Wednesday 15 August 2018

'For me, it was about murdering a foetus - now I've gone full circle'

The Dail's sorority of 1982 recall the debate on the Eighth and look forward to May's vote, writes Maeve Sheehan

Fine Gael women TDs elected in 1982, back row: Myra Barry, Monica Barnes, Nuala Fennell, Avril Doyle and Mary Flaherty, front row: Nora Owen, Alice Glenn, Gemma Hussey and Madeleine Taylor-Quinn
Fine Gael women TDs elected in 1982, back row: Myra Barry, Monica Barnes, Nuala Fennell, Avril Doyle and Mary Flaherty, front row: Nora Owen, Alice Glenn, Gemma Hussey and Madeleine Taylor-Quinn
Maeve Sheehan

Maeve Sheehan

Thirty-five years ago, 14 women gathered together on the plinth of Leinster House to celebrate their election as TDs in a political world dominated by men. They arrived there via different paths: some from the women's movement, some were from political families, some were activists.

Soon after the main picture above was taken, in November 1982, they were plunged into one of the most divisive political campaigns in modern times about one of the most enduring social issues.

It was a time of economic hardship, political instability and social conservatism. According to Monica Barnes, a Fine Gael backbencher at the time, the 1970s brought EU membership, equality legislation and a thriving women's movement, but ended with renewed religious fervour inspired by the Pope's visit. "A huge number of right-wing Catholics felt that we were all going to hell in a wheelbarrow," she says.

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