Separating church and state
Sir, – I suggest that the slogan “separate church and state”, used lately by opponents of the Dáil prayer, is an unhelpful and confusing one. The church and state are already separate in law. Those repeating this phrase are demanding rather that religious faith have no influence on our laws and public institutions – in effect, total secularisation.
One of the most significant effects of the Irish Church Act of 1869 was to remove the role of the Church of Ireland in local and national government. Though independent Ireland eschewed the concept of an official religion, the “special position” of the Roman Catholic Church was acknowledged in the 1937 Constitution (though this was removed by the Fifth Amendment in 1973).
In the past the Catholic hierarchy exercised considerable and perhaps undue influence in legislative matters, though that was at a time when their views were the views of a majority. All has changed utterly in Ireland in the last several decades, but it remains to be seen if the desire for total secularisation is the view of a quiet majority or a vocal minority.
The Dáil prayer is an expression of the explicitly Christian (though not narrowly Roman Catholic) preamble to our Constitution. If it is the desire of the majority of citizens to abrogate this, let this be done in the proper way by referendum. Until such a time, those TDs who desire total secularisation should show respect to parliamentary rules by refraining from protest during the prayer. They are not obliged to pray if they do not wish to. – Yours, etc,