There are many good and well founded reasons for people to question the transfer of a state funded asset to a private religious organisation. There are many people doing that at the moment with respect to the proposed move of the National Maternity Hospital to the
lands at St. Vincents University Hospital.. Yet there is also an creeping element of anti-Catholicism in some of the commentary on this issue. This is as distinct from anti-Clericalism as noted by the Irish Times today.
The French state has had a long history since the revolution of anti-clericalism. This was for the sensible justification that the clergy were largely complicit in the exploitation of the ordinary people, living as they did on a mandatory tithe that diminished their materiel well being without necessarily enhancing their spiritual well being. However, Ireland despite our claimed republican origins was much more pro-clericalism in the manner in which the state behaved when dealing with the Catholic church. Much more handy for our elected reps to deal with the clergy than with the people directly on matters of social policy, it gave them both cover when they didn’t want to confront uncomfortable problems. It is a good thing for the state to throw off those shackles of bending the knee to the unelected representatives of one faith. That does not mean that the state or those representing it can also decide to treat differently with individual members of the Catholic faith who are not acting in any capacity as its representatives.
I’ve noted people (sadly one a member of my own party) practically screaming on social media to know if the Master of the Holles street was a Catholic or not. The clear implication is that the Master of the National Maternity Hospital is incapable of being trusted to discharge her duties if she is a member of the Catholic faith. Imagine for a moment that the NMH was refusing to move to the site at SVUH and the Master was of some other faith, so the word Catholic was replaced with Muslim or Jewish…what would be the impression that someone outside of Ireland get of the mindset of such people? that we only see people through the prism of their faith, that this facet alone defines them, not their education, work or life experience? I’ve no idea what faith the Master follows and quite bluntly it is as she said not relevant.
The strong hint of sectarianism in such comments is quite disturbing. Frankly it’s the stuff of an anti-Catholic witch hunt. It’s what southern Baptists claimed about President Kennedy, that anyone Catholic is unable to do their job without referral to the hierarchy and eventually the Vatican. It was a prejudicial slur then and it remains one still.
The whole point of a more secular state and all the anti discrimination legislation we have passed is that someones’s faith or gender or whatever should not be an issue, only their ability and competence. Yet for some the goal is not to end discrimination on such grounds but in fact to reverse the direction of it. To borrow a phrase from the 1997 election for them, it’s Payback time.
There are many reasonable questions to be asked regarding this issue and much yet to be resolved. However there is an appropriate way to do that and demanding to know if the Master of Holles streeet or someone else who comments on this issue is a Catholic or not is not it.