People of faith enrich political life, says Bruton


CHRISTIANS HAD a right and an obligation to bring their faith to bear in their engagement in politics, former taoiseach John Bruton has said in an address to the Eucharistic Congress.

The participation of people of faith could enhance the quality of political discourse by bringing an “added value” that would benefit believers and non-believers alike, said Mr Bruton. “Christians, and Catholics in particular, should not be afraid to bring their beliefs into the public sphere,” he added.

Referring to the argument that religious belief should be kept out of politics, Mr Bruton said the European Convention on Human Rights did not confine religion to the private sphere and in fact contained a right to manifest religious belief in public.

“I believe a ‘separationist’ view of keeping religion in the private sphere, and out of politics, is artificial. It misunderstands human nature. It also refuses to accept religious faith for what it is something that informs every aspect of one’s life.”

Mr Bruton stressed there were clear distinctions of function between the role the State performs and the role performed by churches. “These must be respected even though the boundaries will shift slightly from time to time,” he said.

He said everyone believed ethical beliefs could and should influence the actions of political institutions. But for many people it was impossible to separate their ethical beliefs from the religious source from which they sprung.

Voters did not divide their minds into compartments. Faith was not just one compartment of life and what went on in one part of the mind influenced what went on in the other.

Mr Bruton was warmly applauded when he referred to religious education, which he described as having shaped the ethos of Irish society in many positive ways. “Anybody that would put that social capital at risk or diminish its value or diminish our ability to pass it on undiminished to the next generation would not be doing a favour to this country,” he said.

During a short question-and- answer session afterwards, a woman who described herself as a Fine Gael voter expressed concern because she thought the party was in government with a party “who profess to approve of abortion”. What could committed Catholics do “to get Fine Gael on our side”, she asked. Mr Bruton said the argument against abortion should be presented in “completely secular terms” and “the language of human rights” should be used.

He went on to say he had made the speech because he felt a lot of Catholics had become discouraged in recent times by the secularisation of society. “You have many secularists who are saying keep religion separate from politics and keep the Catholics silent and if the Catholics speak up its intimidation,” he said.

Noting that modern Ireland had a “record” prison population, as well as what he described as a culture “in relentless search for someone to blame”, he said jail terms should not be calculated in order to satisfy the victims of crime. “Penalties are necessary to ensure that laws are respected, and may involve terms of imprisonment, but these penalties should be calculated by reference to the need for deterrence and restitution, not as a form vengeance or catharsis for victims.”

Offenders should be forgiven once a penalty is paid, he added.

Mr Bruton said the success of a society should not be measured by its gross domestic product. He said remuneration politics within companies were driven by the fear that “talent” would be stolen by competitors.

“This can lead to big differences between what people at the top of a company can earn and what is earned by others who are less wellknown and less likely to be head-hunted by competitors.”