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Cases that Changed Lives Podcast- Paulyn Marrinan Quinn


The divorce case involving Charles Stewart Parnell, access to contraception, and the right to legal representation for young offenders are amongst the topics explored in a new podcast, which focuses on legal cases that profoundly changed Irish lives.  

‘Cases That Changed People’s Lives – Revisited’ is presented by IWLA Founder Member Paulyn Marrinan Quinn SC based on recordings originally produced for a radio series in 2005. For the series, leading lawyers, a retired judge and noteworthy academics were invited to pick a case from Irish legal history, which impacted society as a whole.

The podcast is comprised of six episodes, each exploring a different case:   

  1. In Episode 1, Mr. Justice Gerard Hogan – now a Judge of the Supreme Court –provides an analysis of the legislation prevailing at the time that was challenged by the 1976 De Burca Case. This case focused on the right of women to be automatically selected to serve on juries or, in other words, the right of women not to have to be tried by a jury of all men. This episode also features an interview with one of the protagonists of the case: journalist and writer, Máirín De Burca who provides first-hand observations about the journey the case took to the Supreme Court. 
  1. The case featured in Episode 2 was selected by Mr. Justice Gerard Hogan and focuses on the right of access to contraception. In 1973, Mary McGee – a 27-year-old mother of four – took a case against the Attorney General and the Revenue Commissioners because, at that time, she could not purchase contraceptives. The Supreme Court ruled by a 4-to-1 majority in favour of Mrs McGee, after determining married couples have the constitutional right to make private decisions on family planning. 
  1. For Episode 3, esteemed biographer, and historian Frank Callanan, S.C chose the divorce case of Mrs. Katharine O’Shea, which took place in London in 1889. Politician Charles Stewart Parnell was the co-respondent in the case. 
  1. Episode 4 was introduced by the late Mr. Justice Donal Barrington and focuses on the significance of the 1971 ruling that “prerogative of immunity from suit” did not exist in Ireland after the enactment of the Constitution of the Irish Free State or, subsequently, the 1937 Constitution.  The “prerogative of immunity from suit” refers to the principle “the king could do no wrong”, meaning that the citizen could not sue the monarch or the State; and Byrne v Ireland established the right of the citizen to sue the Irish State. 
  1. In Episode 5, leading lawyer Ercus Stewart, S.C recalls the sequence of events leading to the Supreme Court challenge that established legal representation as necessarily part of a fair trial. He describes the circumstances whereby young offenders could be sent away to reformatories – for long periods – without having had a solicitor in Court and how it came to pass, in the 1970s, that the courts required young offenders to be represented in court.  
  1. The final episode in the series features Professor Yvonne Scannell, who chose the 1982 Murphy Case as one which profoundly changed people’s lives. This dealt with the taxation of married women.  Professor Scannell herself was pivotal in raising awareness about the unfair way in which married women were taxed and, ultimately, in bringing this case to court as a significant legal challenge. 

Commenting on the launch of her podcast today, Paulyn Marrinan Quinn SC said: “I recorded these interviews over 15 years ago, but they have stood the test of time. By reproducing them in podcast format, I am aiming to introduce a new generation of listeners to some of the cases that most profoundly shaped Irish society.  

“It is hard to imagine now that, only 40 years ago, women in Ireland were not automatically selected to sit on juries or allowed access to contraception. Very often, it is simple citizens asserting or questioning their rights who have brought about the most far-reaching changes in the Law. Through one person’s case, things can change for many people who find themselves in the same circumstances, or in circumstances related to the new rights upheld and vindicated by the courts.  

“It is interesting to note that five of the six cases selected by my expert legal guests originate in the 1970s and early 1980s, a time of huge social change. The cases explored in this series have had far-reaching implications for our way of life, our expectations, and our standards of acceptability.”  


About Paulyn Marrinan Quinn 

Ms. Marrinan Quinn, a Senior Counsel, was Ireland’s first Insurance Ombudsman and, subsequently, the founding Ombudsman for the Defence Forces. Over her distinguished career, she has been a founding member of the British and Irish Ombudsman Association; established a postgraduate diploma on Conflict and Dispute Resolution Studies at Trinity College Dublin; and worked with the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe on issues such as gender mainstreaming and human rights for armed forces personnel.   

In the 1980s, Paulyn contributed a regular column, ‘Paulyn’s Law’, to Irish Tatler magazine for over four years, shining a light on the contribution of women in society and advocating for greater gender equality and representation. 

Last summer, the respected barrister turned her attention to writing and publishing ‘What Does Law Mean, Mumu?’, a book about the law, targeting the ‘young adult’ age-group which was accompanied by a podcast series. 

The ‘Cases That Changed People’s Lives – Revisited’ podcast is available now on all popular podcast channels. Further information about Paulyn Marrinan Quinn and ‘What Does Law Mean, Mumu?’ is available at