Restrictions placed on women in workplace in earlier era would be considered ‘unbeliveable’ today, says McGrath

Role of civil servants in fight for gender equality acknowledged as history of CPSU launched

The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Michael McGrath has said many young Irish people would find the restrictions previously placed on women in the workplace “unbelievable” but paid tribute to the role civil servants and their representatives played in transforming the landscape.

Mr McGrath was speaking at the launch of Fighting for the Clerical Grades: A history of the Civil, Public and Services Union 1922-2017 by Martin Maguire, published by the Institute of Public Administration.

The union, Mr McGrath said, had represented a huge proportion of women in the civil and public service in no small part because women were restricted for many years to working in the grades it organised. The CPSU, now part of Forsa, had fought “for equal rights for women and also for young people. Advocating for gender equality was one of the great challenges the CPSU tackled and the progress that it made is clear.”

Eoin Ronayne, whose retirement as Deputy General Secretary of Forsa was also marked at the launch, had been the last general secretary of the CPSU and said the union had played a key role in the campaign for equality from the foundation of the State a century ago.

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Eventually, he said, “it took the Government to the courts in Ireland and in Europe, winning some of the highest court awards in the history of the state and of Europe.”

The author of the book warned that a valuable archive relating to the history of unions and other organisations important to the development of modern Ireland will be lost if urgent work is not undertaken to preserve the data contained on websites established over the last 20 years or so.

The book was possible, Mr Maguire said, because people committed the minutes of so many meetings and other events to paper over the years but the move to digital records had left important aspects of many organisations’ archives vulnerable to being lost.

“It is generally believed that nothing is lost on the web,” said Mr Maguire, “but that is not true. There have been more than 330,000 websites registered with the .ie domain. The information contained on them will be lost if they are not properly archived and just 3,000 of them have been archived so far. That’s 3,000 out of more than 330,000.

“We are all aware of what happened at the Four Courts in 1922 and unless measures are taken now, a similar catastrophe will be experienced by future generations in the form of Error 404 messages; it’s gone, we can’t find it, it’s gone forever.”

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone is Industry and Employment Correspondent at The Irish Times