With the percentage of Roman Catholic people in Ireland dropping severely since 1961 and an increasing number of people identifying with ‘no religion’ is it time to push for full secularisation?
Recent statistics from the CSO indicate that Ireland’s population is increasingly less entrenched in the Roman Catholic religion, with only 78% of Irish people saying that they are Catholic in 2016.
This is a drop of seventeen points in the half a century since 1961’s census figures which indicate that 95% of people had selected Roman Catholic when assessing their beliefs.
In a recent Prime Time broadcast entitled ‘Leap of Faith’ Richard Downes highlights that in the same time period, the number of people selecting ‘no religion’ rose from 0% to 10%.
According to Fr Joe McDonald, while those who selected Catholic on the census account for 78% of the population this number of practicing Catholics is a lot lower. With regard to the Good Friday alcohol sales ban, Fr McDonal indicates that there are more important issues for the Church to tackle.
“We have far bigger fish to fry,” says Fr McDonald on the ban on purchasing alcohol on Good Friday, explaining that practicing Catholics will be abstaining from alcohol anyway.
In a studio discussion, journalist and LGBT activist Una Mullally and Iona Institute Director David Quinn considered the possibility of a more secular Ireland, with religion and state separated completely.
Quinn is not convinced, citing the ‘will of the people’ as reason to maintain religion’s current relationship with the government. On the other hand, Mullally advocates for a secular Ireland.
“I don’t believe that any religious doctrine regardless of what that is should dictate our laws,” Mullally said.
“It depends on what people want,” Quinn countered. “If enough people want there to be state funding of Catholic schools […] then the state has to reflect that.”
“Most countries actually in the Western world give money to Church schools, even though people consider them to be secular,” he added, pointing to Britain and Australia as examples.
In this month’s issue of GCN, Brian Finnegan reported on the religious influence on the education system in Ireland including the ‘baptismal barrier’, how it affects non-Catholic children, sexuality education and constitutional restrictions to full it’s secularisation. The baptismal barrier is a practice which permits Catholic schools to discriminate against non-Catholics in their admissions policies.
“Well nobody is saying to take away faith based schools altogether,” Mullally countered, before highlighting the baptismal barrier that exists in present day Ireland.
“But I mean you do have a bizarre situation where parents are actually baptising their children just to get them admitted into schools.
“That is not about education equality. That is not about fair access,” Mullally declared.
“I think we need to represent contemporary Ireland and what we are.”
At this juncture, Quinn explained that he has been an advocate for reducing the number of Catholic schools in Ireland. Such a move would facilitate educating children who do not come from practicing Catholic families and help dismantle the baptismal barrier that remains in place today.
The Irish constitution, however, is enshrined in Roman Catholic ideology, with a religious preamble preceding the document’s body.
While Mullally suggests that it is no longer reflective of modern day Ireland’s beliefs, Quinn argues that perhaps in years to come, it could be changed if that was what the vast majority of the population wanted.
“If that’s the will of the people,” he reiterated.
With the Good Friday alcohol ban to be lifted next year, other remnants of Catholic Ireland could be soon to follow suit.
Should Ireland become more secular? Should the baptismal barrier be removed in schools? Or should the constitution be upheld as a proud part of Irish heritage?
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