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WOMEN'S POLITICAL RECORDS IN IRELAND

This page lists some of the political records and achievements of women TDs, senators, and office-holders, drawn from the information in our Observatory. Similar information about women in British politics is listed on this page.

I) WOMEN TDs' RECORDS

FIRST WOMAN TD
The first Dáil Éireann was not officially constituted as such but was the complement of Sinn Féin MPs returned at the British election of 1918 who met secretly to declare themselves the first parliament of an independent Ireland. The only woman among these was Constance Gore-Booth, better known as Constance Markievicz, MP for Dublin St Patrick's. She remained a British MP until 1922 and was also elected member for Dublin South in the election for the second Dáil in 1921, despite the inconvenience of return visits to prison. In 1926 she joined Fianna Fáil at its founding and also left the IRA women's ancillary unit, Cumann na mBan, but died in 1927.

OLDEST AND LONGEST SERVING WOMAN TD
Mary Reynolds served as a Fine Gael TD (originally Cumann na nGaedheal) from 1932 to 1933, succeeding her late husband as TD for Sligo-Leitrim, and again from 1937 until 1961. She focused on constituency work rather than participation in the Dáil, but did raise matters of local concern, as well as rural issues and public health questions.

SHORTEST SERVING WOMAN TD
Carrie Acheson
was elected Fianna Fáil TD for Tipperary South in the general election of June 1981 but lost her seat within a year at the February 1982 general election. During her short stint she served on the procedure and privileges committee and spoke on matters affecting Tipperary, particularly social insurance. That same year she was also Mayor of Clonmel.

YOUNGEST WOMAN TD
Mary Coughlan was twenty-one when first elected Fianna Fáil TD in 1987 for Donegal South West, which her father and uncle had represented from 1983 until 1986. She remains a member of the Dáil to this day and is now a Minister of State at the Department of the Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht & the Islands, with special responsibility for the Gaeltacht & the Islands.

FIRST FATHER AND DAUGHTER TDs
Over the years several women have followed their fathers into the Dáil, but only one, Myra Barry, sat as a TD with her father, both representing Cork North East for Fine Gael. Dick Barry was a TD from 1953 until 1981 and served a parliamentary secretary to the minister of health. Myra sat from 1979, when she entered the Dáil at a by-election, until 1987.

FIRST BROTHER AND SISTER TDs
Sinn Féin's Mary MacSwiney and her brother Sean MacSwiney were both elected in 1921. Sean was defeated in 1922 but Mary remained a TD for Cork City until her own defeat 1927, though she and her anti-Treaty Sinn Féin colleagues abstained from sitting in the third and fourth Dála from 1922. She had earlier been a suffragist and was a member of De Valera's council of state in 1922.

FIRST HUSBAND AND WIFE TDs
While numerous women TDs have succeeded their husbands, the only couple to sit together in the Dáil was Brigid Hogan-O'Higgins (née Hogan) and her husband Michael O'Higgins. She was elected for Fine Gael in 1957 and married him the following year; they had eight children. Both were Fine Gael TDs and her father Patrick Hogan had also been a minister - she became opposition spokesman on posts and telegraphs from 1969, the year of her husband's defeat, until 1972; she retired in 1977.

II) WOMEN SENATORS' RECORDS

FIRST WOMAN SENATOR
The first two women appointed to the seanad were Jennie Wyse Power and Ellen, Countess of Desart, in December 1922. The senators nominated by the Taoiseach were to represent Unionist opinion to help counterbalance the make-up the Dáil, and Lady Desart was one of these Unionists. Like many women of her class she had opposed suffrage but was appointed to the Seanad in recognition of her work for Irish culture and welfare. Jenny Wyse Power came from a very different background, having attended the first meeting of Sinn Féin. She took up the cause of women's interests, domestically and professionally, in the Seanad and remained a member until its abolition in 1936, while Lady Desart had died three years earlier.

OLDEST WOMAN SENATOR
Alice Stopford Green was 75 when she was appointed to the Seanad and 81 years old when she died in office in 1929. Green was a respected Irish historian and supported the Anglo-Irish Treaty. She presented the Seanad with a casket which contains a scroll listing the names of all senators.

YOUNGEST WOMAN SENATOR
Miriam Kearney
was a worker for Fine Gael when appointed to the Seanad by Garret FitzGerald at age 21 in August 1981. However she was not re-appointed after the April 1982 election in which Fine Gael lost power. The Oireachtas were in recess for much of the time she was a senator and she did not contribute to any debates.

LONGEST SERVING WOMAN SENATOR
Mary Robinson
served twenty years as a senator for the University of Dublin (Trinity College), where she was a law professor, from August 1969 until August 1989. First elected as an Independent, she joined Labour in 1976 and twice ran for the Dáil but left the party to protest its role in negotiating the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement without consulting Ulster Unionists. During her years as a senator she fought successful legal battles to liberalise the laws on contraception, women's jury service, and legal aid and subsequently became president (see below).

SHORTEST SERVING WOMAN SENATOR
Niamh Cosgrave, a former candidate for local government and the Dáil, was appointed to fill a vacancy on 13 June 1997, between Fine Gael's election defeat and the government's resignation, and was not re-appointed when the new Seanad was formed that August. Her term ended on 6 August 1997. She was never able to sit in the Seanad but voted for the new senators. Former minister Niamh Bhreathnach was also appointed 13 July but resigned the day after Cosgrave.

