Wednesday, 22 February 2012
The amazing Fr Eugene O'Neill
It's amazing what you read in the papers. A-ston-ishing. The most recently example was yesterday in The News Letter, which reports a Glengormley priest - Fr Eugene O'Neill- as saying that no priests under forty-five are interested in removing the border. Apparently it was on the back of a "Thought for the Day" he did on BBC radio. Can you believe that - members of the Irish Catholic clergy found wanting in their commitment to Irish republicanism? Those of us old enough still get a tingle when we remember the stirring words of Cardinal Cahal Daly, back in the heat of the conflict, when he used deliver those blistering criticisms of the British army and the RUC, as well as the depth of understanding he showed for the Irish people's centuries-old struggle to run their own affairs. And to think that all that is now turned on its head: according to this forty-five-year-old priest, priests like him and younger just don't care about a united Ireland!
And there's more - quite a bit, in fact. Fr O'Neill says many Catholics are "rethinking their nationalism" and wondering whether "as Catholics they necessarily had to be nationalist". He'll find it hard to untangle that one. As I remember my own baptism, part of the ceremony involves a clear commitment to active republicanism throughout adult life or else face excommunication. Eugene also says that the Queen and the British government are far nicer to people of faith than the Dublin government. In fact, he draws a comparison between the anti-Catholic sentiment in the southern state and the persecution of Catholicism in some former Communist countries.
I actually think he has a half-point there. In the south there is indeed an anti-Catholic Church bias in the media, for reasons too tedious to repeat; but that it's comparable with persecution of the Church in Communist countries? Get a grip, Eugene... But shhh - he's talking again.
"For my generation of priests and everyone below us the national question is irrelevant- literally irrelevant...no one is interested in the national question".
Ach ach achone - has it come to this? The Catholic clergy, especially the hierarchy, men on whom those struggling for a united Ireland always knew they could depend, all the way from the local parish priest right up to the Pope - to think that they've now turned their back on the whole project. A thought too deep for tears.
Well, that's it, then. Sinn Féin and any other party interested in the notion of sovereignty resting with the Irish people - forget it. Go home. You're wasting your time. You may think that people will get excited about commemorating the centenary of Easter 1916 and the programme of the first Dail in 1918, or that they'll turn out in huge numbers, the way they did when the body of Kevin Barry was re-interred in Glasnevin cemetery some years ago. Hah! No chance. They'll be at home discussing Greece and whether the euro will last. As Eugene himself says, "Don't we have any values beyond the economy?"
The answer, Eugene, is No. And that's why I expect they'll cancel all those centenary commemoration plans that were in the works before your News Letter interview. Total waste of money.
So there you are. Truth hurts. I would add that Ireland is lucky to have clear-thinking, informed priests like Eugene, but that'd be to flirt with a discussion of values and skirt dangerously close to the subject of nationalism. So I'll just make my excuses and go rejoin all those other Catholics checking out the state of the FTSE 100.