It’s easy to forget, as we flit through our hyper-modern lives, that the Irish State is very young. It is not yet a century old, and as such, growing pains are to be expected.
In this edition’s Focus, Mary O’Keeffe examines the recent controversy over religion in schools. It’s a debate that’s set to linger for quite some time. She notes that when the Irish Constitution of 1937 was drafted, it enshrined Catholicism, in part as a “marker of our identity.” At that time, the Roman Catholic Church was, with centuries of experience and an abundance of ready, trained staff, an obvious choice for the education of our newly-minted Irish citizens.
Mr de Valera and his government probably didn’t envisage that just eight short decades later, divorce, contraception and same-sex marriage would be legal, and only slightly more than three quarters of the population would identify as Catholic. In a society that has changed so much, it seems only natural that our education system should follow suit.
Remarkably, without any knowledge of each other’s intentions, most of our contributors this week settled on common subjects: morality, religion and spirituality. Perhaps it’s the onset of the Christmas season, or all the talk of Paradise Papers in the news.
Joe Haslam reports from Turkey, where a recent business trip alerted him to the reality of the increasingly volatile situation since the attempted coup d’état. He saw people weeping at the tomb of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, “known by Turks as the father of the nation.” Joe points to religion as a major cause for the conflict, as the current president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan does not share his forerunner’s secular views.
In an opinion piece, Mary O’Keeffe questions why Tom Humphries’ professional career mattered so much in his recent trial – and conviction – on sex abuse charges. “One should not be judged by how they treat their peers,” she writes, “but by how they treat those who are more vulnerable than they are.”
That’s a sentiment echoed in Greg O’Shaughnessy’s column, in which he draws parallels between the corrupt, morally-bankrupt clergy of the pre-reformation era and some modern-day bankers, who, he says “stole from ordinary people…hounding vulnerable people to an early grave.” He wonders how, like the priests of the 16th century, they have managed to buy themselves out of damnation, “[sleeping] easy in their recycled, designer beds while their victims cower in second-rate hotels – the new Hades – and the best our politicians can manage is impotent admonition.”
Martin Mullins wonders if the current trend for positive-thinking could “enable a kind of collective madness where we drift along in sea of inane trivialities.” He has a frank opinion on the modern managers who seek to peddle positivity in the workplace: if our ancestors couldn’t be persuaded to toe the line on pain of eternal damnation, he doubts a corporate mission statement will have much more success.
He looks to artists such as Mark Rothko and Sylvia Plath to truthfully convey our modern reality: “In our contemporary merry-go-round of disgust and repeated disappointments, they offer a more realistic view of the world.”
Elsewhere, Bernard O’Neill charts Katie Taylor’s incredible trajectory in the world of boxing, while Sharon Slater tells the fascinating story of Edward Henry Pery’s funeral, during which Limerick’s citizens made evident their disdain.
In People Like Us, Darragh Roche interviews Patrick O’Sullivan, the Polish Honorary Consul in Limerick. He finds that with a community effort, cultural barriers and prejudices are easily overcome.
“Human nature is pretty common around the world,” he told Darragh, and this is true, regardless of our religious choices.