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Statement by President Higgins on the Centenary of the 1918 Election

Date: Fri 14th Dec, 2018 | 13:19

The election of 14th December 1918 is of fundamental importance in Irish history.  That election that took place on the full island of Ireland represented all the political tendencies of the day.  Participating were those who had a history of participation in parliamentary politics outside of Ireland, those who sought a parliament on the island of Ireland, those who believed in Home Rule, those who wanted a full independence, and indeed those remembering the struggles of a previous century in relation to land and the tragedy of the famine and succeeding emigration.

If there was a unifying principle among the majority it was probably the shared rejection of conscription among trade unionists, nationalists and religious leaders.

The election had a particular importance for the suffragette movement.  Women over 30, with a property qualification had secured the right to vote.  Male citizens over the age of 21 acquired the right to vote without qualification.  The result was a near trebling of the number of people entitled to vote.  

The results of the election itself represented the greatest single shift in parliamentary representation.  It also foreshadowed divisions that would deepen on the island.  

The demands, for the rights of labour, for the rights of women, and for a separate, independent Irish republic, had for a brief period, swept away the established forces and structures of the past.   The seeds of a more inclusive society had been scattered – seeds that unfortunately would take many generations to germinate.

The poignancy of the 1918 election was the failure to respect its mandate which would result in the War of Independence and the tragic Civil War.  

The election was also taking place in the terrible shadow of a world war that had taken the lives of a young generation and cast a shadow over their families.

Today, it is appropriate and timely that we reflect on and celebrate this milestone in Irish history, and the rare alliances that made its promise visible and celebrate those who seized and placed their hopes in democracy.