Women in the Gardaí

Phyllis Nolan

Interviewed on 11th October 2021


Phyllis Nolan, a native of Carlow, joined An Garda Síochána in 1961. She became the first female to be promoted to the rank of Superintendent on 22nd February 1989, 30 years after the first appointment of women to the Gardaí. In this recording, undertaken by Rita Delaney, she reflects on gender disparity in the Gardaí when she was a young member of the force.

RITA DELANEY: Prior to that, pay and conditions was bad for everybody. I suppose women got paid less than men? [Laughs]

PHYLIS NOLAN: Of course women were paid less than men! And that continued, but, you know, we never questioned that. And that doesn’t mean that we hadn’t the ability to assess it, but it was the norm everywhere and teachers had three rates of pay. They had one for a male principal. They had one for a male married principal actually and then they had another for a male principal and a different rate for a female. They had three rates of pay. Most places had two rates. So we never questioned it, but many years later At this stage there was only 35 females in the organisation and five Sergeants, I think I’m right on those numbers, so the GRA (Garda Representative Association) were not going to, and did not, take a case on behalf of their female members. However, Derek Nally was Secretary General of AGSI (Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors) and he decided he’d pursue it for his five Sergeants. And he needed some assistance and support from us, so Sarah McGuinness and myself were used as that. Because in Store Street for years we had worked in Croke Park on Sundays. Now, this was pre Conroy again without the conditions of overtime and we supervised male and female members there. So that was exactly one position where that happened.

MS. DELANEY: So did Derek Nally succeed?

MS. NOLAN: Derek Nally decided he’d take that case and the two of us were summoned, we were to present as witnesses and to give testimony of what we did. Very difficult for us to stand up and be counted. So Derek went along that day with his good negotiating skills and he said one of us was in court and the other was investigating a serious rape. But he gave the facts and so all female members got equal pay, thanks to his –

MS. DELANEY: Good man Derek … I’m going to move on, if you don’t mind, to when you were promoted Inspector, again, a seminal moment in Irish life and in An Garda Siochana for women at the time. You must have been an inspiration for your colleagues. Did you see it that way?

MS. NOLAN: I suppose I didn’t really. I studied more or less by accident because there was no point in studying because there were no females progressing in the organisation. However, I was in Templemore and I was asked to join a class there and I said, yes, I will, and that’s how it all started. Sarah McGuinness had already qualified for the promotion. So the two of us went for interview and we were promoted, we were both promoted at the same time in May 1981.

For more about the experience of Women in Policing in Ireland, visit HERE