Defence minister Alan Shatter has been accused of being prejudiced against the Catholic Church over his refusal to allow the army to provide a guard of honour for a procession during the International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin recently.
Members of the Defence Forces have regularly taken part in religious events throughout the State.
A spokesperson for the Department of Defence confirmed that a request had been submitted by the congress seeking Defence Forces’ participation in a street procession.
Last night, Limerick TD Willie O’Dea, a former defence minister, accused Mr Shatter of “blind prejudice” in blocking the army from taking part.
An army spokesperson was quoted in this week’s edition of The Irish Catholic as saying: “The department was not in a position to approve such involvement as military participation was not considered appropriate.”
The last major Catholic event in which the Defence Forces took part was in 2001 when the relics of St Thérèse of Lisieux came to Ireland.
Members of the Defence Forces provided full military honours on a number of ceremonial occasions.
The Irish Catholic said: “The unprecedented move has raised fears that religious events around the country, where members of the Defence Forces have traditionally played an important role, will become ‘no-go’ events for military personnel.
“It will also increase suspicion among people of faith that the Coalition is increasingly hostile towards Catholics.”
Last night Mr O’Dea said the request from the organisers of the congress should have been granted by Mr Shatter.
“It demonstrates a strange petty-mindedness by Mr Shatter, which I must say does not surprise me. His response to the request seems like one of blind prejudice and his reaction is totally inappropriate.
“He should now give a proper explanation why this decision was taken. The army have participated in Church ceremonies since the foundation of the State, irrespective of what Church was involved.
“There has been this tradition, and now we are told that such participation by the Defence Forces on major occasions like the eucharistic congress is suddenly inappropriate if Mr Shatter says so.”
Mr O’Dea said the clergy served as full-time, paid members of the Defence Forces, and a Catholic priest was based at Sarsfield Barracks and had travelled with the troops on UN missions.
Catholic chaplains in the Defence Forces do not have any rank and wear a non-rank Celtic Cross insignia.
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