building in heading to celebrate Constance Markievicz, I was having trouble in closing the car door. A man who was walking by helped me to close it. I did not get to thank him, not because he had helped a woman but because he had helped a human being who needed help. He helped me having seen the packages and a hand scrambling for the door. He treated me in the same way he would have liked to be treated and it occurred to me how unusual it was that this had happened.
We must celebrate women and their stories such as those of Constance Markievicz who was the first ever female MP to be elected, who as an Irish Republican chose not to take her seat, who later served as Minister for Labour in the First Dáil and who was a founding member of Fianna Fáil in 1926. There were Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington and her literal glass breaking at Dublin Castle, the then seat of British power in Ireland, and her granddaughter Micheline Sheehy-Skeffington who won her case at the Equality Tribunal almost 100 years later in 2014. We recall the stories of Kathleen Lynn, the chief medical officer during the 1916 Easter Rising; Rosie Hackett, the long-time trade unionist, and the nurse Margaret Keogh who was the first female casualty in the conflict. They were trailblazers, not just because they were women but also because they had seen an injustice and sought to put it right.
In the 100 years since that milestone it is appalling that some changes have not yet come. Just under one third of the Members of this Chamber are female, less than in the other House. The recently appointed Taoiseach actually lightened the female loading in the Cabinet. In Ireland today women are not equal. They are called love, darling and sweetheart and often talked over, talked down to and sometimes taken for fools. This inequality is reflected in boardrooms, managerial positions and, worst of all, pay levels. Celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Representation of the People Act 1918 should serve as a reminder of how far we have actually not come and the mountains we still have to climb.
Fianna Fáil is actively seeking equality in every sector. We seek an Ireland in which one can be what one wants to be, regardless of gender, orientation, place of birth or bank balance. We are committed to addressing issues such as the gender pay gap, the barriers to female political participation and expanding boardroom membership for women. I applaud the brave Irish women who take a stand to represent the people. I encourage more and more of them to walk these halls, speak loudly and clearly, represent women and men, old and young, fight injustices, root out inequality and be taken seriously.
There has been much talk of the 40% increase in female representation in Parliament since 2011. It was brought about by the introduction of gender quotas, which allowed for a party's State funding to be cut by one half, unless 30% of its general election candidates were women and 30% were men. I suggest we have worked hard. While we have worked hard, I encourage more women to become involved. It is not about men or women but about the work women could do. This is crucial. For real change to happen, we have to begin again and begin with children. Just as the colour of one's skin no more matters than the make of one's coat in terms of one's ability to do the job, it should not matter that I am a woman. How I do my job is what should matter, which is why I think the landscape has to change fundamentally. We should not have to create a female friendly society in which women can run for office. A woman should be able to run for office because she would be good at the job. There should be no special treatment, just reward for a job well done, regardless of gender. Cultural barriers must be addressed through the education system, civic education programmes and voter education initiatives. A review of fathers' rights and paternity leave should also be undertaken in order that children will not always be seen as an issue for mothers only. There should be equality wherever we turn in this land for us to honour properly those who fought for us 100 years ago. I should be able to tell my story because I have a story to tell, not just because I am a woman.
This is all about women. I am proud to be a Senator and represent the women of Ireland. I am proud that some day I will be able to tell my story and that I am fighting for women to have equal rights. We do not have equal rights. Things have not changed much. They have changed to some extent and we have to welcome the changes made, but there needs to be much more. I know that we will fight harder as women here because we are workers, dedicated and proud to be Irish.
I welcome the Minister, Deputy Josepha Madigan. It is wonderful to have such a well informed, capable, hard-working and knowledgeable individual as one of the senior Cabinet Ministers. I wish her well in her new role and have no doubt that she will do an exemplary job. Her contribution is important in asking us to reflect on the significant contribution women have made to the country in the last century. When the Minister spoke, I was reminded of a wonderful woman by the name of Joan Burke, the first female Deputy for County Roscommon. She stood in a by-election following the untimely death of her husband, James Burke. She was a trained nurse who had overcome the pressures of raising young children. She came from a farming background and took her late husband's seat in the by-election of 1964. She successfully contested subsequent elections in 1965, 1969, 1973 and 1977. She topped the poll in each of them, which cannot have been easy. During her time in politics she was vocally opposed to the marriage ban and worked very hard on the rights of farmers. The people clearly recognised her work and she continued to regain her seat in each subsequent election.
She was a woman of substance, one who worked hard, who told the truth and was always ready to help others. When I started my political journey, approximately four years ago, she inspired me. She was very grateful for the support she got but also understood that it involved responsibility and she took that very seriously. As we commemorate the 100th anniversary of the giving of voting rights to women and the resulting election of women to parliament, it is important that we reflect on people like the late Joan Burke.
We look forward to celebrating this important centenary with the wonderful programme of events put together by the hardworking Vótáil 100 committee, led by Senator Bacik and made up of many fellow female Senators and Deputies. It is important to acknowledge the contribution of many women curators, academics, librarians, historians and educators who have also contributed to the programme. Their contribution has been invaluable.
I look forward to Díospóireacht na nÓg, which I understand is taking place in April in this Chamber. This is a very important place for young people and hopefully for future female public representatives to engage in public debate and understand how their participation can make a difference. The Minister has reflected on Countess Markievicz, Hannah Sheehy-Skeffington and Margaret Cousins, born in Roscommon, who made such a major contribution to the role of women in today's society, 100 years later.
While much progress has been made, however, many barriers still exist. Politics and political life remain overwhelmingly a male preserve. Female representation is 22% in the Dáil and 32% in the Seanad. Gender quotas have made a difference and helped more women put themselves forward as candidates but it is important that we are not seen as token candidates. We wanted to ensure that women are supported because they are informed, capable, knowledgeable and hard working, and just as capable as men. While the issue of family life applies to men and women alike it is exacerbated for female representatives. Being a Senator, a Deputy or a councillor demands a great deal of effort, time and work, which will have an impact on family life. The job needs to be made a bit more family friendly, for example in terms of the long hours. No matter what we celebrate today and this year it is important that we continue to break through those glass ceilings. The aim of this programme is to recognise the role of women in our society and hopefully it can bring about even more positive change and more women will become politically involved and continue to influence change for everybody in our society.
