|Austin Harney pays tribute to CountessMarkievicz|
By Theo Russell
Over 100 people gathered on 28th December at the site of the former Holloway Women’s Prison in Islington, north London, to mark 100 years since the famous Irish republican and revolutionary Countess Constance Markievicz was elected as the first female MP in Britain. She was in jail for her leading role in the 1916 Easter Rising, in which she was a commander of the Irish Citizen’s Army led by James Connolly.
In the 1918 election Sinn Féin swept the board in Ireland but its MPs never took their seats at Westminster, instead establishing a new Irish parliament in Dublin, the Dail. Markievicz was amongst those sentenced to death after the Rising but the decision was reduced to a life sentence because of her sex. Joe Dwyer, Sinn Féin’s Political Organiser for Britain, delivered a message on behalf of the party’s seven Westminster MPs, which said: “The people of Ireland voted for freedom, and to see the future of Ireland decided on the island of Ireland. That historic election saw women voting for the first time, and also saw the election of Constance Markievicz as the first female MP elected to Westminster. She was a radical in every sense of the word – a feminist, a socialist, a revolutionary and a republican.”
Austin Harney spoke for the TUC’s London, Eastern and South Eastern region: Constance Markievicz was a very principled woman, who would not have accepted the 1921 treaty and the partition of Ireland.” He said that the Free State, which lasted until Ireland became a republic in 1937, “denied Irish women the rights to divorce or abortion”.
Harney also read a message from Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, who recalled that Markievicz “had fought for women to be allowed to vote and was jailed many times”, and called on the government, which owns the prison site, to guarantee a women’s centre and homes for women in the redevelopment.
When Constance Markievicz died in 1927 she was refused a state funeral, but huge crowds turned out in Dublin and she was given a guard of honour by the Irish Citizens' Army.