A guest blog post from Philip McKinley as we look towards marking the centenary of 1916. To mark this a conference is being held on 14 Nov - 'Silenced Stories: The Protestant Experience of 1916'. Philip McKinley is Church of Ireland Chaplain in Dublin City University.
Although small and seemingly politically insignificant at this stage, Southern Protestants hold a fascinating key to the Irish Question. In the midst of Ireland’s great political dualism between Nationalism and Unionism, lies an overlooked community, which has rich insights into both traditions and has also uniquely created a more fluid approach to the divide, with distinct results.
Republic of Ireland or Southern Protestants can perhaps be understood in three categories; Border Protestants, Rural Protestants and Dublin Protestants (who are fairly representative of all Urban Protestants). I am not qualified to speak about Border Protestants (some of whom for example are still Unionist and have retained a certain sense of pre-Independence identity). I do have some insights into Rural Protestants (with a Tipperary father), but I feel most comfortable talking about Dublin Protestants, and more specifically South County Dublin, Middle-Class, Suburban, Hockey-playing Protestants! Some would even argue, that the cosy-confines of the leafy suburbs, renders me too sheltered to even comment authoritatively on the experiences of other Protestants in the Republic.
The 2011 Census is not clear, but it suggests that the Dublin Protestant population is approximately 40,000 from a total approximate population of 1,200,000. When compared to other cities, this is a very sizeable number (as Limerick, Galway, Waterford and Sligo cities are served by no more than 2 Church of Ireland churches each).
When also compared to the fact that Dublin was at one point majority Protestant, today it has become a much smaller and scattered community. Indeed, the sad remnant of its Victorian and Edwardian heydays, lies in the numerous inner city closed churches now converted into community centres, Tourist Centres or pubs.
These buildings also serve as a reminder of a great demographic shift in the Dublin Protestant population 50 years ago, from urban to suburban. This shift coincided with the then Minister of Education, Donogh O’Malley’s Reforms in the 1960’s, which saw a number of Protestant Secondary Schools amalgamate and relocate from inner city sites to new suburban locations, which also mirrored the urban sprawl of a growing 1960’s Irish economy. The only inner city Secondary School that resisted the mass exodus was St Patrick’s Cathedral Grammar School (perhaps because it would have had to taken the Cathedral along with it!).
Indeed the shift was so rapid and so dramatic, that in 1950 St George’s Church on Hardwicke Place was the largest Protestant Church in the Republic of Ireland. By the mid-1970s, that accolade had been awarded to Taney Church in Dundrum and by 1991 St George’s Church has closed its doors, only to then become the Temple Theatre Nightclub.
The net result was a Protestant population squeezed into the suburban, middle-classes. Today Protestant media and forums are largely reflective of and passionate about middle-class issues; private schools and denominational education, Nursing Homes, Parish Fêtes, etc… For example, there is now no dedicated Church of Ireland ministry to Injecting Drug-Users, to the Homeless or to the victims of human trafficking. Because the indigenous inner-city, working-class Protestant population has virtually disappeared, it means that a vital component of urban connectivity has been lost within Dublin Protestantism.
This shift has been true across the Protestant denominations (Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist, etc…), not just the Church of Ireland.
Therefore how do Dublin’s Protestant’s approach their citizenship today, 100 years after the Uprising that led to Irish Independence?
There are three basic responses to all forms of change; reject, adopt or adapt. These three narratives are reflective of three self-understandings of the Protestant narrative since Irish Independence.
There is one school of thought, which suggests that broad Irish society has rejected Southern Protestants. It cites the dramatic and continuous population decline, that lasted all the way from Irish Independence in 1922 until 2001. It also cites examples like the ‘Special Position’ of the Roman Catholic Church in the 1937 Irish Constitution, the Fethard-on-Sea Boycott and Dr Noel Browne’s ‘Mother and Child’ scandal. Recently a group of Protestant Fine Gael Councilors wrote to An Taoiseach claiming that Protestant Schools are the victims of ‘discrimination’, due to budget cuts.
