The Irish Times reports that Cardinal Seán Brady, the besieged leader of the Catholic Church in Ireland, has said today that he wants a “just resolution” to a civil case taken against him by an alleged victim of the convicted child abuser Father Brendan Smyth. The man is suing Cardinal Brady in his capacity as Archbishop of Armagh and as the Catholic Church’s representative in Ireland. The action was initially taken some 13 years ago, in 2007. The Cardinal has asked his lawyers to engage with the complainant’s solicitor “with a view to progressing the case”.
The man claims he was repeatedly sexually abused by Brendan Smyth in Dundalk in the early 1970s. According to the Irish Times, the man is alleging that the Catholic Church called an ecclesiastical court to deal with the allegations and assured the man that Smyth would never be placed in a siutation where he could abuse children. Read more…
‘Subjects Before the Law: Membership, Recognition and the Religious Dimensions of Women’s Citizenship.’
We invite PhD students and Early Career Researchers (no more than 3 years post-doc) from any discipline to apply to participate in a workshop, to take place on Thursday, September 9, 2010. The workshop is hosted by the Centre for Criminal Justice and Human Rights and the Institute for Social Science in the 21st Century, University College Cork, Ireland. The workshop is organised as part of an IRCHSS Thematic Project on Gender Equality, Religious Diversity and Multiculturalism in Contemporary Ireland.
Civil Partnership Bill, Second Stage….Of Tatchell, MacLiammoir, Fathers and Left-Wing Extremist Feminism
On Wednesday the second stage debate on the Civil Partnership Bill continued in the Dail (see an explanation of the Irish legislative process here). The Bill has now passed the second stage and has been referred to the Select Committee on Justice, Equality and Women’s Rights. An archive of the customary liveblog (and very entertaining it is too) is here.
References were made throughout the debate to two Bills which preceded the present government’s efforts; the Norris Civil Partnership Bill of 2004 and the Labour Party’s ill-fated Civil Unions Bill of 2006 (notable for its provision for children’s rights and for adoption).
A Threat to Marriage?
Beverley Flynn (FF) emphasised the special protection afforded to marriage under the Constitution. This was a theme taken up by Brian Hayes (and by many his FG colleagues) who, unusually (perhaps almost uniquely) for this debate, actually discussed and demonstrated some understanding of the applicable law: One of the myths that has been circulated is that the Bill will downgrade the position of marriage. I wish to refute that assertion because I do not believe marriage will be downgraded at all. The clear protection afforded to marriage under Article 40 of the Constitution is absolute. That protection can be changed only on foot of a referendum and it cannot be altered by an Act of Parliament. That was made abundantly clear in the remarks of Ms Justice Dunne in the High Court in the case taken by Dr. Zappone and Dr. Gilligan, in which they attempted to have recognised a marriage of their union in Canada in Irish domestic law. It is worth putting on the record what Ms Justice Dunne said in that case, which, I understand, is still under appeal in the Supreme Court. She said: I think one has to bear in mind all of the provisions of Article 41 and Article 42 in considering the definition of marriage. Read together, I find it very difficult to see how the definition of marriage could, having regard to the ordinary and natural meaning of the words used, relate to a same sex couple… The definition of marriage to date has always been understood as being opposite sex marriage. How then can it be argued that in the light of prevailing ideas and concepts that definition be changed to encompass same sex marriage? Having regard to the clear understanding of the meaning of marriage as set out in the numerous authorities opened to the Court from this jurisdiction and elsewhere, I do not see how marriage can be redefined by the Court to encompass same sex marriage… Marriage was understood under the 1937 Constitution to be confined to persons of the opposite sex. In no way will the passage of this Bill downgrade or undermine marriage because absolute and clear protection is given in Articles 40 and 41 to marriage as an act between persons of opposite sex. I am not saying that in the future that could not change. However, the only way it could change is if there is a referendum. It is the people who will decide whether that definition of marriage as expressed in Bunreacht na hÉireann can change. I reject the notion that in some way the Bill downgrades marriage because absolute and fundamental constitutional protection is given to marriage in Articles 40 and 41.
It is interesting to note that the Minister for Justice in his response referred to two ways in which the Bill bears the marks of the government’s desire to protect the institution of marriage. First, he discussed the balance to be struck between a past spouse and a current co-habitant: I do not believe that establishing the duration of cohabitation under the provisions in the Bill will be a particularly difficult matter, although there are certain necessary variations in a case where either of the cohabitants has been married to another person during the period of cohabitation. This is consistent with the Attorney General’s advice that we must ensure that in such cases the spouse, being a party to a marriage, must take priority over the potential claims of any other cohabitant. Second he distinguished between the relief available on marriage breakdown and that sought to be made available when cohabiting relationships end: The Bill’s redress scheme is not designed to redistribute the property or finances of a couple who split up; it is designed to mitigate hardship where a relationship ends leaving one former cohabitant financially vulnerable. The Government has no proposals to widen the provisions for cohabitants in a way that would serve to undermine the institution of marriage.
