Dehra Chichester

Dehra Chichester, Nee Kerr Fisher (Later Dame Dehra Parker) (1882-1963)

Born in India and brought up in Kilrea, Parker was the only child of James Kerr-Fisher. She married Lt Colonel Robert Spencer Chichester MP (died 1921) and later married Admiral WH Parker in 1928 (died 1940).

She was first elected to the Londonderry city constituency of the Northern Ireland parliament in 1921, following the death of her first husband. She was the only woman to sit in the Northern Ireland Cabinet. She had a long career in public service as a Justice of the Peace and member of Magherafelt Rural District Council, and chair of Magherafelt Board of Guardians and was vice-chair of the Ulster Women’s Unionist Council. She was parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Education, 1937-44, a Junior Minister for Agriculture and Minister for Health and Local Government, 1949-57. Her most important legislative achievement was the Education Act 1938, which made school attendance in Northern Ireland compulsory until the age of 15. She was made a DBE in 1949. She served 35 years in parliament, resigning in 1960, her seat being won by her grandson Major Chichester-Clark. Another grandson was Captain Terence O’Neill. Both served as prime ministers, their grandmother decreeing the order in which each grandson should stand for office.

Dame Dehra had huge influence within the Unionist party and her legacy can be seen in the naming of an initiative to promote women as electoral candidates in her honour within the party. However, a study of her political career concluded that ‘Dehra Parker did not respond to the political grievances of nationalists under the Stormont government. Neither did she contribute to any feminist agenda in the house.’ 

Maedhbh McNamara and Paschal Mooney, Women in Parliament: Ireland 1918-2000 (Dublin: Wolfhound Press, 2000), p.222.