Belfast Telegraph

DUP's Arlene Foster against pardon for suffragettes who broke law

 

By Rebecca Black

DUP leader Arlene Foster has said she does not support proposed pardons for suffragettes who were convicted of crimes during the struggle for women's right to vote.

The former First Minister said she greatly admired many who were involved in the Suffragette movement - but insisted that a crime was still a crime.

 

On the 100th anniversary yesterday of the vote being extended to some women, Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson led calls for pardons for those who had been convicted of crimes during the campaign for universal suffrage, a call backed by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Some suffragettes sent letter bombs, took part in arson attacks and in June 1914 are believed to have caused an explosion at Westminster Abbey.

There were more than 1,300 suffragette arrests.

Many went on to be jailed, including leader Emmeline Pankhurst.

Home Secretary Amber Rudd said she would "look at" calls to pardon suffragettes.

She stressed it was "complicated" when looking at cases of arson and violence, but promised to analyse individual proposals.

Mrs Foster told the Belfast Telegraph: "I have a lot of respect for Ruth Davidson, but I don't agree with her in terms of giving an amnesty to those people who were involved in those sorts of activities because, at the end of the day, they were involved in criminal activity.

"When you look at the Suffragette movement, there is a lot of talk about Pankhurst, and I can understand why, but there were many women involved who used democracy and the power of persuasion to move the issue forward. "Here in Northern Ireland, Edith Londonderry was a great supporter in terms of the suffragette movement, much to the distress of her mother-in-law Theresa Londonderry, who was a great anti-suffragettist."

The 1918 Representation of the People Act granted some women the right to vote in general elections.

However, around 60% of women - those under 30 or not meeting property qualifications - remained excluded. Universal suffrage was not won in the UK until the 1928 Equal Franchise Act, when women were granted the vote on the same terms as men.

Mrs Foster described yesterday's centenary as a "very significant anniversary".

"Without the vote, women would not be involved in participative politics either, it's very important for those of us involved in politics that that happened 100 years ago today," she said. Speaking about coming up through the ranks of the UUP and then the DUP, Mrs Foster said she was generally encouraged by becoming chair of the Young Unionists as a law student at Queen's, and then going on to become the youngest party officer in the UUP at the age of 25, after she was proposed by Lord Kilclooney.

However, Mrs Foster revealed she was once ordered to make the tea at a meeting.

"Just once - and I told him to make his own," she recalled.

"I have always been very fortunate; male colleagues have always been hugely supportive and I was put in as the youngest party officer in the Ulster Unionist Party when I was 25.

"That was John Taylor who proposed me for that. Male colleagues right throughout have been very supportive.

"Actually, sometimes it can be the older females who are more difficult, because they had chosen a particular route and they couldn't understand why you as a young female would choose to go a different route."

A number of other local female politicians also paid tribute to the suffragettes.

Sinn Fein MLA Megan Fearon described the Representation of the People Act as "a major milestone for the Women's Suffrage movement".

"It paved the way for the eventual extension of voting rights to all women," she said.

"However, we are also very conscious that it would be more than five decades before we had universal suffrage in the North."

SDLP MLA Sinead Bradley said: "One hundred years ago, women marched in the streets and campaigned for the right to vote. They took on an Establishment that was pale, stale and male. We must however remember that it took the Civil Rights Association here to ensure that all people got full access to voting rights."

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