Obituary of Mervyn Taylor: politician who helped end the constitutional ban on divorce and was the first Jewish member of an Irish government


Labor veteran Mervyn Taylor, who died at the age of 89, was instrumental in lifting the divorce ban in the Constitution in the November 1995 referendum.

He was also the first Jewish member of an Irish government, where he was first Minister of Labor for nine days so he could sit in cabinet until the new Department for Equality and Law Reform was separate from the Ministry of Justice.

Taylor served as Minister for Equality and Law Reform in the Fianna Fáil-Travail government and the Fine Gael-Travail-Left Democratic coalition that replaced him.

He was born on December 28, 1931 to a Jewish family in Dublin and was educated at Zion School, Wesley College and Trinity College Dublin where he studied law.

He apprenticed as a lawyer with the firm of Herman Good, who was involved in the Labor Party and influenced Taylor to become a member. Another notary from the same firm was the future district judge, Hubert Wine.

Taylor then established his own firm, Taylor & Buchalter Solicitors, together with the late Don Buchalter. He practiced as a lawyer for over 50 years until he was 70 and continued to provide consulting services to the firm thereafter.

In the 1970s he was elected to Dublin County Council, which he later chaired.

The Tallaght district of Co Dublin was its power base. Journalist and former neighborhood resident Kieran Fagan recalls: “There were a lot of people in Tallaght who supported Mervyn who were apolitical, others were members of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael but they still voted for him. because it was seen as solving local problems: lack of schools, badly finished houses, unfinished roads and no shops in some places; it has been seen to tackle these issues and get results.

Taylor was first elected to Dáil Éireann for the South West Dublin constituency in 1981 and retained the seat in successive elections until his retirement as TD in 1997. He dominated the ballot in 1989 and repeated this feat in 1992 when he took office. the first account.

He chaired the Irish Labor Party for four years, from 1987 to 1991. After his election to Dáil in 1981, he was Chief Whip of the Labor Party for seven years until 1988. He was also Deputy Chief Whip of government for a total of six years.

As a government backbench in the Fine Gael-Labor coalition at the time, Taylor proposed a private member’s bill for a referendum to remove the constitutional ban on divorce, but he was defeated during a Dáil vote on February 26, 1986.

Three months later, in May, Fine Gael Justice Minister Michael Noonan won a majority for a similar motion in Dáil and Seanad. In the referendum which followed on June 26, the proposed amendment to the Constitution was rejected by referendum by 935,843 votes against 538,279, a majority of 397,564 or 26.96 pc.

This shows the extent of the challenge Mervyn Taylor faced when he led the legislation for a second referendum through the Dáil and Seanad in 1995. He had come to the conclusion that the Irish people wanted, on his own terms. , “A little divorce but not a lot”.

On this basis, the wording of the proposed amendment included a provision according to which “at the date of the initiation of the procedure, the spouses lived apart from each other for a period or periods amounting to at least four years in the last five years. years. ”The amendment was more specific than the previous one in that the couple must have lived separately from each other.

The campaign has been intense on both sides, including billboards put up by opponents proclaiming “Hello divorce … Bye Bye Daddy!” But, as was reported at the time, when the result was announced to the RDS, “Mervyn Taylor, normally reluctant, was smiling broadly.” His amendment was approved by a tiny referendum majority of 9,114 voters, or 0.56 pc.

Even the weather was on Taylor’s side and anti-divorce activist Des Hanafin, referring to conditions in the west of Ireland, said: “The rain bet us it got in the wrong place.

Paying tribute to his legislative record in recent days, Labor Leader Alan Kelly said: ‘Mervyn changed Ireland for the better and passed the divorce referendum in 1995, finally giving people the right to remarry. .

The statement continued, “Mervyn has advanced so many changes in the law, a long and remarkable list of laws that speaks to his record of public service. It includes the Interpretation Law, Maternity Protection Law, Family Law Laws, and Domestic Violence Law.

“He also passed the Adoption Leave Act, the Civil Liability (Amendment) Act, and the Civil Legal Aid Act, among others.”

Michael D Higgins said in a statement: “The death of Mervyn Taylor represents the passing of an icon in the fight for equality.

The President continued: “His death is a huge loss above all for his family but also for all those who have worked and continue to work for a more inclusive, more egalitarian and more just society. “

Taylor was fluent in several languages ​​including Irish, German and Yiddish. Even at the height of the divorce debate, he always turned first to the bridge column in his morning paper. A practicing Jew in religious terms, he was also a supporter of the State of Israel.

This year marked the 60th anniversary of her marriage to Marilyn (née Fisher) who is an award-winning author of children’s books. She won the Bisto Book of the Year award for Distant house about two Jewish children fleeing Nazi-occupied Austria to a farm in Northern Ireland during WWII. It was followed by 17 Martin Street, which takes place in Dublin during the same period, known as The South of the Border Emergency (both books were published by The O’Brien Press).

Mervyn Taylor, who was diagnosed with cancer, died last Thursday at Adelaide Medical Center in London. He is survived by his wife Marilyn, his two sons Adam and Gideon, his daughter Maryanne and eight grandchildren.


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