[The following document is an extract from Chains or change published by the Irish Women's Liberation Movement in 1971.]
Although there has been some piecemeal reform in the legal status of married women in this country, it can still be said that upon marriage a woman in Ireland enters into a state of civil death.
Since 1957, a married woman is allowed to hold and dispose of property, to sue and be sued, to contract. Subsequent legislation has allowed her certain basic rights of inheritance upon her husband's estate.
Nonetheless, a married woman in Ireland has still no real identity or existence in her own right. She is still regarded as the chattel of her husband. Her domicile is automatically her husband's - that is to say, if he happens to be in America, she is also legally speaking in America, no matter where she might 'actually' be. She must have permission from him for all kinds of things - pledging any credit or making almost any kind of private financial arrangements; putting the children on her passport; in certain cases, if she needs to have a gynaecological operation.
A man may desert his wife for as long as he chooses - but return whenever he wishes and automatically resume all his marital and parental rights.
A woman immediately forfeits all her rights, including access to the marital home or to the children, if she leaves him.
He can change their name without consulting her
She may not.
He is not obliged to reveal to her what he earns
She is to him.
If she pays tax on her own income, it is her husband who is entitled to any of her rebates.
He is entitled to scrutinise her taxation form.
She is not entitled to see his.
He is not obliged to support her above and beyond what he considers she needs. She may only pledge his credit for the bare necessities - over and above he can disclaim all responsibility.
If she spends her earnings running their home, she may not give away, sell or raise money on the contents.
If he improves her property, he may be entitled to be paid, especially if he is a skilled craftsman.
If she saves money out of the housekeeping allowance which he has seen fit to give her, it is still legally his money and she may not spend it as she pleases.
She is not entitled to any of his savings, even if it is her household economies which have made these savings possible. If a wife feels that she is not being adequately provided for, (and remember, it is the husband who decides, quite arbitrarily, what constitutes 'provision') she must challenge him in the courts. She has no other means of redress. Even then, in contrast to other countries (such as, for example, West Germany) there is no statutory ruling about what percentage of his (their) income she is entitled to.
In regard to the children, the situation of the Irish wife is even more anomalous. Though the Irish Constitution emphasises the duties of both parents, the law accords rights overwhelmingly to one - the father.
The father is the legal guardian of the children; he has the sole right to decide upon their education, religion and domicile. He can draw from the children's Post Office savings - she can't. He must give consent to an operation on the children. He can have the children named on his passport without her consent and take them abroad whenever he wishes, without her permission. Legally, the Children's Allowance money is his. If he should wish to squander every penny of it, he is perfectly within his rights.
The Constitution of this country promises a special place to women in the home. But the law - most of it made by nineteenth century British legislators - has not fulfilled that promise before the law. Irishwomen in the home have noticeably inferior status.
And then, of course, if the woman wishes, or needs, to go out to work, she goes into unequal pay, the marriage bar, no amenities and penalising taxation.
Irish Women's Liberation Movement, Chains or change, Dublin, 1971.