How will the long slow secularisation of Ireland affect NI’s future politics?

At a rough calculation, when I was a lad growing up in Holywood, we had four well attended Masses on a Sunday as well as benediction in the evening. We also had two Parish Priests and a school that had partly to be paid for by fund raising from the Parish.

If you lapsed into not knowing what it meant to be Catholic, there was always the Redemptorist Missionaries to remind you. Being Catholic was a gateway into other aspects of your culture, Gaelic Football, Irish dancing and the language were if not exactly on tap, then readily available.

Well, they play a better standard of football these in Holywood, than we did in mine. And the pitch isn’t bowl-shaped any more. But considering that religious affiliation has played such a central role in cultural and political identity in the past, what are we to make of the news (from last week) that 75% of Irish Catholics pay no heed to Catholic teaching on sex, or that only 35% of us make it to Mass on a regular basis?

Will this mark a long slow drift in other forms of identity? Or will we, like the French, persist in some kind of secular Catholic identity that replaces the values of the earlier more religious one. It may depend very much on whether the current settlement successfully removes any real cause for political grievance.

But might it also open up the possibilities for people taking a more individuated choice in education and ultimately, in politics?