Narratives of Progress: Who Stands by the Republic Now?
In his speech in yesterday’s Civil Partnership debate, Deputy James Reilly (FG) said:
I know that some speakers do not feel it goes far enough, but it is useful to remind ourselves from whence we have come. It is well within living memory when homosexuality was a crime in this country. Before that, it was even considered to be an illness. Awareness and enlightenment has slowly come, but it has come nonetheless.
Yesterday saw the Civil Partnership Bill claimed from both sides of the house as emblematic of Ireland’s move towards not merely progressive but secular politics. Labour’s Ciaran Lynch, for instance said that ‘this Bill is a milestone, as Ireland moves from a theocracy to a democracy’. The Civil Partnership Bill, it seems, is the mirror in which we look when we no longer want to see the Ireland of the Ryan Report gazing back.
In the UK, the Court of Appeal has reserved judgment in the case of Davender Ghai (pictured left, centre), an elderly Hindu man who is challenging a decision of Newcastle City Council refusing permission for the construction of a site on which traditional Hindu funeral ceremonies could be celebrated. Such ceremonies involve the cremation of the deceased’s remains on an open-air funeral pyre, which is set alight by the eldest son or other appropriate relative. Mr. Ghai explains the ritual, which includes the breaking of the deceased’s skull, here. In 2006, Mr. Ghai was involved in the illegal Northumberland funeral rites of Rajpal Mehat, which included an open air pyre. The BBC reports with footage of the event here. The local police did not intervene and the Crown Prosecution Service determined that prosecution would not be in the public interest.The Council argues that the burning of human remains other than in a crematorium is prohibited by legislation. Mr. Ghai was unsuccessful in the High Court. The judgment of Cranston J is here and a shorter case note is available here.
8 days ago, the news was announced that over 57% of Swiss people voting in a referendum had chosen to amend Article 72 of the Swiss Constitution. All but 4 of Switzerland’s cantons voted in favour. The Article currently reads:
(1) The regulation of the relationship between church and state is a cantonal matter.
(2) Within the limits of their competencies, the Federation and the Cantons may take measures to maintain public peace between members of the various religious communities.
As a result of the referendum, a third clause is automatically added to the constitution, to incorporate the sentence: ‘The construction of minarets is forbidden’.The vote was in response to a proposal by the right-wing anti-immigrant Swiss People’s Party (SVP) – the country’s largest party – and the ultra-conservative Federal Democratic Union. Proponents of the ban argued that minarets bring Islam out into the public domain and symbolise a demand from political power which asserts a demand for religious freedom at the expense of the rights of others. The SVP’s campaign rhetoric sought to link the construction of minarets to an undesirable ‘creeping Islamisation’ of Switzerland; for instance a controversial poster promoting the amendment depicts the dark figure of a woman in a burkha next to minarets rising like rockets out of the Swiss flag (a debate about whether these posters defamed Islam, were racist, or were a legitimate exercise of free speech grew up as an offshoot of the minaret debacle, with some cities banning the posters while others allowed them to be displayed. The Federal Commission Against Racism published this opinion, in which it noted the destructive impact of the posters’ reliance on negative stereotyping of Muslims). The sponsors claimed that“[t]he minaret is a sign of political power and demand, comparable with whole-body covering by the burqa, tolerance of forced marriage and genital mutilation of girls”. Some Swiss women appear to have found these analogies especially persuasive. The prominent Swiss feminist Julia Onken said in the lead-up to the referendum that “[m]osques are male houses, minarets are male power symbols…The building of minarets is also a visible signal of the state’s acceptance of the oppression of women.”
Some breaking news this evening. More than 57% of Swiss voters have voted to ban the further construction of minarets (see here, here, here, here and here). The proposal for the ban on further minaret construction (there are 4 in the entire country), came at the back of a campaign by the right wing Swiss People’s Party. HRiI will have further commentary on this development in the coming days.
