Former minister Nuala Fennell dies


The death has taken place of Nuala Fennell, a leading campaigner for women’s rights in the 1970s who became a prominent Fine Gael politician in the 1980s.

She served as Minister of State with responsibility for Women’s Affairs and Family Law Reform in Garret FitzGerald’s 1982-87 Government which introduced a range of reforms designed to improve the position of women.

Ms Fennell, who was 74, retired from politics in 1992 and ran a successful public relations company.

Expressing her sadness at Ms Fennel’s untimely death tonight  the Minister for Health and former Tanaiste, Mary Harney, paid tribute to Ms Fennell, saying she had been a tremendous inspiration to her and to other young women.

“Although she was on the other side of the political divide she was a terrific role model and had encouraged women to get involved in politics,” said Ms Harney.

A native of Dublin Nuala Fennell first came to prominence in 1972 as the founder member of the AIM group which was established to look after the interests of deserted wives and established the first refuge for “battered women” in Dublin.

She was the first chair of Irish Women’s Aid in 1975 and an executive member of the Irish Council for the Status of Women.

Ms Fennell contested the 1977 general election as an Independent candidate but failed to be elected. She was one of a number of prominent campaigners for women’s rights who were attracted to Garret FitzGerald’s Fine Gael party in the late 1970s and she contested the first direct election to the European Parliament in 1979 as a candidate for the party in Dublin.

She was first elected to the Dáil for Dublin South in 1981 and held her seat in the two elections that took place during the following 18 months. At that stage Fine Gael had three seats in the constituency.

After the election of November, 1982 Ms Fennell was appointed as a junior Minister with responsibility for Women’s Affairs. She took a prominent role in campaigning for the introduction of divorce in the ill-fated first referendum on the issue in 1986.

The loss of that referendum was a blow for the Fine Gael-Labour Government which lost office the general election of the following year. Ms Fennell lost her Dáil seat but was elected to the Seanad.

She continued to be associated with women’s issues through her membership of the Oireachtas Committee on Women’s rights and was re-elected to the Dáil in 1989. She became a party spokesperson on Health.

Her decision to stand down from politics in 1992 came as a surprise to colleagues.

She then established a successful public relations and lobbying company called Political Communications.

Ms Fennell died at St Vincent’s Private Hospital today. She is survived by her husband Brian and three children, Jacqueline (Hall), Garrett and Amanda and grandchildren Ian, Eveline, Kate, James and Amelie.

The removal of the remains will take place on Thursday at 4.30 pm from St. Vincent’s University Hospital Mortuary Chapel to the Church of the Assumption, Dalkey arriving at 5.00 pm. The funeral will take place after 10.00 am Mass on Friday to Shanganagh Cemetery.