TD apologises for vetting scheme on church 'deference'

 

A LABOUR backbencher has apologised for his apparent support of a proposal that senior public servants be screened to ensure they do not show “inappropriate deference” to the Catholic Church.

It was reported this week that Aodhán Ó Riordáin, TD or Dublin North Central, supported the proposal made by party activists in his constituency. He was reported to favour bringing a motion on the issue to April’s Labour Party conference.

Catholic commentators had claimed the TD’s support of the proposal was evidence of anti-Catholic bias in the Labour Party.

Last night, Mr Ó Riordáin said the recommendation, one of 17 in a report by the local Labour constituency council, “escaped my notice” when it was first presented to him.

“I admit it, I didn’t read it,” he told The Irish Times. “I do not support or endorse this recommendation in any way and it will not appear in any motion at the National Labour Conference in April.”

He supported the thrust of the report, he continued. “I believe a discussion about the relationship between all churches and the State is now necessary as we reassess all that has gone wrong in our nation over the last number of decades.

“Such a debate should be constructive and respectful. This one unfortunately worded recommendation in the Clontarf report has not helped in that regard.”

The document, Illegal Religious Discrimination in National Schools in Ireland, looks at the church’s role in primary schools. It claims enrolment policies which give priority to Catholic children are discriminatory, and that “Catholics first” policies should be abolished.

The controversial recommendation states: “All senior official appointments in State bodies which are likely to have to deal with the Catholic Church should be screened to ensure that they will not show inappropriate deference to the Catholic Church.”

Mr Ó Riordáin, a brother of senior Labour Party adviser Colm Reardon, said he had been contacted by “embarrassed and discomforted” party colleagues over the matter. “The reports suggest that I support religious screening of entrants into the Civil Service. I most certainly do not.”

He said the drafters were trying to address the 2009 Ryan commission report on clerical sex abuse, in which then minister for children Barry Andrews said in a foreword that “the idealism of the [1916] Proclamation was suffocated by undue deference to religious orders and misplaced trust in certain persons in positions of authority”.

Mr Ó Riordáin continued: “We all strive to live and work in a democratic republic with civil and religious liberty for all . . . I apologise if any unintended offence has been caused.”