Thursday, 8 December 2011

Why close the Embassy? Who wants to?

After I was finished yesterday’s post, I got a feeling of the déjà vu. Why? Something
about the proposed closure of the Irish Embassy to the Holy See bothered me, and
John Allen’s National Catholic Reporter article was the turning point.

I studied at a couple of institutions, but spent most time as a student in St Patrick’s
College, Maynooth in what was then the Recognised College of the National
University of Ireland. I was involved in the Students’ Union at various levels in the
late 1980s and early 1990s. At the time, I was not particularly fervent about my
Catholicism and there was no great reason why I should have moved in that direction.
However, I was opposed to abortion and therefore, I was keenly aware of certain
ruses employed by students to move Maynooth SU in that direction. At the time,
the students in Maynooth consistently voted for a pro-life policy. This went beyond
the significant body of clerical students and lay theology students – the lay arts and
science students had already been in the majority for some time. However, our in-house
radicals were consistently supported by the Union of Students in Ireland.

One Maynooth Student, Rev Diarmuid Hogan, then a deacon, now a priest of the
Galway diocese, pointed out in a debate on whether Maynooth should disaffiliate
from USI in late 1989 that in his memory (over about six academic years), he’d
only seen USI visit the college in relation to campaigns on abortion. There were a
huge amount of student issues, which they didn’t engage with Maynooth. This was
interesting – and it didn’t take a lot of logical deduction to discover why. There was
inherent propaganda value in Maynooth endorsing a student campaign for abortion
or providing condoms or recognising a student gay and lesbian society. Few
would pay attention to Trinity or UCD SU doing this (Ivana Bacik was president
of the TCD SU at the time – not that anyone noticed), but Maynooth
would make headline news. As I have said, Maynooth had a decisive lay majority
at this time – but that is not how things were perceived. I can still hear older rural
Catholics comment on some of the events where Maynooth’s liberal wing got the
upper hand: ‘They’re teaching the priests quare things in Maynooth now’. This
doesn’t work NUI Maynooth, but it worked with St Patrick’s College, Maynooth.

Anyway, I was involved in the initiative to get Maynooth out of USI. In 1989, the
students narrowly voted to leave. This was more a commentary of the failure
of USI than the success of the anti-USI team, but a narrow majority sufficed to sever
Maynooth from USI for nearly a decade. USI still had its cheerleaders in Maynooth
who plugged away with getting the SU in line on the plethora of liberal issues the
national union were concerned with and tried several times to re-affiliate.
In the initial couple of years, this group were largely related to one political party.
That was the Workers’ Party. They were a small, disciplined and focussed group,
which punched well above its weight, and most of those who latched onto these issues
were oblivious of this point. Many didn’t care, but I don’t think all would have been
totally disinterested. I know in contexts of other student battles on similar issues
in other colleges, the liberal side pointed to the Opus Dei student residences as the
places where the Catholic vote was mobilised. This didn’t happen in Maynooth –
we had no Opus Dei base. Maybe we didn’t need one. But the push behind the liberal
agenda in Maynooth came from the Workers’ Party. They knew what they were
doing and those in charge knew why they were doing it.

Fast forward by twenty years. We’re dealing with a different issue. This is the
sovereign independent nature of the Holy See. The Holy See has done a lot of things
through its representation on international bodies which will anger those of a liberal
persuasion and the personality of John Paul II, used to great effect towards the end
of the Cold War, did much to enhance the Holy See’s prestige. There are only a
few countries, which do not have diplomatic relations with the Holy See, and these
include such leading lights on the topic of human rights as the People’s Republic of
China, Saudi Arabia and North Korea. As a result, many in the liberal camp not to
mention vested interests in the multinational pharmaceutical sector are not happy with
the Holy See. There have been attacks on its sovereign status which have largely
been scatter gun – such as Richard Dawkins and Geoffrey Robertson’s plan of having
the pope arrested in Britain and the recent stunt by an underworked German lawyer to sue
the pope for not wearing a seatbelt. But the propaganda coup of having a traditionally
Catholic country, eg Ireland, scale back diplomatic relations was a coup. The hope is
that more will follow. In fairness, this is the sort of thing which goes well above Enda
God help us Kenny’s head. Éamon Gilmore, on the other hand, knows precisely what
he is doing. He honed his political skills in this direction in previous incarnation.

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