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'A towering figure in the struggle': Tributes after death of women's rights campaigner Sylvia Meehan

“Her death marks the passing of a remarkable woman of whom it can truly be said: ‘She made a difference’.”

TRIBUTES HAVE BEEN paid to veteran women’s rights activist Sylvia Meehan who died this morning, aged 89, after a long illness. 

She had begun her career as a teacher and became involved in the ASTI union – later becoming vice president.

She also served as chair of the women’s committee of the ICTU, as first chairperson and CEO of the Employment Equality Agency and in her later years as President of the Senior Citizen’s Parliament.

Sylvia Meehan 1929-2018 b As a student in UCD, she was the first woman to win the Literary and Historical Society's gold medal for oratory in 1949.

Her husband Dennis Meehan, who had been station supervisor for Radio Eireann, died in 1969. 

At her last public engagement in 2014, when she received an award for professional excellence at Griffith College in Dublin, she said the issue of gender pay inequality first hit home with her when she became a widow with five children.

In her speech, she said that her generation had “put a lot of things right in this country”.

“We are passing on the baton to you, the younger generation,” she told the journalism students. “There is still a lot wrong and it will be your job to help put it right.”

“I hope what happened to Savita Halapanaver never happens to another woman in this country. I hope a women who may come here in future as a refugee is never again forced to give birth against her will.

File Photo Sylvia Meehan Has Died. End. Sylvia was described as a fearless negotiator during her time working with trade unions. Source: Eamonn Farrell

“I hope you will ensure in your chosen fields in journalism, photography or the law that fairness becomes not just a principle but an abiding reality. If we are to keep going forwards, you must be alert or we will start to slip backwards.

I am merely a figurehead for a generation that is passing its lessons on to the next generation, and that is you.

She is survived by her five children, John, Niall, Sarah, Richard and Rosa.

Her son Niall said today that she was a “fighter for women’s rights and equality” and she was “much-loved by her friends, relations and family”.

‘A remarkable woman’

General secretary of the ICTU Patricia Kind described Sylvia Meehan as a “towering figure in the struggle for equality in Ireland”.

“Her pioneering work paved the way for a generation of feminists. Sylvia believed that woman must demand their place at the negotiating table and encouraged greater participation by women in the trade union movement, in civic society and in politics.”

Source: Eamonn Farrell

King said Sylvia in her union roles was a fearless negotiator and “helped shape the equality agenda despite considerable opposition from vested interest groups”.

At the EEA, for example, she took a strong stance in favour of LGBT rights at a time when it was not popular to do so. In recent years she was concerned with the rights of migrant workers and she was a consistent champion of travellers. Sylvia was very clear that true equality could not be one-dimensional.

“Her death marks the passing of a remarkable woman of whom it can truly be said: ‘She made a difference’,” King said.

Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonaldn also extended her condolences to the woman’s family.

“As a fighter for women’s rights and equality, Sylvia was a leader and an inspiration. Her work will never be forgotten.”

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