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The Carrigan Committee of 1930-31 and the ‘moral condition of the Saorstát’

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 March 2016

Mark Finnane*
School of Humanities, Griffith University, Brisbane


The character of modern Ireland after partition has long been the subject of debate, by columnists, poets, novelists and historians. John Whyte’s outstanding study of the process by which what he called the ‘Catholic moral code’ became enshrined in the ‘law of the state’ summarised the ‘remarkable consensus’ achieved in the years 1923-37, a time when there was ‘overwhelming agreement that traditional Catholic values should be maintained, if necessary by legislation’. Based on personal reminiscences and published documents, Whyte’s contribution is of enduring value to those seeking to understand the culture of modern Ireland. His account is even more impressive when read against the background of materials which have more recently become available in the National Archives. These enable some of the detail to be filled in, but they also provoke some new questions about the state of the country and the means by which a peaceable Ireland was to be constructed in the aftermath of a war of independence and a civil war.

Research Article
Copyright © Irish Historical Studies Publications Ltd 2001

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1 Whyte, J. H., Church and state in modern Ireland, 1923-1979 (2nd ed., Dublin, 1980), p. 60.Google Scholar

2 See Finnane, Mark, ‘A decline of violence in Ireland? Crime, policing and social relations, 1860-1914’ in Crime, History and Societies, i (1997), pp 5170.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

3 K. H. Connell, ‘Catholicism and marriage in the century after the Famine’ in idem, Irish peasant society (Dublin, 1968), pp 113-62.

4 See esp. Garvin, Tom, 1922: the birth of Irish democracy (Dublin, 1996), pp 104-15Google Scholar; McNiffe, Liam, The Garda Síochána, 1922-1955 (Dublin, 1997).Google Scholar

5 McNiffe, Garda Síochána, p. 40, and ch. 3 generally for the attributes of the Gardaí in the first thirty years after partition.

6 Garda Review, Dec. 1928, pp 6-9. For further discussion of this theme see McNiffe, Garda Síochána, pp 135-9; Fitzpatrick, David, The two Irelands, 1912-1939 (Oxford, 1998), pp 166-7.Google Scholar

7 Whyte, Church & state, pp 408-9.

8 Irish Law Times and Solicitors’ Journal, 7 Mar. 1936, p. 63.

9 O’Malley, Thomas, Sexual offences: law, policy and punishment (Dublin, 1996), p. 6Google Scholar. O’Malley goes on to describe briefly the state of crime in these decades, as indicated by the high proportion of imprisonment on sexual offences charges before and after the passing of the act.

10 Keogh, Dermot, The Vatican, the bishops and Irish politics, 1919-1939 (Cambridge, 1986)Google Scholar; see also Nolan, Michael, ‘The influence of Catholic nationalism on the legislature of the Irish Free State’ in Ir. Jurist, n.s., x (1975), pp 128-69.Google Scholar

11 Cf.Lee, J. J., Ireland 1912-1985:politics and society (Cambridge, 1989), pp 158-9.Google Scholar

12 ‘Criminal Law Amendment Bill, 1935’ (N.A.I., DT S5998). Initially the minister, James Fitzgerald-Kenney, proposed to cabinet a committee chaired by Sir Thomas Moloney, with five other members, including Senator Mrs Costello, Dr Stephenson of the Department of Local Government and Health, Rev. T. Nolan, S.J., from Clongowes Wood College and the head of a Protestant school, to be nominated by the T.D.s for Trinity College.

13 Carrigan had retired in 1929 from his post as Senior Crown Prosecutor of the central criminal court in Dublin (a position he had held since 1918) (Irish Law Times and Solicitors’ Journal, 30 Mar. 1929, p. 75).

14 Report of the committee on the Criminal Law Amendment Acts (1880-85) and juvenile prostitution (Dublin [1931]), p. 6. The report, of 54 pages, was printed but not publicly distributed; there is a copy in N.A.I., DT S5998.

