Sheelagh Murnaghan

Sheelagh Murnaghan (1924 - 1993)

Born to a Catholic family in Dublin, the daughter of George Murnaghan, a Nationalist MP, Sheelagh Murnaghan went to convent school in Omagh and studied law at Queen’s University, where she also played hockey for the Irish National Women’s hockey team.  She was admitted to the N.I. Bar in 1948. As the only Ulster Liberal Association member of the Stormont parliament, Murnaghan represented the Queen’s University constituency from 1961-69, when the university seat was abolished. She was best known for her efforts to secure a Bill of Rights for N.I., trying unsuccessfully on four occasions to have human rights legislation adopted by Stormont. During this period, she was a lone Liberal voice in Northern Irish political life. She also unsuccessfully stood for election to the Northern Ireland Assembly election in June 28th, 1973, where her election address declared, 'First Preference For Sanity. Women! Do you want your children to be fountains of hate? Young People! Do you want to inherit a desert?' 'Northern Ireland Needs Politicians who are more seen than heard.'

She was later appointed as an advisor to the Secretary of State, William Whitelaw, following the collapse of Stormont, and she was successful in lobbying for a Human Rights Commission to be established. She also fought against gender discrimination in the workplace, chairing the N.I. Industrial Relations Tribunal. In 1983, she heard the first case of sexual harassment to be argued within the U.K.