Category: Ireland

Constance Markievicz

Constance Markievicz

On 28 December 1918 the first woman MP was elected to the House of Commons. She was an Irishwoman, a nationalist, a revolutionary & a suffragette: Constance Markievicz, ‘the Rebel Countess’. Of 1,623 candidates in the election, only 17 were women & only one, Markievicz, succeeded. However, she never took her seat. She was one of 72 Sinn Féin MPs who all followed an abstentionist policy, not recognising the validity of Westminster’s jurisdiction in Ireland.


The full version of this landmark is written by

Learn More

Karl McDonald, ‘Countess Markievicz: The Violent Republican Feminist Who Was UK’s First Female MP’ (iNews The Essential Daily Briefing, 8 January 2018)

Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013

Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013

The PLDPA is unsatisfactory, insufficient, and ineffective. But it is still a landmark for women. It was the first time that the Irish parliament gave effect to the (very limited) constitutional right to access abortion. The fact that this right had lain effectively unusable for more than 30 years had not only made it more or less illusory but also hidden in plain sight the true scale of its restrictiveness.

Fiona de Londras

Ireland, one of the world’s most restrictive abortion law regimes, permits abortion only where there is a “real and substantial risk” to the pregnant woman’s life and recognises “the right to life of the unborn” in Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution (the 8th Amendment). The combination of the Constitution, very conservative medical and legal professions, case law that resulted in an extremely restrictive interpretation of the 8th Amendment, and a political establishment seemingly unwilling to acknowledge or tackle the harms done by a lack of access to abortion care means that pregnant people who do not wish to continue with their pregnancies in Ireland have very few options.

The Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013 provides for abortion where medical practitioners certify “in good faith” that there is a real and substantial risk to the pregnant woman’s life, and that it is their reasonable opinion that this can only be averted by terminating the pregnancy. “Reasonable opinion” is defined as “an opinion formed in good faith which has regard to the need to preserve unborn human life as far as practicable” (s.s. 7(1)(a)(ii), 8(1)(b), 9(1)(a)(ii)). If the risk to the pregnant woman’s life emanates from a physical illness two medical practitioners must certify to this, if it emanates from a risk of suicide three practitioners must so certify. In an emergency a single medical practitioner must certify that is it is her reasonable opinion that an abortion is “immediately necessary in order to save the life of the woman” (s. 8(1)(b)).

Should a woman wish to challenge a refusal to provide her with abortion care: she can apply for the decision to be reviewed either by two doctors (where she claims there is a risk to life from physical illness), or by three (where the risk is said to be one of suicide), and that panel should decide within ten days of the review request having been made.

The full version of this landmark is written by Fiona de Londras.

Learn More

BBC News, ‘Irish Abortion Bill Becomes Law’

Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC, ‘Ireland’s Little Christmas Starts A Year of Big Change For Women’s Rights’ (Huffington Post UK, 7 January 2018)

Fiona de Londras, ‘This is Why Repeal Matters’

The Guardian News and Media Ltd., ‘Pregnant Women Face Abortion Ban in Ireland Even if They’re a Suicide Risk’

Jem Collins, ‘ ‘A Flagrant Violation of Women’s Human Rights’: Thousands of Women March to Decriminalise Abortion’ (Human Rights News, Views and Info, 9 March 2017)

Repeal Eight: Coalition to Repeal the Eighth Amendment

Electoral (Amendment) (Political Funding) Act 2012

Electoral (Amendment) (Political Funding) Act 2012

Colour photo of three hands placing ballot in ballot boxThe Electoral (Amendment) (Political Funding) Act 2012 introduced a political gender quota in Ireland. Section 42 provides that political parties will have their State funding cut by half, unless at least 30 per cent of their General Election candidates are of each gender. This quota will rise to 40 per cent in 2023.

The Act has already begun to have a transformative effect on Irish politics. It was applied for the first time in the 2016 General Election, in which a record 35 women were elected to the Dáil out of 158 TDs (Teachtaí Dála or members). Women now make up 22 per cent of TDs for the first time; 16 per cent was the highest percentage previously achieved.

