Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Praying for a little diplomacy in Vatican embassy row (Comment)

The Government has used all the subtlety of a Miss Piggy karate chop in its decision to close our holy embassy in Rome. 

As a result of this cack-handedness, I find myself in the highly unlikely position of siding with the Catholic Church, and wishing Fine Gael and Labour would grow up a bit in their approach to this matter.

Irish bishops must be laughing up their sleeves as this argument about the closure of the Vatican embassy is played out. 

They don't have to utter a single word about it. 

No need, Eamon and Enda have done the work for them. 

They've stressed that this was a decision taken for purely economic reasons. 

But actually it was a decision that was taken for the wrong reasons, and with poor political judgment.

Let's face it, the Vatican would be winning no popularity contests in Ireland and with excellent reason. 

But how did we get to a place from where we were cheering loudly at the speech given in the Dail last summer by Taoiseach Enda Kenny -- when he accused the Vatican of dysfunction, disconnection and elitism, and of downplaying the rape and torture of children -- to thinking the Government has made an ass of itself.

This embassy row keeps rumbling on. 

The Taoiseach said in the Dail this week that the decision was certainly not to do with any religious beliefs (or lack of, he might have added). How true.

What it all smacks of, actually, is an immature political act by Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore taken at a time when he was feeling the heat in terms of his own performance in Government.

After all, if anyone had predicted a historic speech from this Government in which the Vatican would receive a major lash, the smart money would have been on the Labour leader delivering it.

Instead it came from a man who we all imagined was a regular Mass-goer, and rather conservative in his religious outlook.

On a pragmatic level you don't need to be an aficionado of international relations to realise that now, more than ever, an understanding of religion, in global terms, is important for any country. 

Minus Ireland, the Holy See has diplomatic relations with 179 countries and around 40 other international entities or agencies.

Fine Gael and Labour are now having their most obvious and prolonged row. 

At its root certainly is a dispute about how and where to spend money.

But this is a much wider issue. 

You can't help but think that for these backbenchers, who have even less of a say than their predecessors, this embassy issue is something they feel they can get their teeth into. 

It's not something that involves the troika.

For those in Fianna Fail, a topic has landed in their laps which they believe they can safely get their teeth into; where they can't be immediately accused of being hypocritical.

We've moved into a situation now where the closure is "under review". 

It wouldn't be all that surprising to see it reversed, although not so swiftly that it can be seen 
as an embarrassing climbdown by Mr Gilmore.

The issue has been fuelling debate, but not of a constructive kind. 

We are in a place where we need to examine our attitude to our own Catholicism, and the role of that religion in a wider context in Irish society.

Our hosting of the 50th International Eucharistic Congress this summer will probably kick start that discussion. 

That is a good thing.

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