The Senators that feature in this exhibition approached the challenge of achieving equality from a diversity of political perspectives: each using their seat in the Seanad to demonstrate the essential need for women to be an equal voice in Irish politics and society.
Tras Honan (1930 - )
Tras Honan was a Fianna Fáil Senator who served from 1977 to 1992 on the Administrative Panel.
Her father-in-law Thomas (T.V.) Honan and her husband Dermot (Derry) Honan had also been Senators.
In 1981 she and her sister Deputy Caroline (Carrie) Acheson were the first sisters to sit in the Oireachtas at the same time.
On 13 May 1982, she was nominated and elected, unopposed, as the first woman Cathaoirleach and on 25 April 1987 she was re-elected to this position. To this day she remains the only woman to have served as Cathaoirleach.
She was a self-proclaimed “countrywoman”. While she supported the Health (Family Planning) Bill, 1978 which when enacted legalised contraceptives on prescription by medical professionals, in 1985 she opposed further liberalisation to make contraceptives available to over 18s.
During the Second Stage debate on the Maternity Protection of Employees Bill 1981 she commended women who could hold down a full-time job while raising a family but also voiced concern about the well-being of the children involved, and added: “I have said that now. I may be hauled over the coals at the weekend for saying it, but it is said. I am sure the Minister is accustomed to me by now”.
Mary E. F. Henry (1940-)
Mary E. F. Henry is a physician and former independent Member of the University of Dublin panel of Seanad Éireann.
Doctor Henry was a founder member of the Women’s Political Association in the 1970s, with the aim of encouraging the participation of women in public life.
She served in Seanad Éireann from 1993 to 2007 and sponsored a Private Members’ Bill (PMB) on stopping child sex tourism in 1995 which the Government incorporated into their legislation, and a PMB on Regulation of Assisted Human Reproduction (1999) which sought to introduce legal regulation of in vitro fertilisation.
In addition, she sought to promote and protect the rights of persons with a disability when she sponsored the Disability Commissioner Bill 2001 (PMB).
In 1994 she tabled an Adjournment Matter to advocate for a national breast screening programme which was rolled out six years later. She consistently advocated in support of women’s and human rights issues: decriminalisation of homosexuality, extending maternity leave cover, and issues faced by single mothers.
She was inaugurated as Pro-Chancellor of Trinity College Dublin in 2012, in recognition of her contributions to medicine, academia and politics in a career that spanned over forty years.
Jan O'Sullivan (1950- )
Jan O'Sullivan was elected on the Administrative Panel to the 20th Seanad in 1993 for the Labour Party.
Speaking on the Report of the Second Commission on the Status of Women and on the Maternity Protection Bill 1994, she advocated for equal participation of men and women on raising the family.
She supported the introduction of paternity leave.
Speaking on the Health (Family Planning) (Amendment) Bill, 1993 to further liberalise contraception in Ireland during the AIDS epidemic, she stated: “I am pleased to be a Member of the Oireachtas taking part in the enactment of this legislation since we have finally reached a stage where we are acting responsibly and with realism in dealing with these issues which for so long have been dealt with in a hypocritical manner by the Irish public in general”.
She served as Minister for State at the Departments of Foreign Affairs, Environment, Community and Local Government, and was Minister for Education and Skills from 2014 to 2016.
She is a graduate of Trinity College Dublin and a qualified teacher from University College Cork.
Catherine McGuinness (1934 - )
Catherine McGuinness is now retired, during her career she served as a barrister, was president of the Law Reform Commission, the first woman judge appointed to the Circuit Court, a judge in the High Court and Supreme Court, and was appointed to the Council of State by two presidents.
She is a graduate of Trinity College Dublin and King’s Inns and became a Senior Counsel in 1989.
She was an Independent member for the University of Dublin constituency and served in three Seanaid between 1979 and 1987.
