As the British and Irish establishment celebrates the 100th anniversary of “giving” the vote to women who met a certain criteria (February 6, 1918, over 30, owning property or with a university degree) the hypocrisy of some of the speeches by some politicians was not lost on Republican Sinn Féin.
With mass media coverage, politicians glorify the granting of the vote to women with the above criteria as a milestone in democracy. The same people choose to conveniently forget that in the same year the democratic process carried out in the 32 Counties of Ireland was usurped by the non-recognition of the 1918 election that overwhelmingly elected a majority of Republicans who had made it clear that they would never sit in Westminster but rather establish a Dáil Éireann in Dublin.
In the months before and years that followed the 1918 election many of those Republicans were arrested and jailed. with the country eventually illegally divided into two separate states, which led to almost 100 years of death and destruction.
The right to a vote within the Occupied Six Counties was denied for many within the nationalist community for decades more and was part of the reason for the Civil Rights marches in the late 1960s. The gerrymandered state set up in 1922 was a sectarian statelet where the Unionist community would remain as the dominant class, the political elite and thus the Occupied Six Counties would remain part of the so-called United Kingdom. Such was the denial of democracy that those campaigning for civil rights, like the “right to vote” were attacked by the RIC, aided and abetted by armed Unionist/Loyalist gangs.
In the 26-County State this past week we had the spectacle of politicians lauding the fact that Constance Markievicz was elected to Westminster. Again, these people chose to ignore the fact she had campaigned on a platform of non-attendance and non-recognition of the right of this establishment to any control over Ireland. Constance Markievicz never took or even contemplated taking her seat in Westminster.
The 26 Counties continued to deny women many of their rights over the decades, going as far as to demand they leave State jobs when they got married. Hundreds of unmarried women who found themselves pregnant were committed to the Magdalene laundries. Even now in the 21st century many women will get a lower pension than their male counterparts because of 26-County State rules.
The right to vote was granted to women by the British parliament. However, the rights of women within Irish Republicanism have always been to the fore. The 1916 Proclamation guaranteed all citizens equal rights and opportunities and implicitly said that when a permanent national government was elected it would be “elected by the suffrage of all her men and women”. Republicans had female combatants long before Imperialists saw them “fit” for armed forces. Constance Markievicz herself held an officer’s rank within the Republican ranks in the Irish Citizen Army.
The long-held slogan of Irish Republicans Ní Saoirse Go Saoirse Na mBan (there is no freedom until freedom for women) holds testament to this.
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