South Must Separate Church and State

While in the North partition resulted in the creation of a profoundly sectarian Orange state, in the South the victors in the civil war created a state that was reactionary, Catholic and deeply conservative.

Despite the passage of time, much of the architecture of that conservative catholic state remains, including the 1937 constitution which was in the words of Professor Dermot Keogh “suffused with Catholic thinking and ideals”.

The Catholic hierarchy had stood staunchly behind the pro-treaty side in 1922 and 1923. The first government of the Free State was not short of reactionaries and in the years that followed it was to forge a conservative alliance with the Catholic Church.

The Free State, with its entanglement with the Catholic Church armed the opponents of Irish Unity and reinforced prejudices against governance of Ireland by the Irish people – the fear that an Irish run government would be a Catholic government.

The access of members of the Catholic Church hierarchy to members of government at the time that the Constitution was formulated and in the years that followed is well known.

An explicit statement of the then Government’s commitment to the Catholic Church and to Pope Pius XII was made by John A. Costello Taoiseach of the inter-party Government in 1948 committing to “strive for the attainment of a social order in Ireland based on Christian principles”.

It has been argued that the special relationship between the Irish state and the Catholic Church ended in the mid 1980’s at the time of Garrett Fitzgerald’s tenure as Taoiseach – around the time the first divorce referendum took place.

However we are a long way from a full separation of church and state. Today health and education systems in particular remain a confused mess of church and state and as such are an anathema to those of us who want a secular republic.

We are still dealing with the legacy of the prominence of a catholic ethos in our hospitals.

Nowhere was this more evident than in the practice of symphysiotomy where religion and conservatism triumphed over the rights of women. This was almost uniquely practiced in Ireland up until the 1980’s. And even within Ireland it was most commonly carried out in Catholic run hospitals.

In line with Catholic thinking, symphysiotomy was carried out in place of a caesarean section because caesarean sections would limit the number of children a woman could have.

Symphysiotomy, the sawing of a woman’s pelvis in half, created misery, lifelong pain and hardship for those who were brutalised in this way. Today the victims of symphysiotomy continue to fight for justice.

Despite vast social and demographic changes in Irish society since the drafting of the 1937 constitution little progress has been made in separating church and state particularly in regard to the education system.

For those of us living in rural Ireland there is little or no choice in terms of the types of schools to which we can send our children. While the state funds primary education, 96% of primary schools are owned and under the patronage of religious denominations with approximately 90% of these under the patronage of the Catholic Church.

Many primary schools which are oversubscribed give preference to baptised children.

Given that 90% of schools under the patronage of the Catholic Church this is a hugely discriminatory practice and it is well recognised that many parents feel compelled to baptise children just in order to ensure they can secure a school place.

Regardless of my religious views or none, the local Catholic priest will have a greater say in my child’s education than I will – he will be guaranteed a place on the school’s board of management. The local bishop will make a decision on a potential amalgamation of my child’s school.

While citizen’s taxes fund the education system, the outdated patronage system ensures that the Catholic Church still makes important day to day decisions in the vast majority of primary schools.

The government has initiated a study of ‘Patronage and Pluralism in the Primary Sector’ which includes a parental survey in a small number of areas but this is limited and far from satisfactory.

Various government ministers have suggested that there is an element of parental choice with the growth of non-denominational and multi-denominational schools but in reality these are only a tiny minority of schools and are generally confined to larger cities and urban areas.

The Constitutional Convention has recommended a number of changes to the 1937 Constitution which seek to mitigate some sections most suffused with Catholic thinking.

They recommended changes to the articles dealing with women’s place in the home, enshrining marriage equality and removing the requirement to criminalise blasphemy. While a referendum on marriage equality will take place on the 22nd of May, no indication has been given by government regarding if and when it will act on the other recommendations.

It is time to deliver a genuine separation of church and state. In particular it is time to act in those areas which practically impact on citizens and which in effect deny the rights of those of us who are neither Catholic nor religious to equality– in particular in education and health.

  • Joe_Hoggs

    It’s amazing how how the author states that the “North” was “Orange and sectarian,”
    while the “South” was only “Catholic, Conservative and reactionary.” The stall is laid out firmly within the first paragraph, the author refuses to recognise Northern Ireland as an entity and refuses to recognise that perhaps the ROI did engage in sectarianism??

