Documents released by the state earlier this month revealed that the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) had considered taking legal action against UCD students in 1979 for selling condoms on campus.
The letter, which was released by the State under the 30-year rule, also revealed that the DPP and the Attorney General would have decided against taking a case against the students, believing that the courts would have found the ban on the sale of contraceptives to be unconstitutional.
The State papers show that the DPP and Attorney General had discussed whether proceedings should be initiated against UCD and a Dublin shop, Contraceptives Unlimited, under the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1935 which made it illegal to sell condoms.
The first contraceptive vending machine in the State was installed in Belfield in January 1979 by the Students’ Union, with a pack of four condoms costing 50p. The machine proved popular, selling over 160 condoms per day, before it was removed by college authorities less than a week after it was installed.
The DPP stated that those involved in the trade clearly wished to provoke a prosecution to challenge it in the High Court as the law banning contraception would not be upheld as it was introduced before 1937, when the constitution was enacted, as well as the act appearing to be in contravention of the constitution.
Minister for Health at the time, Charles Haughey, introduced the Family Planning Bill in late February 1979 to make contraception available by prescription, famously describing the proposed system as being “an Irish solution to an Irish problem”.
Elsewhere in the State papers, it is revealed that Haughey, after becoming Taoiseach, was impatient with suggestions from his advisors that there was no possibility of immediately moving the UCD Agricultural and Engineering faculty out of the former UCD College of Science building on Merrion St to its new premises in Belfield.
Haughey also decided that the Office of Public Works should seek to acquire the College of Art premises adjacent to the Dáil because of his belief, supported by an OPW report, that this was the only way to meet the accommodation requirements of the Oireachtas.
The decisions were made at a meeting on 28th December 1979, less than three weeks after Haughey became Taoiseach. At the same meeting, he had dismissed a IR£4m plan to build an official residence for the Taoiseach and a State guest house on the site of the former Apostolic nunciature in Phoenix Park.
It was January 1991 before Haughey finally moved into new offices in the former College of Science, which are now known as Government Buildings. Haughey was replaced as Taoiseach by Albert Reynolds thirteen months later.