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Women in the Seanad, 1922 - 2022

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.

Image of Tras Honan

 Courtesy of Clare Heritage

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.

Image of Mary Henry

Image: RollingNews

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.

Image of Jan O'Sullivan

Courtesy of the Labour Party

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.

Image of Catherine McGuinness

Courtesy of Brian O’Neill - CC BY-SA 3.0

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.

Image of Mary Harney

Courtesy of EU Science and Innovation

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.

Image of Evelyn Owens

 Courtesy of Fórsa

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.

Image of Ivana Bacik

Courtesy of the Houses of the Oireachtas

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.

Image of Frances Fitzgerald

Courtesy of the Houses of the Oireachtas

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.

Image of Mary O’Rourke

 Courtesy of Fianna Fáil Press Office

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.

Image of Averil Power

 Courtesy of the Houses of the Oireachtas

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.

Image of Jillian van Turnhout

 Courtesy of the Houses of the Oireachtas

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.

Image of Alice Stopford Green

 Courtesy of National Library of Ireland

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.

Image of Mary Robinson

Courtesy of the Houses of the Oireachtas

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.

Image of Nora Connolly O'Brien

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.

Image of Valerie Goulding

 Courtesy of the CRC

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.

Image of Gemma Hussey

Courtesy of Fine Gael

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.

Image of Mary Ann O'Brien

Courtesy of the Houses of the Oireachtas

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.

Image of Joan Freeman

Courtesy of Joe Houghton/Pieta House Press

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.

Image of Margaret Mary Pearse

Courtesy of Pearse Museum

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.

Image of Eileen Desmond

 Courtesy of Alan Kinsella – Irish Election Literature

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.

Image of Avril Doyle

 Courtesy of European Parliament

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.

Image of Catherine Noone

 Courtesy of the Houses of the Oireachtas

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.

Image of Susan O’Keeffe

 Courtesy of the Houses of the Oireachtas

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.

Image of Grace O'Sullivan

 Courtesy of the Houses of the Oireachtas

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.

Image of Monica Barnes

Courtesy of Alan Kinsella – Irish Election Literature

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.

Image of Katherine Zappone

Courtesy of the Houses of the Oireachtas

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.