She was active in children’s rights issues during the movement for educational reform in the 1960s, was pivotal in the passing of the Status of Children Act 1987, which removed the concept of illegitimacy, and advocated for the rights of children in Ireland by seeking full implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
She headed the Kilkenny Incest Investigation team whose 1993 recommendations were put to the people in the Referendum Relating to Children in 2012 and passed. This inserted the wording: “The State recognises and affirms the natural and imprescriptible rights of all children and shall, as far as practicable, by its laws protect and vindicate those rights” at Article 42A of the Constitution.
Mary Harney (1953 - )
Mary Harney graduated in Economics from Trinity College Dublin and was a teacher of mathematics and economics before being nominated by Taoiseach Jack Lynch as an Independent Senator, serving from 1977 to 1981.
In the Seanad she spoke on the position of women and the obstacles they face, particularly in working life.
When debating the Maternity Protection of Employees Bill, 1981, she outlined her vision for a more family-friendly working environment within the Oireachtas itself.
In 1990 as Minister of State at the Department of the Environment she passed the Statutory Instrument which banned the burning of bituminous or “smoky” coals in Dublin. This and similar bans have dramatically improved air quality in Dublin and around the country.
In 1992 she oversaw legislation to establish the Environmental Protection Agency.
In 1993 she became the first woman in Ireland to lead a political party, the Progressive Democrats, and later served as the first woman Tánaiste.
As Minister for Health and Children in 2009 she brought in the Nursing Homes Support Scheme Act or “Fair Deal” scheme to make available financial support to persons in respect of long-term residential care services.
In 2019 she was awarded an honorary doctorate from Trinity College Dublin in recognition of her contributions to public life.
Evelyn Owens (1931-2010)
Evelyn Owens began her career in Dublin Corporation and obtained a Diploma in Public Administration from Trinity College Dublin.
She soon joined the Irish Local Government Officials’ Union (ILGOU) – later the IMPACT union – and in 1967 became its first woman President.
She was a member of the Commission on the Status of Women, the Special Advisory Committee on the Office of the Ombudsman, and other high-level fora.
She was a member of the 12th and 13th Seanaid (1969-1977) for the Labour Party on the Labour Panel.
In June 1973 she was elected the first woman Leas-Chathaoirleach and held this position for the 13th Seanad.
She served on the Oireachtas Committee on Statutory Instruments and was an ex officio member of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges.
She was appointed the first female Deputy Chairperson of the Labour Court in 1984 and the first female Chairperson in 1994.
In The Labour Court Annual Report 2010 the Chairman, Kevin Duffy paid tribute to her: “Throughout her career she was committed to the advancement of women in the workplace and in society. …”
Ivana Bacik (1968 - )
Ivana Bacik is a Barrister, Reid Professor and Fellow of Trinity College Dublin; author; human rights and equality campaigner.
She was elected to Seanad Éireann as an Independent candidate on the University of Dublin constituency to the 23rd Seanad in 2007 and as a Labour Party candidate in 2011, 2016 and 2020.
She resigned her senatorial seat on her election to Dáil Éireann in the 2021 bye-election.
She was a long-term pro-choice campaigner for constitutional change in women’s pregnancy-related health issues. She campaigned for the 36th Amendment of the Constitution Bill 2018 which repealed the Eighth Amendment’s constitutional prohibition on abortion.
As a Senator she sponsored over thirty Private Members Bills and the enactment of two of these has provided some protection for those in atypical employment and removed some forms of discrimination in employment.
In 2019 the Irish Women Lawyers Association selected her as the Irish Woman Lawyer of the Year in recognition of her “incredible contribution to law in Ireland, and particularly her focus on gender equality and social justice”.
Frances Fitzgerald (1950 - )
Frances Fitzgerald is a graduate of University College Dublin and the London School of Economics, she worked as a social worker and family therapist in Dublin and with inner city communities in Dublin and London.
She is a former chairperson of the National Women’s Council of Ireland and former Vice-President of the European Women’s Lobby.
