Ten things an Irish woman could not do in 1970 (and be prepared to cringe...)

In good form: Bishops Eamon Casey, Galway, Jeremiah Newman of Limerick, Tomás Ó Fiaich, Archbishop of Armagh, and Edward Daly of Derry at Maynooth, October 1978. Although the church remained dominant during the decade, it was being critically challenged. 

(Picture: Ambiguous Republic - Ireland in the 1970s).

In good form: Bishops Eamon Casey, Galway, Jeremiah Newman of Limerick, Tomás Ó Fiaich, Archbishop of Armagh, and Edward Daly of Derry at Maynooth, October 1978. Although the church remained dominant during the decade, it was being critically challenged. (Picture: Ambiguous Republic - Ireland in the 1970s).

What dominated our news and much of our conversations during the 1970s (at least in the early years ), was the deteriorating crisis in Northern Ireland. When I think of that decade I remember the initial hope that something would be settled quickly rather than letting it drag on fuelled by appallingly bad political decisions, thuggery, and deeply imbedded hatred. Seamus Heaney remarked that in the early 1970s ‘there was a promise in the air as well as fury and danger’. But in Northern Ireland any nervous sense of hopeful expectation quickly soured; as Heaney recalled: ‘Soon enough it all went rancid.’ In John Montague’s poem The Rough Field, he observes: ‘In the dark streets, firing starts.’

But there was much more to the 1970s that the tragedy in the North. In his fascinating Ambiguous Republic - Ireland in the 1970s,* Diarmaid Ferriter brilliantly appraises that tumultuous time where the old ways of doing things were being challenged. It was, he says, a time when ‘old moulds were broken’.

Perhaps the most dramatic social change in the twenty-six counties was in the status of women; that is in the lives of our mothers, sisters, partners, aunts and nieces. Fintan O’Toole, journalist and commentator, compiled 10 things that women could not do in 1970 for the Irish Times:

1 Keep her job in the public service or a bank when she got married

Female civil servants and other public servants (primary teachers from 1958 were excluded from the so-called "marriage bar" ) had to resign from their jobs when they got married, on the grounds that they were occupying a job that should go to a man. Banks operated a similar policy.

How it changed

The marriage bar in the public service was removed in July 1973, on foot of the report of the first Commission on the Status of Women. In 1977, the Employment Equality Act prohibited discrimination on the grounds of gender or marital status in almost all areas of employment.

2 Sit on a jury

Under the 1927 Juries Act, members of juries had to be property owners and, in effect, male.

How it changed

Mairín de Burca and Mary Anderson challenged the Act and won their case in the Supreme Court in 1976. The old Act was repealed and citizens over 18 who are on the electoral register are eligible for juries.

3 Buy contraceptives

The 1935 Criminal Law Amendment Act banned the import, sale and distribution of contraceptives. Some women were able to get doctors to prescribe the Pill as a "cycle regulator" or to fit devices such as the cap. In 1969, the Fertility Guidance Clinic was established in Dublin and used a loophole in the law to give away the Pill for free. (It was thus not being sold. ) Most rural and working class women had no access to contraceptives.

How it changed

The Commission on the Status of Women in 1972 delicately suggested that "parents have the right to regulate the number and spacing of their family" but stopped short of an open demand for contraception. The Rotunda Hospital, the Irish Family Planning Association and student unions began to distribute contraceptives. The law, however, changed very slowly. The McGee case of 1973 established a right to import contraceptives for personal use, but did not allow them to be sold. A Bill to allow for controlled access was defeated in 1974. In 1979, in an infamous "Irish solution to an Irish problem", an Act was passed to allow doctors to prescribe contraceptives to married couples only. A 1985 Act allowed contraceptives to be sold to anyone over 18 but only in chemists. The IFPA and Virgin Megastore were prosecuted for selling condoms in 1991. Later that year, the sale of contraceptives was liberalised.

4 Drink a pint in a pub

In 1970, some pubs refused to allow women to enter at all, some allowed women only if accompanied by a man and very many refused to serve women pints of beer. Women who were accidentally served a pint would be instructed to pour it into two half-pint glasses.

