European Union must set fixed date for Easter


EU must be involved because this issue affects the secular lives of most citizens

LAST YEAR, Easter fell so early (March 23rd) that it caused a major inconvenience to most people. As the parents of schoolchildren will remember, their kids were hardly back after Christmas when it was already time for the mid-term break. And they started their Easter holidays even before St Patrick’s Day.

Easter this year falls on April 12th. In two years’ time, it will fall on April 24th. That is a 32-day gap in the space of four years. It is the difference between having Easter falling before winter is really out and having it when spring is well advanced.

That is a big problem for the tourism industry and for its customers – it means that every year they have a different product to sell, and every year the post-Easter early summer period starts at a different time.

Most people consider that having Easter as a moveable feast is a hassle, but assume it is a hassle they have to live with. They assume that there is some deep religious reason for setting the date of Easter the way we do, and that the churches would be opposed to any change.

Nothing could in fact be further from the truth. More than 40 years ago, the second Vatican Council made this clear when it declared that it had no objection to bringing in a fixed date for Easter. A little over a decade later, in 1975, the then pope Paul VI actually went so far as to propose a specific date – the second Sunday in April.

So why has nothing happened? Most members of the World Council of Churches were prepared to agree, with one glaring exception. The Orthodox Churches refused to go along with a proposal that might create the impression they were being led by Rome – not surprisingly, since they define themselves mainly by their independence from Rome.

At the same time, though, they apparently also made it clear that they would have no objection either to a fixed date for Easter – just so long as it did not involve following a proposal that was driven by the Roman Church.

And there the matter has languished for more than 30 years – a highly sensible suggestion that meets wide agreement, but which lacks a driver acceptable to all the religious interests.

Who will fill this gap?

I suggest the European Union is the ideal body to take this idea and run with it. The EU could justify its involvement because this issue is not just a religious one, but affects the secular lives of most citizens and is a barrier to the efficiency of most businesses.

Not alone that, but the EU has a magnificent track record in standardising basic matters like this, to the greater benefit of all.

* It brought about common starting and ending dates for the application of summertime right across Europe;

* It persuaded all European countries to use the same international prefix (00) for making international telephone calls;

* It created and implemented the GSM mobile phone technology that is universally used across Europe, and in large swathes of the world beyond;

* It has succeeded in abolishing passport controls across almost all of Europe (although, regrettably, Britain and Ireland still stand aloof from this great step forward).

By taking on the task of establishing a fixed date for Easter, the EU would be making a highly popular step – and so would be improving its own perception among the peoples of Europe. Let’s do it!

Feargal Quinn is an Independent member of Seanad Éireann