Crime and Punishment in Twentieth Century Ireland

Volume 2: A Description of The Criminal Justice System, 1950-1980

by Seamus Breathnach


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This book was written as part of a much wider criminological enterprise, designed at creating a real and critical basis for criminological enquiry in Ireland.

Properly understood the Criminal Justice System (CJS) is every bit as important to society as the circular flow of money. No government would dream of conducting its business without the advice of an economist or, indeed, providing an econometric model of the economy. Yet when it comes to the CJS, governments take the opposite view and legislate in the dark, hardly reconnoitering for a moment to see what effect proposed legislation will have on the several institutions it invariably affects. Maybe this was okay when those effects could not be calculated. But such is no longer the case.

In 1967 a President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice featured a model of criminal justice entitled “The Challenge of Crime in a Free Society.” Incredibly misunderstood and widely neglected, this model marked a breakthrough -- the first step, as it were -- in coming to terms with the multiple agencies that go to make up what has come to be called the Criminal Justice System (CJS).

In Volumes 2 and 3 of the present series Seamus Breathnach traces the initial steps necessary to complete the revolution begun by the President’s Commission. In doing this he reveals the systematized neglect of the CJS in the Republic of Ireland for years 1950—80. In eight lectures he delineates the Republic's inability to get its act together or to engage the terms or significance of the '67 landmark - an inability that is anchored both in a deep religious resistance to the secular social sciences as well as an exaggerated estimation of the criminal lawyer as social commentator. From this study it appears that the first step for criminologists is to see the CJS as a totality – to see it as a social process clamoring to be rescued from the spokesmen of the discrete agencies that comprise it.

About the Author

Seamus Breathnach worked as a policeman (An Garda Siochana) (60s), a journalist (70s) with the Nationalist and Leinster Times, and a student at University College Cork (B. Comm.,1974) and Sheffield, (M.A. 1978).

He also studied law at King’s Inns and Trinity College, Dublin, and was called to the Irish Bar, where he practiced criminal law for a number of years.

Since 1983 he has been lecturer and Course Director of a two-year Post-graduate Diploma Course in criminological studies. Inaugurated under the auspices of the CDVEC (The City of Dublin Vocational Education Committee), the course lasted twenty years.