I congratulate the Minister, I was delighted by her appointment. It is great to see a woman of her calibre in that position. I am glad that she is here today. As she said in her opening statement, we have much to celebrate since Countess Markievicz, the increased number of women in political life and in other decision-making roles. I very much welcome that. While women have been appointed to senior positions, for example, Maggie Thatcher was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and there have been women presidents in this country, which was positive, we also need to question ourselves and look under the layers to see what is happening to women, to assess how far we have come or not come in some areas. Last month, it was exactly five years since the former Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, apologised to the women from the Magdalen laundries on behalf of the State. He made a very sincere apology. He said that Mr. Justice John Quirke’s review with the recommendations of the provision of payments and support including medical cards and psychological and counselling services and other welfare needs for women would all be provided. There was also a commitment to a staff consultative unit led by Mr. Justice Quirke. It is very distressing for me as a woman to have found out earlier this week that seven of those women passed away without those promises being kept. Words are empty unless the promises are kept, and the actions underpinning them are delivered on.
The Minister spoke about the pop-up museum, which is a very good initiative, and I commend all the women on the Vótáil 100 committee, particularly the chairperson, Senator Bacik, and the other women for the work they have done in progressing all of that. It demonstrates what can be done in a short space of time to promote women. I am mindful of the other women such as Catherine Corless who tells us that in spite of all the good earnest work she has done on the Tuam babies she is not getting the support she needs from Galway County Council. We need to put those supports in place so that she can finish the job she set out to do. I am also mindful of Louise O'Keeffe from Cork. Will she be remembered in a pop-up museum? How is she acknowledged for the battle she fought to recognise, and have recognised, the abuse that happened to her as a child? In some places the State will say that it supports women, that it wants more women in decision-making roles and to be part of our public life yet in cases such as that of Louise O'Keeffe it will use all the instruments and money available to the State to stop people like Louise O'Keeffe and others having a voice. That worries me. Another key recommendation in respect of the Magdalen women was that a permanent memorial would be established to them but that has not been delivered. An opportunity has now arisen for the establishment of a consultative process for the women and a memorial at the former Sean McDermott Street laundry site. The Minister for Justice and Equality is responsible for the oversight and delivery of those recommendations but has made little effort to advance the proposed memorial. Psychologically, it hurts those women even more now when the promises contained in the apology are not delivered on in a timely way.
It is important that achievements and suffering be acknowledged by suitable memorials. That could include the naming of prominent buildings such as the new national children’s hospital, which offers an opportunity to honour a revolutionary patriot, the Mayo woman Dr. Kathleen Lynn. She challenged many of the societal norms for women at that time. She was a suffragette, a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons, the first resident doctor in the Eye and Ear Hospital, instrumental in the roll-out of the BCG vaccine, a soup kitchen worker during the 1913 Lock-out, a volunteer with the Irish Citizen Army, the commanding officer of the City Hall garrison at the end of Easter week 1916 and a prisoner of war. She later became a Deputy, a councillor and a founder of St. Ultan’s Hospital, where she worked until she was over 80 years of age. There is widespread and cross-party support for the new hospital to be named the Kathleen Lynn children’s hospital in recognition of her important role in delivering medical care for the women and children of Dublin, especially the poor, and for her pioneering vision in setting up and running St. Ultan’s Hospital. There would be no more fitting time to do so than as we celebrate céad bliain since mná na hÉireann finally won the vote. We should consider the proposal in a sincere manner. I cannot see any impediment to the hospital being named the Kathleen Lynn children's hospital and I ask the Minister to give it serious consideration.
I am sharing time with Senator Ruane. I welcome the Minister to the House on this great occasion of celebrating 100 years of women’s suffrage in Ireland. Women’s suffrage in Ireland was an important milestone for Irish women to have their rightful say in their country and take their rightful place in public life. It was for the common good. It symbolised the important public role of Irish women rather than the role in the home in which they are exclusively placed by Article 41.2 of Bunreacht na hÉireann, which shamefully and anachronistically elevates that role. It is one of several articles that affect women only and has no place in our Constitution.
I have been around for more than half the time of women’s suffrage. I want there to be 50:50 representation of women in all forms of public life, as senior managers, CEOs, consultants, professors, politicians, school principals, in laboratories, courts, Parliament and boardrooms. There should be equal representation of women as writers, directors, actors and administrators in the arts, where the Minister has particular responsibilities. We should be able to be wherever we wish, fully participating and contributing our intelligence and talents. All obstacles, visible and invisible, which would limit, curtail, intimidate, undermine or bully us out of our progress and participation in all aspects of public life must be removed. l know the Minister also wants that.
I note that the Minister is supporting an event called "Speak up and call it out" on 21 March to establish a code of conduct for Irish theatre. It seems that such a code of conduct is overdue but its establishment is a welcome acknowledgement that there is a problem in that regard and commitment to addressing it. It is a signal of zero tolerance for unacceptable behaviour in our theatres and the arts. In light of that commitment, can the Minister explain why the report into allegations at the Gate Theatre has not been published in full? That is of particular relevance for the 56 women who came forward in good faith, did what the Minister asked and spoke up, sharing their painful and upsetting stories with the investigation by workplace relations expert, Gaye Cunningham. Ms Cunningham stated that the report describes behaviours rather than specific incidents. The publication of its full contents is not, therefore, legally compromising. As we celebrate 100 years of women’s suffrage, will the Minister commit to the report being published in full? It would be a fitting recognition of the talent wasted and the women who were wronged, undermined, silenced, kept in their place or driven out by unacceptable behaviour.
I echo the comments of Senator Kelleher regarding the Gate Theatre. It goes without saying that women’s suffrage was a defining moment in history for women and society as a whole. The hard-fought battle for the equal right to participate in our nation’s democracy should be celebrated, reflected on and used as a starting point for what should be a steady rate of progression. We are celebrating the starting point.
