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Con Houlihan: GAA dispels the ancient myths

It is fair to say that three institutions have played a big part in the life of the Irish Republic. They are the Catholic Church and the Fianna Fail party and the Gaelic Athletic Association. Two of those bodies are facing their terms of trial. The third is sailing into clear water.

The future of the Irish Church is rather more important than that of Fianna Fail, and so we will deal with it first. Things exposed in this decade have shocked the faithful, so much so that many of them must be in deep doubt about remaining in the Church. This is less true of the working classes and the poorer people: almost all of those are likely to remain card-carrying Catholics. Some people further up the socio-economic pyramid may defect because they believe you can be a Christian without being a Catholic.

Alan Dukes advocates that all of our bishops should retire. This is rather sweeping. Perhaps he believes that we can get on without them. I doubt it. What is known for certain is that the Church needs soldiers on the ground. It is obvious that vocations are becoming less and less and that a time may come when parish priests and curates have tasks that put enormous strain on them.

Unless the Church in general makes radical changes, it will struggle and could come close to extinction. The most obvious change has been advocated for a long time: priests should be allowed to marry. This prohibition inhibits many worthy young men from becoming priests. It causes great pain and loneliness to many who are priests. It is a ridiculous rule. It is anti-human and unrealistic.

A second change that will almost certainly come is about 2,000 years overdue. Women will be allowed to enter the priesthood. Over all those years they have been treated by the hierarchy of power as if they were not so much a different gender as a different species. When we say that women are the weaker gender, we are flying in the face of experience. This is especially true in rural Ireland, where the women in almost every family are the real rulers. You can see this when a man refers to his wife as "herself". This may not be confined to rural Ireland. Pegeen Mike is the strongest character in The Playboy Of The Western World. The Mother is the strongest character in Juno And The Paycock. Synge and O'Casey knew what they were talking about.

All those changes won't happen overnight: they will take time and patient work by the enlightened. And when those changes come -- as they certainly will -- people will be asking one another "Why didn't all this happen earlier?" And when you look back, you cannot but wonder at two rules that were profoundly anti-woman and anti-democratic.

The Fianna Fail party at present is showing up badly in the polls. It could hardly be otherwise, because the economy is on a downturn from which it will take long to recover. By the time of the next election it is likely there will be some improvement and those who voted against Fianna Fail in the opinion polls will change their minds if they are traditional followers of the Grand Old Party.

Fianna Fail has been a long time around and has become more of a religion than a political party. Eamon de Valera gave it a great start. His prestige after Easter Week and after the War of Independence was enormous. He couldn't have prevented the Civil War because Rory O'Connor and Liam Lynch, among others, were determined to fight against the Treaty.

De Valera, however, fomented it and in those years when he spoke of brothers wading through brothers' blood, he appeared to be insane. All was forgiven by many people and he became very powerful. He was the last High King of Ireland. And Fianna Fail began to believe that it was the only party fit to govern.

There was a long barren period between 1931 and 1948. Then a new party called Clann na Poblachta brought water from the rock and a coalition government took over. Changes came immediately: Noel Browne banished the scourge of tuberculosis; James Dillon gave the confidence back to the farmers; houses were built on a scale never seen before. The Government might have lasted much longer if Sean MacBride, the gunman turned Defender of the Faith, hadn't opposed Browne's Mother and Child Scheme.

Fianna Fail resumed power and has been, more or less, the dominant party ever since. You can be sure that the Grand Old Party will regroup and fight with fierce determination and do all it can to retain its dominance. It is all too likely that it will attempt to change the electoral system as it tried before. Recently, we have heard about voting lists. This is toying with a most undemocratic system. A frightening aspect is that Fianna Gael seem to be thinking on similar lines. The Labour Party needs to be vigilant as never before.

The GAA went through generations of propagating a myth that is utterly absurd. You were deemed a bad Irishman if you played or attended "foreign games". Rugby was a distillation of the old Irish game called Cad. Soccer was played all over the world and by all creeds and classes. It was about as foreign as air and water.

The ban went far deeper than sport. It promulgated the concept that there were two kinds of Irish people -- the true Irish and the less than Irish. This nonsense affected all aspects of life. The times are changing and rugby and soccer have been played on 'The Sacred Sod' of Croke Park and the association has gained immeasurably, not so much in money as in respect. It is great to see one myth put away and not a moment too soon. This myth about foreign games was reflected in our politics. The addiction to the belief in a united Ireland was an expression of it and that myth, hopefully, is on the way out.

Fogra: Belated greetings and congratulations to Christy Moore on his 65th birthday