Ciara Molloy

Thesis Title:

Criminal Justice Responses to Youth Deviance in the Republic of Ireland, 1955-85 


Professor Ian O’Donnell


This study seeks to examine the degree of responsiveness of the Irish criminal justice system to expressions of deviance over time during three perceived crises surrounding Irish youth; namely, the emergence of a Teddy boy subculture (1950s), the establishment of a hippie commune on Dorinish Island, Co. Mayo (1960s), and the activities of a north inner city gang known as the Bugsy Malones (1970s). Cultural changes in youth style, behaviour and values, particularly when these are associated with criminality, tend to generate a perceived social crisis with subcultural and societal understandings of such changes not necessary in alignment. And yet it is unclear from the existing literature what position the criminal justice system occupies in relation to this wider cultural change. This project will examine if these perceived crises can be regarded as moral panics, namely a disproportionate societal reaction to the actual threat posed. It will investigate how deviance was defined and ascribed and the factors that caused certain episodes to be policed, censured (and perhaps even censored) more vigorously than others. It seeks to analyse why some deviants such as the Bugsy Malones become castigated as villains or 'folk devils', while others, such as the Teds, elicited a social response which was similarly critical but failed to translate into expressions of formal social control. Hippies, in contrast, escaped this label and were instead dismissed as vagabonds; more nuisance than menace, but unwelcome nonetheless.  While appraising the competing constructions of deviance by a wide variety of moral entrepreneurs and agents of social control, including the media, interest-groups, religious bodies and politicians, this project will also explore the accounts given by those subjected to such labelling processes. In particular this project will assess the responses of the police, courts, probation and institutions of coercive confinement to these episodes of deviance and situate these responses within their appropriate historical context. It will identify the key factors that determine the nature and intensity of various criminal justice responses to youth deviance in addition to analysing the legislative, institutional and procedural legacy of youth deviance on the criminal justice system. This research therefore sheds valuable insight into the cultural underpinnings of the Irish criminal justice system, and explains why particular expressions of youth deviance during particular times of perceived social crises attract a particular criminal justice response.



Ciara Molloy is currently a UCD School of Law Doctoral Scholar. Her research focuses on the intersection between youth subcultures and the criminal justice system during the latter half of twentieth century Ireland. She is a former scholar of Trinity College Dublin (2015-2017) and holds a B.A. in History and Political Science from that institution. She also holds a MSc in Criminology and Criminal Justice from University College Dublin (2018) and was awarded the UCD Walsh Scholarship in Law during the period 2017-2018. She is a member of the Irish Penal Reform Trust, the European Society of Criminology, the Women’s History Association of Ireland and the Oral History Network of Ireland.


Presentations and/or Publications:

‘The Failure of Feminism? Rape Law Reform in the Republic of Ireland, 1980-2017’, Law and History Review, 36(4): 689-712.