Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Bilateral talks with bishops were always on the cards

BACKGROUND : The Taoiseach was involved in dialogue with church leaders from the outset.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny told Catholic primate Cardinal Seán Brady he “greatly appreciate[d] the assurance of your prayers” in response to a letter of congratulations on his election in March 2011.

Documents obtained by The Irish Times under the Freedom of Information Act show Brady wrote to the Fine Gael leader the day after he became Taoiseach. “I wish you every blessing as you assume your onerous office,” he said.

“I pray that you will be given the wisdom and courage to govern our country well at this difficult time and the health and strength to carry out faithfully your many challenging tasks,” Brady added.

Kenny replied: “I greatly appreciate the assurance of your prayers at this time.”

The Taoiseach said he saw his new role “as seeking to provide leadership, not only to my Government colleagues but in a broader sense to the population as a whole as we move towards economic and social recovery”.

‘Structured dialogue’ 

An active civil society was “an important ingredient in that recovery”, he said. “In that regard I propose to continue with the structured dialogue with the churches, faith communities and philosophical bodies.”

He hoped to meet Brady in that context in the near future.

The “structured dialogue” Kenny referred to was established by then taoiseach Bertie Ahern in February 2007, when he put relations between the State and religions on a formal footing for the first time at a ceremony in Dublin Castle.

The process had its origins in the Constitutional Treaty on Europe and was incorporated into the Lisbon Treaty. It appeared to receive less attention when Brian Cowen was taoiseach and the financial crisis dominated.

However, on May 19th, 2011, Kenny hosted a “plenary” meeting of the structured dialogue process in his office, which was attended by Brady. 

Attending were Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton, Minister for Justice Alan Shatter and Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald.

Also present were senior representatives of the Church of Ireland, the Presbyterian Church, and the Methodist Church.

The Muslim, Jewish, Bah’ai and humanist communities were also represented.

In July 2011 , Kenny asked then secretary general to the Government Dermot McCarthy to send Brady a framework to guide the operation of the process.

Brady wrote back to McCarthy’s successor, Martin Fraser, expressing commitment to the “open, transparent and respectful” dialogue proposed.

He said he hoped an early bilateral meeting between the Government and the Catholic Church could be arranged.

Last September, Fraser received a letter from Fr Timothy Bartlett from the office of the president of the Irish Bishops’ Conference, “anxious to know if we could agree at least provisional dates” for the bilateral. 

Thursday, January 17th, was subsequently proposed but the meeting is more likely to take place the following day.

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