Identity Statement for Gemma Hussey

  • Reference code: IE UCDA P179
  • Title: Papers of Gemma Hussey (b.1938)
  • Dates: 1963–87
  • Level of description: Fonds
  • Extent: 17 boxes
  • Context
  • Content and Structure
  • Conditions of Access and Use
  • Allied Material

Biographical History

Gemma Hussey nee Moran was born on 11 November 1938. She grew up in Bray, Co. Wicklow and was educated at the local Loreto school and by the Sacred Heart nuns in Mount Anville, Goatstown, Co. Dublin. She obtained an arts degree from University College Dublin and went on to run a successful language school along with her business partner Maureen Concannon from 1963 to 1974. She is married to Dermot (Derry) Hussey and has one son and two daughters.

In 1974 Gemma Hussey was appointed to the board of the Abbey Theatre serving as a director until 1978. As a director Gemma Hussey was involved in the development of policy for the theatre as well as attending performances and reviewing scripts. In 1977 she became one of the directors of TEAM, (the Irish Theatre in Education Group).

Gemma Hussey has maintained a lifelong commitment to equality and social justice. Her involvement with the women’s movement in the 1970s and 1980s demonstrates her leadership in this area. She, along with Nuala Fennell, Audrey Conlon, Hilary Pratt and Phil Moore, was one of the founding members of the Women’s Political Association (WPA). She was elected Chair of the WPA in 1973. The aim of the association was to influence public opinion on the importance of gender balance amongst public representatives, to pressurise political parties and to encourage women to run for public office. The WPA operated with very limited resources and relied on teams of women volunteering in local branches to promote the objectives of the association. Between 1976 and 1977 the WPA compiled and circulated a questionnaire to all Dáil Deputies to elicit information about their attitude to the major issues affecting Irish women. The information was sought by the WPA so that their members could make informed decisions about who they would support in a general election. Gemma Hussey was also a founding member of the National Women’s Talent Bank which sought to maintain a register of women suitable to serve on public boards and commissions. She was a delegate to the Council for the Status of Women, an umbrella group with representatives of most women’s organisations in Ireland

From 1977 to 1982 Gemma Hussey served as a Senator elected by the National University of Ireland panel. During her first term she sat as an independent. In 1980 she joined the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party and became the party’s first spokesperson on Women’s Affairs. She went on to become the Government Leader in the Seanad.

Gemma Hussey was elected to Dáil Éireann as a TD for the Wicklow constituency in February 1982 having narrowly missed out on a seat in the general election held in June 1981. She was appointed as the opposition spokesperson on Broadcasting, Arts and Culture. She held her seat at the next general election in November 1982 and was appointed in the Fine Gael-Labour coalition government as Ireland’s first female Minister for Education from 1982 to 1986. After a cabinet reshuffle she briefly served as Minister for Social Welfare and Minister for Labour.

Throughout her public and political life Gemma Hussey was a liberal and a feminist. She was a strong supporter of legislating for divorce in Ireland and campaigned vigorously in favour of a yes vote in the 1986 referendum. Her commitment to equality, diversity and social justice is demonstrated through her membership and support of many organisations and advocacy groups. She campaigned, along with many other public figures and leading academics to save the Viking archaeological site at Wood Quay. In 1979 she was invited to serve on the Commission of Enquiry into the Irish Penal System and contributed to the final report of the Commission published in 1980. She was a member of the Working Party on Women in Broadcasting and presented a submission in 1981 to the RTE Authority and senior management on the stereotyping of women in the media, sexism and gender imbalance in Irish broadcasting. Gemma Hussey also lent her support to the very early protagonists who sought to establish multi-denominational, co-educational schools under a democratic management structure known as Dalkey School Project (DSP). DSP faced an uphill struggle in order to establish such a school. They received much needed support from the Fianna Fáil Government and the Minister for Education John Wilson, 1977–81, a notable supporter of the enterprise. Gemma Hussey opened the new school building for the DSP in 1983.

Gemma Hussey retired from politics in June 1989. She was appointed by the President, Dr Patrick Hillery, to the Council of State in September of the same year. She has maintained a particularly strong engagement with European affairs, in particular the European Women’s Federation which she co-founded in 1990 and remained engaged with a wide range of voluntary groups both social and cultural. 

Archival History

This collection was deposited in UCD Archives by Gemma Hussey in 2000.

Scope and Content

Minutes, agendas, accounts, correspondence, memoranda, lists of plays relating to the work of the Board of the Abbey Theatre, 1974–78.

Minutes and agendas of the AGM of the National Theatre Society, 1973–78.

Notes, correspondence, reports, memoranda, accounts relating to the establishment and administration of TEAM (Irish Theatre in Education group), c1972–1980.

Copies of scripts submitted by playwrights to the board of the Abbey Theatre for consideration, [1974–81].

Substantial files of correspondence, press releases, information literature, minutes of meetings, reports concerning the foundation and working of the Women’s Political Association, 1973–81.

Notes, drafts of questionnaires, completed questionnaires, correspondence, analysis concerning the Political Questionnaire compiled by the WPA, 1976–77.

Minutes of meetings, reports, press releases, correspondence relating to the work of the Council for the Status of Women, [1973]–80.

Correspondence, minutes of meetings, notes, register relating to the National Women’s Talent Bank, 1974–78.

Circulars, newsletter, copies of newspaper cuttings, correspondence concerning the establishment of Dalkey School Project, 1974–80 and Bray School Project Association, 1978–81.

Notes, correspondence, copies of reports, published articles relating to the Working Party on Women in Broadcasting, 1974–81. Draft and a copy of the submission to the RTE Authority entitled ‘Women and RTE—A Question of Balance’, November 1980.

Campaign literature, copies of press releases, publicity, extensive files of correspondence concerning Gemma Hussey’s campaign and election to Seanad Éireann, first term, 1977–81 and second term, 1981–82.

Files relating to policy and legislation before the Seanad including files on Northern Ireland, 1977–78, Wood Quay, 1978–80, Children’s Rights and Illegitimacy, 1978–81, Tax Reform, 1977–78, Abolition of the Death Penalty (Criminal Justice Bill), 1981, Criminal Law (Rape) Bill, 1980.

Minutes of meetings of the Commission of Enquiry into the Irish Penal System, correspondence, background material, 1979–80. Copy of the final report of the Commission, 1980.

Copies of press releases issued by Senator Gemma Hussey in her capacity as Fine Gael spokesperson on Women’s Affairs, 1980–81.

Policy documents relating to Fine Gael party policy 1979–87 including files of notes, press releases, literature, notes, correspondence on women’s issues and gender equality, 1979–81 and the Eighth Amendment, 1981–84.

Files of notes, correspondence, reports, copies of agendas and minutes relating to the ‘Tuesday Morning Meetings’, chaired by Derry Hussey and held in the Taoiseach’s (Garret FitzGerald) office to formulate policy and strategies for the government and general and European elections, [1981]–84 and 1986–89.

Newsletters, correspondence, notes, campaign literature concerning Gemma Hussey’s Wicklow Constituency, 1982–86.

Reports, publicity, correspondence, memoranda relating to Gemma Hussey’s ministry in the Department of Education, 1982–87. Series of publications relating to Curriculum Development, 1984–86.

Photographs relating to Gemma Hussey’s public life including family photographs used for publicity, 1978; 1983, publicity portraits, 1970s and 1980s, as a TD, 1982–83, Minister for Education, 1982–86.

Access: Available by appointment to holders of a UCD Archives reader's ticket. Produced for consultation in digital format.
Language: English.
Finding aid: Descriptive catalogue