Sir, From his review of recent papers presented to the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation (December 16th) it is clear that Garlet FitzGerald, in common with Professor's Dermot Keogh and Joe Lee is concerned that a rapid decline ha institutional religion would harm the fabric of civil society in the Republic. The implication is that the Forum should retrain prom identifying the Catholic Church as an obstacle to reconciliation.

The danger in this approach is that an opportunity to remove an age old misunderstanding between unionism and nationalism may be wasted. Over the years nationalists have vigorously denied, and unionists vehemently affirmed, that the Republic functioned as a Catholic State, a sterile exchange that increased distrust between the two sides After nearly 30 years of painfully slow liberalisation in the South it should not be beyond the abilities of the parties to the Forum to produce a reasonably objective account of this matter with which moderate unionists could agree.

The assumption underlying Dr FitzGerald's position is that being honest about the role of the Catholic Church in the Republic means depicting the church in a negative light. But this is not so. As a member of the Campaign to Separate Church and State I can recognise that leaders like Eamonn de Valera and Archbishop McQuaid acted in accordance with a substantial world view which was shared by the hulk of the population. Today, their preoccupations may scum sectarian but he the context of then the they were representative, radical and pioneering they acted in good faith they made no pretence at being liberal and they cannot now be faulted for being illiberal.

At bottom the problem is not so much the role exercised by the Catholic Church as the way that role was and still is misrepresented. The challenge is to acknowledge the positive achievement of pre Vatican 11 papal Catholicism in Ireland

In considering how best to approach this question, the parties to the Forum would do well to consider the forthright example set by Dr FitzGerald himself in a famous broadcast which he made in February 1978, when he said "Northern Protestants would be bloody tools to join the Republic under its present Constitution." If the report of the Obstacles to Reconciliation Sub Committee of the Forum tails to send as clear and direct a message as that the Rome Rule" debate will once again be relegated to future generations to sort out. Yours etc., Dalkey, Co Dublin.