She was elected to the 23rd Seanad in 2007 for Fine Gael on the Labour Panel.
She was a member of the Joint Committee on the Constitutional Amendment on Children which recommended in favour of holding the Referendum Relating to Children.
She was Leader of the opposition in the 23rd Seanad before Fine Gael entered government. She held three ministerial posts:
- Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (2011–2014),
- Minister for Justice and Equality (2014–2017)
- and Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation (2017)
and was one of only four women to hold the position of Tánaiste.
While in office she brought in legislation in child and family welfare, sexual offences, women’s matters, and in policing and she oversaw the Marriage Equality Referendum.
Mary O’Rourke (1937-)
Mary O’Rourke was a Senator from 1981 to 1982 for Fianna Fáil on the Cultural and Educational Panel and from 2002 to 2007 as nominee of Taoiseach Bertie Ahern.
She graduated from University College Dublin and St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth and worked as a teacher before entering politics.
During the Seanad debate on the Youth Employment Agency Bill, 1981, she called for half of the nominees of the agency to be women and for equal work opportunities for women and men.
She held four ministerial posts while serving as a Teachta Dála. As Minister of State for Labour Affairs she introduced legislation in 1993 to expand unfair dismissal grounds to include sexual orientation, age and membership of the travelling community.
Speaking in the Seanad on Services for Victims of Domestic Violence in January 2004, she expressed the desire that: “…women would be stroppy and confident, that they would talk to people and not be afraid”.
She chaired the Joint Committee on the Constitutional Amendment on Children whose February 2010 recommendations led to the 2012 Referendum Relating to Children. She campaigned for the retention of the Seanad at the 2013 referendum and was a member of the Working Group on Seanad Reform 2015.
Averil Power (1978 - )
Averil Power is a graduated from Trinity College Dublin with a degree in Business, Economics and Social Science.
She was elected as a Fianna Fáil Senator to the 24th Seanad in 2011 on the Industrial and Commercial Panel. She advocates for community services and on many social issues including for equality, adoption and LGBT rights.
During the 2nd Stage debate on the Marriage Bill 2015 she referenced the passing of the Equality Referendum in saying “I was never more proud to be Irish than I was on 23 May, when Ireland became the first country in the world to introduce marriage equality by popular vote.”
She sponsored the PMB Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill which was approved by the Seanad and preceded government legislative proposals and the Employment Equality (Amendment) Bill 2012.
She participated in Voluntary Service Overseas’ Politicians for Development Programme in Mozambique in 2011 where she supported the implementation of local voluntary services.
In July 2014, she and Senator David Norris requested a recall of Seanad Éireann for statements on the situation in Gaza.
In October 2014 the motion she tabled calling on the Government to recognise the state of Palestine was agreed by both Houses.
Jillian van Turnhout (1968 - )
Jillian van Turnhout was CEO of the Children’s Rights Alliance, which was created in 1995 to actively monitor and advocate to ensure that Ireland’s laws, policies and services respect children’s rights and protect them until 2011.
A former Chief Commissioner of the Irish Girl Guides and former President of the National Youth Council of Ireland.
She is a children's rights advocate
She nominated by Taoiseach Enda Kenny to the 24th Seanad where she served as an Independent Senator from 2011 to 2016 and led the Independent (Taoiseach nominees) Group.
As a Senator and as CEO of Children’s Rights Alliance she actively campaigned for the Referendum to protect children’s rights in the Constitution which was passed in 2012.
In welcoming the Second Interim Report of the Joint Committee on the Constitutional Amendment on Children in 2009 she concluded with the words “Constitutional change is essential to make Ireland one of the best places in the world to be a child.”
Alice Stopford Green (1847–1929)
Alice Stopford Green was born at the time of the Famine in Kells, County Meath where she lived before the family moved to England.
She was a historian and her books The Making of Ireland and its Undoing (1908), Irish Nationality (1911) and The Old Irish World (1912) focussed on depicting a nationalist history of Gaelic Ireland.