How it changed

Women's groups staged protests in the early 1970s. In one instance, Nell McCafferty led a group of 30 women who ordered, and were served, 30 brandies. They then ordered one pint of Guinness. When the pint was refused, they drank the brandies and refused to pay as their order was not served. In 2002, the Equal Status Act banned gender discrimination in the provision of goods and services. It defined discrimination as "less favourable treatment". Service can be refused only if there is a reasonable risk of disorderly or criminal conduct.

5 Collect her children's allowance

The 1944 legislation that introduced the payment of children's allowances (now called child benefit ) specified that they be paid to the father. The father could, if he chose, mandate his wife to collect the money, but she had no right to it.

How it changed

Responding to the report of the Commission on the Status of Women, the 1974 Social Welfare Act entitled mothers to collect the allowance.

6 Get a barring order against a violent partner

In 1970, a women who was hospitalised after a beating by her husband faced a choice of either returning home to her abuser or becoming homeless. Abusive spouses could not be ordered to stay away from the family home, leaving many women little choice but to seek refuge elsewhere.

How it changed

Women's Aid campaigned for changes in the law, and in 1976 the Family Law Act, Ireland's first legislation on domestic violence, enabled one spouse to seek a barring order against the other where the welfare or safety of a spouse or children was at risk. The orders were for three months and were poorly implemented. In 1981, protection orders were introduced and barring orders were increased up to 12 months.

7 Live securely in her family home

Under Irish law, a married woman had no right to a share in her family home, even if she was the breadwinner. Her husband could sell the home without her consent.

How it changed

Under the Family Home Protection Act of 1976, neither spouse can sell the family home without the written consent of the other.

8 Refuse to have sex with her husband

In 1970 the phrase "marital rape" was a contradiction in terms. A husband was assumed to have the right to have sex with his wife and consent was not, in the eyes of the law, an issue.

Women's adultery was also specifically penalised in the civil law, the notorious tort of "criminal conversation" or "CrimCon": a husband could legally sue another man for compensation for sleeping with his wife.

How it changed

The Council for the Status of Women urged the creation of a crime of marital rape. In 1979 the Minister for Justice Gerard Collins declined to introduce legislation to this effect. Even when new legislation on rape was introduced in 1981, the situation did not change. It was not until 1990 that marital rape was defined as a crime. The first trial, in 1992, collapsed within minutes. The first successful prosecution for marital rape was in 2002.

Crim Con was abolished by the Family Law Act (1981 ). The Act also, as a dubious quid pro quo, abolished the right to sue for "breach of promise" of marriage - an ancient provision that was occasionally used by jilted women, although it was in theory also available to men.

9 Choose her official place of domicile

Under Irish law, a married woman was deemed to have the same "domicile" as her husband. This meant that if her husband left her and moved to Australia, her legal domicile was deemed to be Australia. Women, who could not get a divorce in Ireland, could find themselves divorced in countries where their husbands were domiciled.

How it changed

Acting on a report from the Law Reform Commission, the Fine Gael junior minister for women's affairs Nuala Fennell drove forward the Domicile and Recognition of Foreign Divorces Bill in 1985. It granted married women the right to an independent domicile.

10 Get the same rate for a job as a man

In 1970, almost all women were paid less than male colleagues doing the same job. In March 1970, the average hourly pay for women was five shillings, while that for men was over nine. In areas covered by a statutory minimum wage, the female rate was two-thirds that of men.

How it changed

Legislation on equal pay was introduced in 1974 and employment equality legislation followed in 1977, both as a result of European directives.

NOTES: Last week I mentioned the price of Ferriter’s book. Its a mighty tomb, and is expensive. However Tomás Kenny contacted me to say that Kenny’s price at Liosbán is a great deal at €25.21. Tomás also says that every new book at Kenny’s is reduced, including the best selling Atlas of the Great Irish Famine; and Jamie Oliver, the best selling cook in Europe at the moment.

 

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