John Murphy reviews Women and Public Policy in Ireland 1922-1997 by Richard B Finnegan and James L Wiles, Irish Academic Press ISBN 0-7165-2778 2, £42, €50 hbk
IN THE 1920s when the Irish state was founded most Irishwomen lived in the countryside, a quarter of them never married, those that did marry married late, and large numbers had a 'biological family' of four or five children, as happens in poor countries of the undeveloped world today. Births to unmarried mothers were rare, and many Irish women emigrated.
Three generations later Irishwomen have much higher incomes and live mostly in towns and cities. They are healthier and live longer. A half of all girls today can expect to go to further education. Most will marry, and at much younger ages than their grandparents. They will mostly have two children or just one, and one-third of all Irish children are now born to mothers "out of wedlock", as against two per cent in the 1950s.
The economic and social reasons for these changes and how they affected and were affected by Irish public policy is the theme of this book. It is a doumentary history. That is, it mainly consists of excerpts from public reports and documents over an eighty period, dealing with Irish economic policy, social security, health and education policy, the many legal changes affecting women and the story of Irish women's participation in public life. These excerpts are linked by a commentary that gives the background and politial context of each document.
The book is not light reading but it will become an established source of information for students of Irish social policy and those interested in the story of women in twentieth-century Ireland.
Connolly Publications Ltd, 244 Gray's Inn Road, London, WC1X 8JR
Copyright © 2005 John Murphy