March 2nd, 1929


FROM THE ARCHIVES:The Irish Times was concerned about the state of the country’s morals in the late 1920s, blaming a decline on the first World War and the local wars as well as on pleasure seekers. – JOE JOYCE

Has not the time come for a frank discussion of Irish morals? Certainly the subject is in all thoughtful minds; for the newspapers will not suffer them to evade it.

Throughout the centuries Ireland has enjoyed a high reputation for the cardinal virtues of social life. She was famous for her men’s chivalry and for her women’s modesty. Today every honest Irishman must admit that this reputation is in danger. The Irish newspapers are forced, almost daily, to touch matters which are both wicked and disgusting. We have published reports of trials, and statements by judges and magistrates, which suggest that in many counties, especially in the south and west, standards of sexual morality are lamentably low. The abominable crime of rape figures often in the police reports. Infanticide is common. one judge has described it as “a national industry” – and the reports of cases in which unmarried mothers have been brought to trial for this crime indicate a general contempt of moral decencies, wholly new feature of Irish life. Public opinion and the fear of consequences, which formerly were powerful checks upon private conduct, have ceased, or are ceasing, to be effective.

Dublin’s crime and vice are associated by many reformers with the wretched housing conditions of the slums; but it appears that an even more formidable laxity of morals prevails now in rural districts where that excuse is not valid. There the growing immorality – if we may judge from the reports of criminal trials – is not the outcome of revolt against discomfort and hardship in the home. It springs from a sheer defiance of all the conventions, from a complete lack of principle, from the deliberate intention to have “a good time” at any cost.

What are the causes of this moral decay? No doubt, it derives in part from the shock which the Great War gave to moral values throughout the world, and, in still larger part, from the civic troubles during which morality, public and private, was at a discount. Some allowance must be made for the children of those dreadful days when violence and plunder were advocated as patriotic duties, and the very insecurity of life bred an utter recklessness of human conduct.

To such causes, perhaps, we may trace the downfall of parental responsibility and the disregard of religious teaching that are producing the present harvest of sexual looseness and crime. Whatever the causes may be, nobody will call us alarmists or pessimists when we say that the matter has gained the proportions of a national problem. It is a sad misfortune that the public mind has been put upon a false track by the Free State Government’s absurd Censorship Bill. The decay is home-grown, and to try to treat it with this bill is to try to cure a cancer with a mustard plaster.