Mervyn Taylor worked for Herman Good Solicitors, alongside Herman Good and future district judge Hubert Wine. Taylor later established his own firm of Taylor and Buchalter Solicitors with the late Don Buchalter, and practised as a solicitor for over 50 years before retiring from active practice in his 70s.
Mervyn joined the Labour Party in 1969 and was elected to Dublin County Council in the 1970s, and to Dáil Éireann as the first ever Jewish Labour Party T.D. at the 1981 general election. He held the seat for Dublin South-West at every election until his retirement from politics in 1997.
He was Labour Chief Whip from 1981 to 1988 and Chairman of the Labour Party from 1987 to 1991. He was assistant government chief whip from 1981 to 1982, and again from 1982 to 1987. In 1987, he brought the plight of Soviet Jewry to the attention of the Dail. In 1993 he was appointed as Minister for Labour for a brief period, and then served as Minister for Equality and Law Reform during the two governments of 1993–94 and 1994–97.
A key part of his brief was to run a referendum to amend the Irish Constitution to allow for the introduction of divorce in Ireland. A previous referendum led by Garrett Fitzgerald had failed and many people were trapped in unhappy marriages. He steered the relevant bills through Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann, and won the subsequent controversial referendum despite opposition from the Catholic Church and criticism of the measure directed at his Jewish faith.
His other major project was the introduction of two wide-ranging anti-discrimination measures, the Employment Equality Bill and the Equal Status Bill. These were struck down by the Supreme Court but revised versions were approved by the Government in the final months of Taylor’s term of office, and were ultimately published and enacted during the following Dáil term.
Legislation introduced by Taylor and enacted during his term of office included; the Interpretation (Amendment) Act 1993 – providing for gender inclusive language in Acts of the Oireachtas, and the Fifteenth Amendment of the Constitution Act 1995, which provided for divorce in the Constitution. He also introduced new laws protecting family members from violence in the home, the extension of legal aid services, the establishment of a comprehensive marriage counselling service and updating the law on occupiers’ liability.
Upon his retirement from political life in 1997, Taoiseach John Bruton issued a statement saying “Few ministers in recent times have had such outstanding success in achieving their stated legislative objectives as Mervyn Taylor. By patience, concentration and courtesy, he has put through some of the most difficult reforming measures. Mervyn Taylor will be remembered for his success in modernising family and marriage laws and dealing with the tragedy of marriage breakdown in a humane way.”
Mervyn Taylor in conversation with Tony Danker, Chief Strategy Officer at The Guardian, about his experiences as the first Jewish member of the Irish Labour Party to be elected to the Irish Parliament, in 1981. In 1993 he was appointed the first Jewish Cabinet member as Minister of Equality & Law Reform, and given the responsibility to run a referendum on changing the constitution of the Irish Republic to allow divorce.
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