Department for Communities

Centenary of the Representation of the People Act

To celebrate the centenary of the Representation of the People Act, the Department for Communities in Northern Ireland is holding events throughout 2018 to mark this momentous change in voting rights.

A milestone in the journey to equality, the Representation of the People Act gave women the vote for the first time. This brought significant change and resulted from women’s groups everywhere carrying the message of equality. Women sought to address issues such as working and living conditions, rights in marriage, property ownership, and societal iniquities such as violence against women.

For the first time, women had a voice in political decision-making and representation. They could choose who should represent them and they could decide to seek political office themselves. There were limits to this law — it applied only to women over 30 who owned property which was addressed by subsequent laws.

The change in the law achieved many other things including giving all men over 21 the vote regardless of property qualifications, giving men serving in the Great War a vote at 19 and setting the standards on holding elections on a single day.

In total, it is estimated that the Representation of the People Act tripled the number of people eligible to vote.

1918 was tumultuous — the world was at war and a flu pandemic was sweeping the globe. Battles were raging across Europe and the Middle East and maps were being redrawn. Against this background, the enactment of the Representation of the People Act brought change to every household. The right to vote was a landmark on the road to equality and the Department for Communities is celebrating the changes that the Representation of the People Act brought to Northern Ireland.

This series of events is funded by Department for Communities and powered by Politics Plus.