Legalising contraception


Sir, – John Horgan wrote an excellent Irishman’s Diary (July 24th) on the impact of Humanae Vitae in 1968, which maintained the Roman Catholic Church ban on contraception. However, Charles Haughey’s 1979 Family Planning Act did not prevent single people from obtaining contraception. It was made very difficult. In southern Ireland a doctor’s prescription was required before obtaining a condom in a pharmacy.

The legislation also restricted contraceptive use to “bona fide family planning purposes”. This odd, tautological stipulation bewildered everyone.

A failed 1974 Fine Gael-Labour government Bill did refuse contraception to single people. It was proposed to “make it unlawful for an unmarried person to purchase a contraceptive”. Those words were uttered on July 4th, 1974, in the Dáil by the then-minister for justice (note, not health) Patrick Cooney. He opposed those who argued that single people had a right of access to contraception: “I do not accept that there is any such right because that implies a right to fornicate and in my opinion there is no such natural right.”

The Bill fell after the then-taoiseach voted against it in a free vote, a firm intention the very Roman Catholic Liam Cosgrave had kept to himself. The 1974 fiasco is remembered today more for the dénouement than for the abject content of the measure.

It was even more timid than Haughey’s much-lampooned “Irish solution to an Irish problem”.

Just one organisation called in 1974 and in 1979 to restrict contraception to married people. That was the Church of Ireland, which also requested that the IUD be banned, as an “abortifacient”. – Yours, etc,


Faculty Head,

Journalism & Media,

Griffith College,

Dublin 8.