Because most people of faith are law-abiding, there has been Church compliance with the Government’s draconian regulations against public worship – even though, as this newspaper has pointed out repeatedly, all across Europe, and Britain, churches are open for prayer and services.
Yet, in the light of history, it is utterly shocking that this new ‘Penal Law’ against religious practice in Ireland is enforced: that it should be described as a ‘criminal offence’ to attend Mass.
People understand that there has been a pandemic, and at the beginning, emergency measures needed to be taken. But the infection is receding and everywhere, ways are being found to ensure that health and safety measures can be put in place to allow orderly congregation. At our local church in Deal in Kent, there is now no problem whatsoever with Mass attendance, and everybody behaves sensibly and with due care, glad to be able to worship together again.
Surely the time has come, in Ireland, for the Faithful to show their displeasure with the Government’s continuing policy of banning worship? As Ray Kinsella has written in The Irish Times, it is “an unjust and unjustified assault on religious freedom”, a principle enshrined in the Constitution, while the Government has not offered any scientific evidence to support its position on keeping churches closed.
Two strategies are needed, in addressing this situation: one is to pursue change through the law – Archbishop Eamon Martin is already taking legal advice about this pathway, and Declan Ganley’s legal challenge, currently in abeyance, has given a meaningful lead.
It seems to me, too, it might be possible to take a case to the European Court of Human Rights, since freedom of worship is guaranteed by the European Convention. This, in itself, would attract bad publicity for the enforcement of an inhumane and disproportionate law, (which some legal experts aren’t even sure is a properly framed law at all).
The second strategy is to support protests and vigils outside churches – as has been done in Limerick and Cork, and elsewhere – and publicise these as much as possible through every outlet of social media, local newspapers and broadcast media.
A successful revolution, or change, happens by pushing a door that is already ajar. There is a discernible feeling of sympathy for this cause. Most people know it can’t be right to deny the Faithful their entitlement to freedom of worship, a freedom so hard-won through past centuries. Now is the time to push effectively for a change of State policy.
Prof. Philip Thomas of Bristol University, the British expert who most successfully predicted the course of BSE (mad cow disease) and its human equivalent in the 1990s, says that there will be no ‘third wave’ of Covid-19. He has done mathematical modelling for the new variants and predicts that any further outbreaks will be minimal and controlled. “The reality is that we are beating the pandemic.”
The death of a decent woman
Shirley Williams who died on April 12, aged 90, was expected to be the first woman and the first Catholic at 10 Downing Street. She was clever, nice, reasonable, and had a humane centre-left political view. But fate determined that Margaret Thatcher would beat her to the post.
In politics, luck, timing and choices all play a part in destiny. In 1976, Shirley Williams was urged to stand for the Labour Party leadership, but she chose not to. Perhaps she wasn’t quite ambitious enough – unlike Maggie. Michael Foot became Labour leader instead and that led to a lurch to the extreme left which was never going to be endorsed by the electorate. Mr Foot was also a decent person, with a love of literature, and a strong sympathy for Ireland. But his policies broke up his party.
Some sources claim that Shirley was weakened, professionally, when her husband, the philosopher Bernard Williams, walked out on her. It left her feeling unsupported as a single mother. She wasn’t the most organised – famous for being late, mislaying railway tickets, or even forgetting to turn up – she also needed a factotum to run her working life. Yet she was unfailingly considerate and courteous – I had some dealings with her as a reporter – and a good person.
In retrospect, she was blamed for abolishing grammar schools – although she wasn’t solely responsible for that policy – which had the unexpected outcome of enhancing private education for the affluent, while often depriving poorer, academically gifted kids. Education policies driven by political ideology rather than by the best interests of the pupils is often disastrous: the political attack on faith schools in Northern Ireland would also have worse outcomes for the children now benefiting from high educational standards.
Baroness Williams’ funeral will be at the end of April in a small, ancient Catholic church in a small village in Hertfordshire, Furneux Pelham.