Women in Dáil Éireann 1923-1937

A marked contrast between the contribution in the Dáil and that in the Seanad was to distinguish the participation of the eleven women who entered the Houses of the Oireachtas between 1922 and 1937. In general, the level of debate among women in the Seanad was marked by a confidence which was superior at all times to that of the women in the Dáil.

Deputies, it would appear, participated in public life more for symbolic reasons deriving from family connections than from any motivation arising from their own political ambitions. Their outstanding contribution to the Dáil lay in their solid enduring support for the political parties to which they belonged.

Both Deputy Bridget Redmond (Cumann na nGaedheal) and Deputy Mary Reynolds (Cumann na nGaedheal) were elected following the death of husbands who were Dáil Deputies. The brothers of Margaret Collins-O'Driscoll (Cumann na nGaedheal) and Margaret Pearse (Fianna Fáil) were widely revered as symbolic nationalist figureheads by the political parties which they represented. Mary Reynolds and Mary Pearse who were elected in 1932 and 1933 respectively, did not speak on any issue in this period, while Bridget Redmond occasionally commented on local Waterford questions. Deputy Redmond spoke against the 1937 Constitution, but only at the insistence of women's organisations, and was absent for much of the debate.

While Margaret Collins-O'Driscoll and Helena Concannon (Fianna Fáil) contributed on a more regular (though by no means impressive) basis, neither initiated any legislation in respect of women, or played any significant role during debates on such legislation.

Both Deputies, however, endorsed women's responsibilities towards maternal and domestic duties. Collins-O'Driscoll tended to exalt the traditional tasks of Irish womanhood, and, in 1925, regretting the changing times, she recalled that 'In the days of my youth it was regarded as a qualification for matrimony that a woman should be able to make her husband's shirts.'

The promotion of rural domestic economy schools ... was continually urged by Deputy Helena Concannon. In 1936 the Deputy declared that

'Everybody has his or her own way of solving Ireland's ills. My method would be to make these rural domestic economy schools general, spread them all through the country and make a course of six months compulsory on all Irish girls before they would be allowed to marry.'

When the more difficult problems of female sweated labour, infant mortality or infanticide were raised in the Dáil, such issues were ignored by both women.

Mary Clancy, 'Aspects of women's contribution to the Oireachtas debate in the Irish Free State, 1922-1937' in Maria Luddy & Cliona Murphy (eds.), Women surviving, Dublin, 1990, p. 207.


  1. What kind of source is this? List two kinds of evidence the author used for her research.
  2. What is the attitude of the author to the participation of women in politics?
  3. Suggest three likely reasons why so few women were elected to the Dáil in the years 1923-1937.
  4. Comment briefly on the attitude of women deputies to women's issues, according to the author.


  1. Write the speech you would make in the Dáil on women's issues during that period.
  2. Interview a woman currently involved in politics.
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