  • aber1991

    What could be wrong with the Catholic Church controlling the schools and hospitals which it owns? What is wrong with the GAA controlling the playing fields which it owns? What is wrong with me controlling the house which I own?

    If anyone does not like Catholic schools, he need not send his child to one. If anyone does not like Catholic hospitals, he should not let himself be admitted to one.

    In Eire, many taxpayers are Catholics. In addition to paying tax, they also contribute to their parishes to help maintain the parochial school. Why should anyone be allowed to freeload on a Catholic parish?

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    “the author refuses to recognise Northern Ireland as an entity”
    I know Joe, we’re constantly told about ‘respect’, ‘equality’ and the importance of outreach but that’s all conveniently overlooked when it comes to even mentioning the name ‘Northern Ireland’. It makes it all seem so hollow.

  • Joe_Hoggs

    I also don’t understand why some of our leaders who run this country cannot say it’s name. It’s so political but amonst the mainstream community it’s much less of an issue.

  • aber1991

    “Many primary schools which are oversubscribed give preference to baptised children.”

    What could be wrong with that?

    Is this woman insinuating that, in a Catholic school, non-Catholics should have equality with Catholics? What next? Will she suggest that, in Croke Park, soccer players should have equality with GAA players? Or, God forbid, will she demand equality with me in my home? Would she grant me equality with her in her home? Or would that be different? If so, is it always different when it applies to her?

    Is this woman insinuating that a Catholic school should turn away the children of practising Catholics in order to leave room for the children of heretics, atheists and agnostics? If so, she is really far gone. Would she turn her children out of her home in order to leave room for other people’s children? What next? Will she demand that the GAA ban gaelic football on its pitches in order to leave them in proper condition for rugby and soccer? Some “liberals” are low enough for anything?

  • Mister_Joe

    More than hollow. It’s sheer hypocrisy that members of SF cannot say Northern Ireland while they sit in The Northern Ireland Assembly and have no problem accepting cheques or Bank transfers presumably with the verboten words printed out.

  • Practically_Family

    Indeed it’s nearly as unimportant amongst ordinary folk as whether one calls the big town on the Foyle Derry or Londonderry. Barely seems to matter to anyone but politcians.

  • barnshee

    “What could be wrong with the Catholic Church controlling the schools and hospitals which it owns”

    Absolutely nothing just make sure no public funds are used in their upkeep

  • Turgon

    Agreed: also worth noting that in an article on the RoI the author seems to find it essential to insert, as an opening line, the claim that Northern Ireland (whose name cannot even be said) is worse.

  • eireanne

    I’d like to make a severaal points about this post

    1) For more information about the appalling practice of symphysiotomy and how it becamewidespread in the republic of ireland have a look here.
    Nothing can justify this example of man’s inhumanity to women

    2) Rather than focus on Ms Ní Dhonnabháin’s remarks on the 1937 constitution and the need to separate Church and State I was disappointed to see that several posters preferred to lament she does not mention/recognze “Northern Ireland”

    Which seems to be of the utmost importance to establish some sort of
    credential, although what for is not clear.

    Does it determine her intellectual, humanitarian or journalistic calibre?
    No -according to some it identifies her as a SF supporter whose views are “suspect”, “disloyal” or to be discounted (whether she is or not – I have no idea)

    3) The principle of Church/State separation in Ireland was, AFAIK, first
    proposed in the Fenian Constitutionin 1867

    “We declare, also, in favour of absolute liberty of conscience, and
    complete separation of Church and State”.

    The principle was not accepted

    Not by the Roman Catholic Church which actively supported the UK connection

    Not by the Church of England/Ireland with the Monarch as its Head

    Not by the Loyal Orders etc

    De Valera unsurprisingly took all possible steps to keep the RC church (majority)
    on board in his new state, guaranteeing its place in the 1937 Constitution.

    That was over 75 years ago –

    Isn’t it time to rationally assess the impact of the 1937 constitution on society as a whole in the ROI
    (not just on Protestants, some of whom became Presidents. Have we had a Catholic First Minister yet in NI?)
    and to what extent far the ROI has succeeded in removing its influence ?

