Transformative illegality: how condoms ‘Became Legal’ in Ireland, 1990-1993

Mairead Enright, Emilie Cloatre

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This paper examines Irish campaigns for condom access in the early 1990’s. 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 twenty 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.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)261-284
Number of pages24
JournalFeminist Legal Studies
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 20 Nov 2018


  • Activism
  • Condoms
  • Contraceptives
  • Family planning
  • Illegality
  • Ireland
  • Law
  • Social movements


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