State Papers – 1977: ‘For God’s sake, don’t make this evil legal’

ON OPENING the file on contraceptives one is immediately struck by a photograph of Fr Michael Cleary in an article in the Catholic Standard of December 30, 1977.

The article was enclosed in a letter to the Taoiseach complaining about contraception.

“Such problems as contraception and divorce are proposed in the name of religious minority rights and the main argument used in their favour is that of religious discrimination because, with our great fear of offending, it is the argument most likely to succeed,” Fr Cleary wrote.

The file contained letters and clippings sent to Taoisigh Liam Cosgrave and Jack Lynch during 1977. They received a total of 45 letters at the Taoiseach’s department. Most were warning against the legalisation of contraception.

Many of the letters congratulated Mr Cosgrave on his previous stand against it, and urged him to continue, while some denounced Mary Robinson’s unsuccessful bill in the Seanad.

There were three identical form letters prepared by the Irish Family Panning Association, each containing a list of signatures — the largest of which had 58 names. Another had 20 signatures, while the remaining one was signed by eight Tralee guesthouse owners.

Mr Cosgrave’s staff merely acknowledged the letters sent to him, but Mr Lynch signed a number of replies. It is noticeable he signed all the letters to priests, and those to Cork inhabitants.

Fr P Cremins of Rockwell College urged him to delay the introduction of a contraceptive bill until more research could be done on the Billings method of birth control. “If their findings are that this natural method is successful and practical for all, the legislation permitting [direct] contraception would not be necessary,” he argued.

If contraceptives were legalised, he warned it would be impossible to confine them to married couples.

In a “Dear Charlie” note, Mr Lynch forwarded the letter from Fr Cremins to Health Minister Charles Haughey, who had responsibility for the legislation.

“You have no right to go against what the Pope has laid down,” Mrs Cahill wrote from Cork. “For God’s sake, don’t make this evil legal.”

“I’m an ardent supporter of the FF party,” Fr Eugene O’Brien wrote, objecting to the legalisation of contraception. “All the nuns in the country would vote against FF at the next election if you were to do that,” he warned.!

“The present position is unsatisfactory as there is no control whatever in the distribution of contraceptive devices following the decision of the Supreme Court in the Magee Case,” Mr Lynch replied. “Legislation to inhibit their importation is impossible following that decision so some legislative measure to effect reasonable control is necessary.”

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