The Constitutional Referenda’s defeat offers an unparalleled opportunity for dissidents to reclaim the historic tradition of ‘Catholic justice’ back from the Managerial Class.

(This piece is syndicated from Aistí Ó Craobh with the permission of the author).

The family in its wider significance means an assemblage of individuals, dwelling in the same house under a common superior or head, and united by ties founded on the natural law.’ —Edward Cahill, ‘Framework of a Christian State’.

They are illusions, They’re not the solutions they promised to be
The answer was here all the time, I love you and hope you love me
’ —Don’t Cry For Me Argentina.

For many, last Friday’s Article 41 referenda probably felt like an assault on the traditional mores of the country. The family, motherhood and the constitution were to be remoulded and butchered so as to become unalterable from our Hegemonic Liberal monoculture. There’s too much Catholic, populist, communitarian baggage in the Constitution, we were told. It harkens back to a time when we were a country, not merely an economic zone (at least that’s how I’m interpreting what the Yes campaign’s argument was).

Unfortunately for the Liberal Elite, this path was resoundingly rejected by the vast majority of the Irish electorate. Naturally, there were various disparate reasons and motivations for each no vote, ranging from disability protection to national security concerns. The fact is however, that the electorate overwhelmingly favoured De Valera’s 1938 Bunreacht na hÉireann — over the technocratic liberalism of the government.

In affirming An Bunreacht so emphatically, the Irish people have signalled to the political intelligentsia that they are open to reaffirming the Constitution’s implicit principles of Catholic social justice. In order to imagine what the future of Irish policy-making could look like, it is vital to understand the world the constitution birthed from.

The question becomes — moving forward, could we see the philosophy of An Bunreacht once again implemented in ‘direct opposition to economic liberalism’, relaunching ‘a revolt against the teaching of the so-called Manchester School’?

Catholic Social Thought

As vice-president of the Executive Council of the government, Seán T. O’Kelly pronounced in a 1933 speech that the economic philosophy of the nascent Irish Free State was equivalent to that of Dolfuss’s Austria, and was best reflected by Pope Pius XI’s labour encyclical, Quadragesimo Anno. At a corporatist economics meeting on the continent he declared ‘what the Irish Government was attempting’, was, simply, ‘Catholic action in practice.’4

Following from this, in the development of the constitution, Edward Cahill’s The Framework of a Christian State (1932) was according to De Valera ‘worth reading and re-reading’ and was to be ‘consulted for advice and guidance’.5 De Valera heavily consulted a long list of names, he spoke to Protestant churches, Jewish and Women’s groups, but undoubtedly the primary influence came from the Vocationalist and Catholic Social thinkers influences by the Latin social justice encyclicals on labour and politics. These Irish intellectuals were a diverse group, some of the prominent names include Alfred O’Rahilly, Edward Coyne, Edward Cahill and of course John Charles McQuaid.

The Gaelic theorycel group, An Ríoghacht (‘The Kingdom’), is a prime example of the type of intellectual discourse which coloured De Valera’s world as he wrote the constitution. While they were more radical, their ideas ranged from radical banking reform, to variations on Fianna Fáil’s autarkic protectionism. Their emphasis on developing a school of radical iliberal economic thought, totally distinct from both Marxian socialists as well as laissez-faire ‘conservatives’, is unrecognisable compared to most reactionary circles today, who either affirm libertarianism, or pay no heed to social policy.

Regardless, the main consistent philosophy, bar their devout Catholicism of course, was that of a belief in a natural law, and so naturally a sense of inherent justice or just state of being which is pleasing to God. In accordance with the natural justice tradition of Luigi Taparelli, these thinkers pleaded with De Valera to abandon Liberal hegemony in economic policy, with its emphasis on ‘liberty’ of the propertied class. Instead they favoured the Church’s emphasis on common justice:

‘The public institutions themselves, of peoples, moreover, ought to make all human society conform to the needs of the common good’6

While by no means totally fulfilled, some of the philosophy of Quadragesima Anno can be seen in the ‘Directive Principles of Social Policy’ section of the constitution, as well as the previous sections like Article 41 on the family. In particular, the commitment to regulate free competition (45, 2.3) and control of financial credit (45, 2.4) in order to safeguard the common good stand out.7

The economic philosophy of Vocationalism was an incredibly useful ideological tool in shaping the constitution. For De Valera, the main goal was always to ‘achieve economic self-sufficiency; a Gaelic autarky endowed with frugal comforts’ — remarkably similar to Berkeley’s spartan protectionism. What Vocationalism offered was a positive and idealised political vision within the hardship of the 1930s trade war:

