'Pressure came from every angle to give up my child' – former garda breaks silence on force's threats of dismissal when she had baby out of wedlock
A former garda has broken her silence about being forced to give her child up and being threatened with dismissal from the force for having a baby out of wedlock in the 1980s.
In February 1985, Majella Moynihan was the unnamed subject, and one of the eventual victims, of what was considered to be a scandal of the time.
Her story hit the front pages of Ireland’s newspapers when she was threatened with dismissal from An Garda Síochana for having pre-marital sex with another garda, and for having given birth to a baby outside of wedlock.
The subsequent story remained untold for three and a half decades, until an RTÉ documentary aired on Saturday revealing how she was pressurised into giving up her baby.
Majella began her dream job as a Garda in September 1983, in Store Street Garda Station. In April of that year, while attending the Garda Training College, in Templemore, County Tipperary, she reunited with fellow Garda Recruit who she had previously met at the Garda Club.
After reinitiating a relationship with him, Majella became pregnant in August of the same year.
Having revealed her pregnancy to her father, she sought the help of the Well Woman Clinic who eventually put her in touch with CURA, a crisis pregnancy agency, run by the Catholic Church.
The then 22-years-old described on RTÉs ‘Documentary on One’, how she felt pressure from all around her to give up her child.
“Cura in Dublin arranged for me to go to a family in Galway and in April ‘84, I took the bus to Galway,” she recalled.
“The pressure came from every angle to adopt. It came from the Gardaí, it came from Cura and it also came from the social worker.
“She kept saying, ‘you know you can’t give your child what you’d like to give him. You’re 21 years of age, it’d be better if we took him and he went to a good family’. I still didn’t know what I was going to do.”
As the result of an internal Garda investigation for breach of discipline, Majella was asked to provide a full statement regarding her relationship with the Recruit Garda, the times she had sexual intercourse with him, her pregnancy, the birth of their baby and her intention to have the baby adopted.
Majella was charged with two counts under the 1971 Garda Síochána Regulations, ‘Conduct prejudicial to discipline or likely to bring discredit on the Force’.
Her breaches of regulation entailed “being an unmarried female member of An Garda Síochána” who associated with the unmarried male Recruit, having “sexual intercourse with said Recruit Garda” resulting in her pregnancy.
She was also in breach for giving birth to a child “outside wedlock”.
As a result of the external pressures, and the rick of her losing her job, Majella left her son behind in Galway Regional Hospital where he was born. Upon returning to the hospital, she was refused access to her child.
“On the 31st of May, at two minutes past five, I gave birth to a beautiful boy,” she said.
“I left the hospital on the 1st of June and I left my son behind. I walked out of that hospital in a trance, I didn’t know who I was, what I was. I remember getting into the back of the car and going back to the family house and all I wanted was my child.
“The next day I went into the hospital and he was in the nursery and I asked the nurse could I hold him and she said no. I remember staring into the nursery, just wanting to grab him and run. I didn’t know where I was going to run. That pain is still like it was yesterday. It was the worst day of my life.”
Majella’s son, who she named David, was initially sent to a foster home. Majella visited him for the last time eight weeks after his birth when after case had been transferred from Cura to an Adoption Society in the West of Ireland.
When David was 14-months-old, on July 30, 1984, he was placed with his adoptive parents.
“At this stage,” Majella said, “she had informed me that they had a family that was going to take David.”
“Now, in the state of mind that I was in, I was in no way capable of making a decision about the long-term of my child’s welfare. I was absolutely distraught.”
Although Majella’s son David had already been placed with his adoptive parents, Majella still had until the end of 1984 to make up her mind before finalising the adoption. From September 1984 the internal Garda investigation against Majella for breach of discipline intensified.
Eventually, having agreed to the adoption of her child, the Archbishop of Dublin intervened, advising the Garda Commissioner at the time that if Majella was convicted, it would encourage other female Gardaí to go to the UK for abortions.
It was decided that Majella would not be dismissed from An Garda Síochána but the Cork woman was made aware that, without this intervention, she would have been sacked.
In 1994, Majella began a relationship with another Garda, Sergeant Martin Peelo. Three years into their relationship she found out that she was pregnant again.
Majella ensured that her second pregnancy would be different. In May 1997, she gave birth to her second son, Stephen, and afterwards married Martin.
Though Stephen’s birth was a joyous occasion, it did bring up emotions relating to David’s birth and Majella said that she felt guilty that David could not come into the world in the same manner as Stephen.
“The voice I heard was ‘If it happened you again you’re sacked’ and I thought ‘Over my dead body,” she said.
“By goodness, ye’ll not do anything to me’. Went off anyway and the little buster was born anyway in May of ‘97 and when I gave birth to Stephen it awakened the whole of David’s birth again and the difference oh my God.
“Martin was there holding my hand, the excitement, oh my God, the excitement was just unbelievable and yet I was feeling guilty because I felt so happy that I was giving birth.”
Majella remained in Store Street for a total of 15 years, but her mental health began to deteriorate. Traumatised by the loss of her child and by the treatment she had received within the Force, in 1998, she eventually sought early retirement.
In 2017, Majella was finally reunited with David after a social worker informed her that he wanted to meet. Now almost 35 years after his birth, she is finally content in her life. She does however seek an apology for what she and her family went through.
“I knew 35 years ago what they did was wrong. I know today what they did was wrong. Yes, I want an apology,” she said.
“I’m so happy in my life today, I have a beautiful son 21 years of age, my other son is 34 years of age. I never thought, ever in my life, that I would have contentment. I think for Ireland in the 1980s, in the middle 1980s, that it’s an appalling infliction on any female to have been charged with giving birth and charged with having intercourse.
“Two of the most beautiful things in the world, and yet I was charged with them and today I know that what they did was totally wrong and that I am very lucky to be the strong person that I am to have come out of it.”
Gardai have been contacted by Independent.ie for a response.
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