The new sectarianism

There is tolerance for all but religious, writes David Quinn

Around the time of the Savita Halappanavar controversy I received an expletive-ridden phone call condemning the Catholic Church and telling me I should be hanged on O’Connell Street.

Around that same time I was in the Henry Street area of Dublin city centre and I was stopped and attacked as a ‘Catholic toe-rag’ by a very angry looking man.

When the Savita Halappanavar story broke, anyone who was in the public eye and expressed opposition to the Government’s abortion Bill was subjected to hate of this kind. Lots of it was laced with intense loathing of the Catholic Church.

Harry Magee of The Irish Times acknowledged that on social media such as Twitter the great majority of the vitriol on display was being directed at those espousing a pro-life/anti-abortion position.

Politicians who backed the Bill, including Enda Kenny himself, were also on the receiving end of abuse, but most of it seemed to be directed at them in the old-fashioned way, namely via post.

Famously, Enda received a letter comparing him to King Herod who had slaughtered the innocents.

More recently, anyone associated with The Iona Institute, in addition to columnist John Waters, were subjected to a huge amount of hate via email and inevitably via social media (very inaptly named) and the internet generally.


We were physically threatened. Most of the emails were expletive-laden and after about the second paragraph lots of them started to indulge in vicious attacks on the Catholic Church and religion generally.

This latest round of hate was sparked by RTÉ apologising and making a pay-out to John Waters and representatives of The Iona Institute after we were defamed on the Saturday Night Show.

During the course of the subsequent row we had Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte saying that those in the public eye should be able to take their lumps, not seek to defend their good names and should not expect Marquess of Queensbury rules to apply.

As I pointed out on Prime Time, Rabbitte’s party colleague, Prionsias de Rossa, successfully sued The Sunday Independent for several hundred thousand pounds after his good name was attacked.

Also, during the recent abortion debate we were regularly told by Labour politicians and others that it must be ‘calm and rational’.

If that rule should apply to the abortion debate – and it should – then it has to apply to all debates including the one on same-sex marriage.

But curiously most of those same pundits and politicians who sympathised with Enda Kenny for being compared with Herod sat on their hands when those on the other side of the ideological fence were receiving threats of physical violence not to mention the rest of the hate mail.

It appears that the Marquess of Queensbury rules of boxing must apply to those who take a politically correct view of things but not to those who take a more traditional view.

Another aspect of the hate we are bombarded with from time to time is that it comes from people who openly espouse ‘tolerance’ and insist it is their opponents who are guilty of ‘hate’.

Those who believe in the right to life of unborn children are accused of hating women. Those who believe marriage is by definition the sexual and emotional union of a man and a woman and that children deserve the love of a mother and a father where possible, are accused of hating gay people.


Those who are religious are condemned as fundamentalists especially if they are religious and conservative. ‘Fundamentalism’ is the sum of all hate in their view.

Once you have convinced yourself those you oppose are motivated by hatred and bigotry and nothing else, then it becomes very easy to hate them in your turn.

‘Bigots’ have no rights. They must be ostracised, defamed and driven from polite society.

There must be no debate on gay marriage because that only gives ‘homophobes’ a platform.

In some parts of Europe there is no longer any real debate on abortion because access to abortion has been defined as an absolute right and anyone who opposes it really is anti-woman or at the very least, an extremist. In Sweden, nurses and doctors are not allowed to conscientiously object to abortion.


Similarly, religion in various European countries has been driven from the public sphere because it is deemed to be irrational and a source of many prejudices including against gays and women.

I noted above that many of the emails we have received are laced with very strong anti-Catholic and anti-religious feeling. To this extent it can easily be argued that some of those who favour legalised abortion or gay marriage are themselves motivated by a prejudice, namely prejudice against religion in general and Catholicism in particular.

Indeed, the hatred directed at those who don’t go along with legalised abortion, with same-sex marriage, and who are practising, public religious believers is so strong, so vitriolic that it is sectarian in character.

Our media are rightly very quick to condemn religiously motivated sectarianism. However, they must become much quicker to condemn what amounts to a secular form of sectarianism even when they share some of the political aims of these ‘secular sectarians’.

Genuine hate and threats of violence should not be an acceptable part of public debate. Imputing the worst possible motives to your opponents should not be an acceptable part of public debate.

It is no good to call for a ‘calm and rational’ debate on abortion but then to stand idly by while those who back abortion pour out the vitriol on those who oppose abortion. The same applies when we debate gay marriage and other issues.

Indeed it is deeply hypocritical to call for a ‘calm and rational’ debate only when it suits you and not otherwise.