Helping to Liberate Irish Women
from Servitude and Discrimination
In the early 1970s,
women were treated in Ireland as second-class citizens by the state and as the
servants to men by the Catholic Church.
were barred from working in the Civil Service; divorce and the sale of contraceptives
were illegal; women got paid less than men for doing the same job; children’s
allowances were paid only to fathers; barring orders did not exist to protect
wives from violent husbands; wives could not legally refuse to have sex with
their partners; women had no legal rights to a share of the family home.
For young women
in education and work, there were even problems trying to obtain bank loans.
Unlike their male counterparts, the banks were hesitant about providing loans
to female students as it was felt that soon after leaving college, they would
get married and lose the ability to repay by becoming house-bound wives with no
Michael D Higgins
was at the forefront of all the major campaigns to secure equality for women. He
was one of the very few members of the Oireachtas that stood by these issues of
women’s rights from the 1970s onwards. As with Noel Brown a few decades
previously, he earned the wrath of conservative and religious mainstream society
at the time, condemned as someone that wanted to under the family values. This
was particularly evident in the Divorce referendum campaign of 1985. Yet he never backed down in spite of the
verbal and written tirades hurled at him.
Condoms for All
At the height of the Aids epidemic in1992, I was part of a nationwide
campaign known as CondomSense that wanted to liberalise the sale of condoms. We
saw such contraceptives as offering greater protection for women from unwanted
pregnancies and STDs. At this time, these pieces of rubber could only be
purchased with a doctor’s prescription from a pharmacy for ‘bona fides’ family
purposes. I was the only publican in Galway city that decided to openly defy
this law by installing condom vending machines. I was prosecuted by the state
and a jail sentence hung over me as I was brought through the courts system.
However by the summer, the government caved in and introduced a Health
Amendment Act that allowed
the sale of condoms outside of pharmacies and without a prescription (though
not in vending machines).
Michael D Higgins was the only Galway TD that stood with us.
Rights: Ending Illegitimacy
In 1984, Michael
D Higgins and Mary Robinson put forward the bill that removed the label of
'illegitimacy' from children of unmarried parents.
He was helping to put into law the committment given by the Irish rebels in the Proclamation of the Irish Republic of 1916 in "cherishing all of the children of the nation equally"
Towards a Cleaner Safe Environment
In 2000, I was one of the leaders of a large scale community movement known
as Galway for a Safe Environment(GSE) that wanted to introduce a pro-recycling waste
collection system and to stop the installation of a municipal waste incinerator.
Over 22,000 people supported the campaign which was successful in stopping the
incinerator being built and in having Galway city become the first local
authority in Ireland to implement a domestic bin collection system based on
recycling and composting.
Once more, Michael D was the only Galway member of the Oireachtas that
stood with us from the beginning. Though others such as Fine Gael’s Pauric
McCormack did later come on board.
Defender of Biodiversity
As Minister for
Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht, Michael D signed on behalf of the Irish
government in 1997 the EU Habitats Directive that requires member states to
maintain or restore favourable conservation status for certain habitats and
Monvea Bog, Co. Galway
importance were the Irish bogs which account for 10% of the world’s total. This Habitat
Directive was and is vital to protect the small number of bogs that are
classified as Natural Heritage Areas. Peatlands possess unique biodiversity as well as being important areas for
flood prevention, water quality and as critical storage areas for carbon, up to
57,402 tonnes of carbon per year (EPA BOGLAND project).
Michael D became one of the few Irish government
ministers ever to enact legislation to protect endangered wildlife and their
habitats and to reverse the millennia old destruction and exploitation by
mankind of the planet’s natural heritage.
Today we have private turf-cutters condemning Michael
D for what he did in 1997. They have little respect for the long-term
consequences of their actions to life on Earth. As co owner (i.e. guardian) of
a bog and as a son of man whose family lived and worked on the great Bog of
Allen for generations, I wholeheartedly congratulate Michael D for his actions.