Vocationalism implied the attainment of social harmony that would assist in the achievement of self-sufficiency while at the same time giving expression to Catholic social teaching. De Valera’s interest in vocationalism can be seen as deriving, not only from commitment to Catholicism, but also from his desire for a self-sufficient Gaelic state.8

Naturally, the Constitution created precedent in defending the economic rights of the traditional family over the blood-sucking influence of the individualistic, neoliberal state. The constitution was instrumental in the famous Murphy v. Attorney General 1982 case which overruled the tax code at the time which disincentivized marriage by taxing couples’ income as an individual’s. This was fundamentally based on the ‘Constitution’s pledge to guard with special care the institution of marriage’.9

What is particularly meaningful about this example is that it was an actual instantiation of the intentions and dreams of De Valera’s quasi-corporatist, Catholic influenced vision into the practical reality for couple’s tax policy:

De Valera’s model emphasised the essential links between the generations as he identified his ideal for the dependent ages in society – childhood, youth and old age. Giving was as important as receiving, service as important as wealth. It was a society in which rights were balanced by responsibilities, in which adults of materially productive years acknowledged non-material obligations both to those who came before and to those whom were coming after, the generations woven together into a seamless social fabric.’10

As one would guess, when many of these pro-family principles were put to the referendum (on the constitution), the Irish public confidently affirmed them. A large reason for this is that prioritising the patriarchal, normative breadwinner family model appealed to Irish people from varying perspectives. It spoke to workers and socialists in appealing to good wages and economic security, and appealed to Catholics and nationalists for cultural reasons. Catholic organisations like Catholic Action were savvily aware of this, rejoicing in being able to speak to the common man as worker, and as church-goer (my emphasis added):

Our main army of advance will consist of the formative and constructive societies. … On the right, our eager new levies, the Knights of St Columbanus. On the left will flutter the banners of the Legion of Mary. Many other units will be gladdened by the spectacle of our Irish army of Catholic Action marching in serries ranks to battle and to victory.11

Of course this cross-section army did not always stay in-tact, as the Legionaries themselves were always more complicated for some members of hierarchy. And when ‘pro-family policies’ were framed as communist-influenced state intervention, the clergy were often content to cut off this populist appeal (such as in Dr Browne case). However, the main point still stands that Catholic and traditional nationalist rhetoric, at their most successful, struck that sweet spot of appealing to a sense of economic security – as well as – appealing their moral consciences. A later example would be the anti-divorce arguments of Cardinal Tomás Ó Fiaich and others in the late 1980s.

Mirroring the bipartisan appeal of Catholic social justice among workers and families on the left and the right, the attack on the privilege of motherhood in the Constitution has appealed to both the capitalist right, who see mothers as nothing more than more potential wage slaves, and the progressive left, who despise the family. As Coughlin notes: 

This is a reactionary view, it has been said, which implies a woman’s place is in the home and is aimed at restricting her choice of career. This criticism was made from the political right by J.A. Costello in the Dáil in 1937 and from people on the political left outside it.’12

Despite these criticisms, many historians have rejected this reading. Coughlin himself argues the ‘sexist’ interpretation is ‘surely to misunderstand the section’ on women. He points out that the Constitution grants the full legal rights of women, and that the statement is a cultural and symbolic recognition: ‘To recognise the special importance of women’s role in the home – the principal sphere of altruism, non-reciprocal and non-cash exchange – is not to denigrate women’s work elsewhere.’ In this sense, the family is seen as a last refuge from the cash-nexus of cannibalistic Capital.13

What is more, the progressive analysis fails to account for the fact that Article 41 of the Constitution was always a watered down version of what lay-Catholic organisations, the religious hierarchy and prominent intellectuals mentioned earlier were advocating for. A main goal being the achievement of an actual ‘breadwinner’ wage to support stable families with mothers in the home. Ita Mallon was one such thinker, when she argued ‘the most Christian deterrent against mother and child labour was a decent wage for husbands’.14 This is the essential thrust and demand of the Irish corporatist intelligentsia at the time, but De Valera opted for a more liberal orientation, leaving out demands for a national bank, family wage, etc.

As the constitution was drafted, the iliberal economist and activist Alfred O’Rahilly objected to this exact conservatism in De Valera. He saw the traditional aspects of the social principles of the constitution’s being ‘pious claptrap’ while not forcefully enough reflecting the new order prescribed in Quadragesima Anno. This more concrete, corporatist social order would be instantiated by O’Rahilly’s pleading that De Valera ‘make a few Councils mandatory in the Constitution – say, councils of Education, Agriculture and Industry’.15 These councils would act essentially as societal guilds, guiding the nation in a just and pious direction.