On returning to Dublin in 1918 her home in St. Stephen’s Green became a meeting point for leading nationalists of the time.
She was elected as an Independent Member of the First Seanad in 1922, 1925 and 1928.
In 1923 she was appointed to the Seanad Committee on Irish Manuscripts. During the debate on the Committee’s final report she spoke on her belief that the disunity following the creation of the Irish Free State could be eased by restoring old traditions and faith.
In 1924, she donated a Casket to the First Seanad, with a vellum roll of signatures of all the first Senators. This was gifted to the Royal Irish Academy on 19 May 1936 during the last meeting the Free State Seanad before its abolition.
The words “Historian of the Irish People” are inscribed on her gravestone.
Mary Robinson (1944-)
Mary Robinson was a Senator from 1969 to 1989 on the University of Dublin panel, mainly as an Independent, and as a Labour Party member in the 14th and 15th Seanaid (1977-1982).
She was educated at Trinity College Dublin and Harvard University, was Reid Professor of Law at Trinity and currently is Chancellor of the University of Dublin.
As a barrister she argued successfully in several landmark court cases in Ireland and Europe – decriminalisation of homosexuality, women’s right to sit on juries, legal aid and the right to privacy in relation to contraception.
She introduced three Private Members’ Bills that paved the way towards the liberalisation of Irish laws on contraception and family planning matters.
She was the 7th President of Ireland and the first woman president. She introduced into Áras an Uachtaráin the Irish tradition of placing a light in the window to guide strangers in the night in order to welcome the Irish diaspora to their homeland, a tradition continued in the Áras today.
On leaving office she was appointed UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and since November 2018 is Chair of the Elders, an independent group of global leaders working for peace, justice and human rights.
Nora Connolly O'Brien (1892–1981)
Nora Connolly O'Brien was the daughter of James Connolly, the well-known republican socialist leader, she was born in Edinburgh and grew up in Dublin, the USA, and Belfast.
She was appointed as an Independent Senator by Taoisigh Éamon de Valera and Seán Lemass and served from 1957 until 1969.
She was committed to republican and socialist causes throughout her life: she supported workers during the 1913 Dublin Lockout, was active in Cumann na mBan in 1916 and during the War of Independence, and later she was a trade unionist with the Irish Transport & General Workers’ Union.
In 1958, while she argued against the government’s proposal to change the voting system from proportional representation to first-past-the-post, she supported holding a referendum to decide the matter. The people spoke by voting to retain proportional representation.
She argued against a provision in the Criminal Justice Bill, 1960, which allowed for un-convicted “girl delinquents” to be sent to Magdalen Asylums. She commented that if she were asked for advice on “whether to go to prison on remand, or to go to St. Mary Magdalen’s Asylum on remand, I would advise them wholeheartedly to choose prison …”
Valerie Goulding (1918–2003)
Valerie Goulding was a Fianna Fáil Member of Seanad Éireann from 1977 to 1981, nominated by Taoiseach Jack Lynch.
She was born in Kent, the daughter of a UK Cabinet minister. After her marriage and the Second World War she moved with her family to Dublin.
She involved herself in social work to help alleviate the poverty she witnessed in Dublin.
She identified the need for support and therapies to assist those affected by the 1940s/1950s polio outbreaks recover from their acquired disabilities and to regain good quality of life. To this end she and Kathleen O’Rourke, a rehabilitation therapist, co-founded the Central Remedial Clinic (CRC) in 1951.
She was a committed and effective fundraiser who gathered together high-level business people to secure funding for the CRC’s work.
As a Senator she advocated for the right of disabled people to work and access adult education. She also spoke for setting up health care centres in towns and villages in Ireland.
In the Social Welfare Bill 1980 Second Stage debate she said this would facilitate the elderly and those with chronic illness to stay in their homes so that “they would continue to be still part of family life”, similar to the ethos of CRC.
