Transformative Illegality: How Condoms ‘Became Legal’ in Ireland, 1991–1993

Feminist Legal Studies 26 (3):261-284 (2018)

Mairead Enright
University College, Cork
This paper examines Irish campaigns for condom access in the early 1990s. Against the backdrop of the AIDS crisis, activists campaigned against a law which would not allow condoms to be sold from ordinary commercial spaces or vending machines, and restricted sale to young people. Advancing a conception of ‘transformative illegality’, we show that illegal action was fundamental to the eventual legalisation of commercial condom sale. However, rather than foregrounding illegal condom sale as a mode of spectacular direct action, we show that tactics of illegal sale in the 1990s built on 20 years of everyday illegal sale within the Irish family planning movement. Everyday illegal sale was a long-term world-making practice, which gradually transformed condoms’ legal meanings, eventually enabling new forms of provocative and irreverent protest. Condoms ‘became legal’ when the state recognised modes of condom sale, gradually built up over many years and publicised in direct action and in the courts.
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DOI 10.1007/s10691-018-9392-1
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