Address on Equal Franchise
November 15, 1927 — Parliament of Northern Ireland, Presbyterian Church of Ireland Assembly College, Belfast, Ireland
I am convinced that as the only woman Member in this House Honourable Members will have expected that I would have some words to say on a Measure of this character. Therefore, I rise reluctantly not to support the Second Reading of this Bill although I may state here and now that I am certainly agreed upon the principle of the Bill — not to support it but to express surprise that the Honourable Gentlemen [Joseph Devlin] should have considered this an opportune time to introduce it . . .
I cannot help wondering in spite of what the Honourable Member has said . . . in fact he is always telling us he is very anxious — to show his independence and to cut us off from the apron strings that bind us to the Imperial Parliament. That was what he gave as his reason. I cannot quite believe that he was not actuated by other motives in the introduction of this Measure at this particular stage. I wonder if he had in mind the proverb about the early bird the always catches the worm. I also wonder whether he possibly had been indulging in visions of the future, whether he had visualised himself fin the role of the Pied Piper of Hamlin, and whether he saw himself orating to passionately, as we well know in this House he can orate, pleading so persuasively as we know he can plead, with the servant girls of Derry and Tyrone flocking behind him on the primrose path. That I must say flashed across my mind. I also thought that possibly he might see himself fin the role of the great benefactor, crowned with laurels, by the youth and beauty of the Six counties, going to be soon enfranchised, and that he would be crowned with laurels by them out of gratitude for the inestimable boon which he was about to confer . . .
I believe that every Member of this House, on both sides, is agreed that mentally there is equality of the sexes at the age of 21. I go still further, and I would say that in most cases woman matures earlier than man, and that whereas a boy of 18 or 19 years may still be a boy, a girl of 18 or 19 years is very often a woman. I do not believe that we could find anybody these days maintaining the positions that there was not equality of the sexes . . .
Personally, I would infinitely prefer to have seen universal franchise at the age of 25. That is my own point of view, cease I do believe that very few men and women before they attain the age of 25 . . . take a very great interest in political work. I would like to tell Honourable Members a little story . . . which I think is an illustration of my argument, that up to 25 years, as rule, both women and men are not so keenly interested in politics, and not perhaps so stable in their political views as they may be at a later stage. I am sure the Honourable Member will be interested to know that when I was very young I was very ardently interested in Irish politics, in Irish poetry, in Irish literature and Irish history . . . A little later on, when I became a little older, I was very much more interested, I candidly confess, in enjoying myself. I am afraid I did not give much time to political thought . . . I was fully 25 years before I took any real intelligent interest in political discussions. I am going to say what the Honourable Gentleman (Mr. Devlin) will like. I was 27 eyears before I opened my first Orange Hall. Personalty, I call that the dawn of common sense. I am sure Honourable Members opposite will rather call it the “rake’s progress” or the “road to ruin”. We will not quarrel on that subject . . .
Youth is all very well, but youth — and there are considerable numbers of young people would be given the right to vote under a Bill of this nature — youth has illusions, youth has romance and youth has ideals. Thank God for that, because we could not do without them, but I do really think that I would prefer, as a nation, to be governed by realists and those who know Utopia is not within our reach and are not carried away by ideals and romance. That is why I would infinitely prefer to have seen universal franchise at 25. However, that I understand, is an impracticable proposition, and I will not dwell on it any longer. I do not want to say once more that, as far as equality of the sexes in franchise goes, I certainly consider that if the franchise is to be 21, it should also be 21 for women. As far as that goes I am in absolute agreement with the Honorable Gentleman’s Measure . . .
Personally, I consider the honorable Gentleman (Mr. Devlin) would be well advise dot withdraw his Bill, as has been suggested by the Minister, and we could all vote with a clear conscience when the time come next year o the year after.
Source: The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing, Vol. 5: Irish Women’s Writings and Traditions, eds. Angela Bourke et al (Cork: Cork University Press) 2002, pp. 363-365.