This letter from my father recently appeared The Irish Times and The Irish Examiner:
Sir, – Much has been written and spoken in attempts to explain the ignominious collapse of the Labour Party vote in the Meath East byelection, but as yet I have not heard even one commentator refer to the fact that under his leadership Eamon Gilmore is making it ever more difficult for a practising Catholic to vote for Labour.
Tens of thousands may be emigrating, dole queues may be at record levels, the poor may be shivering in the Arctic-like conditions that overhang the country, yet Labour persists in its crusade to consign the Catholic Church to the dustbin of Irish history. Such fundamentalism is positively frightening.
There can be little doubt that the byelection result was hugely influenced by Labour’s abandonment of the pre-general election promises, yet even the most diehard Labour voters who share the Catholic faith must be asking themselves, in good conscience, can they continue to vote for a party whose leadership holds their faith in such naked contempt. Not alone Catholics, members of the other Christian churches must be asking themselves the same question.
Surely within the Labour Party itself there are Christians who are beginning to wonder whether or not they can remain in a party which is so openly hostile to their faith?
There was a time when its critics used to claim that the Labour Party was the political wing, not of the trade unions, but of the Society of the St Vincent de Paul. How laughable would such a criticism be today. – Yours, etc,
Ballymun, Dublin 11.
Today, a letter from a Madeline Stringer of Dundrum appeared with the following response:
Sir, – Peadar Kelly (April 4th) says he cannot vote for Labour because it is “making it difficult for a practising Catholic to vote for [it]”. Does he not have the confidence in his own religious belief and practice that he needs it to be backed up by the State?
The early Christians would not have got far if they had taken this attitude. You can be a perfect Catholic in a secular state. You are not obliged to get a divorce, use contraception, attend gay marriage ceremonies, or eat meat on Fridays if these things are against your personal ethics.
How can it benefit Catholicism to know that non-Catholics are being forced to follow its rules?
The theocracy which stifled Ireland for too long should be allowed to wither away, but this would not stop the faithful from consuming only black tea and dry toast during Lent if they so wished. – Yours, etc,
How do you even start on this? First off, she is missing the point that my father was making. He was not saying that Labour are making it difficult to be Catholic in Ireland. They are trying to do that, of course, although nobody will pretend Ireland bears any comparison to China or Saudia Arabia in this regard. What my father asserted was that Labour are making it difficult to be a Catholic Labour voter.
Secondly, even the examples she gives can be shown to be fallacious.
You are not obliged to get a divorce? Well, if your spouse insists upon it you might be. I don't know the intricacies of divorce law, but how many divorces are really a matter of mutual consent?
You are not obliged to use contraception? Perhaps not. But you will be exposed to government propaganda for it nonetheless, and if you have children, so will they. There is one advertising campaign recently, featuring a bandana-wearing, guitar-playing character, with the slogan: "Johnny has you covered". I think a lot of heartbreak and tragedy has entered a lot of lives through the false impression that Johnny has you covered. Also, if you work in an Irish pharmacist, you will be forced to sell the morning-after pill.
You are not obliged to attend gay marriage ceremonies? Maybe not, but how long before Catholics and Christians are prosecuted for refusing to accept their legitimacy-- in the same way that Catholic adoption agencies have been forced to close in Britain because they would not place children with same-sex couples?
As for the point about eating meat on Fridays, this is an obvious gibe, playing on the perception that meatless Fridays were (and are, for those who still practice them) a form of superstitious taboo like Pythogoreans not eating beans, rather than a small symbolic sacrifice. But I could even make a rather facetious response to a facetious statement, and mention how Friday has increasingly become a day of celebration in our society, being the beginning of the weekend (and leisure is increasingly the only thing anybody has left to celebrate, since nobody believes in anything anymore). In my job, Friday is usually the day chosen for presentations, coffee mornings, and for general bringing in of doughnuts and cakes and other assorted goodies. I could complain that this shows a lamentable lack of sensitivity to those practicing Friday absintence-- perhaps even a deliberate attempt to tempt them into breaking it. Perhaps this is the sort of silly reply that such a silly letter deserves, after all.