In the wake of the contentious debate surrounding the new site for the National Maternity Hospital, where fears developed that pregnant women might be thrown to the nuns, Dail Eireann had a great opportunity to proclaim loudly to all the people on the island of Ireland that they really are of equal value and not something that religion can bully or browbeat. It failed to do so. Instead it told Catholics and/or Christians that they are more equal than others. The motion to scrap the parliamentary daily prayer was defeated. There is to be no prayer from any other religion recited, nor a reading from humanist writers. Just a Christian prayer. Ireland, a Catholic country for a Catholic people.
It all sort of makes a nonsense of the regular ceremonies that are held in Dublin's Convention Centre bestowing Irish citizenship on people from other climes. Irish citizenship is not necessarily equal citizenship. The ostensible national parliament values your religious preference or perspective on faith only to the extent that it chimes with its own.
It seems on this matter at any rate The Dublin government would rather identify with Britain than Europe despites its anti-Brexit stance. Ireland and the UK are the only parliaments in Europe that begin the day with morning prayer.
The motion approved yesterday will require TDs to stand for the prayer.
All members present shall stand while the prayer is being read, and when it is concluded, members shall remain standing for 30 seconds of silent reflection.
While "stand" is the official word employed, TDs are in fact being asked to figuratively kneel and bow down before old Mother Church. Deputies Joan Collins and Ruth Coppinger have both indicated that they will refuse to stand for the prayer. Adding her voice to this, Brid Smith of People before Profit said: “I’m not standing, no matter what I’m told to do, because my religion is my business and is not up for public scrutiny.”
Forget about the thirty second reflection at the end of the prayer as signalling any autonomy from religion: that is just a relic thrown to salve the second class status of other denominations and none. The silence is more symbolic of a muzzle that truly quietens dissent on this issue.
Heartening is that three Independent ministers voted against the government of Mayotollah Kenny. They were joined by Solidarity People Before Profit, the Social Democrats, the Green Party, and Independents Tommy Broughan, Joan Collins, Catherine Connolly, Clare Daly, Séamus Healy and Mick Wallace.
The Sinn Fein motion to have a sixty second reflection period at the start of the day was defeated. A Solidarity/People Before Profit motion to scrap the prayer altogether was also defeated as was a further proposal from the group to replace it with a thirty second period of reflection. Yet, despite an auspicious start, Sinn Fein's brand of secular republicanism came up short in the final vote, from which the party TDs abstained.
Labour voted for the proposal. Considering everything else Labour has abandoned throughout its existence that it should jettison secularism is hardly a shock. While it was busy vacating the economic landscape that the Left traditionally defend, it used the fig leaf of liberalism to conceal its blushes, disguise its retreat while feigning some radical cosmetic front. Unashamedly, even that has been thrown aside.
Fianna Fáil TD Mary Butler, in genuflecting to the recommendation of the cross party business committee that recommended maintaining the prayer, said her party had faith in what it decided: a blend of prayer and reflection encompassed both modernity and the traditions of the past. Much like the sentiment behind passing the ownership of the National Maternity Hospital over to nun creatures. Oh ye of little Faith.
Perhaps the first prayer when the motion kicks in on Tuesday next should be one in which the praying mantises beseech their god to value all his creation equally: that he should put right the situation in Saudi Arabia where women are the property of men with few autonomous rights of their own. God has to sort one that out because the government certainly has no intention of doing so. It stands accused - and refuses to deny - of having voted in favour of the Saudis getting a place on the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. Had they done it on the 1st of April we could have laughed it off. At least it gave Charlie Flanagan, the Foreign Affairs Minister, an excuse to commence his thirty seconds silence early. .
After the vote TDs gathered at the Dail bar to quaff down pints of holy water. What a waste when our hospitals could be using it instead of that stupid thing called medicine.