The Irish Catholic of 8th June misrepresents my statement on the Mother and Baby Homes debate in the Dail on June 1st. They do so by quoting Micheál Martin of Fianna Fail who accuses me of “intolerant populism”. The same Micheál Martin argues that I show total disrespect for the tens of thousands of Catholics for whom their religion is a source of comfort and strength.
But it is easy to take a statement out of context and use it to one’s advantage. It is even easier when the statement is misquoted. I did not say that the church should be put in the dustbin but rather it should be put in ‘the dustbin of history’( In this I have been misquoted on the Oireachtas website and the Dail staff have changed the record accordingly) The reference to history matters because in the context of the speech I argued for the separation of church and state and an end to the legacy of the church of the past.
What I want consigned to the ‘dustbin of history’ is NOT Catholics but the privileged position of the Church in our society as a state religion.
Like all real socialists I always defend the right of everyone to believe and practice the religion of their choice, their right to be a member of whatever religious group they chose and to have places of worship, their churches, their mosques, their temples or their synagogues.
But socialists want to end to the special role of the Church in running our schools and hospitals and the use by the State of religious orders in the provision of social services. I have a lot of respect for individuals like Brother Kevin and Sister Stan (who have also criticised me) who spend their lives trying to provide services to the hungry and the homeless but I believe in a system where people will not be homeless or hungry and where the state takes responsibility for its citizens.
The legacy of the Catholic Church taking responsibility for dealing with poverty in the past in Industrial Schools, the Mother and Baby Homes, the Magdalene Laundries is unspeakably cruel. Never again do we want to witness such barbarity.
So when Micheál Martin accuses the left of intolerant populism, let’s remind people that this is the leader who recently stated he believes that women who have been raped should not have an automatic right to an abortion. This is the leader of the party, Fianna Fail, who overnight did a deal that indemnified the Catholic Church from any liability for abuse and violence in the institutions of the past. Fianna Fail are responsible for the Woods Deal that has seen Irish workers picking up the tab of €1.5 Billion Euro for compensation to victims of abuse by the Catholic Church. The Church have to date failed to pay even the meagre amount they committed to for abuse victims.
So I repeat the message, if there is to be a fitting memorial to the memory of the tens of thousands who suffered, let it be the beginning of the separation of church and state which will put the legacy of the Catholic Church into the dustbin of history where it belongs. This, along with financial and other supports to victims, may give those victims their dignity back and deliver some justice to all those who suffered from the actions of Church and State in our dark past.