Page 3, 14th March 1969

14th March 1969
Page 3
Page 3, 14th March 1969 — DESMOND FENNELL'S DUBLIN DIARY

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Organisations: Catholic Church, OECD
People: Catholic


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ANS The comforts of the

poor mouth

IT is hard to turn your back on the comforts of the poor mouth when you have been indulging in them snugly for a very long time. This is the dilemma in which the Irish find themselves, now that they have become a rich people. By imagining that you're poor, and by pleading your imaginary poverty, you can avoid facing up to the responsibilities and challenges of the riches. Take some examples.

Except for survivals here and there from the heritage of the Ascendancy, urban beauty is extremely rare in Ireland. Current planning in towns and cities lacks all pretentions to splendour or even attractiveness. Planners and architects think small, even when they are thinking of large buildings.

Public social amenities throughout most of the country lack even the simple graciousness of village inns and cafes in Switzerland, Holland or Germany. In most parts of the countryside, young people have no option in the evenings but to stand around on the roads.

Unthinkable for families to give mother a holiday and go out for Sunday dinner to some local restaurant where good food can be had at modest prices. Swimming-pools are continually being talked about, but most towns haven't even one. (1 recall a town of four thousand people in Southern Germany with its own swimming-pool and a cafe above a river where there is dancing on Sunday afternoons.) The hiring of boats on rivers or lakes is still either a rare luxury or, when cheap, an even greater rarity. Cruisers linking our coastal islands in summer have simply not been thought of. Beautiful parks are things which the Ascendancy left us — we don't go in for that sort of thing today.

The point is that if you think "we're a poor country" or "this is a poor district", hey presto', none of these things need worry you and you are smugly reconciled to your mean life — and your desperate spending. You can join the rising chorus — a chorus which was not there in Famine days — against spending money on building churches.

In fact you will be objecting to an outlay of one and a half million pounds a year in the Republic, to one fiftieth part of what is spent on drink. But that won't worry you, for you know in your heart, whatever statistics may say, that "this is a poor country'.• The statistics do say otherwise. The figures published in the OECD Observer last month show that, as of 1966, Ireland was the sixteenth richest country in the world, measured by per capita gross national product. That is to say, we are among the top twenty—in the top third of the world's countries, measured on this basis.

The Observer shows that the number of television sets in the Republic increased by 78 per cent in the years 1964-66, as compared with ,increases of 14 and 44 per cent in the I J.S.A. and Britain, respectively. We are twelfth among the OECD countries as regards television sets, sixteenth as regards cars and eighteenth as regards telephones.

One clever way to read these statistics and still believe that "Ireland is a poor country" is to imagine that the OECD countries are "the world", and that all those poor East European, African, Asian and South American countries don't exist at all. This is what the Irish Press did when it commented editorially that "we are a fair way down the list in the international league" and referred, Heapishly, to our "rather humble position".

Dismissing most of the world in this manner is clever because, among other things, most of the world is poor and underdeveloped. If you admit its existence, then Ireland is seen to he really a rich country, and what the Pope said about the responsibilities of rich countries to poor ones acquires a disturbingly immediate relevance.

Cardinal and politics

THE leading article in the CATHOLIC HERALD two weeks ago suggested that Cardinal Conway, all things considered, should have advised the Northern Catholics to vote for O'Neill. Perhaps the Editor would like to hear why one, not unrepresentative, Irish Catholic felt that this point of view was out of focus.

During my lifetime in Ireland I have not had the experience of hearing bishops tell people how to vote. I know that, what with practice in parts of the Continent and the widespread assumptions and propaganda to the effect that the Church in Ireland is equally political or more so, this may be a surprising statement for some.

But it is true, and it points to a fact of Irish life which must be taken into account if the actual, specific nature of Catholicism in Ireland is to be known. Further, there is a very strong feeling among Irish Catholics against bishops giving guidance in matters of party politics. The full fact of the matter is that there is a strong secularist strain in Irish Catholicism.

Then again, I don't believe in having it both ways. There are many people, in Ireland and elsewhere, who go on about the Catholic Church (authorities) "interfering in politics" and influencing voters: and O'Neill and his party are numbered among these. I don't agree that such people have the right to expect popes or bishops to intervene in politics whenever it happens to suit these people.

But a point of a rather different nature is that, both for these and for other reasons, it is quite uncertain whether an intervention by Cardinal Conway would in fact have resulted in a bigger Catholic vote for O'Neill's proteges. It might well not have — and then where would the Cardinal stand? Any assumption that Irish Catholic voters would necessarily vote as their bishops told them to is quite unwarranted—for the precedents are hard to find.

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