Still needed: an Irish Christian Democracy

Still needed: an Irish Christian Democracy German Chancellor Angela Merkel is arguably the most powerful politician in Europe and unapologetic about her Christian Democratic values. Photo: CNS
It is doubtful whether a party with the word Christian in the title would even see the light of day in Ireland, writes David Quinn

The new leader of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) in Germany is a man named Armin Laschet. He will be unfamiliar to the vast majority of Irish people, but he is now in charge of what is arguably the most powerful political party in Europe. He has taken over the leadership from Angela Merkel, who retains her job as chancellor and is retiring soon. An election is due in Germany in September, and it is possible Mr Laschet will succeed her as chancellor also, in which case he will be the most powerful politician in Europe. Then we will hear a lot more of him.

The CDU, and its sister organisation, the Christian Social Union, which has its electoral base in southern Germany, are the last two major parties in Europe that still have the word ‘Christian’ in their titles. It is doubtful whether a party with their names would even see the light of day in Ireland, such is the present climate here.

Indeed, it is doubtful if someone like Armin Laschet himself would get anywhere near a position of real seniority in any of our main political parties because of his views on various social issues. He was against same-sex marriage, for example, even though he now accepts it as a fact of life. But he still believes “a union between a man and a woman is the best and most dependable basis for a successful family”.

Major politician

What major politician in Ireland would dare to say such a thing?

His most influential adviser, Nathaniel Liminski, is a member of Opus Dei. That would have commentators here reaching for the smelling salts.

At a recent conference in Brussels, Mr Laschet, a practicing Catholic himself, said: “Catholics have a drive to shape things on a global level; embedded in the papacy, we are rarely nationalists”.

He was obviously explaining why he has an internationalist outlook, but in Ireland what major politician would utter the sentiment, “Catholics have a drive to shape things?” Here, we think religion is best left inside the four walls of your home or church.

Mr Laschet, on the other hand, knows Catholics have as much right, as non-Catholics, to try and shape the world of affairs as anyone else.

In Ireland, such views would have him branded ‘fundamentalist’ and ‘hard-right’, even though in Germany, and elsewhere in Europe, he is considered a centrist in the style of Angela Merkel and a committed European determined to defeat nationalist attempts to undermine the EU.

His nearest political equivalent in Ireland is probably John Bruton, who is long retired from politics and who, in today’s climate, would probably find it very hard to get to the top of Fine Gael.

The Dublin Bay South by-election has been endlessly dissected since Labour’s Ivana Bacik emerged victorious last week.

Ms Bacik is a long-time campaigner for abortion on extremely liberal and permissive grounds. She also supports euthanasia.

Their candidate attracted only 4.8% of the first preference votes, leading to more soul-searching in that party”

Her victory is being interpreted as a sort of reward from one of Ireland’s more liberal constituencies for her campaigning work down the years, although in last year’s general election, in the same constituency, Fine Gael’s Kate O’Connell lost her seat despite being a vociferous opponent of the Eighth Amendment.

The pro-life Aontú party won 2.8% of the first preference votes as against Ms Bacik’s 30.2%. But this was about the same as Solidarity/People-Before Profit, despite all the publicity they receive, and it is not much less than the 3.2% won by the Social Democrats, who also have a very favourable media profile.

Does Aontú’s share of the vote mean that only 2.8% of Dublin Bay South voters are pro-life? No, because 21.5% of voters in that constituency voted to keep the Eighth Amendment in 2018.

It is simply a fact that voters rarely have social issues upper-most in their minds when voting in general elections or by-elections.

A feature of the by-election is that the governing parties did very badly. Fine Gael lost the seat it held. The ‘Green Wave’ faded to a ripple, and Fianna Fáil fared worst of all. Their candidate attracted only 4.8% of the first preference votes, leading to more soul-searching in that party.

We can be certain of one thing; Fianna Fáil will not go in a Christian Democrat direction.

Christian Democracy

But what is ‘Christian Democracy’? It’s worth reminding ourselves. It emerged in the late 19th century and was shaped by some of the papal encyclicals of that era. It offered a sort of ‘third way’ between socialism and unbridled capitalism and was successful for a very long time, especially in countries like Germany and Italy.

It has traditionally been pro-family and pro-life. It favours State intervention where needed, but defends private property. It also defends the right of parents to choose the kind of education they want for their children.

The group of parties in the European Parliament that mostly have their roots in Christian Democracy is the European People’s Party (EPP).

The influence of Christian Democracy, even if very faded, was still to be seen in the EPP’s manifesto for the European Parliament elections in 2019.

It said: “What makes Europe unique in the world is our rich cultural heritage, our shared history and our common Judeo-Christian roots”.

Try to imagine Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil saying that.

A ‘third way’ between unbridled capitalism and socialism is still need”

Elsewhere the manifesto stated: “We have to protect our European way of life by preserving our Christian values and fundamental principles.”

Such a statement is equally unimaginable here.

This is a disaster for Ireland, politically and socially. A Christian Democratic Party does not have to call itself that. It can call itself ‘Aontú’, if it wants. But the blend of policies and political philosophy it offers is as relevant as ever.

The present political tide in Ireland will have to change again before people are ready for Christian Democratic-style answers to our problems, but a ‘third way’ between unbridled capitalism and socialism is still needed, as is a politics that seeks to remedy the dire, inhuman effects of the unbridled social individualism now dominant in Ireland.