seamus dubhghaill

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


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1918 Irish General Election

irish-general-election-1918Sinn Féin, pledged to an Irish Republic, wins 73 of 105 Irish Member of Parliament (MP) seats in the 1918 Irish general election held on December 14, 1918. Winners include Constance Markievicz who becomes the first woman elected to the Parliament of the United Kingdom. In 1919 she is appointed Minister for Labour, the first female minister in a democratic government cabinet.

The Irish general election is that part of the 1918 United Kingdom general election which takes place in Ireland. The election is now seen as a key moment in modern Irish history because it sees the overwhelming defeat of the moderate nationalist Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP), which had dominated the Irish political landscape since the 1880s, and a landslide victory for the radical Sinn Féin party. The party had never stood in a general election, but had won six seats in by-elections in 1917–1918. Sinn Féin vows in its manifesto to establish an independent Irish Republic. In Ulster, however, the Unionist Party is the most successful party.

The election is held in the aftermath of World War I, the Easter Rising and the Conscription Crisis. It is the first general election to be held after the Representation of the People Act 1918. It is thus the first election in which women over the age of 30, and all men over the age of 21, can vote. Previously, all women and most working-class men had been excluded from voting.

In the aftermath of the elections, Sinn Féin’s elected members refuse to attend the British Parliament in Westminster. Instead they form a parliament in Dublin, the First Dáil Éireann, which declares Irish independence as a republic. The Irish War of Independence is conducted under this revolutionary government which seeks international recognition, and sets about the process of state-building.


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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).