The suffrage campaign in Ireland was complicated by the national question, which dominated Irish politics in the early 20th century. The election of December 1910 left the Liberal Party, led by HH Asquith, dependent on the support of the Irish Parliamentary Party to form a government. The leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party, John Redmond, was now in a position to negotiate Home Rule for Ireland.
Irish women at a suffrage demonstration in Hyde Park
Irish women communicated with British women and took part in protests in England. This photo shows Hanna Sheehy Skeffington (beside the banner captain, wearing a mortar board) at a suffrage demonstration in Hyde Park, 21 June 1908. The banner of the Irish Women's Franchise League (IWFL), in Irish, can be seen to her left.
The Prime Minister opposed suffrage
The Prime Minister, HH Asquith, was a vehement opponent of woman suffrage. The Parliamentary Franchise (Women) Bill 1912 was narrowly defeated on Second Stage in March 1912, by only 14 votes. The Irish Parliamentary Party MPs had voted against the Bill, in support of the Prime Minister. Even the Irish Party MPs who supported the suffragists were not prepared to risk their alliance with the Liberal Party by opposing Asquith on this issue.
History repeating herself
When the Home Rule Bill was passed on Committee Stage without a clause on women's suffrage, the IWFL began its militant campaign. On 13 June 1912, eight members of the IWFL broke the windows of government offices. Among them was Hanna Sheehy Skeffington, who chose Dublin Castle, the seat of the British administration in Ireland, as her target. The suffragettes refused to pay for the damage and received sentences between one and six months.
Breaking the rules
In 1913, the Ulster Volunteer Force was established, and began openly preparing to fight Home Rule. Men drilled with rifles and their leader, Edward Carson MP, seemed to threaten civil war. This cartoon on the front page of Votes for Women depicts Asquith as a teacher punishing the suffragette for spilling ink while Carson attacks Redmond. It reports that "The Manchester Guardian challenges comparison between the 'Ulsterettes' and the 'Suffragettes', and answering the question as to why the former go unpunished while the latter are prosecuted, hopes that 'this salutary indulgence is now nearly at an end.' "
The First World War
When war broke out in Europe in 1914, the differences between the various suffrage organisations in Ireland and Britain became more marked. The WSPU, which was active in the northern counties, suspended its campaign to support the war. The Munster Women's Franchise League supported the war. When they raised funds to buy an ambulance for the British military, Mary MacSwiney resigned and established the Cork branch of Cumann na mBan. The IWFL took a stand against the war and continued to campaign for the vote.
Nationalists and suffragists
Countess de Markievicz is just one of the Irish women better known for the part they played in the Rising than for their suffrage activities. This photograph shows Countess de Markievicz performing in a pageant in 1914 as Joan of Arc appearing to an imprisoned suffragette, played by Kathleen Houston. Countess de Markievicz, with her sister, Eva Gore-Booth, established the Sligo Women's Suffrage Association in 1896. In 1908, the sisters campaigned successfully against the re-election of Winston Churchill in Manchester North-West. She attended the mass meeting of suffrage societies in June 1912 which demanded that women's suffrage be included in the Home Rule Bill. However, like other members of Cumann na mBan, she put the struggle for full independence for Ireland above the campaign for votes in a Home Rule parliament granted by Britain.