Gemma Hussey (1938 - )
Gemma Hussey is a graduate of University College Dublin.
In 1973 she was elected chair of the Women’s Political Association (WPA) which sought to increase women’s participation in politics.
She was a Senator from 1977 to 1982 on the National University of Ireland panel, initially as an Independent and later for Fine Gael.
She served as Leader of the Seanad and as Fine Gael Seanad Spokesperson on Women’s Affairs.
She spoke on the lack of women on medical boards and on the Law Reform Commission, and she argued for paid maternity leave and equal pay for equal work for women.
She said that women had not been sufficiently consulted on the Health (Family Planning) Bill 1978: “It is a very bad situation to have celibate, elderly Catholic bishops beating a path to the Minister’s door to discuss this issue [regulation of contraceptives], and to ignore the people who have most to do with – it is grotesque”.
While a Teachta Dála (1982-1989) she held office as Minister for Education, Minister for Social Welfare and as Minister for Labour.
Mary Ann O'Brien (1960 - )
Mary Ann O'Brien is the founder and chairperson of Lily O’Brien Chocolates.
Arising from personal experience, in 1997 she and her husband Jonathan Irwin founded the Jack and Jill Foundation to provide home-based nursing care, support and advocacy for severely sick infants and children and their families.
She was nominated by Taoiseach Enda Kenny as an Independent Senator in the 24th Seanad.
She tabled Motions on Life-limiting Health Conditions in Children and on Services for People with Disabilities in 2012.
She supported the strengthening of corporate governance, transparency and accountability as provided in the Horse Racing Ireland Bill 2015.
Speaking in favour of the Charities Regulation Motion in May 2013 she said: “Looking to best international practice … we cannot in 2013 continue to allow this sector, to which we give €4 billion of taxpayers' money, to go unregulated.”
In 2016 during Statements on Innovation 2020 she spoke in favour of STEM programme initiatives (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) to create a more digitally-aware population.
She was a member of the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine and made contributions in the Seanad on topics such as food provenance, the grocery sector, harvesting rights, forestry, aquaculture and many more.
Joan Freeman (1958 - )
Joan Freeman holds an MSc in psychology, is a mental health activist and author.
She holds an MSc in psychology, is a mental health activist and author.
In 2006 she set up the Pieta House charity which provides a free, therapeutic approach to people who are in suicidal distress and to those who engage in self-harm.
She pioneered the international flagship fundraising event Darkness into Light.
She was nominated as an Independent to the 25th Seanad by Taoiseach Enda Kenny.
In 2016, speaking on the Commencement Matter she tabled on Mental Health Services Provision she said: “I will work tirelessly to help the mental health groups which are trying to bring about change in the mental health system and will support them every step of the way.”
She co-sponsored the Private Members’ Bill (PMB) Mental Health (Amendment) Bill 2016 which passed all Seanad stages but lapsed with dissolution of the 25th Seanad. Aim of the Bill was to ensure the age-appropriateness of in-patient psychiatric care for children and young people.
In tabling her 2017 Motion on Mental Health Services she advocated for 24-hour access for service-users.
She chaired the Joint Committee on the Future of Mental Health Care which published its final report in October 2018 with recommendations on regeneration of the Irish mental health service.
Margaret Mary Pearse (1878–1968)
Margaret Mary Pearse was a teacher at St. Enda’s School, Rathfarnham which she and her mother ran until it closed in 1935.
The school, founded in 1908 by her brother Patrick J. Pearse, a 1916 proclamation signatory, took a pioneering approach in bilingual education and in its emphasis on the imagination and talents of the individual pupils.
She was elected as a Fianna Fáil Senator to the 2nd Seanad in 1938 and served continuously in ten Seanaid until her death in 1968.
She was elected four times on the Administrative Panel and was a Taoiseach’s nominee on six occasions.
She served as a Teachta Dála in the 8th Dáil (1933-1937).
