Church and State in 20th-century Ireland


Sir, – Dr. Martin Hanrahan (Letters September 3rd) is at pains to point out that Irish society generally had a responsibility for the terrible things that were done to women, and to children and other vulnerable people, in the past, and not just those who were within the Catholic Church.

Anyone who lived at the time would know that in the Ireland of the middle decades of the last century, the whole country, from the most senior politician down, was in thrall to the Catholic Church.

Members of the Civil Service and of those institutions that had power were very often also members of church organisations, some of them secret organisations. In their day jobs they complemented perfectly all that the church was doing, and did their utmost to maintain church dominance. The general public accepted without question that if a priest, let alone a bishop, made a pronouncement, it was the last word that could ever be spoken on the subject.

Those few individuals who had the temerity to speak out or to try to do something concrete to improve matters, such as Dr Noël Browne, minister for health from 1948 to 1951, were very effectively silenced by their superiors, who were well able to anticipate what the hierarchy would want to see happening.

The simple fact of the matter is that in every practical sense, there was no “Irish society generally” that could be differentiated from the Catholic Church. And that was the problem. – Yours, etc,


Windy Arbour,

Dublin 14.