Conviction politician whose patriotism was defined by her faith

Sat, Dec 24, 2011, 00:00

ALICE GLENN:THE FORMIDABLE former Fine Gael TD Alice Glenn, who has died aged 83, was a staunch upholder of traditional values whose politics were rooted in concepts of “family, faith and motherland”.

Arthur Griffith and Daniel O’Connell were the two historical figures she most admired while, more recently, she was inspired by Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher.

Glenn was a member of the World Anti-Communist League and in the 1980s supported the CIA-backed Contras against Nicaragua’s elected government.

Her political convictions and moral perspective eventually led her to part company with a “once great party, now going down the road to depravity and defiance of God’s law”. In time she came to find comfort in the legacy of Fianna Fáil founder Éamon de Valera.

“Thank God for Dev and what he has done,” she said. “Thank God for his Constitution and its moral values; what he did was right.”

Born Alice Duffy in 1927, she was the eldest of 10 children in a family who lived at Usher’s Quay, Dublin. Her father was a motor mechanic and on her mother’s side there were generations of coopers.

Her childhood was happy even though, at times, her family struggled to make ends meet. She attended the Convent of Mercy, Stanhope Street, but did not complete her education. Instead, in order to supplement the family income, she went to work in a tailoring firm.

The Dickensian conditions and poor rates of pay appalled her and she persuaded her fellow workers to join the Garment Workers’ Union which resulted in immediate improvements.

In later life Glenn was unable to recall whether or not she had joined the union herself.

She next set up a dressmaking business with her sister. They based their designs on the dresses and gowns to be seen in the Hollywood films of the day and the business quickly became a success.

She met and married William (Bill) Glenn, an Air Corps cadet who rose to the rank of brigadier-general and became general officer commanding the Air Corps.

In 1973 she was selected by Fine Gael as a Dáil candidate for Dublin Central. She failed to be elected but established a power base that enabled her to win a seat on Dublin City Council the following year.

Having stood unsuccessfully in the 1977 general election, she finally secured election to Dáil Éireann in 1981. However, that government, led by Garret FitzGerald, fell in January 1982 when its budget was defeated.

Glenn lost her seat in the subsequent election which resulted in Fianna Fáil’s return to power. However, with that government also falling quickly, another election was called for November 1982 and she returned to the Dáil.

She was proud of being elected in her own right without any family connections to ease her way.

Much to the annoyance of the Fine Gael leadership, she strongly supported the anti-abortion amendment to the Constitution in 1983. Declaring abortion to be “the most important issue to come before the nation since the foundation of the State”, she expressed her complete confidence in the electorate to make the right choice.

The preservation of the traditional family unit was a principal concern. She espoused the “Judaeo-Christian ethic based on the God-given tradition of eternal law” as opposed to the “humanist vision which rejects God and traditional values”.

For her, the central question of the 1980s was which of these competing moral views of society and family would prevail.

In 1985 she opposed the Children’s (Care and Protection) Bill asserting that it had “its origins in pressure groups such as the Council of Civil Liberties, Children First, Cherish and social workers’ groups, very many of which were opposed to the pro-life amendment, support contraceptives, divorce, sex education and multi-denominational schools”.

She campaigned vigorously against the government’s proposal in the 1986 referendum to remove the constitutional prohibition on divorce. Women voting for divorce, she famously said, was like turkeys voting for Christmas.

On being taken to task for lacking compassion for people whose marriages had failed, she said: “It wasn’t me who said that what God has joined together, let no man pull asunder; it was Christ.”

After the rejection of the government proposal, she identified as “enemies of the people” most of the political parties, the media, trade union spokesmen, women’s groups and the “leadership of most of the churches with the exception of the Catholic Church”.

Fine Gael rejected her views and, rather than be expelled from the party, she resigned. An unsuccessful independent candidate in the 1987 election, she afterwards wrote to Charles Haughey congratulating him on Fianna Fáil’s success: “I wish your victory had been more complete . . . but things can only improve from now on.”

Glenn was twice chairwoman of the Dublin City Council Housing Committee (1977-79 and 1980-81), was deputy mayor in 1987-88 and also served as chairwoman of the Eastern Health Board. She was the first woman in 270 years to become a member of the Dublin Port and Docks Board.

She was an avid reader, enjoyed entertaining at home and was known for her pleasant singing voice.

Alice Glenn: born December 17th, 1927; died December 16th, 2011.