The judge ordered that she be sedated and then brought back to testify. She gave evidence in a daze, her head bobbing off the microphone. The judge asked that her friends keep a suicide watch on her that night. The country was sickened, and showed support for Joanne Hayes by sending her flowers and Mass cards. When the inquisition finally ended, the country rapidly changed, by constitutional vote, and a New Ireland came into being.
Never again, the changes showed, would one woman be held to blame for the ills that had beset Ireland. Or, at least, never again would an exclusively male panel of men sit in judgment of one woman. The IWLM demand for the legalisation of contraception had met with popular support, and opposition from State and church. The sale or advertisement of contraceptives was illegal and punishable by penal servitude. The legal prohibition on married women engaging in paid work outside the home had been lifted in exchange for massive European funding, though the enforced entry of women into the paid workforce was treated with reluctance by business, trades unions and parliament.
At the time of the ending of the marriage bar in , less than 10 per cent of married women were in the workforce, and single women were mostly confined to work in the unskilled service sector. Still, the appetite among women for freedom from the kitchen sink was growing. There had been growing unease at State-sanctioned punishment of those women who had incurred State or church displeasure. The punishment had been aimed mainly at single mothers, whose children were deemed illegitimate in law, an official sanction of bastardy that the Catholic Church relished. It was normal to incarcerate single mothers in Magdalene homes run by the religious, usually until their children were adopted, but often for life.
Thousands of Irishwomen, in succeeding generations since the foundation of the State, had thus been spirited away and forced to put their children up for adoption.
Others escaped to England and came home childless. This seems medieval now. It was normal right up to the legal crucifixion of Joanne Hayes, who had defied sanction by giving birth to and rearing her first child at home, and holding down a paid job. It seems ridiculous now that divorce was unobtainable in Ireland until , though marital breakdown and separation had been steadily increasing.
Even more puzzling, on face of it, is that the IWLM did not include a demand for divorce among the six demands published in their initial manifesto. It is not that we lacked courage.
It is, simply, that the demand did not occur to us in Catholic Ireland, the Constitution of which expressed State approval of the special position of the Catholic Church. We had little or no idea how a woman who was forbidden the right to work might survive, usually with children, after marital breakdown. There was no welfare payment for separated wives.
by Steven Jay Schneider
Women in financial need relied on the discretionary judgment of a Poor Law Officer. There was no knowledge, much less recognition, even among us, of the extent of wife battering in the home. There were no refuges for such women. There was grim stoic acceptance of the adage that if you make your bed, you must lie in it.
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Romance and sex had little to do with marriage, within which, as the late Nuala Fennell put it, women faced a nightmare of unremitting pregnancy. Six children per marriage was the norm, often exceeded. In the heyday of the s, the laws against Irishwomen were so self-evidently silly that taking aim at them was like shooting fish in a barrel. Then the pope came. The Irish lived easily with the contradiction of adoring him while simultaneously breaking his edicts.
So did some priests — an effective underground network made known which clerics would give absolution for what were, officially, mortal sins. It was in the aftermath of the papal visit that civil hell was visited on Catholic Ireland in the form of a constitutional referendum on abortion. Scarcely had John Paul departed these shores than a tiny group of right-wing, ultra-conservative Catholic lay people, mostly medical practitioners, visited parliament to announce that abortion could and would be introduced into Ireland via a loophole in the Constitution.
The fight to save fertilised eggs was on. The country was put through a crash course on such hitherto unknown facts as the existence of zygotes. In the space of two years, three governments came and went. The Constitution was amended in November to give the fertilised egg a right to life that was equal to that of the women in whose body it was growing. The era of the unborn was upon us. Joanne Hayes conceived during that time of perfervid dictat.
Her baby died after it. The men were sent to find out what had happened to the fertilised egg they had spent years theoretically defending. After they had filleted her to their satisfaction, the judge pronounced that she had hit her newborn baby with a bath brush, after giving birth, to make sure that it was dead. One cannot, of course, kill a dead baby, but damage to Hayes was done by the judicial implication that she wanted the child dead. A measure of his temperament and attitudes to women in the Kerry Babies case is the judicial pronouncement made at its end by Justice Lynch.
What have the women of Ireland got to do with this case? Why no public assemblies to support her in her embarrassment and agony? Is it because she married Jeremiah Locke and thus got in the way of the foolish hopes and ambitions of Joanne Hayes? A year-old girl, raped and impregnated by an acquaintance, was brought to England by her parents to secure an abortion. The parents asked Irish police if DNA from the aborted foetus might be used to secure a conviction against the rapist.
The State moved instantly to obtain a court order, which demanded that the parents return to Ireland, with the pregnant child, or face charges and possible imprisonment if they procured an abortion for her outside the jurisdiction.
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Frightened, they brought their pregnant, suicidal daughter home to face her doom. In face of absolute citizen outrage against internment of the child in Ireland, the Supreme Court convened and found that abortion could be allowed when the life of the mother is threatened by suicide. This cruelty to pregnant women obtains even where it is medically certain that a diseased foetus will not live seconds beyond birth.
In the wake of the X case and in exchange for a multimillion injection of funds from the EU, the people voted to allow freedom of travel abroad for an abortion, and freedom of information about abortion at home. That EU funding is generally acknowledged to have given birth to the Celtic Tiger era.
Finding a woman to blame
The fate of eggs that are fertilised in Ireland and then exported troubles the Irish not at all. As ever, uncomfortable problems are exported to England and a blind Irish eye is turned to them. The men of medicine disgraced themselves again in the course of yet another referendum to refine and impose further limitations on the original amendment on fertilised eggs. Under questioning from a now less subservient media, they admitted that their real preference was that termination should be allowed in cases where a damaged foetus would not long survive birth. The proposed amendment failed.
The situation of Irishwomen is not, however, bleak. Where contraception is concerned, the change is startling. Where once, any reference to contraceptive practice was banned, television now carries happily and casually brazen narrative ads from the State-funded Crisis Pregnancy Agency.
There were times when we all believed she had twins? The treatment of Joanne Hayes, who stood accused of no crime, was a model for Irish male attitudes to woman. She was caught up in a time of rapid social change between two Irelands, an earlier Ireland in which the Catholic Church had held a moral monopoly and a new liberal and secular Ireland.
Nell McCafferty is an Irish journalist, playwright, civil rights campaigner and feminist. Ebook is available on Apple ibooks.
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