In 1970, Nuala Fennell was a wife and mother of three small children living in suburban south Dublin. Already independent-minded and ready to challenge the status quo, she became involved in campaigning on women’s issues when she joined the radical and controversial Irish Women’s Liberation Movement in 1970. When that group disintegrated the following year, she continued to campaign for legislative, social and political change, helping to found the organisation Women in Politics, AIM, an education and advocacy group, and Women’s Aid, to deal with the hitherto ignored reality of domestic violence in Ireland. She ran for election in Dublin South as an independent in 1977 and was elected TD for Fine Gael in 1981 and subsequent general elections.
As Junior Minister for Women’s Affair in the Fine Gael-Labour coalitions of the turbulent 1980s, led by Garret Fitzgerald, she achieved several of her long-term ambitions, including the abolition of the legal status of illegitimacy, the establishment of a Family Mediation Service and the correction of legal anomalies relating to domicile for married women. When she retired from parliamentary politics in 1992, Irish society was a better place, not just for women but for children and families.
Nuala Fennell died on 11 August 2009. She completed this memoir, Political Woman, a testimony to her public-spirited life’s work, a few weeks before her death. Her husband Brian reflects with emotions on Nuala’s life and achievements in the epilogue of this book.