  • Turgon

    What is being questioned is why in an article on the RoI and its relationship between church and state, Ms Ní Dhonnabháin felt it necessary to preface her remarks with the claim that Northern Ireland (whose name she will not even mention) was worse.

  • NMS

    The timing of this piece is bemusing – directly after the coverage of another alleged rape and cover up by members of Iníon Ui Dhonnabháin’s party. If I remember correctly, she used to work for one of those involved, Arthur Morgan.

    Study of the Irish Constitution does not of course get much attention within the Provos – too much time spent reading Army rules and how to run a Court Martial, but I would refer her to Article 42, dealing with Education. If Sinn Féin wish to propose constitutional changes, they can do so at any time. But it normally makes sense to read the document first.

    However to get back to the core of the piece. One of the key problems around the school patronage issue in Ireland, is the unwillingness of any other groups to take over the management of schools. At National school level, the State has generally opted out, with just a few “model” schools under the direct patronage of the Minister and an even smaller number under Education Boards. Neither the Department or the Education Boards have any interest in running National schools.
    An Foras Patrúnachta & Educate Together have been given the majority of new schools. Indeed the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin is happy to transfer a lot of schools, but no one is terribly interested in taking them on.

    At secondary level, just under half of all schools are within the voluntary sector. Almost all are Catholic as to date the Church of Ireland schools tended to charge fees. These Catholic schools receive up to €400 per student less between capitation and other supports. Indeed the Protestant receive a completely unconstitutional (the view of thr Sec Gen of the Dept. of Ed) additional support.
    Yet Catholic schools make up the vast majority of those oversubscribed.

    The Irish Health & Education systems evolved over many years. If Sinn Féin want to propose changes,then let them do so. However, change requires support. Ireland is not unique to have hospitals attached to specific faith groups. It is common throughout Europe.

    I have twenty years experience of school Boards at both National & Secondary levels. I have never seen any discrimination based on the religion of the child or the views of the parents. Over-subscription to schools is a problem, particularly for those schools, which parents deem to be better than others.

    This piece is just full of wild innuendo. I think your late father Tadhg might have given you a “D”, don iarracht amháin.

  • Framer

    At least we were spared that tired and deceitful James Connolly quote about partition ‘creating a carnival of reaction’ with the implication that the Protestants by staying out of a united Ireland enabled the Catholic church to take power after independence.
    Blaming the Prods is great propaganda but the people in the south got what they wanted.

  • Korhomme

    Which, sadly, is a great way to deflect from the main point of the argument; that church and state should be entirely separate.

    Why don’t we argue that point? Or is there nothing to debate, for it’s so clear that religion should play no part in government.

    By all means practice your religion in freedom; but extend that freedom to the absence of religious influences on the state.

  • aber1991

    What could be wrong with Catholic schools receiving payment from the State (i.e. taxpayers) for services rendered? Or Protestant schools? Or Islamic schools? Or road contractors?

  • aber1991

    Northern Ireland has been worse, much worse.

    A Protestant feast day, the 12th July is a public holiday in Northern Ireland. That has been the case since 1923, an early example of Stormont giving the 2 finger gesture to Catholics. Can you imagine the rumpus if, in Eire, the 15th August were a public holiday?

    Two Presbyterian clergymen were government minister in Northern Ireland, Corkey in Education, Moore in Agriculture. Can you imagine the rumpus if, in Eire, Catholic priests had been ministers in governments?

    The Protestant Churches have the statutory right to appoint 50% of the voting governors of all State-owned primary and secondary schools – including the three State-owned primary schools, all of whose pupils are the children of Catholics. Can you imagine the rumpus if, in Eire, a school, owned by Dublin County Council, had a student body 100% Protestant and yet 50% of its governors with voting rights were appointed by the Catholic Church?

    Turgan, your posts are never personally abusive, your posts are never vulgar BUT you often display extreme Prod arrogance.

  • aber1991

    “Indeed the Protestant receive a completely unconstitutional (the view of thr Sec Gen of the Dept. of Ed) additional support”

    That WAS the case. I am not sure that this additional support still continues. I seem to remember that it was abolished a few years ago. I remember some Head Teachers of fee-charging Protestant schools kicking up a rumpus with, at least, one of them, in a rant to the Irish Times, making derogatory remarks about Northern Ireland Catholics.

