ARCHBISHOP McQUAID of Dublin met his newly formed "Council of Priests" the other day for the first time and, although nothing in the nature of a full Press release was issued afterwards, we were told that the subject under discussion had been pastoral visitation. The council, which consists of a number of parish priests and several curates drawn from different parts of this extensive diocese, was set up as part of the work of implementing the decrees of Vatican II.
The choice of subject reflects the interests of the Archbishop very closely. And one is left with the impression that the priests and curates didn't leave the ,meeting with a readymade policy in their brief-cases, but with some fairly forthright injunctions to find out what was wrong with the present system and how to remedy, it.
The fact is that pastoral visitation in Dublin—as many Dublin priests will admit with no little concern—is In need of quite a thorough overhaul, In spite of the sternness with which the proceedings of the Maynooth Synods enjoin this duty on Irish pastors, an increasingly number of priests in the capital simply haven't been able to get around to it.
The subject was discussed in some detail during a conference in Glenstal last year. when a panel of lay Christians— most, if not all of them, from Dublin—told an audience of about 200 priests that the system needed a drastic overhaul. One panel member pointed out that he hadn't been called on by a parish priest or curate for 18 years-13 of them continuously in one parish—and instances like this could be multiplied.
A large part of the problem, of course, is numerical. A curate in a parish like Westland Row, for instance, may (unless I am mistaken) have as many as 3,000 people on his "list"
The parish as a whole. with seven priests, probably has nearly as many Catholics within its boundaries as the entire diocese of Clonfert, which has 56 priests. It is hardly surprising that a country priest manages to get around to his parishioners rather more frequently than his city counterpart, The problem is, quite simply, enormous. It is complicated by social and other factors and any solution will, of necessity, be a long-term one. The priest to people ratio in Dublin, at roughly one to 1,300, is double that of a diocese like Clonfert. One can only wish the new council the best of luck.
Rival schools plans
EDUCATION has been a major talking point this week as —on the eve of the two important by-elections—both parties unveiled their proposals for free post-primary education. The Minister of Education, Mr. O'Malley, did so in his opening speech on the estimates for his Department.
Fine Gael, the main Opposition party, did so in the course of a mammoth 25,000-word document on educational policy which covers the whole field and which, they say, would be presented as a White Paper if they were in office.
Interest has hinged chiefly on the alternative arrangements proposed for free post-primary education, partly for the reason that the long-sitting Commission on Higher Education has not yet issued its report, and partly because Mr. O'Malley apparently declined to accept any of the Opposition's challenges on the reformation of the primary school system.
It is also important because the Government has promised to raise the school-leaving age from 14 to 15 by 1970, when it hopes to provide a minimum of three years post-primary education for everyone : in this context, if education is compulsory up to a certain age it must also be free up to a certain age—or at least available freely to any pupils who want to take advantage of it rather than go to fee-paying schools.
• The main difference between the two proposals is this: the Government scheme plans to operate a system of block grants to schools whose fees are at present under a certain level— probably £30 a year. These grants will enable the schools in question to stop charging fees, and some of the schools which have been charging very low fees (about £12 a year) will positively benefit from it. Fine Gael also propose to give supplemental grants to schools to enable them to dispense with fees, but go on to say that these grants will also be available to schools in the higher (£25 plus) fee range which are willing to accept at least a third of their pupils without fees.
Mr. O'Malley says that his scheme will directly affect 61,500 of the country's 99,000 schoolchildren. Fine Gael are less precise, and confine themselves to the hope that eventually "all the schools and, in most cases, all the children in each school", will benefit from it.
Easy bus ride
BOTH PROPOSE a transport scheme for pupils within an easy bus ride of a secondary school, and the possibility of maintenance grants for children who have to go to boarding school because they live so far away. On top of that, Mr. O'Malley promises an extra £100,000 a year to buy books for the 25 per cent. of his 61,500 "free" children he estimates will need them.
There's a difference in the costings, though. Mr. O'Malley's scheme will cost, he thinks, £2 million in 1968, and he proposes to ask for extra taxation to pay for it (a•capital gains tax is being widely scouted as the possible solution). Fine Gael, on the other hand, estimate that their schome will only cost £900,000, and that their entire educational blueprint, which will cost some £3m. over and above current expenditure, won't need extra taxation.
Here they seem to have fallen into the classical temptation which besets every Opposition party—the temptation to tell the people that they will give them something for nothing. The party's economic spokesman claims that the natural buoyancy in the economy will provide the extra funds, but— and especially if they were to implement all the other promises—they have found few people to agree with them.
Mr. O'Malley's scheme, then, mirrors fairly closely the direct grant school and maintained school ideas as it works in Britain: the Fine Gad plan is, on the face of it at least, an attempt to "democratise" some of the more expensive schools, both day and boarding. It will be interesting to see how much support it attracts.
Censor's challengers CENSORSHIP is a red rag to any Irish bull. Last weekend it came into the limelight again at a "teach-in" organised by the theatre producer, Jim FitzGerald, in which various aspects of the current law were examined and, in some cases, their constitutionality questioned.
It wasn't a meeting of rabid liberals determined to open the floodgates and relying on "good taste" to keep the bad stuff out, but a concerned, intelligent group of people whose main point is of relevance to situations other than the Irish one.
A lot of the discussion, not unnaturally, hinged on the problems of Irish writers, who bear the brunt of a system of deletion that can only be described as inquisitorial. It doesn't "seven matter if you're not Irish, as long as you have an Irish ; name—like Maureen Duffy— you can be sure that your book :will be bought and scrutinised in a most searching way, any e passages which might by the wildest stretch of the imagination be described as "blue" marked out with pencil, and the ;whole sent off to the Censorship Board.
z The fact the passages are marked (as they often are in ;books delated by private individuals) must make the Censor's et job almost impossible to carry out in a fair-minded way.
= ONE BAD point made by the people who want to change (not necessarily abolish) censorship was the claim that censorship was depriving Irish writers of their constitutional right to earn a living in the country. They quoted figures of 800 to =1,000 copies for a novel, apparently ignoring the fact that the :greatest number of copies an Irish novels sells in Ireland is =usually about 400. Here, perhaps, their grounds were rather : flimsy, ; They were on better ground, though, when they attacked !the system which allows no representations on behalf of the El banned book either at the time it is banned or subsequently eat the Appeal Board stage.