Seanad EireannStatements to mark the 90
Anniversary of Seanad ÉireannTuesday 11 December 2012Statement by Senator Jillian van Turnhout
Thank you CathaoirleachI feel honoured to be speaking on behalf of our Independent Group.In preparing for today I have spent the past week reflecting and reading back through thehistory of the Seanad, and in particular to its earlier days.My colleagues will know that I have a keen interest in family history and it is through myresearch that I came across the necklace that I wear today that was given by my Grandfatherto his sister on her wedding day in the 1920s. I wonder on that day, in County Clare, whatwhere their thoughts, on the early days of the Seanad. I do know that my family history hadsome amazing strong women and so as I wear my Great Aunts necklace I wonder did the firstwomen of the Seanad give her inspiration.The women nominated to the 1922-1937 Free State Seanad were highly gifted and madesignificant contributions to political, economic and cultural spheres of Ireland. Notably thesewomen were committed to gender equality during a period in which legislative changesen
sured women’s rights were further weakened. Jenny Wyse Power had been active in the
Ladies Land League and in local government, and also ran various businesses. Ellen OdetteCuffe, Countess of Desart, was a London-based Jewish woman, and had founded a woollenmill, a theatre and hospital in Kilkenny. She was also a keen supporter of the Irish language.Alice Stepford-Green was a noted historian. Eileen Costello was a London-based teacher whohad moved to Galway, and had a keen interest in Irish folklore. Elected in 1928, KathleenClarke was a well-known nationalist andshe opposed the wording of Bunreacht na hEireannas she believed it regarded women in a lower position than had been in the Proclamation of 1916. Kathleen Browne, a member of Cumann na nGaedheal, joined the Seanad at a by-election in 1929.
Despite their political differences, these women often worked together to promote women’s
issues. The Civil Service Regulation (Amendment) Bill of 1925, which sought to confinestate examinations for senior civil service posts to men, was strongly opposed by SenatorsWyse-Power and Costello. Additionally, Senator Wyse Power, who had worked in therepublican courts set up during the War of Independence, was staunch in her opposition to the1927 Juries Act, which barred women from jury service in the new state. Many of the women