‘Remarkable’ contribution of Protestants to State largely forgotten, Minister says

Heather Humphreys says faith has been dominated by Catholic majority since time of independence

Minister for Business Heather Humphreys  (centre) at the launch of the  book Protestant and Irish which was edited by  Ian d’Alton and Ida Milne. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times.

Minister for Business Heather Humphreys (centre) at the launch of the book Protestant and Irish which was edited by Ian d’Alton and Ida Milne. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times.

 

A Protestant Cultural Centre should be built to tell the story of the faith in the State, which has largely been forgotten since independence was gained, Minister for Business Heather Humphreys has said.

Ms Humphreys, who is Presbyterian, said there was already agreement in principle for such a centre in the Government’s Project 2040 strategy and that Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was in favour of it.

Speaking on Wednesday night at the launch of a book - Protestant and Irish, the Minister suggested the centre could be located in the last predominantly Protestant village in the Republic, Drum in Co Monaghan.

Ms Humphreys said the story of Protestants in the Republic was one of “achievement and a remarkable contribution” with presidents, a chief justice and a Director of Public Prosecutions among their number.

However, she also said it was a story of “sustained and rapid decline in population” due to factors such as increasing isolation, emigration and Ne Temere, a Catholic dictat that the children of mixed marriages must be brought up Catholic.

“The Protestant Cultural Centre would seek to capture and tell the full story of the experiences of Protestants in the State at national, local and familial level,” she said.

‘Dominance’

“It is also a story of dominance by the religious majority as reflected in key events such as the Mayo county librarian scandal, the Fethard-on-Sea boycott, as well as a constitutional and legal framework which strongly reflected an overwhelming Catholic ethos.

“It would tell of the successes, but also of the difficulties, challenges and losses endured. It would aim to be balanced, authoritative and truthful.”

The Minister spoke of the “innate sensitivity” of growing up on the Border as part of a minority.

“I grew up in an Ireland where Protestants lived alongside their Catholic neighbours in relative harmony, but we were always mindful that we were part of a minority tradition who in difficult times kept our heads down for fear of bringing trouble or unwanted attention to our community,” she said.

“Ireland is now a very changed country to the one I grew up in. That said, we must not shy away from confronting the historical past without fear.

“The truth is that Irish Protestants experienced some real suffering over the years and, in this book, we read of the west Cork bachelor who never married because of the Ne Temere rule of the Catholic Church. ”

‘Agenda’

She also told Unionists that there was no “hidden agenda” in the Government’s approach to Brexit.

“We respect your cultural identity and indeed the cultural identify of each and every citizen on our islands, and the constitutional status of that citizenship,” Ms Humphreys said.

“I want to reassure people living on both sides of the border that our only ambition has been to ensure that we can continue to live in harmony and that people can go about their normal lives and business as before. There is a unique and deep-rooted relationship between the people of our two islands.”

Protestant and Irish is edited by Ian D’Alton and Ida Milne. It is a series of 18 essays which explores the Protestant experience in the Republic since independence. It is published by Cork University Press.