  • aber1991

    Why pick on Sinn Fein? On of the main Prod complaints about Seamus Mallon was his persistent use of the phrase “North of Ireland” to describe “Northern Ireland.”

    Anyway, get used to it. It is unlikely that anything you think, say or do will change the behaviour of Nationalists within Northern Ireland.

  • aber1991

    When Prods have accepted that the people in the mainly Catholic areas of Northern Ireland have a right to self-determination, it will be appropriate for Prods to demand that their right to self-determination be respected.

    Sauce for the goose, sauce for the gander.

  • Joe_Hoggs

    The use of the word “Prod” is beginning to come across as derogatory and I think this needs to end, perhaps Mick can make a call on this?

    Secondly everyone is able to have self determination in NI via the ballot, the only reason Sinn Fein don’t force a border poll is because they know they won’t win. Most Unionists would relish the opportunity.

  • aber1991

    Do YOU accept that the people in the mainly Catholic parts of Northern Ireland have a right to self-determination?

    Do you accept that carving out an artificial enclave and demanding majority rule within that enclave is a game two tribes can play?

  • aber1991

    And the Protestant people of Northern Ireland got what they wanted – a Protestant State for a Protestant people. Have you, as a member of the Ulster Unionist Party, distanced yourself from that slogan by Lord Craigavon, who was leader of your party when he boasted of a “Protestant State for a Protestant people?”

  • aber1991

    “It is time to deliver a genuine separation of church and state”

    I agree. Please remember that separation of Church and State cuts both ways.
    Some of the most out-spoken supporters of such a separation have used their positions as politicians to interfere in the internal affairs of the Catholic Church.


    Ruairi Quinn, a atheist expressing an opinion that Cardinal Brady should resign as bishop of Armagh. That was an act of sectarian aggression by an Eire atheist against the Catholic people of Armagh.

    In 1979 the Pope visited Eire. Garret Fitzgerald, then leader of the Opposition, went behind the backs of Northern Ireland Catholics and badgered the Pope in favour of integrated education in Northern Ireland. An act of aggression by an Eire secularist against the Catholic people of Northern Ireland.

    In 1984 the then Mayor of Limerick, a Mrs Kelly of the Fine Gael party verbally attacked Cardinal O’Fiach for refusing to sing the Fine Gael policy on Northern Ireland. An act of aggression by an Eire “liberal” against the Catholic people of Northern Ireland.

    Garret Fitzgerald, when Foreign Minister of Eire, called on Catholic politicians to use their influence to persuade the Catholic Church to change its policy on mixed marriages.

  • Abucs

    Damn those Christians that have their own non secular ethos which guided them to build hospitals, orphanages, work houses and schools for all who were in need
    …..damn them.

    Almighty and divine secular state, I worship you completely. Let all facets of human life be arbitrated by your infallible magnificence. Let all adore your power and splendour. Let there be no other gods besides you. I pray that all peoples may submit to the wisdom of your secular morality. Let all other moralities be cast out as intolerant and exclusive. Let there be none who will not submit to your mighty wisdom and sing your just praises. It is right and just that all are made to tithe their incomes to the glory of your majestic rule. May you bestow your graces only to those of us who are faithful to the light of your secular splendour and worship at the altar of your enlightened presence. Amen.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    “”Since the coming of St Patrick 1500 years ago Ireland has been a Christian and a Catholic nation and she will remain a Catholic nation”. – De Valera, 1931

    “That is my whole object in carrying on a Protestant Government for a Protestant people”- Craig, 1934

    What’s that you’re always saying about ‘an eye for an eye’?

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    “A Protestant feast day, the 12th July is a public holiday in Northern Ireland.”

    Since when has tea and sandwiches been classified as a ‘feast’?
    Which Protestant church deems it a feast day?

    A couple of Protestant fraternities deem it a marching day (or worse) but never a feast day.

    Could you please back that comment up with some tangible proof or stop using it if no proof can be provided.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Well, you’d be against that as you have stated on here repeatedly that you don’t want to be part of the Republic (or ‘Eire’ as you call it) as you believe that they’ll be beastly to the Northern Catholics.

