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Historical survey

Independent Ireland

The Irish Nationalist rebellion in 1916 led to independence in 1922 for the southern 26 counties but which were partitioned from the six Ulster counties which remained with Britain. A civil war (...)

The Irish Nationalist rebellion in 1916 led to independence in 1922 for the southern 26 counties but which were partitioned from the six Ulster counties which remained with Britain. A civil war (1922-23) between Nationalists about the constitutional settlement demoralized the new state which was characterized by economic stagnation, protectionism in trade and Catholic moral conservatism. The latter was expressed through censorship of publications and a ban on divorce. The new state was overwhelmingly Catholic (see below for an historical account of Catholic-Protestant relations) and this was reflected in the new constitution of 1937 which had a clause recognizing the special position of the Roman Catholic Church (the effect of which was largely symbolic). That clause was removed in 1973 by referendum with Catholic consent. Ireland remained neutral during the Second World War and the state declared itself to be Republic in 1949. The political clout of the Catholic Church was illustrated in the 1950s when a measure (The Mother and Child Bill) by the Health Minister was withdrawn by the government in response to Catholic ecclesiastical criticism.

Economic growth improved in the 1960s by economic policies favouring foreign trade and investment and growth boosted by Ireland’s accession to the EEC (European Union) in 1973. The eruption of violent conflict in Northern Ireland had spill-over effects in the Republic but Roman Catholic and Protestant church leaders responded positively by displaying increasing ecumenism. On the Catholic side this was facilitated by the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, although in European terms the Catholic Church may be viewed as traditional and conservative. This was evident in bitter political debates in the 1980s and early 1990s around the liberalization of laws on divorce and abortion. Conservative Catholic lay groups with some support from Catholic bishops successfully mobilized support against liberal reforms, although a constitutional referendum for divorce was eventually narrowly passed in 1995.

Since the mid 1990s Irish society has been transformed by the unprecedented growth and prosperity of the ‘Celtic Tiger’ economy. This period has also seen a sharp decline in church attendance. While this religious change is consistent with the secularization thesis, an additional factor has been the spate of damaging abuse scandals involving some Catholic institutions and clergy.

D 21 September 2012    ARichard O’Leary

Historical origins and relations between Catholics and Protestants

Protestants and Catholics in the Republic of Ireland are part of the larger Protestant and Catholic populations on the whole island of Ireland. After the Reformation in the 16th century, the (...)

Protestants and Catholics in the Republic of Ireland are part of the larger Protestant and Catholic populations on the whole island of Ireland. After the Reformation in the 16th century, the native Gaelic Irish continued to adhere to the Roman Catholic faith. Settlers of English and Scottish origins were supported by the British Crown and in turn supported the Union with Britain. In the aftermath of the Irish War of Independence thousands of Protestants emigrated to Britain and Northern Ireland when the nationalist government came to power, although the level of inter-communal violence was low by international standards. However, the main issue of tension, especially from the Protestant point of view, was the Catholic Church’s strict rules on intermarriage which sought conversions and pre-nuptial commitments on the Catholic upbringing of the children. Up to the 1970s the great majority of the children of intermarriages were brought up as Catholic.

Relations between Catholics and Protestants in the Republic of Ireland have always been peaceful and have become more cordial since the 1970s. The relaxation since the 1970s of the Catholic Church’s rules on intermarriage, the increasing ecumenism involving the Churches and the wider secularization of society have largely dissipated the historical tensions.

D 21 September 2012    ARichard O’Leary

CNRS Unistra Dres Gsrl

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