We are commemorating the Representation of the People Act 1918 which was passed by the British Parliament while Ireland was still part of the United Kingdom. The section relevant to women’s suffrage is section 43, which relates to franchises. It states that a woman who was not subject to any legal incapacity was entitled to be registered as a parliamentary elector for a constituency - other than a university constituency - if she had attained the age of 30 years, and if either she or her husband was on the last day of the qualifying period occupying as owner or tenant any land or premises in the constituency. A woman over the age of 30 who did not own property or was not married to a man who did, or did not have a university degree, would not, therefore, be able to vote. That was not rectified until the Equal Franchise Act 1928, which allowed all women above the age of 21 to vote, regardless of property ownership. Prior to that, poor, young, uneducated or unmarried women had been excluded.
When we reflect on how much has been achieved over the past 100 years in respect of gender equality, it is striking how the current challenges to gender equality reflect the exclusions of the 1918 Act. Today, women still feel that exclusion. Historical, cultural and societal norms have ingrained in Ireland’s people the definition of what it means to be a woman. As stated in one of my favourite books, The Spirit Level, equality benefits us all. Why is that the case? Why is gender equality so important? Why have we not moved more towards a level of equality that is reflective of the diverse Ireland in which we live? Just as I would have been excluded in 1918 from having a say in regard to my country, I believe that true democracy will be achieved not when we reach 50:50 representation in the Houses of Oireachtas but, rather, when we have equal participation in every sector of Irish society. We all may be equal in terms of being able to vote at the age of 18 but we have much to do in respect of creating the conditions whereby people from all walks of life use that vote and know they have the opportunity to be decision makers in their own communities.
Many women in communities in Ireland still feel the impact of the gender bias and sexism that is so embedded in cultures, economic life and many Irish institutions. Women and girls feel disenfranchised on a daily basis and still experience discrimination, gender violence, abuse and active exclusion from participation in many areas of Irish life. This, in turn, not only prevents women from being decision makers but from participating in voting, which is the most basic of democratic rights. When we look to 50:50 gender representation, we must consider those who make up that representation. We must create the space for women to feel included, empowered and valued in public life and we must have vibrant and diverse workplaces that are a picture of equal representation and embrace people of all ethnicities, races and backgrounds.
Women also play a huge role in creating sustainable communities and societies and a sustainable planet. Gender equality is a key factor in sustainable development and forms the basis of sustainable development goal 5, to which Ireland signed up and contributed to the drafting of. The empowerment and support of women and how that relates to sustainable development is of great importance. I recently read a collection of essays entitled Why Women Will Save the Planet in which it is argued that interconnections between women’s empowerment and sustainability must be fully reflected not only in programmes on the ground but also within our own organisations by working across sectors and disciplines.
I wish to finish by quoting Dorothy Day. I do not often quote Catholic social drivers but she has plenty of good quotes to reference. She wrote:
People say, what is the sense of our small efforts? They cannot see that we must lay one brick at a time, take one step at a time. A pebble cast into a pond causes ripples that spread in all directions. Each one of our thoughts, words and deeds is like that. No one has a right to sit down and feel hopeless. There is too much work to do.
I warmly welcome the Minister, Deputy Madigan, to the House and acknowledge the enormous amount of work she has done and her contribution to the Vótáil 100 celebrations, which I will later address. As I was coming to the House today, it struck me that it is hard to believe that 1918 was the first time for Irish women to be permitted by law to vote and stand in parliamentary elections.
Those 100 years tell us something of the journey we have had. 1918 was also the year in which the first woman was elected to the British Parliament at Westminster, Countess Markievicz who represented a Dublin constituency. She never took her seat in Westminster, instead she joined the revolutionary First Dáil to become the first female Deputy. To mark the centenary, the Houses of the Oireachtas are hosting a programme of events that will highlight the history of the suffrage movement, its leaders in Ireland and their impact on wider voting rights. I acknowledge the work particularly of Senator Ivana Bacik and all the team involved in the preparations and plans for the Vótáil 100 programme. It is an imaginative and collaborative piece of work and an amazing programme, and I wish it success.
I take this opportunity to salute the women in local government, in Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann, and in government and acknowledge the enormous work they have done. As someone who played a major role in local government for many years, I realised from very early on coming into politics that the female candidates who competed with male candidates in my own neck of the woods certainly had a harder job. When I got to speak to them they told of the difficulties of getting through selection conventions and of then getting elected, but once they were elected and had a mandate and a platform, they excelled. They got that opportunity and were there to do the work. That is an important point. However, there were many women who never got that opportunity.
I do not want to let this opportunity pass without mentioning the Magdalen women, to whom Senator Conway-Walsh referred. It is important we remember them. Among that group there were many bright, able ambitious women. There were people who had dreams, expectations and a desire to make a contribution to our society. They, for whatever reason, were judged, many of them were condemned, many were denied an opportunity to be authentic, to realise their potential and play a role in their communities because many of them were driven out of their communities, particularly in rural communities, and had to come to this city to hide their secrets, or as some would say, their shame. They carried that to the end.
I met a woman on a train in Charing Cross station in London a few months ago and I had previously met her in the late 1960s. She told me she had left this country from Dún Laoghaire Port with her child. She was not prepared to give up her child and she left. At that time she was a nurse studying in Dublin. She said: "I never could come back. I felt ashamed. I felt dirty. My own family deserted me." She had potential and wanted to do everything she could but had no choice. She said that in the end she was rewarded because she held on to her son and watched him grow up, and that was important to her. It was never men who paid the price. Very many women who wanted to keep their children, which was their given and absolute right, were forced out of this country. Of course, it is right that they should have been able to do that. When we talk about women and our history, we have to remember and question what happened then.
However, there are other things happening today, to which we turn a blind eye. Why do we see so many young children on our streets homeless? Why do we see so many young vulnerable girls? What are we doing about it now? What have we learned from the past? That is an important point.
I met a girl outside the gates of Leinster House today who was coming in here on a tour. She told me she is 16 years old and that she would love to be in politics. I asked her what was stopping her. I told her I was glad she was here today and that hopefully she would learn something about our Parliament and the Houses of the Oireachtas. Why are we not giving young women and men, who are citizens, a vote at 16 years of age? It was for a long time a great policy objective of Fine Gael. Young Fine Gael people came to me a year ago and told me they expected Fine Gael to pursue the 16 year old voting age objective. I leave that suggestion with all the parties here. Why are we not championing the right of young women and men to engage and to vote? We sought votes for women but why would we not have young women and men of 16 years of age engaged in politics? Why would we not be brave and courageous enough now in the lead up the next local elections to allow our young 16 and 17 year olds at least to first step into the process of local government and allow them vote in the local elections? That is an important point.
