English women (with the required property qualifications) could vote for and be elected to local government boards long before Irish women. For instance, Irish women could not be elected as poor law guardians of the workhouses until 1896, though women had been found to be ideally suited to such activity in England. It appears that British politicians feared any extension of the vote in Ireland and were particularly worried about the influence of Roman Catholic priests over Irish women through sermons and the confessional.
|In the House of Lords Viscount Clifden complained that he did not like to see spouting women out of their place and doing men's work , concluding that the effect of the Bill would be to largely increase the power of priests on the boards of guardians.
House of Lords Debates, 2 March 1896. Quoted in Rosemary Cullen Owens. Smashing Times, p.30.
Petty exclusions continued for Irish women when the important new Local Government Act (1898) came into operation: women could be candidates for rural and urban district councils and town commissions in Ireland but not yet for county councils or borough councils.
85 women were elected as poor law guardians and 35 as district councillors in 1899 under the new local government legislation.
|I am a Unionist and a Protestant, about two thirds of the members of my council are Nationalists and Catholics, yet I was unanimously elected to be deputy vice-chairman, I have been placed upon many committees, including being made chairman of the Dwellings for the Very Poor. I have always received the utmost courtesy and consideration, and when any purely feminine question comes up, my opinion generally carries some weight.
Mrs. Dockrell of the IWSLGA reporting to an International Congress of Women in London, 1899. Quoted in Maria Luddy, Women in Ireland 1800-1918: a documentary history, p.296.
Finally, in 1911, Irish women could be members of county and borough councils.
|At the Poor Law elections in Limerick in 1911 six women were returned for Limerick City wards.
Cliona Murphy. The Women's Suffrage Movement and Irish Society, London, 1989, p.20.