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Rethinking ireland, 1954–75
Author: Tomás Finn

This book is concerned with political, intellectual and cultural developments in the context of assessments as to how Ireland was transformed during the 1950s and the 1960s. It analyses how Tuairim (meaning ‘opinion’ in Irish), an intellectual movement influenced key public policy decisions in relation to Northern Ireland, education, industrial schools and censorship.

An analysis of Tuairim shows that the 1950s and 1960s were a transformative phase in modern Irish history. In these years, a conservative society dominated by the Catholic Church, and a state which was inward-looking and distrustful of novelty, gradually opened up to fresh ideas. This study considers this change. It explores how Tuairim was at the vanguard of the challenge to orthodoxy and conservatism. The society established branches throughout Ireland, including Belfast, and in London. It produced frequent critical publications and boasted a number of members who later became prominent in Irish public life; this included the future Taoiseach, Dr Garret FitzGerald, Donal Barrington, later a Supreme Court Judge and Miriam Hederman O’Brien, a future Chancellor in the University of Limerick. Tuairim provided a unique space for civic engagement for its members and made a significant contribution to debates on contemporary Ireland and its future.

This book is concerned with the society’s role in the modernisation of Ireland. In so doing it also addresses topics of continued relevance for the Ireland of today, including the Northern Ireland Peace Process and the institutional care of children.

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Tomás Finn

This chapter outlines the key themes of the book: the transformation that took place in Ireland during the 1950s and 1960s, Tuairim’s influence in debates on issues as diverse as Northern Ireland, the economy, politics, education, childcare and censorship and its role in the intellectual life of the country. It considers the scholarship that has taken place on intellectuals and the role of ideas and argues for a more nuanced understanding of the character, nature and place of intellectuals within society.

in Tuairim, intellectual debate and policy formulation
Tomás Finn

This chapter examines the intellectual climate in Ireland and in the wider western world during the post-war period. It argues that Tuairim’s independence of the Catholic Church and of the political establishment made the organisation unusual both in a national and in an international context. The society’s promotion of new ideas and its ability to tackle controversial issues provoked a reaction from those in positions of power. This chapter highlights the resistance to independent thinking that went to the highest echelons of the political and religious establishments but also illustrates that the society was part of an emerging culture that questioned orthodoxy and which facilitated the creation of a new policy agenda.

in Tuairim, intellectual debate and policy formulation
Tuairim, the government and the Oireachtas
Tomás Finn

This chapter considers Tuairim’s contributions to debates on both administrative reform and the quality of ideas informing public policy. It assesses the influence Tuairim had on debates during the referenda on the electoral system and the extent to which the society convinced the political establishment of the need for Oireachtas reform. Where Labour’s interest in a more consensual form of politics meant it was amenable to Tuairim’s views the two main political parties seemed wedded to a more adversarial system of government. And yet the society did influence the way policy was formulated; this was most evident with the recognition of the central importance of economic planning to Ireland’s future. While the momentum for change increased, resistance to reform remained as many politicians rejected reforms when they felt their political interests to be directly threatened.

in Tuairim, intellectual debate and policy formulation
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Tuairim and a divided island
Tomás Finn

This chapter examines Tuairim’s challenge to traditional nationalist attitudes, and its attempts to promote reconciliation between Northern Ireland and Ireland as well as between the two communities within Northern Ireland. It argues that the society influenced southern nationalist attitudes and played a significant role in the debate on the future direction of Northern nationalism but failed to make a noteworthy impact on Unionism. Nevertheless, Tuairim served a valuable purpose in contributing towards a more complete understanding of the divisions on the island; the ideas put forward by the society and its members later formed the basis of the Good Friday Agreement and are thus of continued relevance for the Ireland of today.

in Tuairim, intellectual debate and policy formulation
Tuairim’s challenge to the conservative consensus on education and childcare
Tomás Finn

This chapter considers the impact Tuairim made on the debate on the education system and its views on industrial schools as well as its attempts to retain UCD in Dublin city centre and to foster good relations between that college and Trinity College Dublin. It argues that the society’s hopes for moves towards equality of opportunity and increased co-operation provoked a strong reaction from vested interests but also facilitated increased activity by the state. While the political and religious establishments rejected the society’s proposals for the third-level sector, Tuairim’s ideas encouraged the government to implement much-needed reforms in education and in relation to the institutional care of children and to tackle powerful interests, such as the Catholic Church.

in Tuairim, intellectual debate and policy formulation
Tuairim and cultural conservatism
Tomás Finn

Chapter 5 is concerned with censorship. This chapter examines Tuairim’s support for authors who had books banned and the interaction between Fr Peter Connolly, a representative of the liberal wing of the Catholic Church, and the society in its quest for reform of the system of censorship in operation in Ireland. Where moving the public towards an appreciation of the literary merits of novels remained incomplete, the society’s success in tackling controversial issues and attracting well-known individuals, such as Edna O’Brien, was significant in creating a climate of opinion where reforms could be introduced. The new laws implemented in 1967 successfully ended Tuairim and Connolly’s attempts to influence debate on this matter and facilitated the creation of a more open society.

in Tuairim, intellectual debate and policy formulation
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Tomás Finn

This chapter argues that Tuairim influenced the key policy decisions which shaped modern Ireland. It draws together the book’s central themes: Tuairim’s place in society, the complex nature of debates and the organisation’s impact on policy formulation and intellectual debate. The resistance Tuairim provoked and what this illustrates about Ireland, its politics and society as well as the role of intellectuals and ideas is central to this chapter. It argues that Tuairim’s significance lay in its influence in policy-making circles but also that it encouraged the transition towards a more liberal climate. This chapter confirms the existence of a culture of inquiry in 1950s Ireland but also that there continued to be problems during the 1960s. Moreover, it underlines the need for further study on ideas, intellectuals and their role in governmental institutions adopting new policies.

in Tuairim, intellectual debate and policy formulation