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L’Irlande indépendante

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the Catholic Church was illustrated in the 1950s when a measure (The Mother and Child Bill) by the Health Minister was withdrawn by the government in response to Catholic ecclesiastical criticism.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 septembre 2012    ARichard O’Leary

CNRS Unistra Dres Gsrl

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