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New Left Review I/166, November-December 1987


Evelyn Mahon

Women’s Rights and Catholicism in Ireland

To judge by results in legislation and social progress, one might well think that Ireland has never had a Women’s Liberation Movement. It is true that in theory women now have equal pay and equal entitlements under social welfare, and that children’s allowances are paid directly to mothers. Yet these advances have been partially offset by the discontinuation of tax allowances for children and other reductions in total family income. The participation of married women in the labour force remains the lowest in Europe, while women in general are still horizontally and vertically segregated at work and receive an average industrial wage much lower than that of their male counterparts. In the field of marital and sexual life, it may at last be possible to purchase non-medical contraceptives (condoms) in most of the larger towns, but the Constitution continues to prohibit divorce and has now even incorporated the statutory ban on abortion. How are we to explain the fact that Ireland has resisted modernizing influences and become, as it were, the last bastion of the traditional ‘protection’ or enslavement of women in the family? Structurally, the Republic of Ireland appears fixed at the bottom of the developed or the top of the underdeveloped countries. [1] A. M. M. Hoogvelt, The Third World in Global Development, London 1982, p. 20. But if we remain within a broad European framework, there can be no doubt that the continuing hold of the Catholic Church is the starting point for any analysis of the peculiar position of Irish women.

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