Inside SLM |

3 mins

Inside SLM

In our ongoing coverage of the founding members of Ireland’s first Sexual Liberation Movement, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, we’ve focused on founding members who were instrumental in enacting meaningful change for Ireland’s LGBTQ+ community. However, it is important to remember that the SLM was about more than just LGBTQ+ rights: it also focused on other issues, including feminism, racism, colonialism, and art.

One of the driving forces behind the SLM’s feminist movement was Ruth Riddick.

Speaking of her youth, Riddick writes, “I was born in Dublin, capital of a contested Ireland and a doubtful Republic. An English speaker whose first recorded word was a protest - ‘no’ - my parents agreed to allow me complete my schooling through Irish; a decision which led to such tongue-twisters as study of the Gallic Wars ‘as Gaeilge’.

“To attend school at all I had to cross the Liffey, the city’s river immortalised in James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake - this is a dangerous foray into the uncharted. Uncharted, at least, by us snobby Southsiders.”

Following the foundation of the SLM on the campus of Trinity College Dublin in 1973, Riddick would go on to play a huge role in guaranteeing Irish women’s right to abortion services through her work.

From 1983, the same year that the Eighth Amendment was implemented, to 1992, Riddick worked for an Irish organisation known as Open Door Counselling wherein she was the founder of a vital crisis pregnancy service.

Through this service, Riddick was able to provide Irish women with education on abortion services, though they were not legal in Ireland in those early years. At the time, Open Door and the Well Woman Centre were the only places in all of Ireland where women could access information on how to travel to the UK to avail of services.

Upon being challenged for her work, Riddick successfully sued the Government of Ireland on Open Door Counselling’s right to provide abortion information by submitting a Freedom of Information application to the European Court of Human Rights. The 1992 decision confirmed that Open Door and other organisations were legally within their rights to provide the Irish public with information on abortion, even if the services themselves still remained illegal in the republic. The Irish constitution was amended as a result of Riddick’s suit.

Before relocating to the United States in the late 1990’s, Riddick spent ten years working as the Director of Education Services at the Irish Family Planning Association, as well as working as a lecturer and tutor in Sexuality and Women’s Studies throughout the Irish secondary education system.

On her website, Riddick explains the ways in which her approach to feminism was altered by her Irish upbringing. “For women of my generation, coming of age in the immediate aftermath of bra-burning, and conscious of the innumerable indignities to which our mothers had been subjected, the Ireland we inherited simply would not do and I, no more so than many of my contemporaries, became involved in the project of radical social transformation that has characterised the last 25 years of Irish life.

“That I would become so intimately identified with abortion was not a development I foresaw when I marched in the streets of Dublin for legalised contraception. Nor did I foresee that my intervention at a public meeting sponsored by the feminist Women’s Right to Choose Group would lead to 15 years of involvement in defining and defending women’s moral agency.”

Following decades of hard work by Riddick and other women like her, the Eighth Amendment was finally repealed by an Irish referendum in 2019.

Since the late 1990’s, Riddick has been living and working in the US, where she has since founded the education company, Sobriety Together.

The result of her own struggles with alcoholism, Sobriety Together is an organisation dedicated to “empowering coaches, therapists, social workers and other professionals by providing specialised skills-building education and training for more effective support of clients’ addiction recovery priorities and sober life management goals.”

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