100 Years of Women in Irish Politics and Public Life

The Pop-Up Museum showcasing 100 years of Women in Politics and Public Life was launched in December 2018 to mark the centenary of the introduction of voting rights for women.

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100 Year Journey
Turas 100 Bliain

This 100 Year Journey was compiled to highlight the complexity and diversity of women’s experience over the past 100 years.

This is not a definitive list but it is intended that this will be a living document and we encourage people to engage with the project and provide suggestions for inclusion.

2000 +

Women of Ireland 2000 – 2018


Equal Status Act 2000

The year 2000 marked the beginning of a new Decade and a new Century -the population was expanding, with continued inward immigration and a changing demographic.

That year saw the enactment of the Equal Status Act 2000 which prohibited discrimination in the provision of services. The following year Framing the Future was launched by Mary Wallace, Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. This research study was commissioned by the National Women’s Council to identify women’s participation in community and voluntary groups. The national database compiled for the study found that there are 2,631 women’s organisations in the 26 counties of Ireland.

The General Election, 2002

On 17th May 2002, 17 female TDs were re-elected; Six for Fianna Fáil, seven for Labour and one for Fine Gael, with new deputies; Máire Hoctor (FF), Marian Harkin (Ind), Olwyn Enright (FG) Mae Sexton (PD) and Fiona O’Malley (PD). That year, former TD Geraldine Kennedy, became the first female Editor of The Irish Times.The leader of the Progressive Democrats, Mary Harney,remained as Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment. Mary Coughlan, (FF), was appointed Minister for Social and Family Affairs. Mary Coughlan – 10th Cabinet Minister – Link to Cabinet Table.

In 2004, Mary Coughlan became the first woman appointed Minister for Agriculture and Food, a brief that was later expanded to include fisheries. Mary Hanafin was appointed Minister for Education and Science. Mary Hanafin – 11th Cabinet Minister.


Longford Women’s Link’s flagship project was the Longford Manifesto Group, which was set up as a direct result of women feeling that they had no voice in decision making in their county. The model of engagement that they created between women and local decision makers became a template and an important resource for other counties.

Sinn Féin set up an Equality Department within the party, with specific policies to advance women. In 2004, Mary Lou McDonald became the first MEP for Sinn Féin in Ireland, joining Fine Gael’s Avril Doyle and Mairead McGuinness and Independents, Kathy Sinnott and Marian Harkin.

In the early 2000s, ‘Labour Women’ became the new name for the Labour Party’s women’s advisory committee that had been established in 1971. The constitution was rewritten as the group marked its fourth decade since its formation.

President Mary McAleese commences a Second Term in Office

Mary McAleese was re-elected as President of Ireland for a second term in office in November 2004, pledging to reach out to young people, ‘Cherishing the best of our past we turn to our future not knowing exactly what it holds but with a clear idea of the hard work ahead of us, work for all of us as citizens and not simply for government alone.’

71st Female TD in Dáil Éireann

Catherine Murphy stood as an Independent in the 2005 by-election and became the 71st female TD in Dáil Éireann. In the 2007 General Election, 23 female TDs were elected, including new deputies; Fianna Fáil’s Áine Brady and Catherine Byrne; and for Fine Gael, Lucinda Creighton; Mary White for the Green Party and Joanna Tuffy for Labour.

2008 – 90th anniversary of the election of the first woman to Dáil Éireann

The 90th anniversary of the election of Constance de Markievicz was marked by a historic photograph with former and sitting members from both Houses of the Oireachtas being photographed in the Dáil chamber on 9 December 2008.  Organised by Senator Ivana Bacik, who stated: ‘This will be the first time in the history of the Irish state – in the nine decades since that historic 1918 election – that this Chamber will be nearly half filled with women representatives.’

Ireland’s second female Tánaiste, 2008

In May 2008, Mary Coughlan was appointed Ireland’s second female Tánaiste, following the appointment of Brian Cowan as Taoiseach. She served during a period of economic hardship, following a period of prosperity that became known as the Celtic Tiger. During the years that followed, Tánaiste Mary Coughlan and Minister Mary Hanafin served in Cabinet with several different portfolios.

Ireland’s First European Commissioner

In Europe, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn was appointed Ireland’s first European Commissioner. That year, 2008, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Ireland’s law on abortion breached women’s human rights.


The 50:50 Campaign was launched in September 2010, grounded in a single aspiration to advocate for equal representation in politics. 

The first Female Chief Justice of Ireland

In 2011, the Honourable Justice Susan Denham became Chief Justice of Ireland. She was the first woman ever to hold the position.

The General Election, 2011

In the General Election of 2011, a record number of 25 women were elected to the 31st Dáil.  No women members were elected from the Fianna Fáil party.  Fine Gael returned 11 women, the party’s largest number of female TDs to date, including new TDs Nicky McFadden (FG), Mary Mitchell O’Connor (FG), Áine Collins (FG), Heather Humphreys (FG), and Michelle Mulherin (FG).  

Ann Phelan, Ann Ferris and Ciara Conway were elected for Labour. Sinn Féin TDs elected were Mary Lou MacDonald and Sandra McLellan. Clare Daly was elected representing the Socialist Party and Joan Collins was elected of People Before Profit Alliance. Mary Harney stepped down in 2011 and was the longest serving female TD, having served in the Dáil since 1981.

