Religious freedom and political freedom are woven from the same cloth. Reflecting on Irelands experience under the cosh of the Covid-19 pandemic there are very real reasons for concern.
The scientific evidence justifying authoritarian edicts restricting freedom of movement and of religious practise– enforced by an unsettling show of armed force–have not been properly set out. Cosy TV ads have their place but they are no substitute. Cohercive powers, once granted to or taken by the state, are seldom and even then only reluctantly relinquished by the state. Thats part of the problem: there is no real political accountability– just two ‘brand’ of the same toxic politics going through the motions to get a bit of coverage.
Serious conserns relating to the protection of residents in Care Homes were deflected– until a few couragous commentators demanded a response. A chronically underfunded Public Hospital system effectively commandeered Independent hospitals. The damage to patient care caused by a (once again) oppressive contract imposed on medical Consultants in those same hospitals —some half empty–is a real worry as the country faces into the enormous backlog of deferred elective care. Once again, it is medical Consultants aghast at the damage being done that are calling out what’s happening, not the oligopoly that passes for politics.
That same mind-set is evident in the scant regard it has shown for religious worship and the lack of access to the sacramental milestones for our children that are at the heart of family and parish life– and which could certainly have been managed safely in a less ideologically- driven and anti-Catholic politics. A wiser, even a more savvy, Government would have understood this. That’s a worry too.
The main parties seem utterly untouched by the importance of faith in the lives of families impacted by worries, fears and the trauma of bereavement, many without the solace of a funeral Mass. The same faith that built our hospitals and provided training to generations of medical professionals in surgery–but also in hygene and risk management–is celebrated in families First Holy Communion Mass and at a funeral Mass. The practise of faith IS an essential service–embedded in all of our life narratives. The Church should have been invited to input and advise, especially on this aspect of the pandemic, from the outset.
The fact is that our mainstream politics is as out of touch with the faith convictions and sensibilities of many people as they were in relation to housing and healthcare and which cost them the election–but not, it seems, power.
Perhaps–with some outstanding exceptions of Pastoral leadership– the institutional Church has been too accomodating, too reluctant to call out our self-serving political system, fixated on short-term “Deals”. A social economy that works for all the people, and a political mind-set respectful of the spiritual values in their lives, is what the country needed. Its also what we don’t have.
The structural and fiscal problems, arising from a model of globalization that is in stasis, heading straight for the solar plexus of the Irish economy– the labor market–raise frankly scary issues for political stability. We arebtalling of offical projections of up to 25% unemployment. It will take more than a show of force on our streets to reassure a traumatized electorate that the governace of the country is in safe hands.
We now live in a ‘Room 101’ political system where the two parties who emphatically lost a General Election in February are still in office without a mandate–and are still scheming, as we approach June, how they can, betweem them, remain in power. What waits in the wings is even more ominous.
Pressures are growing that are disquieting. Religious freedom and political freedom can never, ever be taken for granted. I very much fear that is precisely the cul de sac into which the country is being impelled.
Professor Ray Kinsella is an Economist and commentator