‘Intolerable intrusion’: The 1985 coverage of Majella Moynihan’s story
‘We would expect our ban-ghardaí to be moral in every way,’ GRA head said at the time
“The above drawing is an artist’s impression. Any resemblance to any real person is purely coincidental.” Photograph: The Irish Times, February 6th, 1985, p13
“An unmarried ban-gharda who had a baby last year is now awaiting the outcome of disciplinary proceedings taken against her under Garda Síochána,” reads a report on the front page of The Irish Times on Wednesday, February 6th, 1985.
The story, which was continued on page 13 of the edition, detailed the two charges against the recruit: “The first, in the language of the charge sheet, is that she did consort with Garda (blank), in and around a specific rural area, and as a result became pregnant by him ‘while a member of the Garda Síochána (unmarried).”
“The second is that she was delivered of an infant in (blank) Hospital, also ‘while a member of the Garda Síochána (unmarried).’”
The garda remained unnamed throughout The Irish Times’s coverage of the case at the time. This week, almost 35 years later, her full story came to light in an RTÉ Radio documentary.
Majella Moynihan was 22 when she was charged with the alleged breaches of Garda regulations. She told RTÉ that she gave birth to the baby, David, in Galway Regional Hospital in May 1984, and gave him up for adoption.
Born in Kanturk, Co Cork in 1962, Ms Moynihan joined An Garda Síochána in 1983. While training in Templemore she met another Garda recruit, with whom she had a previous relationship . The pair started seeing each other again and Ms Moynihan became pregnant.
Faced with dismissal for allegedly bringing discredit to the force, Ms Moynihan only kept her job at the intervention of the archbishop of Dublin, who feared firing her would lead to more gardaí travelling to England for abortions if they became pregnant outside of marriage. Ms Moynihan sought early retirement from the Garda in 1998, after 15 years’ service.
The Irish Times report at the time, written by Mary Maher, explains that Ms Moynihan’s acceptance of the charges led to an “unsworn inquiry”. The report says neither the “ban-gharda”, nor the male garda involved, had approached the Garda Representative Association (GRA) for assistance with the inquiry.
‘Moral in every way’
Jack Marrinan, then GRA general secretary, said about the first charge: “We certainly would not encourage our female members to think that this is a normal condition for them to get into, out of wedlock. We would expect our ban-ghardaí to be moral in every way and we would not think that their morals are always or necessarily their own private business.”
Mr Marrinan said the issue was not one of an unmarried garda becoming pregnant, but rather if by doing so “she brought discredit on the force”.
He said disciplinary action would be appropriate “only if circumstances suggested that her conduct brought discredit on the force or led to her reputation reflecting poorly on herself and her colleagues.”
On the second charge – that of delivering a baby – Mr Marrinan said: “It is ludicrous.”
The report mentions that Ms Moynihan was not the only garda to face such a challenge: “One woman was transferred following the birth of her baby to a location near her home, where arrangements were made to care for the baby while she continued working. In another one, a pregnant ban-gharda was instructed by her superior to marry the father of her child, but succeeded in resisting the instruction and retained her post.”
In a third case, Maher wrote, a recruit who was accepted to the force after an initial medical examination was dismissed after being called up several months later and discovered to be pregnant.
At the time, the Garda Press Office said that the official position on maternity leave was that gardaí were entitled to 14 weeks with full pay and a further four optional weeks without pay. It said “both married and unmarried members of the force had been on maternity leave.”
The following morning’s edition carried an update on the case – and apparent conclusion – on the bottom of the front page: “A caution for ban-gharda,” reads the headline of the piece – also written by Maher.
“ Disciplinary proceedings against the Dublin ban-gharda who had a baby last year have been concluded, it was learned last night,” reads the report. “The woman concerned has been cautioned.” The fact that the baby had been put up for adoption was not contained in the report.
The case of the male garda was “with the Department of Justice” at the time of the second story.
Speaking about the case of the “ban-gharda”, the vice-president of the GRA, Frank Mullen, said: “While accepting that standards must be maintained, I would hope that any ban- gharda finding herself pregnant out of wedlock would be treated with compassion and consideration.”
The news that the garda wouldn’t incur any disciplinary action was welcomed in many quarters, but the fact the discipline charges were brought in the first place was criticised heavily.
Mary Higgins, then information officer of single mothers’ support organisation Cherish, said the controversy showed that “the people who continue with their pregnancy become the focus for moral retribution. If she had terminated her pregnancy at an earlier stage no one would have been any the wiser.”
Ms Higgins said given the outcome of the abortion referendum after which a right to life for the unborn was inserted into the Constitution in 1983 with the eighth amendment, the case was “surely a double standard”.
The Women for Life group, in a statement, condemned the case as sexist and discriminatory. “The phrasing of the breach of discipline charge . . . implies that though her pregnancy in itself was apparently a breach of Garda discipline, its continuance and the subsequent delivery of her child compounded this breach. The veiled suggestion in the charge is obvious,” the group said.
A women’s committee of the Workers Party branded the saga “an intolerable intrusion into the private lives of citizens”.