The Irish Times reports on the annual Garda consultation forum with minority groups, which took place on Friday. Participants at the forum discussed the new Garda diversity strategy, which was published in May. The Garda reserve force can now boast a few members who are immigrants to Ireland, which is part of the reason why this sort of strategy is required. At the forum, Dr Jasbir Singh Puri argued that the police force was only partially open to ethnic minorities. In August 2007, Ravinder Singh, a Sikh member of the Garda reserve force in his 20′s was forbidden to wear a turban while on duty. The now defunct NCCRI had recommended that the Garda allow Sikh members to wear the turban while in uniform, but the police force seems to have thought best to ignore that advice. At the time of the original controversy, the Garda explained its uniform rules on the basis of the imperative of impartiality in policing, attempting to make the issue one of operational effectiveness, albeit broadly understood. John Leamy, the Garda ‘diversity champion’ took a similar approach on Friday. He said that when members of the force put on their uniform, they “leave their own personal beliefs outside the organisation.” Sikh representatives, however, are attempting to link the garda turban ban to a broader pattern of discrimination against Sikhs in the sphere of employment, grounded in a pro-assimilation mandate. At the forum, Dr Jasbir Singh Puri argued that the police force was only partially open to ethnic minorities.”You talk about openness, but the door is not fully open, it is partially open. You are denying the fundamental right to employment to all Irish children. These are Irish-born Sikh children.” Certainly, at the time of the 2007 debate, the Minister for Integration took the position that “[i]f we’re to take integration seriously…people who come here must understand our way of doing things’. The Irish Sikh Council decided not to mount a court challenge to the policy. Ronit Lentin has more analysis of the debate here.
The Irish Times reported on Friday that ‘the Department of Education is to establish where in Ireland choice in the provision of primary schools in terms of ethos may be required’. This was the outcome of a meeting between representatives of Catholic school patrons and department officials. The church controls more than 92 per cent of primary schools (3,000 of the total of 3,200) in the State. Bishop Leo O’Reilly, who is chairman of the Irish Bishops’ Conference Commission on Education, said church representatives had “emphasised strongly” the role of parents and “respect for parental choice” in the provision of a diverse range of schools. The Catholic thinktank the Iona Institute has also called on the Department to to respect “the principle of parental choice in any talks about the future of denominational schools in Ireland.”
The approach which is proposed to be taken in respect of primary school provision seems extremely problematic. The bishops and the department have not, evidently, proposed any change to the long-standing approach whereby the government provides funding, on a basis of formal equality, neutrality and non-discrimination, to religious primary and secondary schools whether Catholic or not. In this article in the Judicial Studies Institute Journal Eoin Daly writes – assessing the schools funding jurisprudence that flows from the Campaign case  3 I.R. 321 that:
… this faith in the remediating virtue of formal non- discrimination in the regulation of the Church-State relationship cannot withstand critical scrutiny – primarily because a guarantee of non-discrimination in the State funding of religious denominations does not guarantee that the beliefs of all persons will be equally privileged or favoured…As Ravitch argues, conceptions of neutrality, as between religions and between religion and irreligion, ignore the substantive inequality which may arise in such situations. Where government engages with religions on a formally non- discriminatory basis in the public education context, it may favour large religious groups which have sufficient numbers and support to attract public funding, at the expense of individuals who belong to minority groups which cannot attract such funding even within a framework of formal equality. Thus, within a liberal-democratic constitutional order, requirements of equality and non-discrimination must evidently be constructed in terms of individuals rather than groups. This guarantee of non- discrimination does not protect those persons who are irreligious, or who belong to religions who do not operate… schools.
Perhaps, under the new approach, more regard will be had to ‘choice’, but it is unlikely that this will be enough to overcome the group-individual dichotomy at the heart of Irish education policy. As Eoin has pointed out on this blog, although the rhetoric of ‘parental choice’ and ‘demand’ is superficially attractive, if this approach boils down to the ability of a non-Catholic faith group, or of non-religious parents, to demonstrate a ‘critical mass’ in a particular geographical area, the vindication of individual rights tends to be subordinated to strictly utilitarian considerations.
Update: Discussion here from ‘Tonight with Vincent Browne”
As news comes that France will follow Britain’s lead in launching a ‘national identity’ project, I am reminded to check in on the country’s latest foray into the regulation of Muslim women’s dress: the National Assembly’s Mission d’information sur la pratique du port du voile integral sur le territoire nationale. The mission was created on June 23rd at the instance of André Gerin – with the support of a number of right wing deputies - and met in July, September and October of this year. The hearings will finish in December and the final conclusions should be available in January. Transcripts of the sessions of the mission so far are available here and videos of the sessions are here. The transcripts of the mission’s hearings – which include testimony from hospital professionals, mosque representatives, feminist groups, mayors, philosophers, anthropologists, historians and others – certainly make for interesting reading. The main points are summarised after the jump.