I’ve only once ever walked out of a church during Mass in protest. (And if I’m honest, most people either ignored my exit or thought the infant in my arms needed a nappy change). It was several decades ago and it was in response to a letter from the cardinal or maybe the bishop, which in so many words told the congregation not to vote for Sinn Féin. I was very contrary then, unlike my present agreeable self, and I didn’t like the idea of the hierarchy telling me how to vote, given as how I was all growed up.
Not that I’ve anything against the Catholic clergy. In general they’re a body of self-less, hard-working, sometimes heroic men. But every so often, one of them gets a fit of the head-staggers and starts saying stuff that either makes no sense or at best half-sense. An example? Last year Glengormley priest, Fr Eugene O’Neill said on Raidio Uladh/Radio Ulster that priests of 45 (his age) or younger found the debate about a united Ireland “literally irrelevant”, and that the north was a better place to be a Catholic than the south. This year - in fact last Sunday - Fr Tim Bartlett was on Raidio Uladh/Radio Ulster, responding to the events of the Twelfth. In the middle of his contribution, Tim went off on a sort of solo run and informed listeners that a lot of Catholics were happy to live in this state as long as they were treated equally and with respect.
A wise man once told me “If someone tells you something, remember to ask ‘How do you know that?’” So that’d be my question for Eugene and Tim: how do you know that? While I’d never presume to read a priest’s mind, my guess is they’d say they got the information from talking to people. Fair enough. That’d be my own experience too. I wouldn’t go so far as Eugene, who I assume has talked to every under-45 priest in Ireland, but I’d say the majority of them probably don’t give a toss about a united Ireland. And I’d agree with Tim that there are a lot of Catholics (depending on how you define ‘a lot’) who are happy to live in this state and who’d like to be treated equally and with respect.
But here’s the thing, Eugene (stop fidgeting, Tim: patience is a virtue, fan bomaite): I know a lot of Catholics who don’t think the north is a better place to be a Catholic than the south. In fact they think both states stink in equal but different ways. They’d prefer to live in a united Ireland that is neither the north nor the south.
Think of it like this, Eugene. The north Is a big 10-gallon tin of petrol. Just sitting there, being petrol. OK? Now think of the south as a big car with an empty tank. Just sitting there. Both in themselves pretty useless, except you plan to make petrol bombs maybe. But consider what would happen if you transferred the ten gallons into the car. You could say the car has swallowed up the petrol but in fact you’ve now got something quite new. The static petrol has united with the static car to produce - magic - a moving machine! You now can go places hitherto impossible. My point, Eugene, is that a united Ireland for anyone with more than one brain cell doesn‘t mean North + South. It means a new entity, a state that’s capable of achieving things at present impossible in either state.
Now Tim, your turn. First of all, you’re spot on about Catholics wanting to be treated equally and with respect. And I’d guess - it’s only a guess, mind you, I haven’t talked to them all - that they’d want equality and respect for their Protestant fellow-countrymen and women as well. But here’s the thing: it is possible to want the north to be a place of equality and respect AND to want to live in a united Ireland where, being all growed up, the Irish people govern themselves. It’s not an either/or, Tim. It’s both equality/respect AND national unity. And while Catholic clergy like yourself are entitled to their views - in this case as so often in the past, supporting the status quo - there are a lot of us Catholics out here who don’t think a united Ireland is one bit irrelevant, mainly because we believe it’s good when people form opinions and make decisions, not because someone tells them what to think or do, but because they’ve thought for themselves and acted to control their lives the way they believe best.