While many women never accomplished the great heights of Countess Markievicz or of the women who are Members of the Seanad or the Dáil or those who are in government, there are women throughout our community and country who are wonderful advocates for social change. They are champions for their communities, their families and for rights. I was a member of St. Patrick's juvenile detention centre visiting committee for many years. I was struck by the fact that I always saw women at the door talking about their sons who were detained there. I rarely came across a man there. I acknowledge the great work of a group of women involved in the Quakers, the Society of Friends, who set up a link service. The support service for women was located in a prefab outside that prison to facilitate women who wanted to champion the cause of penal reform in terms of fair rights and justice for their sons. That is an important aspect. It is also important to acknowledge the power of women and the powerfulness of their engagement in advocacy that history has taught us.
I congratulate all the people involved here, particularly the women and those who spoke here today, on their great achievements. The work is not done yet, they need to keep going. I wish the very best of luck to all involved and thank them for organising the Vótáil 100 programme.
I welcome the Minister, Deputy Madigan, to the House and thank her for all the fine work she is putting into the Vótáil 100 programme. I also compliment all our senatorial colleagues, and especially Senator Ivana Bacik, as the chairperson of the committee. Many worthwhile projects have been put together to date. I recently attended a seminar in the Royal Irish Academy, at which there were students from a school in Limerick who had submitted a project related to Vótáil 100 and women to the young scientist exhibition. The facts and figures they had come up with were interesting. During the past 100 years 1,179 males and 114 females have been elected to Dáil Éireann and there have been 801 males and 99 females in the Seanad, with the females making up 11% of that membership of the Seanad and 9% of that membership of the Dáil. The percentages for female Members is quite low.
The first advocacy for votes for women started in 1847. The Belfast Ladies' Institute was founded in 1846. The Representation of the People Act came into effect on 6 February 1918, which made it legal for women to run for election. Prior to that, the Local Government Act of 1898 allowed females to run for and vote in local elections but not to do so for elections to the Dáil. There was the militant and non-militant campaign that was started, leading up to the granting of the vote in 1918.
It is important that we encourage and support females to engage in politics. When I ran for the council elections in 1999, of the 70 candidates, there were only six females and three of them were elected. For 15 of the 17 years I served on my local council, of the 21 councillors, only three were female and when we moved from that number to having a council comprising 40 councillors, only six were female. Therefore, the female representation is quite low. Senator Maura Hopkins alluded to it possibly being related to people having young families and finding it hard to get support.
It is very important that we, as females, support and help one another. In any walk of life, work and coming up with ideas is a collaborative effort. People often view bouncing ideas off one another as supportive, which is most important.
I want to speak about Anna and Thomas Haslam who started the Dublin Women's Suffrage Association that later become the Irish women's association. They were a very inspirational couple who started the idea of suffrage and encouraged people to get involved.
The Minister has only recently been appointed and I congratulate her for hitting the ground running and getting in touch with her brief. She has given her all to the centenary celebrations and become heavily involved. She has taken a very keen interest in everything that is taking place. There are many national and local events. I encourage as many colleagues as possible to hold events in their own constituencies because an awful lot of people are not aware of suffrage and what people went through to secure votes for females. They are not aware of the important fact that before women won the vote they could not own land or go to university, and people were prevented from becoming doctors or nurses. In addition, despite the achievement of limited women's suffrage, women could not own land until legislation was introduced in 1970. There are many things that we need to highlight, in particular the suffrage that females have gone through. It is great to see so many females in positions of high office and CEOs of companies. Females are to the fore in many spheres but we still need to encourage females to stand for election and provide support.
Finally, I wish to pay a compliment to the former Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, now EU Commissioner, Mr. Phil Hogan, for introducing gender quotas. The measure was introduced by a Fine Gael Government. In 2012, we brought in the requirement for political parties to select 30% female candidates, which will apply for the next general election but will increase to 40% for the subsequent general election. A gender quota is a great incentive and lends support.
I am delighted to have the pleasure of welcoming the Minister to the House. I have had the pleasure of working with her in the past, as a woman lawyer, and I have shared platforms with her in that capacity. I am delighted to see her here in her new role as Minister. This is the first opportunity I have had to welcome her on the floor of the House.
I thank the Minister for spearheading the Government's programme to commemorate the centenary of women's suffrage. I also thank the Leader for facilitating this debate in the House on the centenary of women's suffrage. I thank him for giving us an opportunity to speak about the programme of events that the Oireachtas is organising under the heading of Vótáil 100. I have the pleasure and privilege of chairing the committee. I want to thank all of my colleagues for their kind remarks about the work of the committee. In particular, I thank my colleagues who are on the committee, Senators McFadden, Conway-Walsh and Higgins, and Deputies Catherine Martin and Fiona O'Loughlin. We have received huge cross-party support for the Vótáil 100 programme from colleagues in both Houses. I shall say a little more about the programme we have embarked upon in a moment. I am sure everyone will have seen the new badges to mark the centenary, which are based on the badges produced by the Irish Women's Franchise League. Everyone will receive a copy of the booklet that gives details on the programme of events.
As well as discussing the events that we are organising, I want to say a little more about the broader context for the commemoration of the centenary of suffrage, and others have spoke of this aspect too. For those who campaigned more than 100 years ago for women to have the right to vote, the vote was not an end in itself but a means to an end. The greater cause was to secure greater equality in society, which went beyond the right to vote and included such issues as sexual and reproductive health, equality in the workplace and freedom in one's personal life. I am confident that the women suffragettes that we are celebrating this year, like Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington, Constance Markievicz and others, would campaign alongside all of us on the Waking the Feminists campaign and the #MeToo movement, would challenge the gender pay gap, seek to achieve greater equality in the workplace and would campaign for reproductive health and so much more. It is worth remaking on those campaigns during this significant year for women's rights in Ireland, particularly as we embark on the forthcoming referendum campaign. As many of us said during the Order of Business this morning, we welcome the Supreme Court judgment handed down this morning. It gives us the necessary legal clarity to speedily bring forward the referendum legislation so that we can hold the referendum before the end of May this year.
