Ireland was traditionally a very conservative society where the influence and power of the Catholic Church was very strong. The attitude of the Church towards sexual morality was extremely rigid. Censorship was very strict and any display of nudity was illegal. In this atmosphere naturism was regarded as immoral and indecent.
In the early 2000s Pat Gallagher became President. He believed that we as naturists should be proud of our lifestyle and he gave numerous media interviews which successfully portrayed us as ordinary normal people. Pat also started a campaign to have the law changed so that local authorities could designate suitable beaches or bathing places as naturist or clothing optional.
In 2014 the INA hosted the International Naturist Congress in Ireland. It was a big success and generated a large amount of very positive publicity for us. In 2015 we heard that the Government was reviewing the law on sexual offences following a High Court decision that the old 1935 law on indecent exposure was unconstitutional. We made a detailed submission to the Government and were very pleased that the law was changed in 2017 so that an offence involving nudity was committed only if the person intended to cause offence or alarm or was engaged in inappropriate sexual conduct.
Either naturist beach or clothing optional beach is OK.
Ireland has a written Constitution which can only be changed in a referendum. All laws passed by parliament must be in accordance with the Constitution.
Although there were some very old laws forbidding public nudity, the main law was enacted in 1935 and stated that any person who acted in such a way as to offend modesty or cause scandal or injure the morals of the community was guilty of an offence. It was therefore illegal to “offend modesty” by being naked in a public place. In theory, any naturist swimming or sunbathing in a public place, no matter how remote, could be prosecuted. In practice the police were not interested in taking action against genuine naturists – no member of the INA has ever been prosecuted for naturist activities. However the fact that that this law existed was enough to deter many Irish people from taking part in naturist activities.
There was a fundamental change in 2017 in the legal situation regarding public nudity. The new law states that an offence is committed only if a person exposes himself/herself with the intention of causing fear, alarm or distress. As naturists most certainly do not wish to cause fear, alarm or distress the act of being naked is, in itself, no longer an offence. Around the same time a High Court judge stated that discreet skinny dipping was manifestly not indecent.
Following the change of law the INA made submissions to a number of local authorities asking them to officially designate beaches or bathing places which had previously been used as unofficial naturist venues. In December 2017 we had our first success when Dun Laoghaire / Rathdown Council, which is in County Dublin, agreed to erect official signs advising users of a popular local bathing place (Hawk Cliff) that nude bathers may be seen if they pass the sign. This is a major breakthrough for the INA as it marks the first official recognition of public outdoor naturist activities. We will be asking other local authorities to follow this example and erect similar signs at suitable secluded beaches and bathing places in their areas.
– Written by: Colm