Sep 29th, 2010 by Conor McCabe
DCTV programme on the seminal Irish feminist journal, Banshee, which was produced by Irish Women United in the 1970s.
Contributions from Anne Speed, who was a member of Irish Women United, and from Clare Butler and Angela Coraccio of RAG (Revolutionary Anarchafeminist Group). I give some historical background. The programme was recorded in February of this year.
The programme is hosted by Louise O’Reilly, SIPTU national nursing official.
The following is taken from my notes for the programme (which are a bit scrappy I’m afraid), with copies of Banshee available to download and read below.
Irish Women United was formed in April 1975. Its first public conference was held in Liberty Hall, Dublin, on 8 June of that year.
The first issue of Banshee was published late Summer/early Autumn 1975.
It outlined the objectives and rationale of Irish Women United.
We are a group of Women liberationists who believe that the best perspective for struggle against women’s oppression in Ireland lies in an ongoing fight around the charter of demands printed here. We came together originally in April 1975 as a few individual women interested in the idea of building a conference to discuss a charter; what its demands should be and how a campaign should be built. At this conference on June 8th, attended by approximately 100 women, we constituted ourselves as a separate group, Irish Women United – the only criteria for joining to be agreement on the demands of the Charter. Irish Women United works on the basis of general meetings (discussions and action planning, at present every week in Dublin), joint actions (e.g. pickets, public meetings, workshops, at present on women in trade unions, contraception, social welfare and political theory) and consciousness-raising groups.”
Five main charter points:
1.The removal of all legal and bureaucratic obstacles to equality
2. Free legal contraception
3. The recognition of motherhood and parenthood as a social function
4. Equality in education
5. The male rate for a job where men and women are working together
Irish Women United’s first public actions included a protest against the then male-only 40-ft at Sandymount, and the Fitzwilliam Tennis Club.
It held to a lot of the same aims of the Irish Women’s Liberation Movement. It also campaigned for women’s centres and self-determined sexuality. It included the International Lesbian Caucus.
Irish Women United’s strategy was for:
o Participatory democracy
o Direct action – e.g. picket of Miss Ireland competition; occupation of FUE offices
o Consciousness-raising through poems and personal stories
o Political campaigns for contraception ; equal pay ; equal rights ; Noreen Winchester case; censorship
In the summer of 1976, Irish Women United joined forces with other groups to launch a national campaign for legislation on contraception: the Contraception Action Programme (CAP).
In 1978 CAP opened up a shop, Contraceptives Unlimited.
The success of the CAP campaign led to the Family Planning Act of 1978. Sponsored by Charles J. Haughey. This led to contraceptives available on prescription for ‘bona fide’ family planning purposes. Haughey’s now infamous line: ‘An Irish solution to an Irish problem.’
Irish Women United fell apart in 1977 over strategy regarding the general election of that year, but also because of activist fatigue, excessive in-fighting, and factionalism.
The areas of conflict within the group included the North ; Republicanism and Feminism ; The Armagh Women ; also, Feminism and Class.
In an Irish Women United discussion paper, entitled “Feminism and Socialism” , the authors wrote that ‘We cannot liberate ourselves as a ladies’ auxiliary ; nor will women overthrow imperialism and capitalism alone.’
Irish Women United had a direct influence on:
Contraception Action Campaign (CAP) – 1976
Rape Crisis Centre – 1977
Women’s Right to Choose – 1979
Copies of Banshee available to download.
Alternatively, you can read Banshee online, below the fold.
Banshee No. 7
Banshee No. 8