Religion, religion everywhere and not a nun in sight.

If you live in a secular state, and you’re not religious, you probably don’t think about God and the Church and nuns all that much. In Ireland, we think about them all the time. Whether we like it or not.

In the news in Ireland this week:

  • Stephen Fry being investigated for breaking the blasphemy law after appearing on a TV show, questioning the problem of evil and the existence of God.
  • Government members questioning the outcomes of a Citizens Assembly, convened by said Government, to address the matter of abortion access.
  • People marching on the street , after over 100,000 have signed a petition, protesting against the ownership of a new National Maternity Hospital by a religious order.
  • Ministers voting to keep the practice of standing for prayer at the beginning of each Dail session.

Are you noticing a pattern? Why are so many of our national news stories dominated by the Church and its influence on the state and its citizens?

Pro-choice

Religion is a choice, should be a choice. In Ireland, it very much feels like it isn’t a choice. Whether you like it or not, the fact that some people choose to believe in a story told many years ago, impacts on your healthcare, your education, your child’s education and, if you’re a woman, your human rights. To an outsider this might sound like hyperbole but it’s not even slightly exaggerated. Let’s see:

Your healthcare – Priests and Nuns sit on the governing boards of the nation’s hospitals. It was recently revealed this has prevented trials for certain cancer drugs taking place, as the participants would need to be taking contraceptive pills to participate.

Your human rightsthe United Nations stated that the archaic abortion laws were cruel, inhuman and degrading. 

Your child’s education – The overwhelming majority of primary schools in Ireland are Catholic schools.  In many places, both in the city and rurally,  a Catholic school is the only option. Many families baptise their children with the sole purpose of getting them into a school; next thing you know your 6 year old is reciting the Hail Mary to your atheist self whilst you contemplate what level of bribe it will take to convince him not to take his Holy Communion next year.

It’s a horribly vicious and damaging cycle, and as difficult and painful as it might be, we need to start pulling at the thread that will unravel it all.

Who better to own a maternity hospital?

The state desperately needs a new maternity hospital. What it doesn’t need is for their to be a religious order in ownership of that hospital, which is the current proposal.  You would need to be seriously lacking in both empathy and historical knowledge to fail to understand why many people are angry about this,  but if you are lacking in both empathy and historical knowledge a single reminder (though there are, of course, many more): Tuam Mother and Baby Home. I don’t know about you , but I’d prefer my hospitals to be owned by the state, and run by medical professionals.

It’s complicated, we know, but it has to start somewhere. At some point, soon, Ireland needs to sever those ties. This new hospital would seem to provide an opportunity to do this.

Who better to be a wealthy landowner?

If healthcare isn’t your bag, how about education and children’s welfare?

Here my ranting gets personal. My son goes to a Catholic school in south Dublin. On the school grounds are a primary school, a girls’ secondary school, as well as pre-School, Montessori and Aftercare facilities. There’s also quite a large space which is unused. Recently, the nuns who own the school grounds, sold off some of the unused space, and houses are now being built. This is prime south Dublin real estate, so a great payday for them. Fair enough, it’s their land, it was sitting idle, makes school drop offs a bit of a nuisance but c’est la vie. Then the news comes that they will be selling off more of the land, which also includes the site on which the pre-School and aftercare buildings are currently located, providing vital facilities to the families and children of the school. The zoning of the site means that whoever buys it will be required to provide similar facilities, however it will more than likely be a corporate childcare chain rather than the locally run facility it currently is. Where will the children go in the building phase? What about the employees who have cared for the children for years? The secondary school is lacking in outdoor space for sports and there is not a blade of grass for the primary school children to play on.

(Sign our petition here, please.)

This is a huge amount of land worth staggering amounts of money. I cannot for the life of me understand why the religious order, who are let’s remember a group of elderly nuns, need to stockpile this kind of money. Especially at the expense of the local children. And of course I don’t understand, because the nuns don’t talk.

Seriously, where are they?

They are exerting huge power over great swathes of society and are essentially holding the government to ransom on the matter of the National Maternity Hospital. But we never see them. They don’t talk. They don’t issue press releases. They don’t put forward their side of the story.  Who else is given this kind of special treatment? Perhaps they feel under attack – but their age and religious beliefs should not protect them from questioning. Why do they want to own a maternity hospital? What are they doing with the money they are making from the sale of school grounds? Why won’t they compromise with those who wish to make negotiations? Why won’t they explain their stance ?

Come on, Sisters, let’s talk. We’re all just interested in what’s best for Ireland and its women and children, right?

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6 comments

  1. Thanks for this post. I live in Wales but have visited Ireland every couple of months for the last 5 years. From watching news reports while there I’ve really had my eyes opened to all the injustices. The maternity hospital debacle just seems weird to a non-Irish person – how could nuns run a maternity hospital in this day & age?

    We went to see the play The Train when we were last in Dublin and I left thinking – how lucky am I to have had easy access to the pill since the 70s?! Contraception has never been something I’ve had to be worried about – and I’d been taking it for granted when women across the Irish Sea were having to fight for it.

    But the story that’s really shocked me the most is Tuam. We’ve hardly heard about it over here in Britain. It’s like something out of the 1800s. As you say, haven’t the Irish authorities learnt from their mistakes? After Tuam, how can they contemplate having the church involved in a maternity hospital?

    Good luck with your fight to save the services at your children’s primary school – I would sign the petition, but my address would stand out a bit!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for reading – I’m glad it resonated with you. It’s all quite baffling but at least things are being talked about and questioned now , which is a small step forward. Pace is glacial, unfortunately

      Like

  2. Another great post, I think you captured the anger and frustration many people have felt. The line “In Ireland religion really isn’t a choice’ hit home hard, growing up in an atheist family in 1980’s and 1990’s Ireland we were literally the only people I know who didn’t go to church and we were never really accepted as part of the community. Things are changing, but I didn’t think it would be this slow. Also I suspect we are experiencing the conservativee backlash of the growth of the repro-rights movement.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think there’s definitely a conservative backlash going on in certain quarters but it seems the people are way ahead of the state. Or maybe I just think that, in my liberal bubble.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. As someone who moved to Ireland three months ago, is married to a Jewish man and has a son who just started school here, I appreciate everything you have to say in this post. We were lucky to find a new Community National school where we live, allowing us to avoid the Catholic school situation. They’re very inclusive and are not affiliated with any religion. I’m a recovering Catholic and all of this church & government intermingling is giving me flashbacks. Thanks for writing this!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for reading, and congrats on your school situation, sounds like a good one .

      Like

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