We’ve moved on from the days when Rome ruled our Republic

THERE was an amazing interview during the week on RTÉ in relation to the final decommissioning of weapons by the UDA. It seemed strange to hear Frankie Gallagher of the Ulster Political Research Group speak in such complimentary terms about the help received in Dublin.

Gallagher was also highly complimentary of the role that President Mary McAleese had played in figuratively building bridges between the two communities in Northern Ireland. He emphasised that her husband, Martin, had played a critical role in negotiations leading to the decommissioning.

“When we went down and met the ordinary people in the Republic whose aspirations may have been for a united Ireland, they never once made us feel that we had to give up our Britishness,” Gallagher said. “We never once felt that we had to surrender our beliefs. The people we met were so warm and accommodating that we have actually built very solid relationships and friendships with people in the Republic. That’s the way to go forward, working with people, uniting people, but it’s also about accepting their difference,” he added.

It may not be surprising to us that any loyalist should have felt welcome in the Republic, but it was surprising to hear it being said so openly. This is probably a reflection of the depth of the misunderstanding between the people of the two parts of the island.

There has been a tendency in recent years to depict de Valera’s Ireland as a priest-ridden bog, but while the Long Fellow may have been almost physically blind, he had more vision than the leaders of the coalition which ousted him in 1948.

One of the first acts of that government was to send a telegram to the Pope desiring “to repose at the feet of Your Holiness the assurance of our filial loyalty and our devotion to your August Person, as well as our firm resolve to be guided in all our work by the teaching of Christ and to strive for the attainment of social order in Ireland based on Christian principles.”

Maurice Moynihan, the cabinet secretary, strongly advised against the telegram on the grounds that “no civil power should declare that it reposed at the feet of the Pope,” but he was overruled and promptly banned from future cabinet meetings. That was the government that formally proclaimed the Republic in 1949.

It also provided firm proof that Home Rule did amount to Rome Rule in those years. William Norton, the Tánaiste and leader of the Labour Party, backed down on a Social Welfare Bill when faced with ecclesiastical opposition and Seán MacEoin, Minister for Justice, abandoned an adoption bill under orders from Archbishop John Charles McQuaid. “He won’t allow it,” MacEoin told the cabinet. That was that.

There were a whole series of incidents during the 1950s, beginning with the Mother and Child controversy when Minister for Health Noel Browne ran foul of McQuaid. Browne’s department had been doing a magnificent job in tackling what had been the highest rate of tuberculosis in western Europe. By 1951 the TB rate had been halved and he turned his attention to the country’s infant morality rate, which was also one of the highest in Europe.

His Mother and Child Bill ran into episcopal hostility because some bishops thought it amounted to socialised medicine, as there was no means test for free treatment. The bishops also objected that the bill provided for counselling of pregnant women without stipulating that only a Catholic doctor could advise a pregnant Catholic woman.

Browne sought to reassure the bishops that the “education in respect of motherhood” related to diet and such – not issues like contraception or abortion, which were illegal anyway.

Taoiseach John A Costello allowed himself to be summoned by McQuaid to his Drumcondra palace where he learned of the difficulties between the bishops and Minister for Health. Costello actually asked the archbishop for permission to speak to Browne.

“I asked his Grace to permit me to try to adjust the matter with my colleague,” Costello told the Dáil. “His Grace readily gave me that assignment and that authority.” Who was running the country?

The Taoiseach notified Browne in writing that he was withholding approval of the scheme “due to the objections set forth in the letter to me from the secretary to the Hierarchy.” He ordered that Browne should not describe the scheme as government policy “unless and until you have satisfied the Hierarchy.”

Browne’s orders were not that he had to satisfy his government colleagues, but that he had to “satisfy the Hierarchy”.

When he balked, his party leader, Seán MacBride, demanded his resignation.

“All of us in the Government who are Catholics are, as such of course, bound to give obedience to the rulings of our Church and of our Hierarchy,” MacBride declared. “I, as a Catholic, obey my Church authorities and will continue to do so,” the Taoiseach told the Dáil.

Our politicians had the colossal impertinence to brag about their naked betrayal of the Republic. They lined up to kiss the Archbishop of Dublin on all four cheeks.

“I had deliberately set out, by use of the correspondence, to collect the evidence needed by me to prove conclusively that Rome did rule, which I had already learned from my experience in cabinet,” Browne later explained.

Last year, in the wake of the Ryan report into the paedophile abuse in church-run institutions and the Murphy report into the abuse in the Dublin archdiocese, should any rational person be surprised that the Protestant people of Northern Ireland were so determined to resist absorption into that anachronism that we called the Republic?

IT should be noted that the Mother and Child debacle was only one of a number of such outrageous incidents. Bishop Michael Browne of Galway essentially blocked to the appointment of a professor of gynaecology at University College, Galway, because the man had been educated at Trinity College, Dublin.

This mentality was later reduced to utter absurdity when Agriculture Minister James Dillon tried to establish an Agricultural Institute under the aegis of Trinity College in 1955. The Conference of Bishops objected and the government promptly capitulated. They couldn’t have people educated at a Protestant-controlled institution treating Catholic cows, pigs or sheep, could they?

One could add the Clonlara affair in 1956, the Fethard-on-Sea fiasco in 1957 and the Rose Tattoo debacle of 1959 to the litany of shame. Our gutless politicians repeatedly shirked their democratic responsibilities by essentially handing government over to an arrogant, grasping Hierarchy that not only sacrificed the most vulnerable of those submitted to their care but also shamelessly betrayed the idealism of the many thousands of good, decent people who had genuine vocations.

We should not really be surprised to hear the loyalist praise of Martin and Mary McAleese this week. After all the President was the one who stood up to Archbishop Desmond Connell when he publicly denounced her for taking communion at a Protestant service in Christ Church Cathedral. She had the exquisite audacity to announce she would do so again, and a public opinion poll showed that a great majority of the people agreed with her.

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