News David Quinn

Tuesday 30 September 2014

If anything smacks of a show of religion here, secularists want an immediate ban

Published 18/04/2014 | 02:30

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We really shouldn't complain. In New Zealand they have it much worse

It's Good Friday and we have the usual hoo-hah about the ban on alcohol sales. Publicans and restaurateurs are complaining loudly. It's the busy Easter weekend they lament, and they can't sell alcohol to their customers.

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But why is the weekend busy? Why is it a Bank Holiday weekend in the first place? The publicans and restaurateurs never seem to answer that question.

The answer, of course, is precisely that it's the Easter weekend. If it wasn't, it would be a normal weekend with no Bank Holiday on Monday and today would be like any other day instead of a day lots of people still get off work.

We really shouldn't complain too loudly. In New Zealand they have it much worse, if that's the word.

I was in New Zealand on Good Friday three years ago visiting a family member, and on Good Friday no alcohol is sold, all the shops shut their doors and there are no ads on television. An ad-free day. Glorious.

But how the advertisers and the commercial stations must wail. Think of the lost revenue. Think also of just one day in the year that is commerce-free.

We've become such a strange, intolerant place about public manifestations of religion. We used to have Eucharistic processions down the main streets of the major towns and cities around the country. Now only some do it.

Dublin archdiocese has one on the grounds of Clonliffe College in Drumcondra each year. But it's too shy to come out onto the street.

When we held the Eucharistic Congress a couple of years ago, there was a big procession, but it hugged the streets around the RDS.

In Spain, meanwhile, Eucharistic processions are big, loud, colourful affairs. I was in Nerja on a family holiday a few years ago and happened upon one. Half the town seemed to turn out. A lot of them probably hadn't been in a church in years but in Spain religious processions aren't just for the pious.

Every year the little town of Eu in Normandy holds a procession in honour of Laurence O'Toole, the patron saint of Dublin who died there petitioning King Henry II.

Around 15 years ago a new altar stone was sent from Ireland to Eu in the saint's honour. It was a civic as well as a religious occasion and that year the procession to the chapel on a hill outside the town on the spot when St Laurence is said to have died was led by Eu's communist mayor.

In France they are extremely strict about Church/State separation.

Often what they really mean by it is separation of religion and society. But they can still have an event like this in many towns in France that are both civic and religious.

I'm trying to imagine anything of this sort happening in Ireland. Is there a town anywhere the length or breadth of the country where a left-wing, secular-minded mayor, or any other mayor for that matter, would be at the head of a religious procession? If there is, please tell me about it because I would genuinely like to know. This week we learnt that councillors in Kerry voted to erect a crucifix in their new chamber. I have mixed feelings about that move to be honest but I doubt very much it is in breach of equality legislation as some have suggested.

Certainly it's not in breach of the Constitution. Religious symbols have been on display in public buildings for years, although that is far less the case now that we have decided to 'strip the altars' in a fit of secular, neo-puritanism.

Nor is it in breach of any European human rights code. A few years back the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the crucifix could be displayed on the walls of classrooms in state-run schools. The court had originally ruled against displaying the crucifix and there was almost universal uproar in Italy. Even left-wing MPs objected.

They said the crucifix wasn't only a religious symbol, it was also a cultural symbol.

If the court hadn't overruled its first ruling upon appeal, Italy would have told the court to sod off – something Ireland would never do, especially if it gave us an excuse to tear down yet more religious symbols. Besides, we love kowtowing to international bodies like the UN, the EU and the European Court of Human Rights.

Returning to the ban on alcohol sales on Good Friday, before we get too hot and bothered about it, we should check out what still happens in a number of European countries every Sunday; the shops close. And it's the trade unions that mainly support that these days. They want there to be one genuinely commerce-free day of rest per week. Makes sense.

But it makes no sense at all to our home-grown band of secularists. If anything smacks in the least of a public manifestation of religion, ban it. End of story. In the name of tolerance and open-mindedness you understand.

As for Good Friday, let's make a deal. I've suggested it before. Let's sell alcohol but let's also make it a completely normal day when everyone goes to work as usual. Can't have it both ways after all.

And let's cancel the Easter Monday break as well. That's only there because of Easter Sunday and that smacks of religion too. So let's make the whole weekend completely normal. There, that's settled.

Irish Independent

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