15 Ibid., pp 43-4, gives a full list of witnesses and submissions.

16 For Ireland see Luddy, Maria, Women and philanthropy in nineteenth-century Ireland (Cambridge, 1995).CrossRefGoogle Scholar

17 Whyte, Church & state, pp 33-4.

18 Report … on the Criminal Law Amendment Acts, p. 6.

19 Ibid., p. 11.

20 Ibid., p. 12.

21 See esp. Keogh, Vatican, bishops & Irish politics, pp 166-77. That Cosgrave did not proceed to do anything with the report seems to belie Keogh’s later observation (p. 204) that he had ‘faced so resolutely’ all the problems in relation to the Criminal Law Amendment Acts.

22 See ibid., p. 205. The matter was first brought to cabinet six months after the change of government. There was a three-year gap between de Valera’s accession to power and the enactment of the legislation. This was a much less speedy process, for example, than that associated with the enactment of a new constitution with its far-reaching implications for the status of the island.

23 Rev. J. Canavan, S.J., to Geoghegan, n.d. (N.A.I. DJH247/41B).

24 Bp Keane to Geoghegan, 5 Nov. 1932 (ibid.).

25 Rev. M. J. Browne to Geoghegan, 13 Nov. 1932 (ibid.) The manuscript letter was later typed, presumably for the minister’s attention. See Whyte, Church & state, p. 75, for an estimate of Browne’s approach to public debate.

26 Unsigned memorandum (14 pp), 27 Oct. 1932 (N.A.I., DJ H247/41C). Internal evidence makes it clear that this was a departmental memorandum.

27 Ibid., p.l2.

28 Ibid., p. 14.

29 Geoghegan to Bp Keane, 9 Dec. 1932, enclosing ‘Rough notes’ (N.A.I., DJ H247/41B).

30 Geoghegan to Cosgrave,26 Nov. 1932 (ibid.).

31 Minutes of the committee meetings (N.A.I., DJ H247/41C). The decision on the bishops was taken at the eighth meeting.

32 Geoghegan to Bp Keane, 16 Dec. 1932 (ibid., DJ H247/41B).The five matters are listed in the ‘Rough notes’ (for which see above, n. 29); the remaining three were contraceptives, dance halls, and the age of consent.

33 Minutes of the committee meetings (N.A.I., DJ H247/41C).

34 Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1935, sec. 17.

35 See Report of the special committee on the Criminal Law Amendment Bill, 1934 (Dublin, 1935).

36 Lee, Ireland 1912-1985, p. 159.

37 Memorandum for Executive Council, 8 June 1937 (N.A.I., DJ 72/53, Pt 1: ‘Criminal statistics, 1926-43’).

38 For example, correspondence relating to the matter in 1927 (ibid.).

39 O’Duffy, memorandum, annotated ‘Handed in by C.G.S. when giving evidence, 30/10/30’ (N.A.I., DJ H247/41A). Another annotation indicates that this was Surgeon Morrin’s copy of the memorandum.

40 Secretary, Department of Justice, to Commissioner, Garda Síochána, 22 Oct. 1930 (ibid.).

41 Carolyn Conley suggests that Irish rates of conviction for rape and sexual assault in the nineteenth century were higher than in England (at around 50 per cent).This seems consistent with the average of the two kinds of offence summarised here. See Conley, C. A., ‘No pedestals: women and violence in late nineteenth-century Irelandin Jn. Soc. Hist, xxviii (1995), pp 801-18.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

43 Conley, ‘No pedestals’.

44 O’Duffy, memorandum, 30 Oct. 1930 (N.A.I., DJ H247/41 A, p. 2).

45 Report of the committee on the Criminal Law Amendment Acts, p. 14.

46 Contrast the mixed messages in the recent oral history of Kearns, K. C., Dublin tenement life (Dublin, 1994), p. 43Google Scholar (‘Robberies, vandalism, muggings and sexual crimes were virtually unknown … Rape was “non-existent” in [Garda Paddy Casey’s] early years’), and pp 50-51, on the evidence of the abusive character of many men in the tenements).

47 Irish Times, 6 Aug. 1928. I am grateful to Danny Cusack for research assistance on this point.

48 See above, n. 42.

49 Garda Review, Dec. 1928, p. 92 (reprinting the criticism of the Civil Service Journal).

50 See O’Malley, Sexual offences, pp 6-7.

51 This article draws on work carried out in 1995-7 under an Australian Research Council Large Grant for research on ‘The decline of interpersonal violence, 1860-1930, in four common-law jurisdictions’.