This book is a timely reminder of the role of women in Irish politics, North and South. In the year that sees fourteen women elected to the new Northern Ireland Assembly, there is hope that women will increasingly get the opportunity to play a public role. But it is important to remember that women have been a force for change behind the scenes for many years.
In my job as secretary of state for Northern Ireland I have had the chance to meet women in many roles -- and I know that in relation to the peace process we would not be where we are today if women had not worked as they have for the past thirty years in their communities, not just in political parties but in trade unions, community groups, and in the four hundred or so women's groups across Northern Ireland.
Of course there is a long way to go, as this book demonstrates, but it would be a mistake to overlook the role of women in the history of political change in Ireland, North and South. Although there has been considerable progress in certain areas of public and political life -- for instance more than a third of public appointments are now held by women compared to only 15 percent in 1985 -- there is much work to do. Only 14 percent of councillors in local government in Northern Ireland are women, compared to 27 percent in Great Britain. And, most stark, in the 1990s there are no women MPs or MEPs in Northern Ireland. But with the election of 14 women out of 108 places in the newly elected Assembly, things will begin to change. With the setting up of the Civic Forum under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement there will be further opportunity for women to play an active role in the public life of Northern Ireland.
One of the remarkable aspects of the talks process that led to the Good Friday Agreement was seeing women, not only in the Women's Coalition but also in other parties, sitting alongside their male colleagues and arguing their points. They brought a new quality of debate to the proceedings.
This book puts the history of women in political life in the spotlight of current events. While recounting the struggle of early suffragette pioneers, it also illustrates the role of women in contemporary politics in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The story of the Northern Ireland Women's Coalition in particular has lessons for all students of political science. This book also offers a detailed analysis of the way the