Sunday Business Post
February 3, 2002
Woods : zealous campaigner who has lived with controversy
by Emily O' Reilly
But for another generation she was an iconic figure -- a founder member of the women's liberation movement; a vocal activist on issues that ranged from the Vietnam war and housing action in the 1960s through to the anti-amendment campaign in 1983 which lobbied against that year's abortion referendum.
In 1992, she emerged centre-stage again. Woods was the doctor who cared for the 14-year-old girl in the X case, a role that led to her vilification by elements of the anti-abortion movement, who characterised the controversy as a deliberate attempt to overturn the result of the 1983 referendum. Many of her friends believe that Woods' involvement in this controversy is not unconnected with more recent events.
The X case became public in February 1992. The complaints that sparked the lengthy Medical Council investigation into Woods' work in the sexual assault unit in the
For 20 years, Woods was partner to Cathal Goulding, a former chief of staff of the IRA and the leading intellectual within the Official IRA and Official Sinn Fein. Mother of eight children -- from two marriages and from her relationship with Goulding -- she now lives in an old Tuscan villa in
Woods was born in
At 21, she married fellow student Roger Hackett, with whom she had two children. The marriage collapsed shortly afterwards and was annulled, and Hackett emigrated to
Woods then married a prominent Dublin ENT consultant, Bobby Woods -- more than 30 years her senior -- and set up home in
The embassy was burned down in 1972 in protest at the Bloody Sunday massacre, and later relocated to Ballsbridge.
The house was rebuilt and is believed to be held in trust for the Woods' children. The couple had four children together, and according to friends they had "never seen a happier marriage". Bobby Woods died in 1970, at the age of 70.
The former journalist and social activist Mairin de Burca recalls that her first contact with Woods was through anti-Vietnam activism. Woods had joined de Burca and others in the Irish Voice on
"She'd been a member of a small pacifist group, along with a number of Quakers and other people, and that was what led her into our group," de Burca said. "She was very, very clued in on
Later, also with de Burca, Woods became involved in the Dublin Housing Action Committee, a group campaigning for better public housing for the city's poor.
"Moira wasn't one for stomping the streets," said de Burca, "so she became our bailsperson. She did have some money, so when we were arrested she'd come along with the money to get us out."
Woods was a registered GP, but kept her practice to a minimum. "She had a lot of children to look after," said de Burca, "plus her husband had money, and anyway, she used to say to us that she couldn't take money from anybody. She was enormously kind. I remember once she came home from holidays to find an entire family living in her upstairs flat. I had brought them to her home arising from my housing action involvement, but she didn't even blink."
Woods' tolerance was also remarked upon by a number of her friends. "She was the most tolerant person I ever knew," said one, "You could tell her anything and she'd never be censorious. She was -- is -- a lovely, warm person. She kept open house. The place was always teeming with kids -- her own, and millions of their friends."
In 1971 Woods began her 20-year relationship with Goulding. The couple, with Woods' children and later their own two sons, set up home in the house on
Friends describe the relationship as a meeting of minds, although Goulding's education had come via voracious reading while in prison. Moira Woods, according to friends, was "fiercely anti-violence" and it was in that area that she and her partner "agreed to disagree".
On one occasion, Woods was so distressed by the tarring and feathering of a young woman in the North by the Official IRA she cut off her own hair in sympathetic protest.
In 1978, she began working at the Well Woman Centre in
It was her work in this area that led to her contact with the girl in the X case in 1992. Friends recall that around this time Woods fell victim to a stalker, and called in garda protection around her home.
In 1983, Woods joined the anti-amendment campaign steering committee to fight government plans to place a constitutional ban on abortion. Colleagues from the time say that she was not strongly pro-choice, but was hostile to the imposition of Catholic Church teaching on to the country's laws and constitution. Woods herself described the 1983 amendment as akin to '
The creation of the Sexual Assault Unit in the
O'Donnell said: "We began discussing the whole area of sexual abuse. George Henry had been to a maternity hospital in
The Medical Council's Fitness to Practise Committee last week found Woods guilty of professional misconduct in relation to her work in the sexual assault unit. Some media reports on the unpublished committee report have stated that it found that Woods had made false allegations of sexual abuse. However, it is understood that while Woods was found not to have observed proper protocols, it makes no claims about the validity of the accusations.
Last Wednesday afternoon, in a hotel room in
As the speakers made their pitch to the media, through an open window came the sound of a loudspeaker, with a disembodied voice hailing Woods' guilty verdict.
The loudspeaker was attached to a moving van with the legend 'Moira Woods guilty' emblazoned on all sides. The irony was lost on nobody.
For anyone under the age of 35, the name Dr Moira Woods has little resonance beyond the immediate child sexual abuse controversy that has dominated all news coverage about the woman for the last five years.