Historians have noted that the guild-like structure of the Seanad, laid out in the constitution, reflect some aspects of the vocational theories of O’Rahilly as well as Italian corporatism. With the nomination of panel members by the Agricultural Organisation Society and the Irish Trade Union Congress, the Constitution grants the Seanad the ability for tradesmen, small farmers and other workingmen’s organisations to have their demands represented — challenging the gombeen propertied class’s domination of policy debate.16

Organised labour’s opposition to women in the workplace

A perhaps unlikely heir of this type of vocational guild structure was that of Trade Unions in Ireland.

Historically, the Labour movement in Ireland (as in the broader West) had always opposed the mass wagiefication of mothers. Virtually the entire basis of trade unionism was based on the rights of the male breadwinner in earning a wage secure enough to support his family of dependents. As Republican socialist George Russell (AE) emphasised, during the Dublin lock-out, employers sought to intentionally humiliate and economically cuckold their employees, as they:

determined deliberately, in cold anger, to starve out one-third of the population of this city, to break the manhood of the men by the sight of the suffering of their wives and the hunger of their children.’17

The figureheads of organised Irish labour had continued this ‘breadwinner’ attitude. Both John P. Swift (former president of the Irish Trade Union Congress) and John Conroy (legendary ITGWU president) held ‘extremely traditional views about the role of women in society’ being defined by ‘wife and mother in the home’.15 These views were not isolated preferences, but an expression of rank and file trade unionist and worker views on the erosion of maternal privileges.

Also, these views did not simply come from the male chauvinism of working class people, but were actually steeped in the internal logic of organised labour. As argued by the Secretary to the Irish Women Workers’ Union, Louie Bennett, the expansion of women into workplace en masse was a form of Capitalist warfare on working families:

this modern tendency to draw women into industry in increasing numbers is of no real advantage to them. It has not raised their status as workers, nor their wage standard. It is a menace to family life, and in so far as it has blocked the employment of men, it has intensified poverty amongst the working class.18

Regardless of their Marxist, secularist and even feminist impulses — large swathes of the pre-70s organised labour movement in Ireland were the most identifiably conservative forces against women’s ‘empowerment’ in the work place. After Vatican 2, and much of the splintering and dislocation of the Church, the Irish working class retained a loyalty to the more iliberal undercurrents of De Valera’s constitution rarely seen elsewhere in post-60s Irish society.

Some examples of popular discontent against encroaching liberal capitalism suffice to make the point. Firstly, when progressive academic Charles McCarthy promoted the end of the marriage bar to an audience of workers in the late 1970s, except — ‘the typical reaction came from a man in the audience who shouted, “Over my dead body will my wife go to work”’15 Secondly, there was no positive or inclusive worker response to one of the most prominent success stories of female managers of any business Ireland, particularly celebrated in the progressive 1990s: 

Anne Riordan, the first general manager of Microsoft Ireland in 1991, encountered trade union opposition to her employment as a married woman in the 1960s. While management were happy to continue her employment following her marriage “… it was the union that resisted because they feared women were taking ‘breadwinner jobs’”19

Notice the relevant tensions here: the new managers, the technocrats, etc were supportive of married women and mothers being forced to go out to work, but organised labour inherently perceived a threat to their wages. What becomes clear from this is that working families were never asked whether they think mothers should be made to go out to work, it was actually imposed against their will by a progressive capitalist class. The working class attained an inherent affinity for a sense of social justice which is inherently patriarchal and iliberal.

Building upon the Constitution

In many ways it is a great tragedy that the working class where expected to fight this battle themselves, while the country was opened up and ravaged by increasing waves of unrelenting liberal Capital since the 1960s. The Constitution’s symbolic gestures were not enough to protect the nation from the Whig march of Capital.

Returning to what the radicals and socially orientated Catholics were advocating for, it’s worth reminding ourselves what shape the constitution and actual policy could have easily taken had De Valera had different priors (as opposed to his liberal biases). One of the first points is that the Catholic subsidiarist approach bears some strong similarities with historical regimes particularly in the culturally Latin world. Peron’s Argentina and Salazar’s Portugal come to mind, both being radically labourite, National states.