I shall now speak about women's rights in a general context. Progress has been very slow on this issue over most of the past century. Despite the achievement of limited women's suffrage in 1918, it took another 60 years, after the appointment of Markievicz as the first woman Minister in an Irish Government, before Máire Geoghegan-Quinn was appointed Minister for the Gaeltacht in the late 1970s. Change has always been hard fought and hard won in the context of women's rights. We should not forget that as we celebrate the centenary of women's suffrage.
I shall speak briefly about the Vótáil 100 programme. As colleagues will be aware, the programme not only seeks to celebrate the achievements of women as Members of the Oireachtas and to celebrate individual women like Markievicz, it also seeks to highlight the lack of representation of women in politics today. Other colleagues have spoken about this matter, as has the Minister. Despite a very welcome increase since 2016, only 22% of Deputies are women and 30% of Senators are women, or 18 Senators are women out of a total number of 60 Senators. That number is still too low. Clearly, even with the gender quota rising to 40% in the election after next, change will only come about very slowly. We need to do more to encourage more women to enter politics and remove existing obstacles.
In 2009, I authored a report for the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Equality and Women's Rights. My report considered women's representation in politics and identified five barriers which have now become known as the five "Cs" that women encounter and impede their progress in politics. The five "Cs" are: lack of cash; lack of confidence; access to child care; culture; and candidate selection procedures. I know that women colleagues will recognise all of those "Cs". We have addressed the fifth "C" through the very welcome legislation that was introduced by the then Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Mr. Phil Hogan, following pushing by his Labour Party colleagues in government. I remind my Fine Gael friends that a gender quota was initially a Labour Party policy. The policy was embraced on a cross-party basis by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights in 2009 and was finally introduced in 2012. The policy has been effective as the number of women elected to the Dáil has increased from 13% in 2011 to 22% in 2016, but female representation is still far too low and we need to make greater strides.
The programme of events for Vótáil 100 will highlight the lack of representation by women. It will seek to increase public awareness of the need for more women to come forward, and will do so through a series of events to mark the centenary. On 1 February, Vótáil 100 hosted a conference at the Royal Irish Academy, as others have mentioned. Yesterday, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn gave a wonderful lecture as Gaeilge to mark Seachtain na Gaeilge, International Women's Week and the Centenary of Women's Suffrage. Tomorrow, a portrait of all of the current women Members of the Oireachtas by artist Noel Murphy will be officially unveiled at 2 o'clock. All women Members have been invited to attend the occasion. The painting will hang in Leinster House on public display just like the photograph of the Oireachtas women who attended the 90th anniversary in 2008.
As Members have mentioned, we will have Díospóireacht na nÓg, which is a great all-island school competition on public speaking. The 16 finalists from those schools will speak here in the Seanad Chamber on 17 April. I know many Seanad colleagues will be present for such an historic occasion.
Vótáil 100 will run an exhibition, in conjunction with the National Museum of Ireland, in Leinster House from June until September. We will conduct other events for Culture Night in September and we will participate in the Open House Dublin weekend event later in the year. We will also travel to Westminster to present the House of Commons with a portrait of Constance Markievicz to mark the fact that she was not only our first Deputy but also the first woman Member of Parliament to be elected to the House of Commons.
Let us consider the historical context for Markievicz's election, in particular the Representation of the People Act 1918. Many decades of extensive work went into the achievement of what was, in 1918, only a limited right to women's suffrage.
Back in 1872, Isabella Tod established the first suffrage group in Ireland in Belfast. In 1876, the Haslams established the Dublin Women's Suffrage Association and in 1908, along with Margaret Cousins from Boyle in County Roscommon, Hanna and Francis Sheehy-Skeffingon set up the Irish Women’s Franchise League so we see a range of different women and men - there were, of course, male supporters - fighting for the cause of suffrage over many decades long before it was finally achieved in 1918. The Representation of the People Act 1918, the centenary of which we marked in February, was then succeeded by the Parliament (Qualification of Women Act) in December 1918 that allowed women to stand for the general election. We should remember that while Constance Markievicz was the only woman elected, she was not the only woman to stand for election because Winifred Carney stood in Belfast but was unsuccessful. The achievement of the vote was only one part of the campaign on which so many of these women embarked at the time. They were also very engaged in other campaigns. We think of women like Louie Bennett who was a founding member of the Irish Women Workers' Union and who campaigned for workers' rights alongside the right to suffrage and Constance Markievicz herself who campaigned for workers' and union rights as well suffrage.
Moving to contemporary resonances, there are a number of things we should be pushing forward this year to really recognise the memory and work of those women. Those campaigns include not only the campaign to increase the number of women in Parliament but campaigns around the gender pay gap bringing forward the gender pay legislation we started in this House; extension of paternity leave and child care provision in Ireland; moving to tackle online abuse, which is a real issue for many women looking to enter politics; family-friendly working hours in parliaments; and a referendum to delete the place of women in the current very limited recognition of women and mothers in the Constitution and replace it with a gender-neutral provision recognising carers alongside what I hope will be a successful campaign to repeal the eighth amendment. I agree with Senator Conway-Walsh that one significant symbolic gesture would be to name the hospital in honour of Dr. Kathleen Lynn, that remarkable woman who did so much for the cause of suffrage and the cause of women and children's rights and who really encapsulated that idea of the broader-based campaigning that marks so many of the suffrage campaigns at the time.
I will finish by saying we need to celebrate the immense contribution of women to public life in Ireland, contributions like those of Constance Markievicz, Maire Geoghegan-Quinn, Mary Robinson, Mary McAleese and so many more unsung heroes and heroines of the women's movement. There is a lovely quote from Constance Markievicz that is very famous where she exhorted young women in the lead up to the suffrage campaign not to trust to their feminine charms or the problematic chivalry of the men they might meet on the way but rather to dress suitably in short skirts and strong boots, leave their jewels and gold wands in the bank and buy a revolver. We might - perhaps not literally - take heart from her words on the need to continue to campaign on women's rights over this important centenary year.
