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Time to examine the Irish state’s attitude to women, claim leading academics

Pictured l-r at the launch of Sexual Politics in Modern Ireland  is Dr Diane Urquhart with  editors Dr Sonja Tiernan and Dr Jennifer Redmond 
Pictured l-r at the launch of Sexual Politics in Modern Ireland is Dr Diane Urquhart with editors Dr Sonja Tiernan and Dr Jennifer Redmond

THE safeguarding of Irish women in the wake of scandals such as the Magdalene Laundries and the death of Savita Halappanavar is now more important than ever, according to a group of leading female academics.

A new book launched in Liverpool on St Patick’s Day takes a close look at the Irish state’s attitude to issues such as sexuality, abortion and institutional control.

Renowned Irish historian, Professor Maria Luddy has praised Sexual Politics in Modern Ireland for contributing “to a captivating and controversial debate on sexuality in Irish society”.

“This is a timely publication in the wake of disturbing revelations regarding the institutional control of women in twentieth century Ireland, most notably through Magdalene Asylums and Mother and Baby homes,” added Sonja Tiernan from Liverpool Hope University, one of the books editors.

“While more recent cases regarding the control of sex and fertility in Ireland have caused shock beyond the island of Ireland, especially with the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar.

“The chapters in this book deal with sexual identity and gender politics from the mid nineteenth to the late twentieth century, mapping changing political, social and economic situations.”

The book, published by Irish Academic Press, explores issues such as prostitution, sex education, homosexuality, the patriarchal system as well as the on-going and divisive issue of abortion.

Ireland’s relationship between the Church and State is also investigated and questioned, along with the “double standards” attitude towards women and their position within the law.

The book’s cover image entitled ‘We Are not Puppets’ reflects the changing position of women in the Irish State and was specially designed by Dublin artist Joy Ní Dhomhnaill.

Among the experts who contributed to the book are Bláthnaid Nolan, Maeve O’Riordan, Conor Reidy, John Johnston Kehoe, Elizabeth Kiely, Mary Muldowney and Tanya Ní Mhuirthile.

Its editors include a number of Irish academics – Dr Jennifer Redmond (Maynooth University), Dr Sandra McAvoy (University College Cork) and Dr Mary McAuliffe (University College Dublin).

All are or have been members of the executive of the Women’s History Association of Ireland (WHAI) – a group committed to raising the profile of Irish women’s history and engaging the public on new research.

The book stems from the 2011 WHAI conference on Sexual Politics in Ireland held at University College Cork.

It was officially launched in Britain this week at Liverpool Hope University by Dr Diane Urquhart from the Institute of Irish Studies at the University of Liverpool as part of the Irish Studies Research group’s St Patrick’s Day celebrations.

A guest lecture by Dr Jennifer Redmond entitled ‘the Politics of Emigrant Bodies: Irish Women’s Migration to Britain in the Twentieth Century,’ based on Redmond’s own chapter in the book, also took place.

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Siobhan Breatnach

Siobhán Breatnach is the Editor-in-Chief of The Irish Post. You can follow her on Twitter @SBreatnach

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