    So, why bring this up?

  • barnshee

    ” three State-owned primary schools, all of whose pupils are the children of Catholics”

    Which schools are these? What statute provides the right “to appoint 50% of the voting governors of all State-owned primary and secondary school”

  • Tochais Siorai

    Because the use of ‘Northern Ireland’ might suggest acceptance and possibly recognition of partition and that’s a hard thing to do for many nationalists. Above all, even those who might use Northern Ireland will absolutely recoil at referring to NI as ‘this country’ which of course means only one thing. And it ain’t NI.

    It’s a nationalist thing, Joe. Don’t worry too much about it.

  • aber1991

    I would have thought that your question would not be necessary.

    I want a devolved government within the UK for the Catholic areas of Northern Ireland – a Catholic State for a Catholic people. Do YOU accept the principle of Catholic equality?

  • aber1991

    Yes. In 1923 the 12th of July was made a public holiday in Northern Ireland.

  • Joe_Hoggs

    So much for Unionist outreach and I’m still not comfortable with the constant use of the word “Prod,” Slugger need to make a decision on this!!

  • aber1991

    The Education Acts of 1931 and 1968. The 1931 Act gave the Protestant Churches the right to appoint 50% of the Governors of all schools whose ownership they transferred to the State. The 1968 Act extended that Protestant privilege to ALL State-owned primary and secondary schools.

    P.S. I do not know the names of the 3 State-owned primary schools all of whose pupils are the children of Catholics. I seem to remember that one of them is in the New Barnsley estate in West Belfast.

  • aber1991

    Please stop trying to be clever. The 12th July is a Protestant Day of Celebration in Northern Ireland. Making it a public holiday was a two finger gesture to the Catholic people of Northern Ireland.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Ha Ha. Brilliant.

    Yes I accept the principle of Catholic equality.

    However, in order to set up your religious orientated statelet of Westbannia you’d have to get a load of people to suddenly stop thinking that carving out a sectarian state is a ‘bad thing’ in principle.

    Many nationalist commentators have told us on no uncertain terms throughout the decades that it is a BAD thing.

    By setting up your semi-autonomous religion orientated state you’d need to get a fair whack of people to either do a 180 on their viewpoints or disregard their principles altogether (which, in fairness, is hardly a Herculean task in Northern Ireland).

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    You said it was a ‘feast’ day. A day of celebration is not the same thing.

    Making the 12th a holiday may be seen as a ‘two fingered salute’ to Catholics there is also an element of common sense to it too.

    Observe, a large amount of the upper echelons of NI society and admin were in the OO (e.g. such as banks, civil service etc) not to mention workers in the shipyards.

    It would have been stupid at the time not to make the 12th the focal point of the 2 week holiday period.

    Glasgow also has a 2 week holiday period in July.

    Italy has a 2 week holiday period in August.

    If you were to decide upon the holiday period for NI back in the days when it was very much an Orange state and DIDN’T include the 12th you’d be guilty of being thick given the huge importance and sheer amount of movement across the province at the time.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    “Can you imagine the rumpus if, in Eire, the 15th August were a public holiday?”

    Erm, no?

    Bring it on I say.

  • Well said. I get rather tired by the unrebutted presumption by some that the secular state is the enlightened option that delivers the best outcome for all.
    All you need to do is to look around Europe at all the states where religion has had a significant decline and draw your own conclusions. In godless GB, the rise of consumerism and personal autonomy has led to increased levels of family breakdown and record levels of people popping pills due to their unfulfilling lives. As a result of all the malaise, people stopped having children as the future didn’t look so bright. We then have to start importing people wholesale from somewhere else to fill the gaps, and this causes more social problems. All of a sudden it looks like the whole society is imploding. The only thing that seems to matter a damn is accruing more stuff and more money, and falling before the altar of naked self interest.
    Call me sentimental, but i get the idea that people used to be happier with less, and community counted for more. The more religious nature of society in the past was certainly a part of this.

  • NMS

    Aber I would refer to the briefing note prepared by Mr ÓFoghlú the secretary general for the current Minister. The €2.5M payment is still in place.

