What has been achieved since the appointment for the first time of a Minister for Women's Affairs?

In December 1982, Fine Gael TD Nuala Fennell was appointed as Minister of State for Women's Affairs and Family Law. Her background as a campaigner for women’s rights meant that expectations for her in this role were high. However, many are disappointed with the inaction and lack of support for the role, a position without a place on the cabinet and no budget.

The appointment of Nuala Fennell to the office was greeted enthusiastically as a recognition for women’s issues to be heard at government level. It was seen as an acknowledgement of the work already done by her and the women’s movement.  The initial optimism at her appointment has for many now turned to disappointment.

Pat Brennan, editor of Women’s Pages in the Irish Press Newspaper, feels that the minister has not delivered on the promises she made when initially appointed. 

She’s raised enormous expectations among women and yet can’t deliver on those expectations.

Margaret Walsh, Chairwoman for the Council for Status of Women recognises that there were limitations to the position in that Nuala Fennell did not have a position in the cabinet. She held a junior minister position with no real department and no legislative power or budget.

In the context of a government position, it is really a very weak one.

There is general disappointment with the achievements of the ministry to date. Despite this, the minister has met with women throughout Ireland, has attended meetings, held seminars, and issued information pamphlets. However, in the key area of legislation, the minister has to date produced nothing. Most of the promises made have yet to be fulfilled. These include:

  • Rights for both parties to family home, assets and income
  • State registration of playgroups and crèches
  • Free dental and optical benefit
  • Financial support for women in the phone
  • A major study on the needs of rural women
  • A women’s unit in the health education bureau
  • Wider use of EEC social fund for women returning to work
  • Equality officers in all semi-state bodies
  • Abolition of dependent domicile
  • Abolition of the state of illegitimacy

Why has so little been achieved by the Ministry?

One of the main problems is the uncertain terms of reference of the office.

No one seems to know exactly what the job is.

Maire Geoghegan Quinn, Fianna Fáil TD, says that as the department itself has no particular role this means that the minister has no particular responsibility for any area.

This episode of 'Women’s Programme’ was broadcast on 29 March 1985. The reporter is Marian Finucane.