Wednesday, 7 December 2016
Ceisteanna - Questions
Taoiseach's Meetings and Engagements
I propose to take Questions Nos. 7 to 12, inclusive, together.
On Monday, 28 November I had a number of engagements in Vatican City, including a private audience with His Holiness, Pope Francis. I had a separate meeting with the Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin and his officials, and I also attended a reception for the Irish community hosted by the Irish ambassador, H.E. Emma Madigan. In my meeting with Pope Francis, we discussed a range of issues of mutual interest, including developments within the European Union, global current affairs issues, and bilateral relations between Ireland and the Holy See. We discussed current affairs in Europe, in particular migration and the refugee crisis, youth unemployment, and political and institutional challenges, including those arising from the recent referendum in the UK on its membership of the European Union.
I warmly welcomed the decision by Pope Francis to hold the 2018 World Meeting of Families in Dublin. I expressed to the Pope the Irish Government's full support for the invitation by the Irish Bishops Conference for him to visit Ireland in the course of the event, and assured him that the Government would provide every assistance in the event of his deciding to visit. I was very pleased that Pope Francis confirmed to me he will visit Ireland during the event in 2018.
In my subsequent meeting with Cardinal Secretary of State Parolin and his officials, I reiterated my welcome for the Pope's decision to visit Ireland in 2018.
The Secretary of State and I discussed various political and policy matters, including progress in Northern Ireland, the migration and refugee crisis, the task facing the European Union in tackling social exclusion and youth unemployment and issues arising from the recent referendum in the United Kingdom. We also discussed church-state relations and I took the opportunity to update the Secretary of State on developments on the issue of school patronage and the work of the Citizens' Assembly.
I attended a reception for the Irish community hosted by the Irish ambassador to the Holy See. It was a very welcome opportunity for me to meet some of the many Irish people working in Rome and Vatican City. They expressed their delight at the fact that the Irish Embassy in Vatican City had been reopened.
My colleague Deputy Anne Rabbitte who was to take the question for my party leader has said she thinks the Pope should visit Galway. The Taoiseach might bear this in mind.
Given the considerable controversy caused when the last Government shut the embassy in Vatican City, it is good that relations with the church and, in particular, the Holy See now seem to be on a better footing. We welcome the fact that the Pope is to visit Ireland. There is no doubt that 2018 will be a interesting year. Under previous Pontificates, the writings of certain priests in Ireland were censored by church authorities. These decisions were made by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. One of those involved was the world renowned theologian Fr. Sean Fagan who died last July. Another was Fr. Tony Flannery who was removed from the ministry because he refused to recant the statements he had made in writing with which the church disagreed. The others include Fr. Brian D'Arcy, Fr. Owen O'Sullivan, Fr. Gerard Moloney and a man I know well, Fr. Iggy O'Donovan. It was reported that the Taoiseach had discussed these matters and the six Catholic priests with the Pope. Will the Taoiseach outline the response to him on these citizens?
Were there discussions on the issue of clerical sex abuse and the response of the church in that regard? Were there discussions on the Citizens' Assembly and the issue of Article 40.3.3o on which the church has strong views? Does the Taoiseach have plans to meet leaders of the other faiths represented in this country?
I welcome the Taoiseach's rapprochementwith the Catholic Church, or at least the hierarchy, and his meeting with Pope Francis. While he does not have any control over the Pope's schedule, will the Taoiseach comment on whether the Pope will visit the North as part of his schedule in 2018? One of the slogans from sectarian elements in the North with which I was reared was "No Pope here". That is still something that comes up around 12 July. It would be very good to consign that slogan and all sectarianism to the dustbin of history. In the new dispensation a visit by Pope Francis would be a very positive development.
It is welcome that the report on his conversation with the Vatican Secretary of State set out that the Taoiseach had defended the vote result in the marriage equality referendum. Its importance and the message it sent around the world cannot be underestimated. There are aspects of church law and teaching which do not reflect the world today or the views of many citizens on the island, but it is important that we seek to have the best possible relationships with all churches and faith communities. We must also emphasise the importance of the separation of church and state.
There has been some speculation that the Pope's visit will coincide with the referendum on the repeal of the eighth amendment. Was this issue discussed? Sinn Féin has been very critical of the Government's approach to the setting of a date for the referendum. It strikes me that the Citizens' Assembly is all about stringing out the process. Will the Taoiseach assure the Dáil that a referendum will be held before the Pope's visit? Will he tell us if he is satisfied that the issues which gave rise to his justifiable criticism of the church in 2011 have been resolved? Did he raise the decision by the Catholic Church here to block plans for the first State curriculum in world religions and ethics for primary schools?