    An tUas ÓFoghlú pointed out the status and it has continued. The Minister is a member of the Church of Ireland.

  • aber1991

    I disapprove of Unionist outreach.

    I do not believe that the word “Prod” annoys you. If it does, why did you not complain when Framer, a Unionist politician, used it on this thread before I did?

    I think your complaint about the word “Prod” is a diversion because you cannot cope with questions which hit at the very roots of the Protestant case. Whether you like it or not, Protestant privilege will come to an end. Get used to the idea.

  • aber1991

    I am glad that you say that you accept the principle of Catholic equality. Now prove that you mean it by stopping your attempts to get power over Catholic children.

    I hope that, eventually, most Northern Ireland Catholics will grasp two essential facts. The first fact is that, in a United Ireland, the people of what is now Eire will pander to the Prods. The second fact is that there is only one way to prevent Prods abusing their power over Catholics. That way is to let them have no power over Catholics.

  • aber1991

    “The Minister is a member of the Church of Ireland.”

    Now, please, that is below the belt. The concession to Protestant schools existed long before that woman became Minister of Education in Eire. [For some reason, I associate her with Canada.]

    The additional funding for Protestant schools was based on a concept that treating unlike things in like manner is a form of discrimination – indirect discrimination.

  • aber1991

    So you approve of Prod privilege. I am not surprised.

    Will you now support Catholic equality? I think that the 15th August should have the same status as the 12th July.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    “So you approve of Prod privilege. I am not surprised.”

    a/ I do not

    b/ I never said that

    c/ I don’t even know what it is.

    “Will you now support Catholic equality?”

    I already have stated so.

    ” I think that the 15th August should have the same status as the 12th July”
    Suits me, another holiday. Bring it on.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    ” Now prove that you mean it by stopping your attempts to get power over Catholic children”

    I never once attempted it.

    I advocated a sensible budget orientated merger of some schools where there would be no clergy men lording it over any one (i.e. no clergy men of any kind on the board of governors,no union flags or such like).

    The only person on this site to oppose Catholic children being taught by someone of a none Catholic background (equality, FYI) is you because of things that happened half a century ago.

    We’ve even had teachers on here contradicting all the nutty things that you say.

    Furthermore, when asked about ‘Prods and their power over Catholics’ you never give any contemporary examples other than Orange parades, which is odd as there are no Orange parades in schools.

    But, I find your paranoia and extremism amusing, so keep it up, there’s a good fellow.

  • JR

    We are constantly told about a “shared state” and then dictated to about what to call this state, We are told that the idiom we use to describe the state is wrong. I was born here, I live here I can call this place what I want, as my parents and grandparents did.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    You can call it what you want JR but the consequence of doing so is to give the impression that the idea of respect and equality is hokum and only worth embracing when it is useful to nationalists.

  • Korhomme

    ((If you’re interested in symphysiotomy, I did a short bit about it, with my and my grandfather’s thoughts about it: ))

  • JR

    Would you say the same about people who use the word Derry? Or use the word Ireland to refer to an Island as opposed to a 26 county state? People in the south get wound up about that too you know. I was nearly punched in Dundalk in September for (correctly) saying that Newry could be legitimately referred to as Ireland too. Remember I am not dictating to you what terminology to use. It is you who are judging me, indirectly accusing me of disrespect for what I call my home region. ( A name that I have inherited from my parents before I was aware of the political implications)

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    No, I wouldn’t say the same about people who say Derry, Derry is after all the shorter word, it stands to reason.

    However, my main irk is when people who are clearly in the public eye or indeed part of ‘the system’ go out of their way to avoid having to use the NI word e.g. ‘The north of Ireland football team’ or ‘the north of Ireland Deputy First Minister’.

    Having reread the blog, I’m prepared to admit that I might be a bit harsh on the author, but, in general it does rankle me somewhat when people go to such efforts to avoid the word even when it is less hassle to say it or indeed the proper word to use. e.g. the is no such thing as ‘the north of Ireland football team’, it is the ‘Northern Ireland football team’.

    I’m not dictating squat and to say that I am is unfair.
    It has a name and it is quite simply eye-poking to go to such effort to avoid using it at all costs (such as the examples named above) and shatters the idea of ‘respect’ that apparently is all the rage these days.