Education and healthcare, which are the two main interactive and contested points in Irish Church-State relations, are also the two main barometers used to assess the State’s treatment of Protestants. Speaking in the Irish Times in relation to Tallaght Hospital in May 2006, the then Archbishop of Dublin, Most Rev Dr John Neill said, ”Our ethos is very dear to us. It is inclusive and patient-centred, with no ethics committee imposing standards. I can see this ethos being eroded with the removal of many specialities, including paediatric medicine, from Tallaght”.
There is however a counter-argument that says Protestants in fact are the ones that have rejected wider Irish society, by forming hermetically-sealed sporting and cultural clubs and preserving denominational admissions policies in Schools and Nursing Homes. In 2002, the UCD Sociologist Professor Stephen Mennell, described Southern Protestants as a ‘Bubbled Community’. One permutation of this is a lack of political and civic engagement. For example only 0.25% of members of the Church of Ireland belong to the Gardai and members of Defence Forces, compared to the national average which is 1%. 1.44% of the Church of Ireland are involved in central or local Government, compared to a national average of 2.97%.
Indeed, in his Diocesan Synod Address in October 2013, the Archbishop of Dublin, Most Rev Dr Michael Jackson said, “Sectarianism itself is alive and well not least in the Church of Ireland community. There us a deeply dug-in antagonism to difference on the part of those who trumpet pluralism”.
There is also another school of thought that argues that Ireland has in fact whole-heartedly adopted and embraced its Protestant minority. In 1983, Kurt Bowen titled his book ‘Protestants in a Catholic State; Ireland’s Privileged Minority’. Although just over 3% of the population, Protestants are included disproportionately in almost all major State functions with religious involvement. Protestant Cathedrals are the iconic images used to advertise Ireland’s Tourist appeal. Indeed some commentators like David McWilliams, argue that Ireland has in fact become ‘Protestant’ in its thinking, especially with regard to economics.
Others though feel that Ireland’s Protestants have instead adopted the majority culture and have lost their distinctiveness. For example the GAA has a growing support within Southern Protestant communities. However much more than that, statistics suggest that wider Western secularisation is affecting Protestants, just as much as Roman Catholics, with a whole generation no longer engaging in religious practice.
There is however a further school, which I ultimately would belong to, that suggests Protestants have adapted themselves, in the context of wider Irish societal adaptations.
Protestant identity was historically formed in opposition to Roman Catholic identity. However there has been a dramatic decline in the power of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland, since these days. In April 1951, the then Taoiseach John A Costello said, ;I am an Irishman second, I am a Catholic first, and I accept without qualification in all respects the teaching of the hierarchy and the church to which I belong’.
However in July 2011, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said, ‘The Cloyne Report excavates the dysfunction, disconnection, elitism . . . the narcissism that dominate the culture of the Vatican to this day….The delinquency and arrogance of a particular version . . . of a particular kind of ‘morality’ . . . will no longer be tolerated or ignored . . . Today, that church needs to be a penitent church, a church truly and deeply penitent for the horrors it perpetrated, hid and denied’.
There has also been a dramatic shift in religious practice and identity, whereby Protestants are no longer the dominant minority. As a result of this shift, has also been a significant rise in the number of members who have come from Roman Catholicism. This is a major factor in the lifeblood and innovation of many Protestant Parishes and Church organisations.
As we approach the Centenary Commemorations, perhaps Southern Protestants can highlight their experiences, in adapting from a Unionist-majority tradition in 1916 (albeit with a rich and historic cultural nationalist and constitutional republican tradition) into a flourishing community in a modern, pluralist democracy in 2016. They are perhaps the only community in Ireland to have successfully made that shift and still to have held both of Ireland’s great political traditions in their midst. Perhaps they hold a vital key to Ireland’s future?