A coalition Government was formed between Fine Gael and the Labour Party; Enda Kenny became Taoiseach and Joan Burton was appointed Minister for Social Protection. Joan Burton – 12th Cabinet Minister

The Taoiseach appointed Frances FitzGerald as Minister for Children and Youth Affairs. Frances Fitzgerald – 13th Cabinet Minister

Women for Election

‘Women for Election’ is a not-for-profit group, incorporated in 2012, to train, support and   encourage women involved in politics. In March 2013, by-elections brought new TDs to Dáil Éireann, including Helen McEntee who was elected in a by-election arising from the death of her father. In 2014, Gabriella McFadden of Fine Gael was elected to her sister’s seat after her sister’s death. Ruth Coppinger was also elected to represent Solidarity – People Before Profit.

Towards the end of President Mary McAleese’s second term in office; she welcomed Queen Elizabeth II to Ireland on a State visit in May 2014.

Third Female Tánaiste

On 4 July 2014, Joan Burton, leader of the Labour Party, was appointed Tánaiste.

Women at the Cabinet Table, 2014

Jan O’Sullivan was appointed Minister for Education and Skills.  Jan O’Sullivan – 14th Cabinet Minister

Heather Humphreys was appointed to Cabinet on 11 July 2014 as Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Heather Humphreys – 15th Cabinet Minister

The First Female Bishop

The year 2014 brought other changes, including the first-ever woman Bishop in Ireland or Britain ordained by Church of Ireland, with the appointment of the Reverend Pat Storey as the Bishop of Meath and Kildare. 

The First Female Garda Commissioner

Noreen O’Sullivan was appointed as the first female Garda Commissioner.

Máire Geoghegan-Quinn chaired an independent panel to examine the issue of gender inequality among Irish education staff, following the successful case brought against NUI Galway by Dr Micheline Sheehy Skeffington, granddaughter of Suffragette Hanna Sheehy Skeffington.

In July 2015, three independents formed Social Democrats (Ireland). The co-leaders of the party wereRóisín Shorthall (the longest continually serving TD, having won every election since 1992) and Catherine Murphy.

The General Election of 2016 – Gender Quotas

Following the 2016 General Election, 35 women were appointed to Dáil Éireann. Gender quotas, which allowed for a party’s State funding to be cut in half unless 30% of their candidates were women, had changed the demographic of Dáil Éireann.  In terms of female representation, the Inter Parliamentary Union ranked Ireland as 75th in the world. 19 new TDs were elected, including Maria Bailey, Kate O’Connell, Hildegarde Naughton and Josepha Madigan for Fine Gael. Mary Butler (FF), Lisa Chambers (FF), Margaret Murphy O’Mahony (FF), Fiona O’Loughlin (FF), Anne Rabbitte (FF), and Niamh Smyth (FF) were newly elected TDs for Fianna Fáil. New Sinn Féin TDs included Imelda Munster (SF), Denise Mitchell (SF), Louise O’Reilly (SF), Kathleen Funchion (SF) and Carol Nolan (SF). Others elected included Clare Daly (Independent 4 change), Joan Collins (Independents 4 Change Catherine Connolly (Ind), Brid Smith (Anti-Austerity Alliance – People before Profit) and Catherine Martin (Green Party).

Women at the Cabinet Table, 2016

During Enda Kenny’s second term as Taoiseach, the largest number of women were appointed to Cabinet; three members of Fine Gael – Frances Fitzgerald, Heather Humphreys, and Mary Mitchell O’Connor, and Independent T.D. – Katherine Zappone. Frances FitzGerald was appointed Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality. Mary Mitchell O’Connor was appointed Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation.  Mary Mitchell O’Connor – 16th Cabinet Minister Katherine Zappone became Minister for Children and Youth Affairs. Katherine Zappone – 17th Cabinet Minister

A Fourth Female Tánaiste

When Enda Kenny stepped down as Taoiseach and leader of Fine Gael in 2017, his successor, Leo Varadkar, re-appointed Frances Fitzgerald as Tánaiste.

Women at the Cabinet Table, 2017

The new Cabinet included four women; Frances Fitzgerald, Heather Humphreys, Katherine Zappone, and Regina Doherty, who was appointed as Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection. Regina Doherty 18th Cabinet Minister – Link to Cabinet Table On 30 November, during her first term in Dáil Éireann, Josepha Madigan was appointed Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht; the 19th Minister.  Josepha Madigan 19th Cabinet Minister – Link to Cabinet Table

Irish Women’s Parliamentary Caucus

In 2017, the Irish Women’s Parliamentary Caucus was established as a Cross Party forum to address issues predominantly affecting women. It was chaired by Green Party TD Catherine Martin. 

In 2017, artist Noel Murphy was commissioned to paint a work that included on one canvas, all 53 female members of the Houses of the Oireachtas, both Deputies and Senators. The work was completed over a six-month period, during which time a documentary, A Woman’s Place, was filmed. The painting was unveiled in Leinster House as part of a year-long celebration, Vótáil100, led by a cross party committee chaired by Senator Ivana Bacik.