The National Coalition and Social Reform, 1973-77

Copy of article cover  (In possession of author)
Copy of article cover
(In possession of author)

The 1970s was a time of crisis internationally, when governments struggled to cope with rising inflation and public indebtedness in the aftermath of the first oil shock. It was also a period of social change, of demands for divorce and abortion, and second-wave feminism campaigned for greater rights for women. But as many of the contributors to The shock of the global have shown, amidst the political, social and economic turmoil, there was development and transformation. Ireland was not isolated from many of these trends that marked the 1970s. This article is concerned with the Fine Gael-Labour government of 1973 to 1977, in particular with the social reform agenda pursued by a coalition of one party (Fine Gael) that had advocated a ‘Just Society’ in the 1960s, and another (Labour) that had declared that the seventies would be socialist. They presented themselves at the 1973 general election as the socially progressive parties in the political system, attempting to outflank Fianna Fáil, which, in contrast, emphasised the Northern Ireland security question during the campaign. As the National Coalition grappled with fiscal expansion and the effects of stagflation, important changes occurred in the realm of social policy. Legislation affecting the status of women, recognising the female heads of household and offering support to families of physically and mentally disabled children were all indicators of change. But while these policies often reflected demand for change from sections of society, the debate that surrounded them pointed to a continuing conservatism. This article examines the conditions that allowed for the coalition’s formation, the governing parties’ priorities, factors that influenced policy formulation, and the reception and consequences of those decisions.

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This is the introduction to my newly published article – Towards a ‘modern progressive society’: the National Coalition and social reform, 1973-77′ – in Irish Historical Studies (xxxviii, no. 151, May 2013, pp 457-75). It is taken from my forthcoming book, A Just Society for Ireland? You can read my full article IHS here.

Volume xxxviii of Irish Historical Studies is a special edition that looks at Ireland since the 1960s. It has its origins in a conference that I co-organised with Dr Kevin O’Sullivan (NUI Galway) and Professor Brian Girvin (University of Glasgow) in November 2010. A day-long conference, Ireland Since 1966: New Perspectives was the first gathering to explore new historical perspectives on Ireland since 1966 and the issues involved in their construction. Broadly inter-disciplinary in its approach, it brought together established and upcoming scholars from across Britain and Ireland to examine that period under a number of themes, including – though not limited to – the Irish political system, Europe, Northern Ireland, globalisation, economics, foreign policy, women and gender, social change, the arts, culture, and the media. The conference explored issues that have not normally been dealt with in the conventional historiography, but which continue to carry a contemporary resonance. You can view the programme here.

Brian Girvin, who edited the special edition of IHS, has uploaded an extended version of the introduction over on his blog, Crooked Timber.

Published by Dr Ciara Meehan

Reader in History at the University of Hertfordshire.

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