During Committee Stage debate on the Republic of Ireland Bill 1948 she commented: "First, there has been no confusion in my mind as to whether or not we had a republic. … We all know that the republic was first declared in 1916 outside the G.P.O. …”
In April 1966 during the Golden Jubilee commemoration of the Easter Week Rising, she was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree. On her death in 1968 the house and grounds at St. Enda’s were gifted to the Irish nation and she was accorded a state funeral.
Eileen Desmond (1932–2005)
Eileen Desmond was a Labour Party Senator on the Industrial and Commercial Panel in the 12th Seanad (1969-1973).
She commenced her career as a civil servant in the Department of Posts and Telegraphs.
She served in seven Dálaí between 1965 and 1987 and held office as Minister for Health and Social Welfare in 1981.
She was a Member of the European Parliament from 1979 to 1984.
In April 1972 on the eve of the referendum on the accession of Ireland to the European Community, she outlined her concerns in the Seanad in relation to the effects on the Irish voice in Europe and on jobs and prices. The referendum outcome was decisively in favour of Ireland joining the EEC.
She supported equality for women in employment, she favoured ending the civil service “marriage bar” as proposed in the Civil Service (Employment of Married Women) Bill 1973. She said: “I sincerely hope that this is just the first of a long series of measures to end the many forms of discrimination against women that still exist in our society.”
She was a liberalising voice during debates on the Health (Family Planning) Bill 1978 which intended to legalise contraception on prescription, and on wider women’s issues.
She advocated for improved hardship-alleviating measures for those depending on social welfare services.
Avril Doyle (1949 - )
Avril Doyle was a Fine Gael Senator on the Agricultural Panel in the 19th and 21st Seanaid.
A biochemistry graduate from University College Dublin, she began her political career in local politics and in 1976 she was the first woman Mayor of Wexford.
Her father Richard Belton was a member of the 12th Seanad.
As a Teachta Dála in 1982-1989 and 1992-1997 she held several Minister of State positions.
She was an MEP for two terms.
In November 1989 during the Seanad debate on the NESC report Ireland in the European Community she said: “We must be and — I borrow the phrase — pro-active in our approach to the Europe of post-1992, not reactive.”
In 1992 she considered the impact of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform package on the structure of Irish agriculture.
She brought a European viewpoint when seconding the Seanad Beef Industry Motion in 2002: “I am here not just as a Member of the Seanad but as a member of the European Parliament, of the European Parliament's agriculture committee and of its environment, public health and consumer affairs committee.”
She advocated for equal opportunity in education and spoke on social issues and finance matters.
Catherine Noone (1976 - )
Catherine Noone was elected for Fine Gael on the Industrial and Commercial Panel to the 24th and 25th Seanaid.
She studied law in the National University of Ireland Galway and is a practising solicitor.
She was a member of Dublin City Council from 2009-2011.
She served as Deputy Leader of the Seanad and was Fine Gael Seanad spokesperson on Arts and Culture and on European Affairs.
She was a member of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly.
She chaired the Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution which was established in April 2017 to consider the Citizens’ Assembly Report on the Eighth Amendment.
In the Press Release accompanying the Joint Committee’s Final Report and Recommendations published in December 2017 she is reported as saying: “It is fair to say that the issue of abortion remains one of the most divisive issues in Irish life and people hold deeply held views on the matter. To that end the work of the Joint Committee was never about one side or the other. It was about women’s health and how best to ensure swift and safe support in sensitive and difficult cases.”
Susan O’Keeffe (1960 - )
Susan O’Keeffe qualified as a dairy and food scientist from University College Cork before embarking on a journalistic career.
Her 1991 ‘beef programme’ for Granada television’s World in Action led to the establishment of the Tribunal of Inquiry into the Beef Processing Industry whose conclusions largely corroborated her findings.
In 1994 she received a Freedom of Information Award for “upholding a vital journalistic principle that protects the flow of information to the public”.
