Women have made a difference

Writer and Irish Examiner book reviewer, Mary Leland, wrote an informative article for a Sunday newspaper recently, reflecting on the media reports about the mother-and-baby home in Tuam, Co Galway.

The home closed in 1961 and this year’s discovery of approximately 800 death certificates from there was swiftly followed by the Government announcing an enquiry.

Leland reminded us of how some women, among them Mary Robinson and Catherine McGuinness and Nuala Fennell, who was the minister of state for women’s affairs in Fine Gael Taoiseach Garret Fitzgerald’s government in the 1980s, improved Irish society.

They helped to pass the 1987 Status of Children Act, which removed legal discrimination. All children were deemed equal regardless of their parents’ status (married or unmarried) at the time of birth. This was 27 years ago. There was a 1930 Act whose purpose, Leland wrote, was to legally force fathers to financially support their baby born outside marriage, but was rarely used and not widely known.

Leland wrote of an organisation called Cherish, set up in 1972, with Robinson as its first president, which helped to bring in the unmarried mother’s allowance in 1973. I read, elsewhere, this was changed to the Lone Parents’ Allowance in the 1990s, as a payment for single, widowed and separated parents.

It is important to know what a brilliant, campaigning lawyer was the young Robinson, who was the first female President of Ireland, from 1990 to 1997.

The Irish government presented in 1931 with the Carrigan Report was so unprepared for its findings on the abuse of children in Ireland’s institutions that it did not publish it and did not act on its recommendations.

Social change and improvements came faster in the 1970s, when we joined the European Economic Community. They are inter-linked and Robinson was one of many who made a difference.

She campaigned for the right of women to serve in juries. In her 1990 inauguration speech, she spoke of mná na hEireann, women of Ireland. It was a great and symbolic moment.

M Sullivan

College Road


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Wednesday, February 24, 2021

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