Debate on role of Catholic Church `very fraught'


A leading academic has said he hopes that in Ireland people are "progressing towards a stage where Catholicism will no longer be a shibboleth".

Dr Seamus O Cinneide, Jean Monnet Professor of European Social Policy at NUI Maynooth, said: "Discussion of the role and influence of the Catholic Church in the past, not to talk of the present, can be very fraught."

He continued: "The secularisation of Irish society over the past 40 years has resulted, for many people, in a profound critical re-evaluation of the function of religion in society and, more particularly, of the role of the church. This has often been personally painful."

Dr O Cinneide, who was addressing a conference in Trinity College Dublin on development, regeneration and social policy, examined and found wanting the "prevailing assumption" that the Catholic Church had retarded the development of the welfare state in Ireland.

During his lecture, Dr O Cinneide rebutted views that Catholic Church corporatism, invisible government and cultural dominance had influenced Ireland's poor social welfare performance until the 1960s.

Why the welfare state in Ireland did not develop at the same time or pace as in the UK or Sweden was "no great mystery and does not need to be explained by reference to the Catholic Church", he said.

When Britain's welfare state was being set up after the second World War "Ireland had been independent for only a quarter of a century . . . with financial obligations that were not of its own devising and . . . a daunting legacy of social problems," he said.

Dublin's slums were the worst in Europe with, in 1926, 27 per cent of the Republic's population living in overcrowded conditions. Where the new state was concerned, housing was the first social issue tackled.

There was also emigration. Dr O Cinneide quoted an expert as remarking: "If there is one candidate for a mono-causal explanation of Ireland's problems [at the time], it is probably emigration."

"The question is not what has held us back, but what has propelled us forward," Dr O Cinneide concluded.