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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‘Always say yes’: Women on Air / Keelin Shanley Event

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‘We need more good women on air’ ~ Keelin Shanley, RTÉ Broadcaster

On 19 June, Radisson Blu at Golden Lane played host to the latest Women on Air event.  It was an entertaining, informative and, overall, enjoyable evening.  And I know that I definitely left with some really useful, practical tips and plenty to think about.  If I took only one piece of advice away from the event, it’s that you should always say ‘yes’ if you get that phone call.  Below is some of the other fantastic advice we received from WOA member Claire O’Connell and RTÉ’s Keelin Shanley, and some thoughts on how these connect to my own experiences of contributing to the media.  

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Book Cover: A Just Society for Ireland? 1964-1987

The production process for my new book – A Just Society for Ireland?  1964-87 – is progressing smoothly.  I recently received the finalised cover from my publisher, Palgrave Macmillan.  All going well, the book will be launched in November this year.  To view the cover and contents page, see below.

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‘From the Archives’: History Hub in Collaboration with UCD Archives


Image from is a forum for historians to contribute to current policy debates and a media-hub to access the latest in academic research via podcasts.  It is also an on-line resource to view documents from UCD Archives.  

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Declan Costello’s Just Society: A Fine Gael Symbol of Progress or of Division?

Declan Costello (By kind permission of St Michael's House)
Declan Costello
(By kind permission of St Michael’s House)

Declan Costello died on 6 June 2011.  Profiles of the former Fine Gael TD following his death made continuous references to his Just Society document, published as the Fine Gael manifesto for the 1965 general election.  In his tribute, Taoiseach and Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny described the document as ‘an initiative that helped to modernise the party and broaden its appeal’.  Various media sources echoed the opinion that the Just Society had made an important impact.  Hugh O’Connell’s assessment for claimed that the document ‘would define the party for some 20 years’, while Deaglán de Bréadún writing in The Irish Times described Towards a Just Society as Costello’s ‘monument’.  From these, and other tributes, it is clear that many perceive the Just Society as an important document in Irish political history.  It came to be identified by Fine Gael as a key moment in the party’s history, and when their old website contained a history feature, the Just Society era was given its own, albeit brief, section.  The praise that surrounded Costello’s initiative in the tributes paid after his death masks the fact, however, that Fine Gael was not united on the proposals in the 1960s, that the policy had faded away as a priority by the 1970s, and that, while it may well be remembered by members, it was not a consideration in policy formulation over the two decades that followed its introduction.  It is reasonable to argue that the Just Society became an inspiring slogan, a useful reference.

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‘The Riordans’, Popular Culture and Negotiating Social Change

Did you watch RTÉ’s The Riordans? If so, can you help with a research project? Details below.

In my last post, I wrote about some of the ways that the lives of women changed as the 1970s progressed. One of the topics discussed was the legalisation of the sale of contraceptives. As I mentioned in that post, it was a divisive topic.

One woman wrote to the Department of the Taoiseach in October 1973 expressing the view,

We are not going to have contraception, even if it means not getting the six counties. They are less important than preserving our society from being debauched to pander to a minority.

That same month, another woman reminded the Taoiseach that (in her opinion)

Contraception, in any form, is a grave sin.

Three years later, similar letters were still reaching the Taoiseach’s office. Mrs Deane of Wexford was adamant that

The spiritual life is more important. Eternity awaits us.

But if policymakers, politicians and certain sections of society were reluctant to confront the reality of a changing Ireland, it was not always possible to escape it. Television played an important role in this regard.


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1970s Ireland: A Good Place for Women?

Over the last week, a particular newspaper article has repeatedly popped up on twitter.  It was published in December 2012 in the Galway Advertiser, but I don’t actually recall seeing much about it at the time.  However, I’m not surprised that it has been so frequently tweeted and re-tweeted.  The headline alone – ‘Ten things an Irish Woman Could not Do in 1970’ – was enough to pique the reader’s curiosity.  The list of ten ways in which Irish women were discriminated against was accompanied by a brief ‘how it changed’ section.  Screen Shot 2013-06-17 at 12.36.53Given the obvious interest that this article provoked, and because the position of women in 1970s Ireland features quite prominently in my forthcoming book, I decided to write this post to offer some further insight into how change was effected.  I’ve chosen to focus on three areas: equal pay, contraception and jury service.  This is already a lengthy post, and to do justice to all ten topics would require a forum other than a blog.

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1920s America: The Lowering of Morals and Raising of Hemlines

(Click for photo source)

This short post originally appeared on the now defunct Irish history blog, Pue’s Occurrences. At the time, I was prompted to write it after an episode of Strictly Come Dancing. Odd, I know, but then inspiration can come from the strangest of places. That night, viewers were transported back to the 1920s through fast-paced dancing, flapper dresses and the sounds of ragtime jazz. More recently, with so much discussion of the latest film adaptation of The Great Gatsby, I was reminded of the post once more, and I decided to dig it out from the Pue’s archives. If you’re fascinated by the Charleston, flappers and the general loosening of morals in 1920s America, read on.

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Podcast on Declan Costello, Fine Gael and the Just Society


You can listen to the full podcast here.

Declan Costello, son of former Taoiseach John A Costello, was first elected to the Dáil in 1951 for the Fine Gael party. A representative of the working-class constituency of Dublin North-West, he witnessed the effects of unemployment, emigration and relative poverty. This experience influenced him to formulate an eight-point plan designed to create a more just society in Ireland. However, he faced great difficulty in convincing Fine Gael to adopt his proposals. A traditionally conservative party that supported private enterprise, elements of Fine Gael were uneasy with Costello’s plan, particularly those aspects that advocated greater state involvement. An intense internal debate ensued.

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The Rise and Fall of Fianna Fáil documentary

Ursula Halligan interviewed me for her three-part documentary, The Rise and Fall of Fianna Fáil, which was broadcast on TV3. I make a brief appearance in the first episode in which I talk about Fianna Fáil’s decision to end its policy of abstention from parliament in 1927. You can watch the episode in full here.

1920s Election Posters, Campaign Daily contribution

I recorded this slot for RTÉ’s Campaign Daily series during the 2011 General Election in Ireland.  It looks at the history of election posters in the 1920s, which contrast significantly with the candidate-centred posters used today.

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1932 lesson: future matters most to voters, The Irish Times

Fianna Fáil first came to power 75 years ago today to replace a party ‘out of touch’ with the people, writes Ciara Meehan

The first Fianna Fáil government was formed 75 years ago today. The party’s victory had brought to an end 10 years of Cumann na nGaedheal government. It is interesting that on the 75th anniversary of one of the most momentous elections in Irish history, Bertie Ahern and Fianna Fáil will ask the electorate to return them to office for a third consecutive time.

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