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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Enactment of the Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act 1918

parliament-qualifications-of-women-act-1918The Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act 1918, an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, is given royal assent on November 21, 1918. It gives women over the age of 21 the right to stand for election as a Member of Parliament (MP). At 27 words, it is the shortest UK statute.

The Representation of the People Act 1918, passed on February 6, 1918, extends the franchise in parliamentary elections, also known as the right to vote, to women aged 30 and over who reside in the constituency or occupied land or premises with a rateable value above £5, or whose husbands do.

In March 1918, the Liberal Party MP for Keighley dies, causing a by-election on April 26. There is doubt as to whether women are eligible to stand for parliament. Nina Boyle makes known her intention to stand as a candidate for the Women’s Freedom League at Keighley and, if refused, to take the matter to the courts for a definitive ruling. After some consideration, the returning officer states that he is prepared to accept her nomination, thus establishing a precedent for women candidates. However, he rules her nomination papers invalid on other grounds: one of the signatories to her nomination is not on the electoral roll and another lives outside the constituency. The Lords of Appeal in Ordinary are asked to consider the matter and conclude that the Great Reform Act 1832 had specifically banned women from standing as parliamentary candidates and the Representation of the People Act had not changed that.

Parliament hurriedly passes the Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act in time to enable women to stand in the general election of December 1918. The act consists of only 27 operative words: “A woman shall not be disqualified by sex or marriage for being elected to or sitting or voting as a Member of the Commons House of Parliament.”

In the December 14, 1918 election to the House of Commons, seventeen women candidates stand, among them well-known suffragette Christabel Pankhurst, representing the Women’s Party in Smethwick. The only woman elected is the Sinn Féin candidate for Dublin St. Patrick’s, Constance Markievicz. However, in line with Sinn Féin abstentionist policy, she does not take her seat.

The first woman to take her seat in the House of Commons is Nancy Astor on December 1, 1919. She is elected as a Coalition Conservative MP for Plymouth Sutton on November 28, 1919, taking the seat her husband had vacated.

As Members of Parliament, women also gain the right to become government ministers. The first woman to become a cabinet minister and Privy Council member is Margaret Bondfield who is Minister of Labour in the second MacDonald ministry (1929–1931).


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Occupation of the Four Courts in Dublin

occupation-of-four-courtsAbout 200 Anti-Treaty Irish Republican Army militants led by Rory O’Connor occupy the Four Courts in the centre of Dublin on April 14, 1922 in defiance of the Provisional Government. They intend to provoke the British troops, who are still in the country, to attack them, which they believe will restart the war with Britain and re-unite the Irish Republican Army against their common enemy. They also occupy other smaller buildings regarded as being associated with the former British administration, such as the Ballast Office and the Freemasons’ Hall in Molesworth Street, but the Four Courts remains the focus of interest. On June 15, O’Connor sends out men to collect the rifles that belong to the mutineers of the Civic Guards.

Winston Churchill and the Cabinet of the United Kingdom apply pressure on the Provisional Government to dislodge the rebels in Four Courts, considering their presence there as a violation of the Anglo-Irish Treaty. Michael Collins, President of the Provisional Government Cabinet, tries desperately to persuade O’Connor and his men to leave the building over the next three months. At the Third IRA Convention, the executive is split over whether the Irish Government should demand that all British troops leave within 72 hours. The motion is defeated, but the IRA splits into two factions opposed to the government, one conciliatory, led by Liam Lynch, Sean Moylan, and Liam Deasy, and the other less moderate, led by Tom Barry and Joe McKelvey.

During the month of June 1922, the Provisional Government engages in intense negotiations with the British Cabinet, seeking to diffuse the threat of imminent civil war. However, the conservative British Cabinet refuses to cooperate.

On June 22, 1922, arch-Unionist Sir Henry Wilson is assassinated by two IRA men, both former British soldiers, Reginald Dunne and Joseph O’Sullivan. It is considered by some that this is done on the orders of Michael Collins, who has been a close friend of Dunne in the London Irish Republican Brotherhood. David Lloyd George writes an angry letter to Collins which includes the line “…still less can Mr. Rory O’Connor be permitted to remain his followers and his arsenal in open rebellion in the heart of Dublin… organizing and sending out from this centre enterprises of murder not only in the area of your Government…”

On June 28, 1922, after the Four Courts garrison has kidnapped J.J. “Ginger” O’Connell, a general in the new Free State Army, Collins begins shelling the Four Courts with borrowed British artillery. O’Connor and 130 men surrender on July 3 and are arrested and imprisoned at Mountjoy Prison. This incident sparks the Irish Civil War as fighting breaks out around the country between pro and anti-treaty factions.