On 19 March 1911, the first International Women's Day event took place. One of the key themes of the early years of International Women's Day was the campaign for women's suffrage. In 1918, the Representation of the People Act gave some women in Ireland the right to vote and we celebrate that centenary this year. Equally significantly, in 1918, women were for the first time allowed to stand for election on an equal footing with men. Women had to wait a few more years, however, for the enactment of the Constitution of the Irish Free State 1922 to get full and equal voting rights. It is fair to say that despite considerable progress over the past century, the voting booth is one of the few places where women have equality. A friend of mine often jokes that women who aspire to be equal to men lack ambition but that is easy for him to say because he is a middle-class, middle-aged, white settled man so he has never been at the sharp end of inequality.
The World Economic Forum global gender gap report benchmarks 144 countries on their progress towards gender parity across a number of dimensions. There is no country in the world where women have achieved parity with men. When we look at Ireland, our results are mixed. In the area of educational attainment, there is parity between the genders and Ireland rates number one of the 144 countries in the comparison. Indeed in the area of participation in third level education, women fare considerably better than men. The health and survival index shows only a small gap is yet to be made up by women. However, it is when we look at the economic participation and opportunity index that we see a very significant gap opening up and we rank 65th in the world. For example, the average Irish woman worked from the 11 November last year until the end of the year for free by comparison to her male colleagues. On an overall basis, the World Economic Forum calculates that at the current rate of progress, pay parity is only 217 years away.
It is when we look at the political empowerment index that we see the biggest gap of all, both worldwide and here at home. While the number of women elected to the Oireachtas has improved, there is still a very long way to go before we achieve parity. In the 2016 general election, 123 men were elected to the Dáil. In the entire 100 years since women gained the right to stand for election, there have been only 114 women Deputies so there were more men elected to the Dail in the last election than there have been women Deputies. In the history of the Seanad, only 99 out of 900 women were elected. If we go back to 2009 when I was first elected to Westmeath County Council, I was one of two women out of 23. I am the first ever female Government Chief Whip in the Seanad. So while those pioneering suffragists in 1918 may have won the right to vote and the right to stand for election, 100 years on, the political field is still far from level and it would have been worse had it not been for gender quotas. On the subject of quotas, I firmly believe that the people should get jobs on the basis of ability. However, if Members of the Oireachtas got jobs based on merit alone, we would have 79 women Deputies and 30 women Senators today so there are obviously other factors at play.
Real equality can only be achieved by women and men sharing power with each as decision makers and gradually having more men supporting the give and take of gender equality. I do not see this as battle of the sexes where women gain and men must lose.
In fact, the statistics would suggest the opposite. They clearly show that gender equality is good for men. For example, those countries that are most gender equal are also the ones which score highest on happiness scales. The more gender equal that companies are, the better it is for their workers, the happier their labour force is and the more profitable they are likely to be. The more egalitarian our personal relationships are, the happier and healthier both partners are and, therefore, the happier and healthier their children are so gender equality is not a zero-sum game but a win-win scenario. Gender equality is in the interests of countries, in the interests of companies, in the interests of women and in the interests of men.
The Minister of State is very welcome to the House. As she is my local Deputy, I congratulate her. It is the first time I have had the opportunity to do so since she was elevated to the post of Minister of State. The very fact that she is sitting here is testament to the fact that we are moving, albeit very slowly, to where we should be. As I look around this room, I wonder where my male colleagues are. There are not too many of them here. It reminds me of the day we introduced the Gender Recognition Bill. They literally climbed over one another to get out of the room before the discussion started. Clearly, there are some things men are not supposed to be involved in. As I look around, some of the most powerful women in Irish society are sitting around me. For as long as I can remember, one of them, Senator Bacik, has been an advocate for women and women's rights. I see Senator Higgins, who, again, is noted along with Senators Ruane and Kelleher. I could go on and name them all, including Senator McFadden, who is the Government Chief Whip, and my colleague from Carlow. They are all powerful women. The Acting Chairman, Senator Noone, took on one of the most difficult roles this country has had to face in a long time when she took over as Chairman of the Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution so there are very powerful women here and I am deeply proud to know all of them.
I fundamentally disagree with quotas. I always and ever did. I do not believe that in a perfect world we should have to have quotas. I have never seen women as needing to be equal. I grew up in a family of 11 and eight of them were girls. However, the woman I want to remember today is one of the strongest women I have ever known in my life. She epitomises the women of Ireland. The woman I am talking about is my mother, Maureen Craughwell.
My mother, despite the fact she was the mother of 11 children, always found time to be with me at the most important times of my life. She was with me when I was invested into the Boy Scouts, when I was passing out in the Army on both occasions, when I took my degree and when I took my postgraduate degree. All through my life my father was held supreme in the family. It was "Dad" this and "Dad" the other. Just before my mother died, I was driving to Galway to see her. Suddenly, all of the memories came back of where she was when I needed her. She was always there.
I am thankful to God that I got the opportunity to say to her before she died that she was the greatest influence in my life. My mother is just one of the thousands and millions of mothers around Ireland who do the same job every single day. It is the mothers of Ireland who give the girls of Ireland the courage to stand up and become the Senators who are in this House today or the Deputies down in the other House.
It is the mothers of Ireland who instill in their children the courage to get up and be the best they can. One hundred years on we should not be talking about suffrage. We should be looking at a Seanad that has 30 women and 30 men. We should be looking at a Dáil that is split down the middle. We should be looking at the distribution of power. It is happening slowly. Thankfully, Ms Patricia King in the trade union movement is the leader of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, ICTU, and Sheila Nunan is the leader of the Irish National Teachers Organisation. Women are slowly making their way in Irish society to where they deserve to be.
However, there is a requirement, and it falls back to labour, to make rules or regulations that make it easy for women to aspire to or make their way into important roles. I refer to the example of my own trade union, prior to my entry into this House. We held meetings on a Friday in Dublin and they went on until five, six or seven in the evening. It became impossible for women. I remember we had one single mother on the executive committee. She had two young daughters. She had to get home. Ultimately, she had to resign from that.
