Tuesday 21 November 2017

Top five... Harbingers of change

Charlie Haughey - wanted nothing smaller than 100-pound notes.
Charlie Haughey - wanted nothing smaller than 100-pound notes.
Mary Harney
Gay Byrne
Nell McCafferty

Pat Fitzpatrick

As Brendan O'Neill examines the phenomenal rise of Panti Bliss, we look at other Irish people who have transformed our society


Some say Charlie wasn't interested in change. He wanted nothing smaller than 100-pound notes. In fairness, as social welfare minister, he introduced ground-breaking reforms. From then on, a carefully targeted sector of the population could rely on fellow citizens to pay for essentials such as heat and expensive shirts from Paris. Some say his best contribution was the introduction of free travel. We say an old lady got on at Mallow and talked about her grandson all the way to Dublin. Make her stop!


Mary introduced a private members' bill to improve the availability of contraception in 1973. Apparently it resulted in a deluge of letters to then-Taoiseach Jack Lynch. Wow, the women didn't waste any time trying to seduce a powerful man once they got their hands on the contraceptives, says you, trying to annoy the feminists. Mary lit a candle in Aras an Uachtarain for Irish people forced to emigrate. The message was simple. We can't even afford a lamp. Don't come home.


Back in the 1990s, the PDs looked like they might change the country forever. They disbanded in 2008 saying, "We've done all we can to introduce a culture of enterprise and self-sufficiency in Ireland. It's time now for us to live off our ministerial pensions". They left some legacy. Ireland is the only country where a politician promising tax cuts is greeted with, "Jesus, no thanks, that didn't go well at all the last time".


Gay famously unfurled a condom on his finger during a 1980s episode of The Late Late Show. It certainly shocked a lot of Irish people. "I thought you were supposed to place it on your penis. Sure, it's no wonder I have 14 kids." One thing you never saw discussed on The Late Late Show back then was the host's relationship with his wife, Kathleen Watkins. That's understandable, really. We just weren't ready to contemplate the whole area of Gay marriage. Sorry.


Nell was one of the Irish feminists who took the train to Belfast in 1971 and arrived back with loads of condoms. Condoms were known as French Letters at the time, because the French were seen as filthy perverts who didn't want to have a child every time they had sex. Some say that Nell's trip marked the start of a more grown-up approach to condoms. We say that everyone in 1980s Ireland called them rubber johnnies.

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