Experience elsewhere, and now in Ireland, clearly shows that, without enforceable legal targets or quotas, the numbers of women in politics will not rise. Without this landmark law, the work of the suffrage campaigners would not have been fully vindicated, and Irish democracy would have remained unfinished and incomplete.

Ivana Bacik

The full version of this landmark is written by Ivana Bacik.

Learn More

National Women’s Council of Ireland

Concluding Observations of UN Committee against Torture regarding the Magdalene Laundries (2011)

Concluding Observations of UN Committee against Torture regarding the Magdalene Laundries (2011)

In June 2011, the United Nations Committee Against Torture (CAT) examined Ireland’s human rights record for the first time. The CAT’s Concluding Observations addressed an issue which had long been ignored by the Irish government, and had not yet been considered by any international human rights treaty body or national or international court: the so-called ‘historic’ abuse of girls and women in Ireland’s Catholic church-run Magdalene Laundries.

Colour photo of wall covered with papers and the phrase Magdalene Justice
Magdalene Justice by William Murphy [CC BY-SA 2.0 (]
The CAT noted that it was ‘gravely concerned’ by both ‘the failure by the State party to protect girls and women who were involuntarily confined between 1922 and 1996 in the Magdalene Laundries’, and the State’s failure to investigate allegations of ill-treatment in the institutions. The CAT therefore recommended that the Irish government (a) ‘institute prompt, independent and thorough investigations into all complaints of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment that were allegedly committed in the Magdalene Laundries’; (b) ‘in appropriate cases, prosecute and punish the perpetrators with penalties commensurate with the gravity of the offences committed’; and (c) ‘ensure that all victims obtain redress and have an enforceable right to compensation, including the means for as full rehabilitation as possible’. These recommendations were included in the CAT’s urgent follow-up mechanism, requiring the government to respond within one year.

The full version of this landmark is written by Maeve O’Rourke.

Learn More

Nicole Gernon, ‘Magdalene Survivors Say Government Broke Its Promise’

The Journal, ‘UN Committee Against Torture Recommends Inquiry into Magdalene Laundries’

Justice for Magdalenes Research: A Resource for People Affected by and Interested in Ireland’s Magdalene Institutions

Maeve O’Rourke, ‘Ireland and UNCAT One Year On: Magdalene Survivors Still Denied Their Right To An Apology And Redress’ (Human Rights Ireland, 28 May 2012)

Read an interview with Maeve O’Rourke in Rachel Cooper, ‘The forgotten women of Ireland’

Fifteenth Amendment of the Constitution Act 1995

Fifteenth Amendment of the Constitution Act 1995

Black and white scan of information on the divorce referendum
Grounds for divorce information on divorce referendum creator and copyright belongs to the Houses of the Oireachtas [CC 4.0 International License (] disclaimer by the Houses of the Oireachtas applied
The Fifteenth Amendment of the Constitution Act 1995 removed the ban on divorce from the Irish Constitution. It was the second attempt at removing the ban; the first in 1986, ended with a substantive victory for the no-divorce campaigners.

By the 1980s, most other Western countries had not only introduced divorce, but had altered divorce laws to include no-fault based divorce and provided for equality in the distribution of property following divorce. Ireland therefore stood apart. When the first referendum to remove the ban was proposed, it followed many years of vigorous campaigning on women’s rights in other Western countries and in Ireland, various women’s organisations had been established including the Council for the Status of Women (an umbrella organisation for women’s groups. Now called the National Women’s Council of Ireland). One would imagine therefore that women would have argued forcefully in favour of divorce in Ireland. However, this was not the case. In fact, the majority of women voted against removing the ban in 1986.

The successful divorce referendum is often pointed to as one of the major turning points in modern Irish society. Around this time, Ireland began to shed many of its traditional, conservative societal notions. Attitudes towards women were also slowly changing… The divorce campaign was one part of this change and it followed earlier turning points such as the election of Mary Robinson as President and the Supreme Court decision in ‘the X case’, which allowed a 14 year old rape victim to travel abroad for an abortion.

Laura Cahillane

By the time of the second proposal in 1995, societal attitudes towards women were changing and while the proposal passed only by the narrowest of margins in the end, the victory demonstrates, in a microcosmic sense, that the position and status of women in modern Ireland had changed forever.

