The new Ireland
In the 1950s the Republic seemed to continue along the path which had been marked out by the older politicians who had been dominant since the 1930s. De Valera’s vision of an Ireland that was not only Gaelic, but Catholic as well had been given reality. Even if the Gaelic element had been compromised with the passage of time - the number of native Irish speakers declined to about 70,000 by 1961, or about a fifth of what it had been in 1922; by 1980 it had fallen to about 32,000 - the Catholic ingredient was, if anything, strengthened. The new leader of the Labour party, Brendan Corish addressing the Dáil in 1953, could hardly have been more precise:
‘I am an Irishman second; I am a Catholic first . . . If the Hierarchy gives me any direction with regard to Catholic social teaching, or Catholic moral teaching, I accept without qualification in all respects the teaching of the Hierarchy and the Church to which I belong’.
The confessional nature of the new state seemed to be taken for granted. But this slowly changed. When Brian Lenihan as Minister of Justice in 1966 proposed to change the censorship laws, he told the Cabinet that ‘standards of propriety do change’. Despite the public opposition of the Bishop of Cork, who argued that the existing laws were in fact too lax and demanded that it should be made a criminal offence to publish ‘corrupting works’, the government went ahead with its reforms. This was only one sign of a major change which was taking place, from a confessional to a more pluralist society. It was all the more remarkable because the people of Ireland were still 90 per cent staunchly Catholic. When Pope John Paul II came to Ireland in 1979, the huge crowds who turned out to salute him were a witness to that fact. About one and a quarter million assembled in Dublin’s Phoenix Park, and altogether an estimated two-thirds of the population attended the different ceremonies. Yet despite the staunchly Catholic ethos which prevailed, a referendum in 1972 deleted the article in the constitution which recognized ‘the special position’ of the Catholic church; censorship of books was effectively ended in 1966; contraceptives were allowed to be imported and legally sold from 1979; and a Supreme Court judgement in 1992 allowed abortion in limited cases, where there was a real danger that refusal might lead to suicide. Three years later the constitutional ban on divorce, the subject of passionate debate in the Dáil of 1925, was finally removed by referendum.
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Publication information: Book title: The Making of Ireland:From Ancient Times to the Present. Contributors: James Lydon - Author. Publisher: Routledge. Place of publication: London. Publication year: 1998. Page number: 390.
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