In 1995 she was arrested in Dublin, tried for and later acquitted of contempt of court for refusing to reveal her sources to the Tribunal.
She was elected to the 24th Seanad for the Labour Party on the Agricultural Panel.
She was the only woman on the eleven-member Oireachtas Joint Committee of Inquiry into the Banking Crisis which was established in November 2014 to inquire into the reasons Ireland experienced a systemic banking crisis.
Speaking in the Seanad on 2 February 2016 on the publication of the Joint Committee’s Final Report she said: “We must not throw away the opportunity for us, as parliamentarians, on behalf of the people and as public representatives, to try to bring people to account.”
Grace O'Sullivan (1962 - )
Grace O'Sullivan is a field ecology graduate from University College Cork and holds a Postgraduate Diploma in Business Enterprise Development from Waterford Institute of Technology.
She spent twenty years working with Greenpeace, the global network which campaigns on the environment and promotes peace.
She was elected to the 25th Seanad for the Green Party on the Agricultural Panel.
She was a member of the Seanad Civil Engagement technical group.
She spoke on social and environment-related issues including forestry, bog preservation, housing and transport, and disability services.
She sponsored the Private Members’ Bill (PMB) Micro-plastic and Micro-bead Pollution Prevention Bill 2016.
The PMB International Protection (Family Reunification) (Amendment) Bill 2017 she co-sponsored passed all Seanad stages and is currently at Dáil Committee Stage. This bill aims to provide for refugees to apply for family members to enter and reside in the State.
She was a member of the Joint Committee on Climate Action which was established to consider the recommendations of the Citizens’ Assembly Third Report in 2018 How the State can make Ireland a Leader in Tackling Climate Change.
Monica Barnes (1936–2018)
Monica Barnes was elected to the 16th Seanad (1982) for Fine Gael on the Labour Panel.
Personal experience in her early life prompted her to advocate for equality and women’s rights.
She was an early member of the Council for the Status of Women in 1973 (now the National Women’s Council) and Vice-chairperson of the Women’s Political Association.
In the Seanad she was Fine Gael Spokesperson on Law Reform and Assistant Whip (April to November 1982).
In June 1982 during the Seanad debate on the Motion to establish a Joint Committee on State Sponsored Bodies she expressed the hope that the committee would examine the gender balance of state agency boards.
She opined that despite ten years of work and equality legislation, the contributions of women were not reflected on such bodies. She stated: “I see it as a total deprivation and impoverishment of the whole State and semi-State system and some of the unfortunate results of that can be seen by perhaps not having a more balanced contribution.”
During her term as a Teachta Dála (1982-1992 and 1997-2002) she was chairperson of the Joint Committee on Women’s Rights when it reported in 1988 and 1991. She was a member of the Council of State in the 1990s.
Katherine Zappone (1953 - )
Katherine Zappone is of American and Irish background. She holds a doctorate from Boston College, USA and an MBA from the Smurfit Business School.
She was the first Member of the Houses of the Oireachtas to be openly lesbian and in a legally-recognised same-sex relationship, under Canadian law.
She was nominated by Taoiseach Enda Kenny as an Independent candidate to the 24th Seanad (2011-2016).
At the Joint Committee on Education and Social Protection in 2013, she contributed to the draft of the Gender Recognition Bill, a government Bill initiated in the Seanad in 2015. In Seanad Stages she raised the matter of provision for a post-enactment review on the operation of the Act. The Bill as enacted contains this provision and the post-legislative scrutiny review was completed in 2018.
While a Senator she co-founded ‘Democracy Matters’ which led the campaign to retain the Seanad when its abolition was proposed in the 2013 referendum.
She co-sponsored the Seanad Bill 2013 (PMB) which proposed several reform measures, including opening up the Seanad franchise to a wider electorate.
She was a founding member of Marriage Equality, which campaigned in the marriage equality referendum which was passed in 2015.
While a Teachta Dála she held office as Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (2016-2020).