According to the ‘official’ history of Youth Defence, the foundation of the group can be traced to a phone-call made by the-then 20-year-old Niamh Nic Mhathuna to Fr. Michael Cleary’s 98FM radio show in February 1992.
Enraged by the state’s decision to allow the 14-year-old girl at the centre of the X case to travel to England for an abortion, she phoned Fr. Cleary expressing her belief that there should be a further tightening of the abortion laws in Ireland. This spurred Niamh and a number of other concerned teenagers to form Youth Defence.
Niamh and six other young conservative Catholics, the core of Youth Defence‘s early leadership, were then invited by Fr. Cleary to appear on his show on 27th February 1992. On air, they announced their first public protest and around 1,000 people attended the first Youth Defence rally outside Dail Eireann on 3rd March 1992.
This timeline is popularised on the history section of the Youth Defence website with the very first archived newspaper article being the above ‘Youth Defence born on a radio show‘.
However, as we can exclusively reveal, the origins of Youth Defence actually date back to the Divorce referendum of 1986.
A small piece in The Cork Examiner (26 June 1986) described a “recently-established organisation, campaigning against divorce” called Youth Defence. Claiming to have sixty members in Dublin and Cork, the group circulated 50,000 leaflets with the heading “We Want Jobs Not Divorce”.
Their spokesperson was none other than Niamh Nic Mhathuna who was quoted as saying that most women in two salary households “don’t need jobs” and should give them up.
The article also noted that “most” Youth Defence members were “children of Family Rights Council”.
Niamh would have only been 15 or 16 years of age in 1986. Her mother Una was secretary of the Irish Housewives Union at the time. One of the three groups – along with Parent Concern and the Family Rights Association – who came together under the umbrella group Family Rights Council.
There are no other further references to Youth Defence or Niamh Nic Mhathuna until early 1992 when Youth Defence re-emerges during the X Case.
The fact that the real origins of the group lie in the campaign against Divorce six years previously is seemingly something they do not want to promote.