The basic course Ireland could well have gone down was outlined well by Curtis when he discussing the goals of Catholic Action ideology:

The State must be urged to bring about better economic conditions for men and women. Family allowances would have to be provided, which would give fathers of families a wage sufficient to enable the mother to remain at home. Each increase in the family should bring an appropriate increase in income. Education should be directed to prepare young people “technically and morally” for family life.’20

Now, while these more radical social programs were never fully explored (perhaps briefly by Clann Na Poblachta), it could be argued that there is in a sense a nascent revolutionary potential contained in the constitution’s family principles, owing to the aforementioned iliberal influences. As Coughlin points out: ‘There seems to be incredible scope here, which has not yet been taken advantage of, for mothers, whether married or unmarried, to use the Constitution and the courts to challenge inadequacies of social security, housing and health legislation specifically affecting them.’21

Former Supreme Court member, Brian Walsh, concurs with Coughlin, noting that despite the constitutional protections of maternal economic security: ‘Astonishingly this protective guarantee has never been invoked in any litigation.’22

Returning to last Friday’s results, with the victory of the No campaign, and with these principles remaining embedded in the Constitution, working families and traditionalist civil society organisations could appeal for more expansive pro-family social policy in housing, healthcare and other areas based on our new-found re-affirmation of their constitutional rights.

Now, while proposing new legislation and mounting a proactive socially oriented campaign is always difficult, the precedent for iliberal social justice legislation, supporting the Family, traditional motherhood and increasing birthrates can already be seen in the Western welfarist context of the early 20th Century, which naturally, De Valera’s constitution grew out of. Particularly in the inter-war period, even Feminism became dominated by family-based motherhood activism:

Feminists began to promote motherhood and the improvement of the conditions of mothers. … In nearly all European countries pro-family campaigns were mounted, often by feminists, in an effort to reverse the slide in birth rates. “Mother’s Day” was introduced in the US in 1907, while in France a special medal was introduced for mothers of large families. Increasingly all over Europe married women were barred from employment.’23

The impacts of this notably anti-feminist revolution in political culture in favour of the Family over wagiedom could be seen in how, despite the debauchery of the Weimar Republic, German postal service workers fell from being comprised of 2,718 married women to only 21 from 1922 to 1923.24 With all of the libertinism of the roaring twenties, a gradual, committed and class-conscious iliberalism began to take shape in veterans of the First World War.

One wonders, if much of the early post-war West was able to begin a type of political revanchism, mainly waged through economic resistance (to women’s liberation, the banking cartels, etc) could the proceeding years spell a similar revival for the West and Ireland — is the analogy too crude?

If the pro-family movement of the 1920s — discouraging forced women’s labour, economically incentivising having kids, etc — was a reaction against the cultural degeneration of the Fin de siècle and Belle Époque, are we not living through a very similar period in the 2020s? What facilitated that cultural resistance, in my view was a proper understanding of social justice — from an iliberal, reactionary perspective.


Challenge to Democracy: Militant Catholicism in Modern Ireland – Maurice Curtis

The transformation of Ireland, 1900-2000 – Desmond Ferriter

Cottage to Crèche: Family Change in Ireland – Finola Kennedy

Vocationalism & Social Catholicism in Twentieth-Century Ireland – Don O’Leary


Cahill, p.320.



Curtis, p.136.


Curtis, p.126.


Curtis, p.127.


Quadragesimo anno


O’Leary, p.60.


O’Leary, p.65.


Coughlin, p.153.


Ferriter, p.4.


Curtis, p.9.


Coughlin, p.153.




Curtis, p.133.


O’Leary, p.68.


Curtis, p.133.


Coughlin, p.154.


Kennedy, p.90.


Kennedy, p.83.


Kennedy, p.91.




Walsh, p.98/


Ibid, p.92.


O’Leary, p.62.

Posted by Creeve Rua


  1. Ivaus@thetricolour 21/03/2024 at 3:12 pm

    PROGRESS is not liberal progressiveness.IRELAND is at a crossroads and
    Can achieve greatness again because when it uses ITS FOUNDATION to
    build upon it will not fail by repeating the mistakes of its past history.


  2. Daniel BUCKLEY 03/04/2024 at 5:05 pm

    Ireland’s Republican Constitution is the Peoples Protection against an overweenng , arrogant and tyrannical Regime.
    This is why they have attacked it relentlessly over the past decades,using their control of the Media. their parasitic NGO sector and their undemocratic Civil Assemblies , to propagandise the People in their own destruction.
    A sea change has occurred, as People awoke to the manipulations and perception management of the complicit Media.
    The demise of RTE with the Tubridy revelations was the first domino to fall and the Regimes main weapon of coercion bit the dust.
    We are in the early stages of a Peoples Revolution and the destruction of a tyrannical Regime that means us harm.
    Keep the momentum going as we go into the June Local Elections and give this dangerous anti–Irish Regime another walloping


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