This is another in our series on 'Dealing with the Past', written by guest contributors and designed to encourage constructive reflection - this article is written by Kenny Donaldson, Director of Services for SEFF (South East Fermanagh Foundation) and Spokesman for Innocent Victims United . He is also Honorary Secretary of Creggan Church of Ireland Parish (based outside Crossmaglen)
A fundamental problem is the use of language within our Society and how a word or phrase can have a multitude of meanings for different people.
‘The Past’ is shorthand language which Government, the Churches and others have used in relaying what occurred over the period commonly referred to as ‘The Troubles’ otherwise understood by vast swathes of the population as the ‘years of the terror campaign.’
But for victims and survivors of Terrorism, ‘The Past’ is very much ‘Their Present.’ Others may talk in the past tense but for victims and survivors the sense of loss, the pain, the sense of injustice is a daily fixture of their lives.
When the phrase; you need to move on is written or said - this is understood by victims and survivors of Terrorism as; you need to get over it, you need to forgive and forget. However the language; move forward is acceptable to victims and survivors because it is rooted in the principles of empowerment and survival and is about, an individual victim freeing themselves of the burden they have been forced to carry, it is about them saying; I will have some semblance of life for my own good and for the betterment of my surviving family - Terrorism and violence has dealt me an horrific blow but it will not break my soul.
To date we have had a one-sided sponsored re-write of ‘The Past.’ History is in danger of being turned on its’ head. Anyone living outside our land would be forgiven for believing that the IRA’s terror campaign was a legitimate response to evils being inflicted upon an individual section of the population.
The Truth is very different. The demands of the Civil Rights Campaign were fully met in 1972 and a roadmap was in place for a new Northern Ireland to develop however militant Republicanism had other ideas. That ideology was not concerned about equality but rather instigated a campaign whose endgame was the forced enactment of a United Ireland solution. This ideology bred a narrative that one neighbour using bombs and bullets against their fellow neighbour was a legitimate action in the furtherance of the overall political objective.
What then is required to ‘Deal with the Past?’
It is my belief that an accord/public acknowledgement must be agreed and communicated by the UK and R.O.I Governments and all terrorist organisations that; the use of terrorism and violence in the furtherance of or defence of a ‘political’ objective was never justified.
Were this to happen then we would have a foundation stone from which to build. Whilst organisations or individuals remain in denial of this fundamental point, there remains a serious threat of history repeating itself and of a further generation reverting to the sins perpetrated by their forebears.
It is essential that in building genuine Reconciliation (or as many would suggest, ‘Conciliation’ because it could be argued that our people have never genuinely been together and fully integrated) that individuals are prepared to submit to the 3 R’s - expressing Remorse for wrong words and deeds, showing genuine Repentance and then engaging in acts of Restitution. Were our Society at large prepared to follow this template then we would all have a very different future ahead of us.
The critical point to remember with Reconciliation is that for it to be a genuine process that there needs to be a faith conviction at the centre - humankind must reconcile with our Lord before we can ever truly reconcile with one another. The ‘Peace and Reconciliation industry’ that has developed in our land is a very poor imitation of the genuine article. And like so much else Republicans have diminished the process of ‘Reconciliation’ through their own narrow and isolationist agenda.
Those of us who live in and around this place have a vested interest in ensuring that the integrity of ‘The Past’ is preserved. We must resist pressure being exerted by ‘The Establishment’ to laud once terrorists who now assume the mantle of ‘Peacemakers.’ Rather we should reserve our humble praise and thanks for those who held the line against Terrorism and Anarchy; we must understand the heroes and martyrs of this Society to be those who rejected violence, those who refused to inflict harm upon their fellow neighbour.
All of us know within our inner being know what is right and what is wrong and if we have engaged in acts which diminished our neighbours in any way then through God’s Counsel we must make right past wrongs.
I view the actions of Republican or Loyalist terrorists or individual members of the security forces who broke the code and engaged in wanton acts of criminality in exactly the same light. None of that was legitimate and Justice, Truth and Accountability must prevail.
Enough is enough; this Society needs to do better. As Ghandi once remarked: ‘The true measure of any Society can be found in how it treats its’ most vulnerable members.’ How would Ghandi view our Society today?