FAMILES IN THE SEANAD
No woman has ever sat in the senate with a relative, but Jane Dowdall, a senator for the Industrial and Commercial panel from 1951 and 1961, was preceded by her husband James Dowdall, who belonged to the senate of the Free State from 1922 until its abolition in 1938. Considerably younger than her husband, she survived him by many years and was a director of his margarine company. In 1964 she became the first woman appointed to the Council of State. There have been no mothers and sons in the Seanad but Helena McAuliffe-Ennis was elected for the Cultural and Educational panel in 1983, the year her father Timothy McAuliffe retired having represented the same vocation. Both sat for the Labour Party but she spent her last two years as a senator, from 1985 to 1987, as a Progressive Democrat. Her special interests included education and children's rights.

III) WOMEN OFFICE HOLDERS' RECORDS

FIRST WOMAN MINISTER
Constance Markievicz, both the UK's first woman MP and Ireland's first TD, was also the first woman minister in western Europe, appointed at a time when many countries had not yet given women the franchise. By her own account she demanded inclusion in the first government and threatened to join the Labour Party if she were not appointed. She organised an economic boycott of Belfast to protest the religious tests which were conditions of employment but also fought discrimination on both sides. In 1921 the Labour portfolio was downgraded out of cabinet and after her return to the Dáil in 1923, having been defeated in 1922, she was not re-appointed.

FIRST WOMAN PRESIDENT

The year after she left the Seanad, and five years after leaving Labour, Mary Robinson was nominated as an independent candidate for president by her former party. Overcoming the long odds against capturing the presidency from Fianna Fáil in the first contested election since 1973, she won on the second ballot. Not only was the election of a woman (and the youngest president) welcomed in almost all quarters as a breath of fresh air but she transformed an office which had been a political pasture and raised its profile at home and abroad. Despite undimmed popularity she did not seek re-election and resigned early to become UN Commissioner for Human Rights. However her other long term impact was to bring Irish women further into the mainstream, as evidenced by their electoral gains at all levels in the 1990s. Not least of these was the presidency itself in 1997, when four of the five candidates to succeed her were women.

FIRST WOMAN TÁNAISTE
Mary Harney became Tánaiste, or Deputy Prime Minister, when her Progressive Democrat Party joined Fianna Fáil in a coalition in 1997. She had served as a junior minister in an earlier coalition, having left Fianna Fáil to help found the Progressive Democrats in 1986 over the Anglo-Irish Agreement, and became the first woman leader of a major Irish party in 1993. Her own high approval ratings were not reflected in the Progressive Democrats' performance in the 1997 election but they nonetheless returned to office as junior coalition partners.

OLDEST WOMAN MINISTER
Mary O'Rourke
, who has served as Minister for Public Enterprise in the Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrat government since 1997, is the oldest woman to have held ministerial office, at sixty-four years of age. In the late 1980s and early 1990s she held a number of portfolios, including those of Health and Education, and deputy leader of Fianna Fáil.

YOUNGEST AND LONGEST SERVING WOMAN MINISTER
Maire Geoghegan-Quinn
began her ministerial career in 1977 at age 27 and became a member of cabinet in 1979. Her nine-year career as a minister, in and out of the cabinet, was the longest of any woman politician in Ireland. As justice minister she decriminalised homosexuality and in 1994 she ran for the Fianna Fáil leadership, but withdrew from the contest.

SHORTEST SERVING WOMAN MINISTER
Eileen Desmond
became Minister of Health in the Fine Gael-Labour coalition government formed in June 1981. This was only the third time a woman had been appointed to the cabinet and the first since the 1920s that a woman had held so senior a portfolio. However she suffered from poor health and the coalition was defeated within a year, in March 1982. She was not re-appointed when Fine Gael and Labour returned to power a few months later, and retired in 1987.

FIRST WOMAN CATHAOIRLEACH AND LEAS CATHAOIRLEACH
No woman has ever been Ceann Comhairle, or Chairman, of the Dáil, but from 1973 until 1977 Labour's Evelyn Owens was Leas Chathaoirleach (Deputy Chairman) of the Seanad. Her election over 'Kit' Ahern came over ten years after the failure of Mary Davidson to be elected, but marked a departure from the convention that the government and opposition share the chairmanship. Fianna Fáil Senator Tras Honan, sister of TD Carrie Acheson (see above) served as Cathaoirleach from 1982 to 1983 and 1987 to 1989, with four years as Leas Chathaoirleach during Fianna Fáil's interregnum in opposition.

FIRST WOMAN WHIP
The first woman to serve as a whip in the Dáil was Labour deputy Maureen O'Carroll, who entered politics as a founder of the Lower Prices Council. She became Labour's Chief Whip in the coalition government after her first election in 1954. After the Fine Gael-Labour government's defeat (and her own ) in 1957 Fianna Fáil appointed Celia Lynch an assistant whip, a post she held for twenty years.

FAMILIES IN GOVERNMENT
The first and only brother and sister to sit together in the cabinet are Mary O'Rourke and Brian Lenihan, who sat together from July 1989 until October 1990. Mary was Minister for Education while her brother was Tánaiste and Minister for Defence.

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