View on issue of Ahern, partner defended


The Editor of the Church of Ireland Gazette has defended the editorial in which he criticised the Taoiseach for taking his companion, Ms Celia Larkin, with him on State visits.

Canon Cecil Cooper told Marian Finucane on her RTE morning radio show that he had been trying to illustrate to people in the North the "sea change" which had taken place in the Republic, which was now "in a post-modernist period".

"I was criticising the way in which the whole of society has accepted this situation without apparently any comment. Here was a public figure, a role figure, behaving in a way which was probably a little foreign to our thinking."

He said a prime minister or a taoiseach was a role figure who would "influence the lives of young people, most importantly in an age when people are trying, sometimes under difficult circumstances, to rear their teenage children." He suggested that family life, currently under threat, was being "challenged" by Mr Ahern making Ms Larkin his "First Lady".

Canon Cooper said he was not "entering into" Mr Ahern's private life, but was criticising "the fact that the Taoiseach brought his partner, who did not happen to be his wife, his married partner, on State visits to China and the US and walked about Dublin with the Blairs.

"I am not making a judgment on the relationship. What I am making a judgment on is whether a public figure has a right to take somebody who is not his wife on State visits and treat her as the First Lady."

Canon Cooper said that in 17 years as editor of the Gazette, an independent journal with a circulation of 6,000, he had never had a more positive feedback for anything it had produced.

Turning to his remarks about Archbishop McQuaid, Canon Cooper acknowledged that he might have "phrased that a little differently." Once again he was trying to show how much the Republic had changed: "An awful lot of people in Northern Ireland still think of the Roman Catholic Church in terms of Archbishop McQuaid."

A Church of Ireland rector, the Rev David Frazer, phoned to apologise both to the Taoiseach and to the Catholic Church for any hurt caused by the Church of Ireland Gazette editorial.

"The people I live amongst in Co Kildare, the members of the Church of Ireland in my own parish, are absolutely aghast and disgusted and quite angry that this comment was made about our Taoiseach," he said. The Taoiseach "has the right to nominate whomsoever he wishes," he added.

"As to influencing the lives of young people, if Canon Cooper thinks that young people in our schools are looking to the Taoiseach as a role model, he should talk to a few young people.

"They're more interested in Boyzone and other pop groups of the day. They really don't give a hoot about whether the Taoiseach is living with Celia Larkin or anyone else."