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The Irish Constitution at 75 Years: Natural Law, Christian Values and the Ideal of Justice

32 Pages Posted: 5 Feb 2013  

Aileen Kavanagh

University of Oxford- Faculty of Law

Date Written: September 1, 2012


This paper examines the natural law jurisprudence of the Irish High Court and Supreme Court since the founding of the Irish State to the present day. This jurisprudence includes the leading cases on such controversial issues as the right to contraception, the criminalisation of male homosexuality and whether abortion was prohibited by the Irish Constitution. The paper shows that the case-law contains different lines of judicial thought on how to interpret those parts of the Constitution which refer to God and natural rights ‘antecedent and superior to positive law’. It argues that there were two main strands in the case-law: the ‘Christian’ strand, which emphasised the importance of Christian values and even Catholic social and moral teaching when interpreting the Constitution, and the ‘dignitarian’ strand which emphasised the dignity and freedom of the individual and the more secularised ideal of justice. The latter strand has gained dominance on the Irish Supreme Court since the 1990s. (Note: ‘Oireachtas’ means Parliament and ‘Bunreacht na hEireann’ means Basic law of Ireland ie the 1937 Irish Constitution).

Keywords: Irish Constitution 1937, natural law, dignity of the individual, abortion, justice

Suggested Citation

Kavanagh, Aileen, The Irish Constitution at 75 Years: Natural Law, Christian Values and the Ideal of Justice (September 1, 2012). (2012) 48 Irish Jurist 71-101; Oxford Legal Studies Research Paper No. 5/2013. Available at SSRN:

Aileen Kavanagh (Contact Author)

University of Oxford- Faculty of Law ( email )

St. Cross Building
St. Cross Road
Oxford, OX1 3UJ
United Kingdom

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