Friday 13 December 2019

Why a dry Good Friday is silly and an affront to non-believers

We should be free to drink in the same way on any Friday as we can on any Thursday or Saturday
We should be free to drink in the same way on any Friday as we can on any Thursday or Saturday
It is an annual note in constant background noise of religious interference

Michael Nugent

In 1924, Ireland had one pub for every 200 people, twice the ratio of England. The new Irish Free State parliament was debating keeping Good Friday and St Patrick's Day dry, as well as closing pubs during "the hours of Divine Service" on Sunday mornings.

Were the new regulations aimed at keeping public order? No. Justice Minister Kevin O'Higgins made clear that: "They were not inserted from that angle at all, but rather as an attempt to interpret the collective mind or wish of the people concerning matters that are partly religious and partly sentimental."

Most TDs agreed. Deputy Jouis J. D'Alton said Good Friday "should be specially devoted to the Lord. It is a day on which there should be devotions for all Christians". Deputy Tom Johnson said it was "a Christian memorial day" and the ban would "fit in with the wishes of the people when seriously contemplating their religion".

But TDs wanted a tipple on our national holiday. Deputy JohnDaly noted that "Good Friday is a day of sorrow, but St Patrick's Day should be observed as a day of joy". And Major Cooper said "Good Friday is a day of mortification. Is St Patrick's Day to be a day of mortification, too?" And so we ended up with only one day of mortification.

Ninety years later, we live in a pluralist and multicultural Ireland. In the last census, 350,000 Irish people either ticked the 'No religion' box or else declined to answer the question. That figure rises at every census.

A global WIN-Gallup poll two years ago showed only 47pc of Irish people consider themselves religious, compared to a world average of 59pc. An MRBI poll at the time of the Eucharistic Congress in Dublin showed nearly one in 10 Irish Catholics do not even believe in God.

Atheist Ireland is an advocacy group for ethical secularism. We support the right of every citizen to believe in any gods, and to practise their religion without infringing on the rights of others. But the State should remain neutral between religious and non-religious beliefs.

The Good Friday drink ban is silly. If Christians or atheists want to remain sober on any day of the year, they are perfectly entitled to do so. But we should be adult enough to be able to separate the issues of religion, alcohol, citizenship and personal liberty.

The Good Friday ban is just one annual note in the constant background noise of religious interference in our public life. Every day RTE broadcasts the Angelus, a christian call to prayer. Can you imagine the outrage if they broadcast a minute of Richard Dawkins before the news every day?

The Dail starts every day by asking the christian god to direct its work. Last week lines of new gardai held up Bibles in their swearing-in ceremony. This week Kerry County Council was planning to display a crucifix in its new chamber.

More importantly, the President, judges, Taoiseach, Tanaiste, Attorney General and other Council of State members have to swear a religious oath, preventing many conscientious atheists from holding these important posts.

Most importantly, the Catholic Church still controls over 90pc of our state-funded primary schools. They can refuse access to children who don't have a baptism certificate, and they integrate their religious ethos into the whole curriculum.

Catholic schools can also legally discriminate against teachers on the ground of religion. The Seanad is now trying to amend that. And our abortion laws are still subject to the religiously-inspired 'pro-life' amendment. Will allowing us to drink on Good Friday solve these problems? Not on its own, although it might help some people to forget the problems for a day!

But as part of a wider package of secular changes, it would help Ireland to respect all of its citizens equally.

Independently of religion, we should of course tackle the social problems caused by excessive drinking. But these problems do not depend on the day of the week. We should be free to drink in the same way on any Friday as we can on any Thursday or Saturday.

MICHAEL NUGENT IS CHAIRPERSON OF ATHEIST IRELAND

Irish Independent

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