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Historical background

For much of Ireland’s history under English colonial rule there was not freedom of religion. Catholics and sometimes Protestant dissenters were legally disadvantaged, the most serious situation being under the Penal Laws of the 18th century. Alleviation came through the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829 and the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland (Anglican) in 1871. After 1922 the new independent Irish state was overwhelmingly Catholic and this was reflected in the 1937 Constitution which recognized the special position of the Roman Catholic Church (the effect of this in practice was muted and it was removed in 1972). Of more significance than the Constitutional position on religion was the indirect influence of the Catholic Church on politics and social policy through shared values with a devout Catholic population and electorate. Furthermore the Constitution through its conservative positions on family policy, for example divorce, upheld traditional Catholic moral teaching. Religious and political change is evident in the 1990s with the passing of a referendum to allow divorce despite some Catholic ecclesiastical opposition.

D 21 September 2012    ARichard O’Leary

CNRS Unistra Dres Gsrl

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