Call to honour Church’s key role in fight for independence

Call to honour Church’s key role in fight for independence Seán T. O’Kelly

Ignoring the role of faith in the fight for Irish freedom misrepresents the history of the struggle, a leading historical adviser to the Oireachtas has warned.

As politicians met this week for a historic joint sitting to mark the centenary of the meeting of the first Dáil, UCC historian Gabriel Doherty has insisted that the influence of Catholic Social Teaching on the foundations of independent Ireland cannot be airbrushed from history.


Commenting on speeches given in Dublin’s Mansion House to mark the centenary of the first Dáil, Mr Doherty, who is historical consultant to the Oireachtas for the centenary programme, took issue with an apparently widespread belief among Irish politicians that the first Dáil’s Democratic Programme was written by Labour Party leader Tom Johnson.

“They didn’t seem to be aware that for all that Tom Johnson wrote the draft of the document, which he clearly did and there are clearly links between that and the final text, he wasn’t the author of the text which was endorsed by the Dáil,” Mr Doherty told The Irish Catholic.

“That was Seán T. O’Kelly who read it the night before and realised it wasn’t acceptable. I don’t think that enough people in the Dáil, to judge by proceedings yesterday, are even aware of that.”

Mr Doherty challenged especially the claim by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar that the assertion in the programme that “the right to private property must be subordinated to the public right and welfare” was a legacy of the Labour movement, reflected in how the Constitution enshrines property rights “subject to the common good”.

“This is Catholic all over,” Mr Doherty said. “Anyone who thinks that the common good is a key tenet of socialism simply doesn’t understand socialism, certainly at the time. Of course, it may have evolved over the time to appropriate that, but that would be far more associated with Catholic social teaching.”

The original Johnson text acknowledged no right to private ownership of property at all, Mr Doherty said, pointing out that it spoke instead of trusteeship, and said that the nation could take possession of property “whenever the trust is abused or the trustee fails to give faithful service”.

Leo XIII’s 1891 papal encyclical Rerum Novarum has specifically repudiated the socialist notion that there is no right to private property, while teaching that such a right could never be absolute, Mr Doherty explained.

Similarly in line with Catholic social teaching, Mr Doherty said, “the element of duty is much stronger in the final text of the democratic programme than it would have been in the Johnson text, where the obligations were only owed to the poor.

“The democratic programme said that everybody has a duty to care for everybody, and that that duty falls especially on the rich because they’re in a better position,” he noted.

The failure to grasp the importance of Catholic thinking to the document is largely down to a backlash against the Church, he said.

“Certainly the reaction against the Church in recent decades is the reason why its important role in 1916 and its influence on the Democratic Programme of the first Dáil,” is overlooked.