Justice and the Irish State

February 9, 2022 in Featured News, News

In the latest edition of Working Notes from the Irish Centre for Faith and Justice, contributors take stock of the history of policies pursued in the Irish State for the last century.

They look at issues such as housing, penal reform, and the environment, core areas of work for the JCFJ. And they explore how policies in these areas evolved since the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty in 2022.

“This issue of Working Notes bypasses the old contentious questions of the Treaty itself and instead offers an assessment of what Ireland has done with its freedom in the decades since,” according to the editor of Working Notes, and director of the JCFJ, Dr Kevin Hargaden. “Policy is the mundane ground on which our grand visions land,” he adds.

In “One of the most striking pieces of analysis ever offered in the decades in which Working Notes has been published,” (Kevin Hargaden), Dr Louise Brangan of the University of Strathclyde and Keith Adams of JCFJ have collaborated to produce ‘How I[reland] Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Prison’.

Both authors contend that Irish penal policy in the past was far from static as is commonly supposed. Rather, a policy of ‘humane pastoral penality’ held sway, particularly in the middle decades of the 1960s and 1970.

They argue that the strengths and the ‘humility’ of this humane and pastoral approach may offer a more positive path forward for penal reform than the liberal incremental approach currently in vogue.

Professor Padraic Kenna of NUI Galway looks at housing policy in Ireland over the last 100 years. Kevin Hargaden says that because of the long number of years covered by Kenna “we are able to get beyond the (appropriate) fury surrounding the contemporary housing and homelessness crisis”, and in doing so we can see that “The challenges we now face are, in some ways, a consequence of our long commitment to expanding homeownership as a means to support the values of ‘civic republicanism … and self-reliance.'”

Hargaden believes the essay is an invaluable contribution to the housing and homelessness crisis and says it is his sincere hope is that it will be widely read and digested by those in positions of influence.

It was impossible for the JCFJ to consider policy in the first century of the Irish State without commissioning an essay that explored the role of the Catholic Church in that story, Hargaden also notes in his editorial. So he is grateful to Dr Daithí Ó Corráin of DCU for his contribution entitled, ‘The Catholic Church, the State, and Society in independent Ireland, 1922-2022’. “With an encyclopaedic grasp of the detail … Ó Corrain surveys the position and influence of the Church over a century and explains how its once-dominant influence was gradually eroded,” says Hargaden.

Environmental issues were far from being a priority in the early days of the State but they are now. And they are of central concern in the work of the JCFJ, according to Hargaden. In the final essay of this issue, he has worked with his JCFJ colleague Dr Ciara Murphy to present an account of the emergence of environmental policy in Ireland entitled, ‘Greening Ireland’s Second Century’.

They argue that whilst environmental concern was present in the practices of the citizenry and the arguments of legislators in early decades, trade, agricultural yield, and economic growth took precedence.

“With membership of the European Economic Community and the growing global recognition of the environmental crisis, this slowly shifted from the 1970s onwards, especially informed by local, grassroots activism,” says Hargaden, adding that “Ireland now has a mature and sophisticated array of environmental law, policies, and regulatory frameworks, but there is clear anticipation among the electorate that this policy domain will become increasingly central in the decades to come

In his final editorial remarks, Kevin Hargaden says his hope is that the articles offered will be of help to students and newcomers in the fields they have covered. He also hopes that they will inspire fresh thinking in those who are already familiar with the issues. He concludes: “For all that is awry with our society, the first century of our State has produced some remarkable achievements. It is appropriate to press our leaders and ourselves to ensure that our second century goes further to secure justice for all.”