BY ANY measure the kind of changes advocated in Irish life in the report of the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation seem relatively modest today than they might have three years ago.BY ANY measure the kind of changes advocated in Irish life in the report of the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation seem relatively modest today than they might have three years ago.
Changes to the Angelus, the possibility of alternative national anthems for non-official occasions, the greater availability of certain medical procedures are far from the fundamental shift that has already taken place.
For instance the final draft of the Forum's report dealing with obstacles to reconciliation in the Republic mentions two major issues Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution and the prohibition on divorce. The draft was prepared in December 1995 but was never finalised or published because the Canary Wharf bombing occurred some weeks later and the work of the Forum was suspended.
Yet in the intervening period people in the Republic have crossed the hurdles of divorce albeit by a wafer thin margin and this year they overwhelmingly backed the new wording for Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution as part of the Good Friday Agreement.
Nonetheless these radical shifts in the political and constitutional landscape of the Republic haven't resulted in any corresponding shift in the Unionist mindset towards this State. At least not yet. But in a number of studies commissioned for the Forum's analysis of this issue the point is made forcibly that many Unionists have a major difficulty with the concept of a written constitution per se. The report notes the views of Professor Brice Dickson that ``the dominant unionist mentality is one which dislikes attributing authority to pieces of paper, preferring instead to declare allegiance to institutions, traditions and convictions.'' In the various studies there is a strong sense that many of the views held by unionists about the South are rooted in perceptions that have largely become outdated. It is true that for many, many unionists the ``Rome rule'' syndrome created deep fears and in a one special study for the Report, Dr Dermot Keogh showed how de Valera maintained a tight control over the drafting of the Constitution with a small group of civil servants, himself and ``in a very influential advisory capacity'', Dr John Charles McQuaid, the Archbishop of Dublin. When the sub-committee of the Forum came to examine the Constitution from the perspective of reconciliation it noted: ``Given the genesis of the Constitution and the ethos which it was intended to reflect, it is hardly surprising that it contains elements which would be regarded as not wholly inclusive.'' That said, it is notable that many of the areas identified by the committee as open to change would seem to be relatively unimportant. They focussed on several issues the Preamble to the Constitution; the tricolour as the national flag; the status of the Irish language; the family and particularly the women's life in the home; the ban on divorce; religion and declarations made by the President.
The Preamble of the Constitution contains several religious and historical nationalist aspects such as references to the ``most Holy Trinity'' and ``our Divine Lord Jesus Christ'' and ``who sustained our fathers through centuries of trial''. While opinions varied most members of the committee favoured keeping a religious dimension but confining it to ``God'' and removing references such as ``most Holy Trinity''.
There are many who will argue that with the Good Friday Agreement we have made far greater progress on that latter front than might have been expected when the report was being drafted in December 1995. On the question of symbolism they favoured keeping the tricolour and the national anthem but suggested the government could commission alternative anthems for sporting and other non-official occasions.
They shared a unanimous view that the Angelus should broadened into a ``more all embracing time for prayer'' using symbols and sounds of other denominations.
They also identified Article 41.2.2 which says the State shall endeavour to ensure ``that mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labour to the neglect of their duties in the home'' as requiring deletion, a view already espoused by the Commission on the Status on Women.
IRRESPECTIVE OF the question of reconciliation this particular point would seem to have as much relevance now given the huge numbers of women returning to the workforce to pursue careers but who, in constitutional terms, are seen in a paternalistic manner.
For the most part many of the changes advocated are worthy in their own right for they reflect the changing character and nature of Irish society and if they contribute to reconciliation so much the better.