The first woman appointed to an Irish cabinet since Constance Markievicz was Máire Geoghegan-Quinn when she became Minister for the Gaeltacht in 1979.

Between 1970 and 1997, three women served as Ministers for Education: Gemma Hussey (1982-1986), Mary O'Rourke (1987-1991) and Niamh Bhreathnach (1993-1997).

Gemma Hussey
Gemma Hussey
Mary O'Rourke
Mary O'Rourke
Niamh Bhreathnach
Niamh Bhreathnach

More women candidates presented themselves for election in the 1980s and more women were elected to Dáil Éireann.

Nuala Fennell, appointed Minister of State with responsibility for Women's Affairs and Family Law Reform in 1982, introduced several reforms.

More women candidates presented themselves for election in the 1980s and more women were elected to Dáil Éireann.

Among them was Mary Harney who was the youngest ever member of Seanad Éireann when appointed in 1977. Subsequently elected to the Dáil, she was a founder member of the Progressive Democratic party in 1985. She was elected leader of that party in 1993 and became the first ever woman Tánaiste in 1997.

Mary Harney
Mary Harney


Year Total number of candidates for Dáil Éireann Women candidates Number of seats Seats won by women Women deputies as % of total number elected
1969 373 11(2.9%) 144 3 2.1%
1981 404 41 (10.1%) 166 11 6.6%
1987 466 58 (12.4%) 166 14 8.4%
1989 370 51 (13.7%) 166 13 7.8%

Quoted in Irish Report to Fourth UN Conference on Women, 1994, p.21.

But the proportion of women to men in Dáil Éireann remained very small, especially in comparison with several other countries.

Women elected to Lower House (Dáil equivalent), 1950 & 2000

Country 1950 2000
  % women % women
Sweden 9.6 42.7
Denmark 7.9 37.4
Netherlands 2.0 36.0
Spain 0.3 28.3
Belgium 3.3 23.3
UK 3.3 18.4
USA 1.6 13.3
Ireland 3.4 13.2
Greece 0 6.3
Japan 2.6 4.6

Source: Maedbh McNamara & Paschal Mooney, Women in parliament: Ireland 1918-2000, Dublin, 2000, p.61.

Mary Robinson stood for election to the Presidency in 1990 and become the first woman President of Ireland. She did not seek re-election in 1997 and was subsequently appointed United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, a post she held with distinction from 1997 until 2001.

Mary McAleese was elected President of Ireland in 1997.

It is widely recognised both nationally and internationally that Ireland's woman Presidents have served with immense distinction in office.

Mary McAleese
Mary McAleese
President of Ireland
Elected 1997



  1. The first woman cabinet minister since Constance _____ was ______ ______ _____ who was appointed _______ ____ ______ in 1979.
  2. Three women, ________ _________, _____ _____ and __________ _________ served as Ministers for Education.
  3. The number of women elected to the Dáil rose from ____ in 1981 to ___ in 1989.
  4. Does anything about these statistics surprise you? Give reasons for your answer.


  1. Research the career of any of the politicians or presidents mentioned above.
  2. Copy the above statistics into spreadsheets and display them on charts.
  3. Research the current proportion of women to men in the Oireachtas.
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