We have to be able to move meetings around the country so mothers are close to home if they need to be. I do not see any reason why the fathers should not be at home. We have to start finding ways of facilitating people. Every time I have visitors in this House, I bring them to that picture down the hall that shows all of the living female politicians. I think it was taken in 1998.
It was 2008.
It is a disgrace to see how few are in it. I have used up my time.
I have to ask the Senator to conclude on this point.
I just wanted to put on record that, as a man, I do realise we have been pretty God damn lousy to women in all aspects of Irish life. I hope the next 100 years will see a shift. I thank the Minister for being here.
I am very happy to salute my women colleagues on this 100th anniversary of voting rights for women. I am equally happy, and it is very significant in the context, to welcome my good friend the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Madigan, to the House. I congratulate her on her appointment and how proactive and effective she has been since then.
The fundamental thing that merits saying at the outset is that all interpersonal relationships should be based on mutual respect and equality. If that is the case, they are mutually enhancing relationships. Whether they are relationships between the sexes or relationships in any context, it is mutually enhancing where there is respect and equality. There have been many achievements for women down the years and we should salute and recognise the agencies involved in those achievements.
The European Union has been a reforming force for women. It has brought in legislative imperatives to the domestic Legislature that have greatly enhanced the role of women. We should salute the EU in that context, recognise it and feel especial loyalty to it, particularly in the Brexit context for that very reason. The Irish Judiciary - and the Minister, Senator Bacik and Senator Noone will be conscious of this, among others - has been a reforming force for Irish women. In its rulings down through the years it has advanced the cause of women and led the Oireachtas and society in this sphere. We should recognise the Judiciary, another arm of government, for that. The trade union movement, as was cited earlier, has also been a wonderful force for equality.
As a rural representative, I would like to salute a body that has not been mentioned today but had an extraordinarily significant effect in this area. I remember this from my childhood. I refer to the influence of the Irish Countrywomen's Association, ICA, on the liberation, self-enhancement, personal development and empowerment of country women in isolated locations, and otherwise, right across this country. The role of the ICA can not be underestimated. We should salute its leadership and its members down the years.
I am proud to be a member of the Council of Europe. I am on that body with very distinguished Members of this House, including my great friend Senator Maura Hopkins, Senator Colette Kelleher, Senator Rónán Mullen and Senator Paul Gavan, who is soon to be a member. Senator Higgins played an extraordinary proactive leadership role in the Council of Europe previously. It is a major agent for equality and gender equality specifically.
I am proud to be a member of a party that brought in gender quotas and tried to break the glass ceiling. That has clearly been effective. It will be incremental because in the future the numbers will go up. Today, it is not right that any speaker should sit down without recognising the dark sphere of our relationships in the past. That is the mother and baby homes and Magdalen laundries. They represent a dark chapter that cannot be avoided in our discourse. In any kind of a redemptive or restorative process we can not ignore them.
The way to salute them is to respect and actively support single mothers, women in difficult pregnancies and women in dysfunctional families. If we support those women now who are vulnerable, on the edge and on the periphery, we honour and, in some way, redeem ourselves from what happened in that dark chapter with the Magdalen laundries. We are true to the values we should extol.
It is true and a point well made by Senator McFadden that apart from the efficacy of women's equal participation and women's rights, mutual regard of women in society, and indeed parity of relationships, also has benefits for our economy, the well-being of society, for social order, good governance, and for a peaceful, proactive and successful society. I gather my time is up.
It is just that I have only seven minutes and we still have two contributors.
I will finish on this. We have many examples in history right around the world that any society predicated or built on inequality, injustice and unfairness, like a house built on sand, is doomed to fail.
I call Senator Warfield who has five minutes. However, if he could take less time I would be grateful.
I congratulate the Minister on her appointment. As the spokesperson for the arts in Sinn Féin, I look forward to working with her. On that point, I received an email from a member of these Houses yesterday that said "spokesman". If we could do one thing today, please do not be too specific in how we identify the roles of spokespeople. There is no point in calling oneself a spokesman if that implies to a young girl that role is meant for a man.
This is a chance to reflect on the gender diversity of our institutions. There are many other things but in under five minutes I will not do much more. As has been mentioned, women's suffrage did not bring about women's equality nor have we achieved equality a century later.
Marriage equality here did not achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, LGBT, equality and civil rights in the North did not end sectarianism. As we consider the next steps for gender equality, one of the most immediate must be the removal of the eighth amendment.
The struggle for equal gender representation in the Oireachtas is ongoing. That under-representation has led to a history of politics being dominated by men and run from a male perspective. Many women in these Houses of the Oireachtas have gone on record noting that they can be a hostile environment. In my short time here I have seen personal examples of Members making throwaway comments and offhand remarks. Perhaps they do not realise the gravity of such remarks, the environment they are contributing to, the presumptions they are making or that they are making the Parliament an unwelcome place. We cannot uphold any level of leadership without getting our own house in order first.
Previous generations of politicians upheld the subjugation of women, be it through the mother and baby homes, the Magdalen laundries or mental institutions. We criminalised women through marginalisation, the denial of basic rights to contraception and so on. We had a rape culture that censored women and denied them security of the law, the police and the courts and sought to suppress the undauntable and resolute who spoke out.
The former Minister, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, has been mentioned a great deal this week. The year after I was born, she decriminalised homosexuality. She stated:
Someone once said that statistics are people - with the tears wiped off. When, in 1993 as minister for justice, I decided to decriminalise homosexuality, I did so because I met people, rather than statistics. Women with the tears unwiped. Mothers of gay sons, terrified that their children might fall foul of a law that characterised their sexuality as against the interests of the State
It took a woman to understand. It took the mothers of gay sons to make that change. There are parallels there in terms of any chance a raped gay man had of reporting that crime. It is not a discussion for today but the marriage referendum and the repeal of the eighth amendment are intrinsically linked.
I will move on as I am aware that other Civil Engagement Members wish to speak. The struggle for equal representation in the Oireachtas is ongoing. I mentioned the repeal of the eighth amendment. The activists of that movement will march tomorrow evening for International Women's Day. Their demands are simple. They do not want Bunreacht na hÉireann holding any level of agency over their bodies or their lives. I commend their bravery. The suffragettes were described by Rita O'Hare as extraordinary women who came from every class, creed and background, from rural communities and from this city. She said they rejected the confines of class and the comforts of privilege to join a national women's movement - the labour movement. Her description of the suffragettes resonates today and if I could do anything else it would be to plead with the men in my life and the men in our society to join with them and demand their agency.