The Fianna Fáil government in 1999 allowed people
affected by the ban to have 10 year period of grace. Sadly continued
turf cutting was and is not compatible with the conservation of these sites and
rare intact raised bog has decreased in area by over 35% in the last decade. The major cause of the loss and
degradation of this priority habitat type is domestic peat cutting.
Eco-Tourism, Inverin Bog. Co. Galway
Giving Respect and Recognition to the Irish Language,
Arts and Culture
When Michael D
Higgins became the first minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht in 1993,
the state finally recognised arts as a fundamental part of the life of a
citizen, and gave it a status similar to the right to education, to work, to health,
to justice and to housing.
Michael D did not
just get a seat at the cabinet table in 1993. He demanded and secured the establishment
of a new state office that finally gave due respect to something that was
recognised outside the country and in ancient Ireland as being synonymous with the
Irish people- a love of music, literature and art in all its forms but was
until his ministry often viewed as a luxury and something for the privileged
By setting up a
nationwide network of arts centres, galleries, libraries and theatres, he
returned the arts to the common people and made it part of the fabric of so
many communities across Ireland.
A Community Arts Halloween parade in Ballinfoile, Galway city
As Minister, he expanded the Irish film industry from a
small sector generating 11million pounds into an internationally recognised
industry that was worth 186 million by the time he left office.
Michael D is of
course a renowned artist in his own right. In September 1990, Salmon Publishing
launched his first book of poetry. Entitled ‘The Betrayal’, I am proud to say
that I was its official sponsor and listed as such on the inside cover.
Stimulating an Irish Language Revival
Michael D established TG4, Ireland’s first Irish language television
station thereby reinvigorating our native tongue and giving work and pride to
so many people that wish to use Gaelic in their everyday lives.
Ireland’s Inland Navigable Waterways
Over the course of the 20th century, Irish canals became increasingly
ignored by the state as rail, road and air took over as the main arteries of
transportation. Our canals and inland waterways fell into disuse, were
abandoned and largely forgotten. A major achievement whilst he was Minister was
to reverse this trend and allow Ireland’s inland waterways to become major
opportunities for sustainable national and local tourism. He began connecting
the waterways with the result that Ireland today has over 1000 kilometres
of navigable waterways, providing employment and tourism in localities across
Encouraging Youthful Creativity & Imagination
Michael D has
always being more than just a career politician. He is multi-faceted in nature
and has taken on many roles throughout his life- factory worker, lecturer, poet,
socialist, humanitarian, journalist…
But all of these
different elements have been united by a common egalitarian vision of the
world. His talks and writings express a humanistic vision of life.
political censorship by the state when he abolished Section 31 of the
Broadcasting Act that denied Sinn Féin and other political parties the right to
be interviewed and to be heard in the media.
Whilst a radical
student leader at UCG, I was enthralled by his lectures that questioned the
injustices of the world past and present and held out a vision of a better
tomorrow. He supported our student union campaigns to make ‘Education a Right not A Privilege’
and to question social injustices in all its form whether it was in apartheid
South Africa, Catholic Ireland, US-backed dictatorships or in Stalinist Eastern
Europe. He encouraged these issues to be raised within the university halls and
walls. During the 1980s, he brought progressive politics into mainstream youth
culture by writing an incisive regular column in the weekly Hot Press magazine,
the staple diet for rock music enthusiasts.
He has a deep
affinity with creativity and imagination in science and engineering as much as
in the arts.
Over the last
decade I have dedicated a lot of my time endeavouring to ensure that technology
can benefit all sectors of society. Michael D consistently supported this
social inclusion approach and would always make himself available to attend and
officiate at events that I was organising related to neighbourhoods, asylum
seekers, older peoples, open data and so much more.
Michael D. Higgins in 2007 at the launch of the community website by the residents of the Eglinton Asylum Seekers Accommodation Centre, Salthil Galway city
Vote Michael D. Higgins for President of Ireland