The full version of this landmark is written by Laura Cahillane.


Learn More

A.J. Christopher, ‘This Changing World: The Irish Divorce Referndum of 1995’ (1997) 82 Geographical Association

The Irish Times, ‘ ‘Hello Divorce, Goodbye Daddy’: 20 Years After the Irish said Yes’

Mairead Enright, ‘On This Day: First for Irish Divorce’ (Human Rights in Ireland, 17 January 2010)

The New York Times, ‘Irish Vote to End the Divorce Ban By a Tiny Margin’

RTÉ Archives, ‘No Recognition for Overseas Divorce in Ireland 1985’

RTÉ Archives, ‘Hello Divorce, Goodbye De Valera 1995’

Mary Robinson

Mary Robinson

Colour photo of Mary Robinson standing in front of flags shaking hands at the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation in 2017
Mary Robinson at the OECD from OECD 2017 [CC BY-NC 2.0 (]

It has been almost 27 years since Ireland elected its first woman President, yet it is clear that the legacy of this landmark endures as Irish women continue to claim their rightful place in public office and continue to demand more for themselves, persisting in the quest for further reproductive rights. As Mary Robinson said, ‘Feel empowered. And if you start to do it, if you start to feel your voice heard, you will never go back

Leah Treanor


Black and white photo of Mary Robinson as President of Ireland in 1990
Mary Robinson as President of Ireland in 1990, from the Irish Labour Party [CC BY-ND 2.0(]
In 1990, Mary Robinson (1944- ) became the first woman President of Ireland, making Ireland the first EU country to elect a woman as Head of State. Her political career had begun 20 years earlier when she was elected to Seanad Éireann, the Upper House of the Oireachtas. A constitutional lawyer, Mary Robinson championed human rights and gender equality both in her work as a lawyer and as a Senator. Despite the limited constitutional remit of the Irish President, Mary Robinson’s Presidency was an active and meaningful one. Indeed, many would say that Robinson redefined the office of President itself.

The full version of this landmark is written by Leah Treanor.


Learn More

Encyclopaedia Britannica, ‘Mary Robinson: President of Ireland’

The Mary Robinson Centre, ‘Mary Robinson— Global World Leader’

President of Ireland, ‘Mary Robinson’

President of Ireland, ‘Office of the President of Ireland— A Timeline’

RTÉ Archives, ‘President Mary Robinson: From Rocking the Cradle to Rocking the System 1990’

Criminal Law (Rape) (Amendment) Act 1990, Section 5

Criminal Law (Rape) (Amendment) Act 1990, Section 5

The removal of the marital rape exemption sent an important signal about women’s sexual autonomy. However, while the landmark was important symbolically, there is still a sense that marital rape is a ‘crime apart’ from other forms of rape. Thus, although this landmark was symbolically significant, in practice there is more work to be done to ensure that it is as momentous in practice as it is in principle.

Susan Leahy

Until 1990 in Ireland, a husband could not be prosecuted for the rape of his wife as a result of what was Black and white silhouette of a woman sitting by a large circular windowknown as the ‘marital rape exemption’. Abolishing a husband’s immunity from conviction for rape of his wife was a significant turning point in reform of sexual offences law. Section 5 of the Criminal Law (Rape) (Amendment) Act 1990 formally erased a husband’s immunity from prosecution for marital rape. This reform marked a break with the idea of rape as a property crime (and husband as sexual proprietor of his wife), as well as sending a message that consent may be absent even where individuals have had sex numerous times before. However, whilst the reform constituted a very significant advance symbolically, its practical effects in terms of convictions and appropriate punishment of marital rape have been less pronounced.

The full version of this landmark is written by Susan Leahy.


Learn More

Kitty Holland, ‘Marital Rape Remains Extremely Difficult to Prosecute’ (The Irish Times DAC, 26 July 2016)


Health (Family Planning) Act 1979

Health (Family Planning) Act 1979

The 1979 Act was hardly progressive. However, it was a watershed precisely because it marked the point at which formal legislation could no longer claim a complete hold over Irish women’s reproductive agency, at least as far as contraception was concerned. It marks a new confidence in the reproductive rights movement – today very visible in abortion rights campaigning – around the possibility of one day establishing women as sole decision-makers in matters of their own health.