I welcome the Minister and salute all of my colleagues. I am very proud to be part of the Vótáil 100 committee with Senator McFadden and the chair, Senator Bacik. In the couple of minutes available to me I want to reflect on those women, and some men, who were involved in the suffrage movement and highlight some of their qualities, of which I will highlight four.
They were persistent. The achievement in terms of the hard-fought winning of the right to vote in 1918 was not a moment but part of a long movement, which was spearheaded in 1898 when women were given the power to run in the local election, and 100 women put themselves forward. It was achieved by the women's franchise leagues, which took place across the country. I refer to women who mobilised within the Irish Women Workers' Union, for example, and who played a key role in the Lock-out in 1913. I refer to women who were involved in the Rising in 1916. Many of those are the same activists who followed through on this issue. A partial right to vote for women over 30 was won in 1918 but women, and the suffragette movement, stayed with it and continued to demand the right to vote. In 1922, the new Irish State granted an equal right to vote to women and men over 21, six years ahead of the United Kingdom. That is something we can be proud of as well, and I am sure we will commemorate that.
The women were diverse. Quakers, Presbyterians, Catholics and Protestants from all kinds of class and background were involved in the suffrage movement. They were also involved in many other political movements, in socialism, passivism - the anti-war and anti-conscription movement was strongly led by women - and in the battle for women workers' rights. That was the diversity, and they continued to battle and contribute in a diverse set of ways as Irish society progressed.
I support the calls to name the new children's hospital after Dr. Kathleen Lynn. My colleague, Mary Strangman, recently launched the plaque to commemorate her.
I have to call the Minister.
I have two final sentences. I want to mention the two other qualities. They fought hard. This right was not granted; it was won. There was breaking of windows as well as the metaphorical breaking of glass ceilings. They would not allow a veneer of normality over a situation of inequality, and we are seeing that same battle today.
Lastly, and I will not talk about the contemporary situation as others have spoken about it, they set no limit to ambition. Eva Gore-Booth, the sister of Constance Markievicz, ran and was successful, and Winnie Carney also ran-----
I have to call the Minister.
I will finish by quoting two lines from a poem by Eva Gore-Booth.
No, please. I have to let the Minister in.
The Minister might permit me to quote from a poem by Eva Gore-Booth because she was part of the suffrage movement in the UK at the same time as her sister played such a key role in Ireland. In a poem called Reincarnation, and she was a very good poet, she states:
I seek with humble care and toil
The dreams I left undreamed, the deeds undone,
To sow the seed and break the stubborn soil,
It is an acknowledgement of how much more needed to be done, the fact that the soil that needs to be broken is stubborn and the challenges that remain to be faced. Right now, women in Ireland across all sectors are rising to that challenge.
I was hoping to provide individual responses to all the contributions from Members. The Acting Chairman might enlighten me as to how much time I have.
Technically, the Minister has two minutes but I will certainly allow her to go over that time.
It is just that I want to read my statement into the record. I thank everybody for their contributions. Unfortunately, I will not have the time to address the various issues raised and points made, all of which are of benefit to me in the position I am in as Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. I will take all of those on board and may speak to some Members individually about some of the topics they raised, but I thank them very much for their contributions. It is good to see so many of them here. It is also good to see so many men here as well. There were three contributions from male speakers, which is important.
Before I make my statement, I want to acknowledge the men, and Senator Bacik touched on this earlier, who have helped women over the past 100 years. It is not always a case of being anti-men, and it is important that we acknowledge that.
I refer to the progress that has been made in providing equal opportunities for all but as I stated earlier, we have a long way to travel. To this end, the ambitious programme for Government commits to developing a new integrated framework for social inclusion, which will outline measures to help eliminate any persisting discrimination on grounds of gender, age, family status, marital status, sexual orientation, race, disability, religion or membership of the Traveller community.
We are committed to specifically further empowering women by building on the legislation passed by this House to encourage increased female participation in politics. An updated national women's strategy will further promote women's participation in decision making. We will empower women to ensure that households headed by women are no longer at high risk of poverty. We will take measures to reduce the gender pay gap, increasing investment in child care and reviewing the lower pay of women and gender inequality for senior appointments.
My colleagues in Cabinet and I are also actively promoting, and some Senators raised it here, increased female representation on State boards to at least 40%. I am pleased to say that the average female representation on the boards of the bodies under the remit of my Department exceeds 50%. We are also promoting wage transparency, a strengthened role of the Low Pay Commission in respect of the gender pay gap and in work poverty, training opportunities for self development and work related skills to assist a return to the labour market and promote entrepreneurship and an increased level of female participation in our Defence Forces, with the goal of doubling the rate from 6% to 12% over five years.
In the context of the centenary of this landmark year for women, my Department is keeping close contact with the Houses of the Oireachtas and the Vótáil 100 programme. I acknowledge the hard work of the chair, Senator Bacik and all the members of the committee here. It has a monthly programme of activities leading up to commemorating the First Dáil in January 2019. While it is clear that our own national journey failed women for far too long, today, on the eve of International Women's Day, we pay our respect to all those women who flew the flag for women's participation in Irish political life in the years since Independence.
In marking the distance we have travelled in more recent years, it is incumbent on us to remember them well, to cherish their contribution and to build on it into the future. We recall once again Countess Markievicz's words, this time spoken in Dáil Éireann in March 1922 on a debate on women's franchise:
This question of votes for women, with the bigger thing, freedom for women and opening of the professions to women, has been one of the things that I have worked for and given my influence and time to procuring all my life whenever I got an opportunity. I have worked in Ireland, I have even worked in England, to help the women to obtain their freedom. I would work for it anywhere, as one of the crying wrongs of the world, that women, because of their sex, should be debarred from any position or any right that their brains entitle them a right to hold.
Let us not forget those words. Gabhaim buíochas libh go léir.
That concludes statements. I would not have stopped the Minister if she had wished to continue because her time was eaten into. I thank the Minister.