Sinn Féin’s Michelle Gildernew pays tribute to first female MP Constance Markievicz 100 years on from her election
The first ever female MP, Constance Markievicz, was elected to the House of Commons 100 years ago but didn’t take her seat as she was a member of the Northern Irish republican party, Sinn Féin. It took over 80 years to elect the party’s second Westminster MP, Michelle Gildernew. To mark the anniversary, we spoke to the Gildernew about Markievicz’s legacy and what it’s like following in her footsteps.
What inspires you about Constance Markievicz’s life?
“As an artist, as somebody who was surrounded by writers and different people who would have been the great and the good in Dublin society at the time, for her then to become involved in physical-force republicanism, to take up arms and to fight the British at that time, to try and secure an Irish republic makes her a fascinating person.”
How do you feel about the fact that it took so long for a second female Sinn Féin MP to be elected to the British Parliament?
“I’m saddened by the fact that it took us till 2001 to elect the second Sinn Féin woman into Westminster.
“Thankfully we’ve been joined by the third and fourth, but we have a lot to do to ensure that equality is delivered here in Ireland and that women receive full representation, not just in our councils, in our elected bodies but in public life, in business, in the civil service.
“Women are underrepresented in every single element of public life and we have to change that. I’m keen to do what I can to ensure that the Ireland that my daughter grows up in is very different to the one I did.”
What are your political priorities?
“I want to see [women in politics] bringing forward policies that would try to eradicate child poverty, that do more to support people with disabilities, to take our experiences and our own personal stories and use them to make life better for other women, whether they’re traveller women, older women, single mothers, we need to ensure that we’re not there and then go on like the men.”
When you take your differing politics out of it, do you find yourself having sympathy with Theresa May being confronted by the men in her party?
“Anybody could not fail to be moved by her resilience and her strength and the fact that she’s still there and battling away, I think you have to acknowledge that...
“There is still, no matter what public role you hold, that old boys’ club, that societal norm of keeping women out of the groups and I hate to see a woman, whether it’s Theresa May, Nicola Sturgeon, whether its Angela Merkel, treated differently because they’re women.”