Noel Browne describes how his early life shaped an advocacy for health reform and improving the rights of mothers and children.

Dr Noel Browne celebrates his 70th birthday on 20 December. To mark the occasion, 'Today Tonight' profile the doctor, politician and advocate for social justice.

Introducing the programme presenter Brian Farrell describes Dr Noel Browne as "a political phenomenon", one of Ireland’s most controversial politicians, central to the row over the Mother and Child Scheme, and TD for three different political parties.

Noel Browne was appointed Minister for Health in 1948 by Clann na Poblachta leader Sean MacBride. However, the alliance ended badly breaking the Clann na Poblachta Party, and plunged post-war Ireland into a church state confrontation.

A career that began in controversy was seldom out of trouble. Noel Browne was not an easy politician.

Dr Noel Browne talks about his impoverished childhood and how these early years shaped his future.

Both his parents died quite young having lived on their entire lives on the edge of poverty and continuously faced problems with health, housing and education.

I was one of tens of thousands, people who had the talent but simply because Rome, the Roman Catholic Church, doesn’t believe in state interventions, state support for education, for health, for old age, for housing, and all these sort of things.

His mother was encouraged to have more children than she could possibly manage which killed her. The seven children were then separated and only two survived all of them having suffered from tuberculosis (TB).

Just before his mother died, the family made the move to England. Knowing that she was about to die, his mother brought the family to England to avoid having her children sent to workhouses in Ireland upon her death. His sister then took up the mantle as head of the family but she too died shortly after.

Through a series of accidents, Noel Browne was the lucky one and through the kindness of some more well off people he was sent to an expensive private school where he received his education.

I had a wonderful life compared to the others.

He describes how luck came his way when another group of strangers funded further education for him with the Jesuits and then later at Trinity College Dublin where he became a doctor.

Noel Browne was the lucky one in his family. Both his mother and his brother were buried in pauper’s graves. His brother, who had a number of physical disabilities had ended up in a workhouse. He endured a number of experimental operations by surgeons and died as a result.

It is against this background of poverty, illness and neglect that Noel became an advocate for the rights of mothers and children, and also of the unwanted child.

'Today Tonight: Noel Browne 70 Years On’ was broadcast on 18 December 1985. The programme is presented by Brian Farrell and the reporter is Pat Cox.