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Dublin: 14 °C Tuesday 2 September, 2014

Letter from an Irish housewife to Charlie Haughey

The head of the Irish Housewives’ Union wrote in 1982 to denounce “typical career women”, family planning clinics, sex education and mistresses.

Housewives' favourite? Úna Bean Mhic Mhathúna's 1982 missive was addressed to then Taoiseach Charles Haughey.
Housewives' favourite? Úna Bean Mhic Mhathúna's 1982 missive was addressed to then Taoiseach Charles Haughey.
Image: PA/PA Archive/Press Association Images

IN THE EARLY 1980s, the “Women at Home” report was presented to the Irish government on the situation and concerns for women working within the home. It had been carried out by the Council for the Status of Women, as commissioned by the government.

This letter, just released in State papers under the 30-year rule, shows that not all “housewives” were happy with the findings. Written by Úna Bean Mhic Mhathúna, Secretary of the Irish Housewives’ Union, it denounced the Council, elements of the report, so-called “career women”, family planning clinics, sex education and more.

It is worth noting that Úna Bean Mhic Mhathúna was already a known entity to the Government. In 1972, she helped found Mná na hÉireann in 1972 which vowed to oppose “the legalisation of contraception, abortion and divorce.” This archive-rich post on the Comeheretome.com blog explores her background.

In this letter, addressed to then-Taoiseach Charles Haughey and dated 5 July 1982, she:

  • Claimed the findings of the Women at Home report were void as it was compiled by “a professional career woman”.
  • Described the Council for the Status of Women as “a collection of professional career women, some of whom occasionally play at housework and just as occasionally are part-time mothers“.
  • Alleged that the Council had not consulted with the “housewives/mothers of the nation whom they obviously considered too dumb and stupid to be able to decide for themselves” and what trips they did take around some Irish towns and Dublin suburbs were merely meetings with “their own cronies”.
  • Claimed that a request for childcare facilities was, “A typical carrer (sic) women’s demand, this. It simply means that they want to dump their one/two kids on the taxpayer”. Mothers do not want to “farm out” their children to “strangers”, she claimed.
  • Claimed that, despite the findings of the report, “there is no call from housewives” for provision for married women’s domicile, in which wives would be granted the right to an independent domicile. “Ordinary housewives DO NOT KNOW ABOUT or UNDERSTAND this issue,” she wrote.
  • Denounced the notion that there was any call from housewives for family planning clinics, post-abortion counselling services (“They are AGAINST abortion.”), sex education classes, having the contraceptive pill “pushed” on them, nor did they want pre-menstrual advice clinics – “straight from the infamous Wellwoman Clinic this one – disgusting – and never, never brought up by our decent women.
  • Said housewives/mothers believed that “married career women should be phased out of the Public Sector”.
  • Denounced the thought of “extra monies for mistresses” (with reference to State provision for children born out of wedlock). She wrote: “The only people discriminating against these children in this country are their irresponsible selfish parents who refuse to make a commitment to each other for the sake of their children.”
  • Requested “an office in Dublin and some paid help” for the Irish Housewives’ Union, “in order to work for housewives and to represent their needs to the Government”.
  • Asked that the Union be funded to conduct their own report.

The State papers note that Bean Mhic Mhathúna rang the Department of Labour to complain that her letter had been forwarded there (it had a co-ordinating role in the review of the report) and had become “quite abusive”. It noted that the Council of Women had contacted her but that “she wanted nothing to do with them”.

This is Úna Bean Mhic Mhathúna’s letter in full:

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This was the note on the reply from the Department of Taoiseach:

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And this was the actual letter response to Bean Mhic Mhathúna from Seán Aylward, then Private Secretary to the Taoiseach:

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1978: Ireland “laughing stock of progressive world” over divorce and contraceptives”>

Read more of TheJournal.ie’s discoveries from the newly-released 1982 State papers>

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