The law can be a scary thing; it is argued that if you’ve done nothing wrong, then you have nothing to be afraid of if you look at what goes on in the world today it is more apparent that that is not the case. I don’t think that ever was the case. Our laws can also be a good thing; laws help to keep order, little things like don’t run a red light, or you know the big ones like if you kill someone, you go to jail.
Understanding law is nuanced mainly if you’ve never studied it, and more so if you have.
The first time I thought about the laws that govern society, I was doing an access course in 2014, the module was sociology. Even though how the law works is in everything we see and read from books like Charles Dickens, Bleak House to peoples experiences like the book Úna-Minh Kavanagh, Anseo to other works such as the documentary The Great Hack, highlighting how we as a society feel about events that have had happened or continue to happen. For some people like me, the nuances and importance pass me by until it affects me, or also like me are ignorant of the mechanism of power that happens around me.
My lecturer said something that struck a chord with me; they were paraphrasing the work of Émile Durkheim, “if you want to understand how progressive a society was, just look at their laws.” In a roundabout way, the lecturer was talking about how countries approached suicide in law, how killing oneself is a crime, which I understand that these laws are shaped from religious texts, which adds another layer of nuance to the law.
Outside out the nuances of the law, I came across legal stumbling blocks that would have affected my college experience. I had to take a year out of my college course for financial reasons, and when I applied for help a year later, I was refused the legal supports that people are entitled to use. I had to research and write my appeals which I was able to do successfully. Unfortunately, not everyone can do that, and I was fortunate enough that I could; however, it made me realise how many people can’t defend themselves legally.
More recently I was reading a book (which I can’t link as I read it in my local library) about the history of Fingal, a province of Leinster and, within that, is part of the Dublin Region. I stumbled across the Irish Poor Laws. A quick Google search of what poor laws are you get this definition:
“What did the Poor Law of 1834 do?
The ‘new Poor Law‘
The Act grouped local parishes into Poor Law unions, under 600 locally elected Boards of Guardians. Each of those boards had its own workhouse. … Those who were ‘able-bodied’ but unemployed could not draw state support unless they entered a workhouse, where they earned their keep.”
Wanting to further my knowledge in understanding laws in Ireland I decided to look at what law courses suggest is good introduction reading to understanding law, and I came across another stumbling block, what direction to start learning? There are so many different fields of law to specialise in from Banking and Finance Law to Civil Rights Law, to Criminal Law to name but a few.
So I came across this book The Supreme Court by Ruadhán Mac Cormaic, and I pray that it fills me with hope, that the law is for everyone and not for those who are wealthy and educated enough to avail of the advantages of the law. Something I see all to happen often. So hope that it’ll be a good starting point to understanding what shapes Irish society.
Categories: Rob reads