AT its annual conference in April, Labour will debate probably the most obnoxious proposal to come before any party in a long time. It is contained in a document that is a swingeing attack on denominational schools. Senator Joe McCarthy of anti-communism fame would be proud of the recommendation. It says that senior civil servants in the Department of Education should be screened to ensure they are not "Catholics first and Irish second".
If Fianna Fail was to debate a similar motion at its ard fheis, calling for the screening of civil servants who might be "Protestants first and Irish second", there would rightly be uproar at the suggestion that to be Protestant is somehow to be less Irish. That is how we used to think. Has that suspicion now transferred to Catholics?
Aside from a report in this newspaper, there has been almost no reaction in the national media to the proposal before the Labour Party. This is very curious. At least three BBC programmes in Northern Ireland have run items on it. I was interviewed for one of them myself. But to the best of my knowledge, RTE hasn't bothered with the story at all.
The document from which this recommendation springs has been adopted by the Dublin North Central council of the Labour Party and is known as 'the Clontarf Report'. Labour's TD for the area, Aodhan O Riordain, confirmed to 'The Irish Catholic' that he supports the document.
Mr O Riordain is a sort of Ivana Bacik mark two. He also told 'The Irish Catholic' that he believes: "Religious ethos has no place in the education sector of a modern republic."
The document erroneously claims denominational schools are breaking the law when they admit children of their own faith ahead of other children. In fact, this is expressly permitted in law.
It's worth quoting recommendation 15, the document's particularly offensive proposal, in full: "All senior officials in state bodies which are likely to have to deal with the Catholic Church should be screened to ensure that they will not show inappropriate deference to the Catholic Church. Those who feel that they are 'Catholic first and Irish second' should have no influence on the control of education."
So, a report concerned to stop what it believes is illegal discrimination by denominational schools against children not of their own religion wants Catholic civil servants to be singled.
When he wrote this, perhaps the report's author was thinking of Ruairi Quinn's 2009 suggestion that some officials in the Department of Education might be members of what he absurdly called "secret societies, such as the Knights of St Columbanus and Opus Dei". More shades of McCarthyism right there.
This motion will almost certainly be defeated, but it should never have been tabled. It is a sign of the aggressive secularism which has gripped many people in this country.
Another indication of this mentality emerged a few days ago when the 'Sunday Independent' reported a ridiculous charge that Bishop Philip Boyce of Raphoe had breached the Incitement to Hatred Act. A file has been sent to the DPP.
THE bishop's offence? He said in a homily last August that he believed the Catholic Church was being 'attacked from outside by the arrows of a godless culture'. If that is incitement to hatred, then probably every commentator in Ireland is guilty of it 10 times over. Just think of what journalists say about property developers, bankers, politicians or indeed about the bishops themselves.
The DPP will almost certainly dismiss the complaint, but Bishop Boyce's name is now in the papers in connection with an incitement-to-hatred accusation. This will have a chilling effect on anyone else who might want to criticise secular critics of the church.
In fact, Bishop Boyce should make his own complaint to the Garda Ombudsman against the officer who saw fit to send a file to the DPP based on such a frivolous charge. Why didn't the garda throw it in the bin?
Either that or incitement to hatred legislation will have to be drastically amended so that gardai in the future are in no doubt as to its very limited scope. This was always the danger in passing such legislation -- that it would become a weapon used by cranks against anyone with whom they disagree.
Ireland used to be full of one-eyed nationalists. Today, it is full of one-eyed secularists who can think of nothing better to do with their time than put down obnoxious motions for debate at party conferences or walk into garda stations and accuse bishops of inciting hatred when all they have done is mildly express their opinion.
The bottom line is that secular intolerance is in full cry.