Professor Mary McAleese did not shy away from either Brexit or Church-State relations as the designated speaker of the 2019 Edmund Burke Lecture at Trinity College Dublin, earlier this month.

The former President of Ireland delivered a striking speech that evening. The topic of the event drew from her thesis work, The Future of Ireland: Human and Children’s Rights, and brought before us “evolving questions, next generation constitutional reforms and church-state relations.”

Professor McAleese began by talking about Brexit, especially in the context of the provisions of the Good Friday Agreement that she was so very involved in. Professor McAleese called for a “move beyond the past… without disturbing the peace”, noting that the Agreement did not provide for Brexit, which interrupted the sense of partnership between the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom provided by the European Union, which she calls “the noblest enterprise in the history of Europe”. Professor McAleese did not shy away from criticising the United Kingdom when she claimed that Brexit was “a lesson about how not to go about constitutional change” and produced an “enraged, rather than an engaged, society”.

Professor McAleese then brought around the conversation to the strong religious undercurrents inherent in the Brexit, hard-border problem, mentioning religion and religious sensibilities in the context of changing constitutional demographics and emphasising the importance of upholding different identities which are currently fraught with fragile emotion. Change, according to McAleese, needs to begin with the rights of the child in the context of religion, including the right to freedom of religion, the right to change religion, the right to freedom of thought and the right to freedom of conscience, as set out by Article 14 of the European Convention of Human Rights. The Latin Catholic Church, as the “biggest service provider of educational services for children in Ireland” is to be the starting point.

Professor McAleese detailed the Convention of the Rights of the Child. This established children as the holders of autonomous rights, including the right to change religion, the right to freedom of thought and the right to freedom of conscience, enlisting parents to the more nuanced role of their obligation to their child to help them to form their own independent, capable thoughts. The Holy See was directly involved in the drafting of this convention and was one of the first entities to ratify it – however, a request to review the Catholic canon law to comply with the convention was refused. 

Professor McAleese then explained canon law in terms of baptism, describing theological impact and its more controversial juridical aspect – to the extent that an infant being baptised was deemed to have entered voluntarily into membership with the Catholic Church through promises made by parents on the child’s behalf. This child was now, by baptism, deemed to have embraced the Catholic faith and obliged to profess it based on promises made by parents’ on the child’s behalf. McAleese likened this to an onerous contract and argued it to be “flatly inconsistent with the Convention”, asserting that the Holy See had never actually taken into account the ethical, legal and moral implications of imposing this kind of obligation on infants.

Professor McAleese claimed that Catholic Church canon law does not confer on the church a right to ignore state and international law, and argued that a new Ireland required “new ways of guiding and directing our children”. She called for Church recognition that the Convention will take precedence over these rights-constricting canon laws. Any covenant between Church and State must start with the rights of children, and so should any talk of Ireland’s future. She concluded that “this is a very good place to begin.”


Photo by TrinityLongRoomHub on Twitter


Browse more stories below or sign up to our newsletter to receive our top news straight to your inbox!

New Year, Same Brexit Headache

Brexit day is fast approaching, with the UK on track to officially leave the European Union in less than two weeks. In this article in our Brexit series, Rachel gives us an update on the Withdrawal Agreement Bill and the future of Scotland and Northern Ireland.

FGM: A Multifarious Practice Deeply Ingrained in Somalia

While FGM is frequently justified as a religious practice preserving the purity of women, it is, in reality, an extremely resilient customary practice which predates the conception and arrival to the Horn of Africa of Islam.

Students in Action: A Stem of Hope for Sinead

Shauna Costello, a Coolock native, is currently trying to raise €50,000 for her Aunt Sinead who is suffering from multiple sclerosis (MS). MS is a continuous, immune-mediated disorder which means that the disease causes your immune system to attack the healthy parts of your body that are imperative to a functioning body. As a result, the spinal and brain cords can decline.

Queen of England going “fur-free” is a step in the right direction

We’ve learnt it from Angela Kelly, Senior Dresser of Queen Elizabeth II of England: The Queen is going fur-free. By “going faux”, The Queen is setting a strong example and sending a powerful message, encouraging an ethical fashion trend that we should all follow. But we have mixed feelings about the lack of coherence between the Country’s statements about fur.

Why Ireland should have its own Green New Housing Deal

Last week, Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez brought the ‘Green New Deal for Public Housing Act’ to US congress. Our contributor Lyndsay Walsh explains why we need an Irish Green New Housing Act.

Climate change: when will we acknowledge our privilege?

The truth about the climate crisis rarely reaches outside a certain cohort of people and often you have to seek this truth for yourself.

Share This

Share this post with your friends!