Church has replaced England as our bogeyman

When it comes to the Catholic Church, many Irish people need to grow up, writes David Quinn

President Michael D. Higgins is to make the first official visit by an Irish Head of State to Britain next April. Obviously Irish Heads of State have been to Britain before, just as Blessed John Paul II in 1982 became the first Pope to visit Britain since the Reformation. But that was a pastoral visit, not an official one.

The visit by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010 was a state visit and at the invitation of the British government. That was more high status and so will President Higgins’ visit next year.

It is a sign of how our relationship with Britain has improved over the years, just as Queen Elizabeth II’s visit to Ireland in 2011 showed.

That was the first visit to the Republic by a reigning British monarch since independence. It was impossible to come before then. A visit in the decades immediately after independence would have caused uproar in nationalist circles and the security of the monarch could not have been guaranteed.


As Mary Kenny points out in her excellent book, Crown and Shamrock, when the coronation of Elizabeth took place some cinemas wanted to show the ceremony but threats from nationalists stopped them so we can easily imagine the reaction to an actual appearance by a British monarch on Irish soil.

A politician who showed any liking at all for Britain was condemned as a ‘West Brit’ and a ‘Shoneen’. Therefore politicians bent over backwards to show they were not at all deferential towards Britain.

Indeed, when Ireland negotiated the Anglo-Irish trade agreement in 1938, Sean T. O’Kelly, boasted that we had “whipped John Bull left, right and centre and with God’s help we’ll do the same when the opportunity arises”.

This was the sort of rhetoric that played very well in Ireland back then. It was psychologically understandable in its own way. This country had suffered greatly at the hands of Britain and 1938 was no further from 1922 than 1997 is from 2013. It is the twinkling of an eye.

The Troubles

The Troubles obviously caused a further delay in the normalisation of relations with our nearest neighbour.

What has allowed normalisation to now take place? The answer is the Good Friday Agreement and the passage of time.

When Queen Elizabeth came here in 2011, bar a relative handful of protestors, the country went out of its way to make her feel welcome and politicians and commentators were full of ardour towards her. They wanted to show how anti-English rhetoric of the Sean T. O’Kelly variety is a thing of the past and is now considered an embarrassment. Today’s politicians are far more ‘mature’ than their forebears in this regard.

I bring up all this for its own sake but also to do a compare and contrast with our present relationship with the Catholic Church.

Many Irish politicians today speak about the Church in much the same way their predecessors would have once spoken about Britain.


Eamon Gilmore, for example, rarely misses an opportunity to take a crack at the Church and to remind us of our recent ‘liberation’ from its dominance. This plays well in sections of the Labour party in much the same way that Sean T. O’Kelly’s boast about whipping John Bull played in Fianna Fáil.

We can imagine how much Eamon Gilmore would have enjoyed closing our embassy to the Holy See.

Enda Kenny’s attack on the Holy See following the publication of the Cloyne report can be seen in a similar vein. The anger was understandable even if the speech itself was badly judged in places. Still, it went down very well with anti-Catholic opinion, the media and with many members of the general public.

Indeed, Mr Kenny has always been at pains to show he is not ‘deferential’ towards the Catholic Church showing that when even politicians are not actively attacking the Catholic Church, they go out of their way to show they are not its ‘lackeys’. They do not want to stand accused by the media of being the modern version of a West Brit or a Shoneen.

One wonders how long it will take before this kind of thing washes itself out of our system? It took decades in the case of Britain.

What our attitude towards the Church, and previously towards Britain, shows, is that psychologically we don’t change all that much. We always want an enemy and we always want something we can defer to.

Once Britain was the enemy and we deferred to the Church. Now for many of the most influential members of our society, and many ordinary people too, the Church is the enemy and we defer towards…what? Well, take your pick from the EU (in the case of our politicians), celebrities, money, political correctness and anything else you might care to add to the list.

The more things change, as the old adage goes, the more they stay the same.


Rhona Mahony and the abortion Bill

Rhona Mahony is Master of the National Maternity Hospital, the biggest hospital of its kind in the country. She shot to fame during the debate over the abortion bill which she strongly supported.

However, in The Sunday Independent last weekend she was quoted as saying how surprised she was at the amount of debate over the abortion bill because she reckons itís better to save one life than lose two. As a general rule, that is perfectly true of course and in the case of Savita Halappanavar, few would disagree. The various pro-life groups said the problem there was not with the law or with an anti-abortion ethic, but with poor practice by the team in charge of her case.

The real fight over the abortion bill had to do with the suicide ground. Did Rhona Mahony ever really get that?