Acts of yore: The outdated laws that have been repealed

Ban on criticism of Henry VIII’s marriage to Anne Boleyn is one of 60,000 laws repealed

More than 60,000 pieces of legislation have been repealed in a reform programme that begun in 2003. The legislation dated from the reign of William the Conqueror in 1066 to as 1950. Here are some of those laws:

1. Public Safety (Emergency Powers) Act 1923 enacted during the Irish Civil War included the imposition of a death penalty or penal servitude for anyone found guilty of an armed revolt against the Government of Saorstát Éireann.

2. Emergency Powers Act 1939 granted wide-ranging powers at the outbreak of the second World War, including the power to suspend the operation of any law.

3. Griffith Settlement Act 1923 granted pensions to members of Sinn Féin founder Arthur Griffith’s immediate family following his death.


4. Constitution (Removal of Oath) Act 1933, which repealed Article 22 of the Free State Constitution requiring members of the Oireachtas to take an oath “declaring their faithfulness to His Majesty King George V and his heirs and successors”.

5. Spanish Civil War (Non-Intervention) Act 1937 outlined the international obligations of Saorstát Éireann in relation to the civil war in Spain, and prohibited citizens of Saorstát Éireann from participating in that war.

6. Proclamation of 1533 prohibited criticism of the marriage of Henry VIII to his second wife, Anne Boleyn, after he divorced Catherine of Aragon.

7. Proclamation of 1601 offered a reward for the capture or death of the “arch traitor” Earl of Tyrone Hugh O’Neill.

8. A 1618 proclamation ordered the Irish to depart with all their belongings from lands given to planters during the Plantation of Ulster.

9. An order made in 1665 established the first Wednesday of every month for fasting and penance for the relief of the bubonic plague in London.

10. A proclamation in 1817 ordered that the consumption of potatoes and oatmeal should be kept for the “lower orders”.

11. A total of 250 Personal Divorce Acts were expunged up to 1922 providing for individual divorces dating from a time when a marriage could only be dissolved by an Act of Parliament.

12. A 1700 Act allowed for the separation of James Earl of Anglesea from his wife, Countess Katharine, by reason of his cruelty.

13. A 1726 measure enacted under George 1 related to the naturalisation of George Friedric Handel and others, and extended to them all the “duties, rights and privileges of natural subjects of the kingdom of Great Britain, as if they were born in the said kingdom”.

14. A 1714 Act enabled the Prince of Wales to qualify himself in Great Britain “for the legal enjoyment of the office of Chancellor of the University of Dublin”.

15. Pillory Abolition Act of 1816 allowed offenders to pay fines rather than spend time in the stocks.

16. The 1718 Adulteration of Coffee Act sought to counter the “evil-disposed persons” who added water, grease or butter to roasted coffee to increase its weight.

17. Chimney Sweepers and Chimneys Regulation Act of 1840 prohibited anyone under the age of 21 from such work.

18. The 1879 Children’s Dangerous Performances Act was designed to “to regulate the employment of children in places of public amusement”.

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times