I have no problem with any religious leader visiting a country, but I have a number of issues with the Taoiseach's visit and the impending visit by the Pope in 2018. The Taoiseach has reportedly said church-state relations are in better shape now than they were ever before. However, we still have religious discrimination in schools and the church is still not teaching aspects of sex education. We still have the church vetoing the teaching of religion, beliefs and ethics in schools. There is church teaching on abortion. The Taoiseach has said he met the Vatican Prime Minister and the Vatican Foreign Minister. If Muslims had an all-male state, there would be an outcry in this country. The idea that they have titles such as "Prime Minister" and "Foreign Minister" and their own state is something a lot more serious and merits more serious discussion.
I am amazed that the Taoiseach is reporting to the Dáil that he discussed the Citizens' Assembly with the Pope. Why? What does the Citizens' Assembly have to do with the Pope? Is he going to discuss with any other male leader of any other religion for what he is going to legislate in relation to women's bodies? The timing of this visit is the subject of a lot of discussion on social media. A lot of people are saying it is very coincidentlal that the Pope's visit is being planned for 2018, the year in which a referendum on repeal of the eighth amendment is expected to be held, albeit no one is holding his or her breath waiting on the Taoiseach's Government. Already the Foreign Minister, Archbishop Paul Gallagher, has told the Taoiseach and the world that the result of the referendum on marriage equality was a defeat for humanity. Are the Pope and the church going to intervene in the referendum in 2018 because if they are, that is serious? That they would arrange a visit to intervene in a referendum expected to take place in the same year is something about which a lot of people have questions. If it is a private visit to attend the world meeting of families, why was it announced after the Taoiseach's visit? Why would the church not just announce it without the Taoiseach having to go over and without having a ceremonial event? It was only then that it was announced. I am very interested in hearing what the Pope had to say about the Citizens' Assembly. Did he welcome the Taoiseach's delaying tactic in dealing with the issue?
I welcome the meeting between the Taoiseach and Pope Francis and the proposed visit of Pope Francis to Ireland. I disagree with Deputy Gerry Adams that the Taoiseach's discussions constituted rapprochement. It is very healthy for there to be some tension not only between individual states but also between religions and the independent Republic of Ireland. I was sitting close to the Taoiseach when he made his contribution following the publication of the report on clerical sexual abuse. It was extraordinarily moving and important for the House to hear. We do not need in any way to seek to have rapprochementin that regard. It was a really important message to send.
The point was made that the Cardinal Secretary of State and the Pope had discussed the Citizens' Assembly. What specifically did they have to say specifically about the Constitution, if anything?
On the ongoing wounding issue of the clerical sexual abuse of children, did the Taoiseach discuss during his visit to Rome how that issue could be addressed when Pope Francis came to Ireland?
Deputy Thomas Byrne raised a number of questions. I am glad that the Government was in a position to reopen an embassy in Vatican City. The decision to close the embassy had been based on a retirement and the perilous economic state of the country at the time. I commend the ambassador Ms Emma Madigan for her diligence in the work she is doing in the Irish Embassy to the Holy See. The members who work in and around the Vatican were pleased that the embassy had been reopened.
I met them in the ambassador's residence. Most of them are from Ireland and were going about their work. There is a hard-working ambassador. In many ways, the Vatican is a listening post for information from around the world.
I referred to a number of matters that would improve the environment for the visit of the Pope when he decides to come here. It is important for Deputy Coppinger to know that the invitation to the Pope to visit Ireland did not come from me. Rather, it came from the bishops' conference. It was not for me to tell or attempt to dictate to the Pope as to whether he should visit Ireland.
After speaking to Archbishop Diarmuid Martin quite some time ago, I indicated that if the Pope wished to come to Ireland the Government would make arrangements to treat him as Head of the Vatican State and the Catholic Church.
I was glad that he confirmed to me that he would come to Ireland during August 2018. The plans as to where he will visit are a matter to be worked out in discussions with the bishops. The Pope confirmed that would be the case.
I said to the Pope that on his visit to Ireland his predecessor was unable to visit Northern Ireland because of the troubles there and that if a visit to the North was part of his discussions, he might wish to visit there. There are those who say he might go to the cathedral in Armagh. Others say he might visit a peace line in Belfast or whatever. Of course, others want him to visit the place that was the goal of the visit of Pope John Paul II, that is, the consecration of the basilica in Knock, the scene of the apparition of Our Lady. These are matters not to be decided by me or the Government, but rather for the bishops to work out themselves.
I did not discuss the question of the Citizens' Assembly with the Pope although I updated him on the situation, because Cardinal Parolin and Archbishop Gallagher asked me about the work of the Citizens' Assembly. I pointed out to both what the work was about, the nature of the make-up of the Citizens' Assembly, its function and how it would report to the Houses of the Oireachtas in order to enable it to make its decision arising from whatever recommendations or proposals it makes.
It was not Archbishop Gallagher who made the comment about a defeat for humanity, rather it was Cardinal Parolin.
He referred to the matter in our discussions. I expressed to him the situation that applied in Ireland, whereby there was unbridled joy from all the people in respect of Ireland being the first country where a citizens' convention made a recommendation that a referendum should be held on the question of marriage equality and that the people responded very strongly in giving their ascent and confirmation of that.