Máiréad Enright

Before the Health (Family Planning) Act 1979, selling contraceptives and importing them for sale were criminal offences in Ireland. Importing contraceptives for personal use was also prohibited. This Act legalised those activities in certain circumstances, allowing married couples, and people with relevant medical needs, to access condoms and other contraceptives on a doctor’s prescription. The Act began a slow de-coupling of Irish law from absolutist interpretations of Catholic social teaching, and marked an important legal acknowledgement of the public health costs of restricting access to contraception. It also provided a legal avenue of access to contraceptives, confirming growing public support for the principle that women should be able to determine the number and spacing of their children.

The full version of this landmark is written by Máiréad Enright.

Mothers of Modern Ireland, ‘Contraception, Sylvia from Dublin’

RTÉ Archives, ‘Dublin Condom Shop 1978’

Frances Moran

Frances Moran

The significance of what Frances Moran achieved cannot be understated. As a pioneering professor in a university and a profession that were particularly resistant to the inclusion of women, she ‘dominated Irish legal education’ at time when women at any level in the legal profession were rare.

Emma Hutchinson

The life of Frances Moran was one of firsts. Appointed Reid Professor of Law at Trinity College, Dublin (TCD), in 1925, she was the first woman law professor in Ireland, predating her UK counterpart by 45 years. She was also the first woman to hold a Dublin University chair in any subject. In 1924 she was only the fourth woman to be called to the Irish Bar and, in 1941, she became the first woman Senior Counsel in Ireland.

The full version of this landmark is written by Emma Hutchinson.

Learn more

A timeline of the History of Women in Trinity

Averil Deverell

Averil Deverell

In a room full of male barristers Deverell must have stood out in sharp contrast, particularly in an environment reeking (at least then) of history, privilege, class and clubbiness, redolent with unwritten rules and long established patterns of acceptable behaviour. This must have seemed a formidable challenge with no other woman in sight for another seven months: she would have been all too aware of the need to negotiate her space in the minefields of a small, close knit, Bar … A sharp intellect, a ready wit and a fair degree of smart anticipation were required, together with an ability to keep her views to herself when necessary. A capacity for hard work and a careful attention to detail must also have stood her in good stead in the organised scrum of the Law Library

Liz Goldthorpe

Averil Deverell (1893-1979) was the first woman barrister to practise in Ireland, England, Scotland or Wales.

She was not the first woman to be called to the Bar. That, as is widely reported, was Frances Kyle. However, she was the second woman to be called – alongside her twin brother – and 17 other men in 1921. Rather, she was the first to negotiate the unique challenges of practice as the sole woman barrister for several months after her call. Her status as the first to practise places her in a special position with regard to her contemporaries. Deverell and Kyle were preceded only by the Scottish solicitor Madge Easton Anderson in 1920. In England, the first women were called – Ivy William and Carrie Morrison – in May and November 1922.

Sustaining a long career at the Bar for nearly 40 years, she has several other milestones to her credit: first to read for the Irish Bar and first law reporter, first to get a coveted ‘red bag’ as a junior, first ‘Mother of the Bar’ (in recognition of her seniority after a lengthy practice) and first secretary of the Dublin University Women Graduates Association (‘DUGWA’).

The full version of this landmark is written by Liz Goldthorpe.


Learn More

Colum Kenny, ‘Trove belonging to Averil Deverell, Ireland’s first female barrister, is saved’ (29 Jan 2018)

Find out more about the Women’s Legal Landmarks Project

Project leaders, Rosemary Auchmuty and Erika Rackley, talk to Elizabeth Woodcraft about the aims, methodology and ambitions for the Project for PodAcademy

Get involved

The landmarks that appear on this website were chosen by participants in the Women’s Legal Landmarks Project.

If you think a key positive legal landmark for women is missing and you’d like to write about it – then get in touch.

Search the Landmarks

Follow us on Twitter