Suffrage and Society: Then and Now – Reflections on the Representation of the People Act, 1918

Date published: 06 February 2018

To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Representation of the People Act, 1918, a conference took place in Belfast today to explore some of the key archives and research relating to suffrage in Ireland.

Titled Suffrage and Society: Then and Now – Reflections on the Representation of the People Act, 1918, the conference was hosted by the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) in conjunction with Queen’s University Belfast and the Ulster Society of Irish Historical Studies, and examined the history and context of the Act.

The introduction of the Representation of the People Act in 1918 widened suffrage by abolishing practically all property qualifications for men and by enfranchising women over the age of 30 who met the minimum property qualifications. In addition to the suffrage changes, the Act also instituted the present system of holding general elections on one day (as opposed to being staggered over a period of weeks) and introduced the annual electoral register.  As well as permitting females to vote for the first time, the Act offered women the opportunity to become politicians and Ministers for the first time. 

Michael Willis, PRONI Director said: “The Centenary of the Representation of the People Act offers a significant opportunity to mark the increased emancipation delivered by the Act and to raise awareness of the societal benefits of greater diversity in political life. Today’s event acknowledged the significant role played by both men and women within the suffrage movement.” 

The conference brought together a group of expert speakers from academic institutions and organisations throughout the UK including the University of Liverpool, Queen’s University Belfast, Liverpool Hope University, PRONI and the National Trust. It also included a panel discussion on the contemporary relevance of suffrage today.

Michael continued: “This event has provided the opportunity to reflect on local history and the events that shaped our current elections and voting systems and examine the impact the Act continues to have on public life and political systems today.” 

The Department for Communities is co-ordinating a series of events in Northern Ireland throughout the 2018 centenary year. More information about these can be found on nidirect.

Notes to editors: 

  1. PRONI is based at 2 Titanic Boulevard, Titanic Quarter, Belfast.  For details on opening hours, see the Visiting PRONI webpage. 
  2. Speakers at the conference included Dr Marie Coleman (QUB), Dr Diane Urquhart (University of Liverpool, Dr Sonja Tiernan (Liverpool Hope University), Dr Neil Watt (National Trust), Dr Alan de Bromhead (QUB), Dr Glynn Kelso (PRONI), Joanna McMinn (Former Executive Director, National Women's Council of Ireland), Carmel Gates (President, NI Public Service Alliance (NIPSA))Aideen McGinley (Chair of Galway 2020 European City of Culture, formerly first female Permanent Secretary in NICS), Anna Carragher (Electoral Commissioner for NI, formerly Controller of BBC NI), and Michael Wardlow (Chief Commissioner of the Electoral Commission for Northern Ireland). 
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