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Papal visit: ‘We are entitled to protest. Ireland is done with being deferential’


By Lauren Heskin
10th Jul 2018
Papal visit: ‘We are entitled to protest. Ireland is done with being deferential’

So all 500,000 tickets are sold out for the Papal visit’s events this coming August and many people, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and my  colleague Grace McGettigan included, have taken offence to the #SayNopeToThePope and other movements who have been encouraging people to buy up tickets to the events and masses without any intention of attending – a protest of absence.

And on some level, I agree with both of them. It does seem unfair to prevent those who wish to attend from going because all of the seats have been bought up. But I think the central crux of that complaint is the fact that perhaps the protest will out-weigh the protesters. One man confessed to buying 700 tickets that he will not be filling.

But then again, protest is intended to make an impact, and isn’t an absent protest the ultimate form of peaceful protesting? If there were placards on the streets outside, chanting and shouting as mass-goers enter, isn’t that more intimidating than an open, empty space?

Would it be less controversial if those seats were filled with women, covered by Handmaid’s Tale­-esque red bonnets, heads bowed and eyes shielded. Wouldn’t we be as critical of that for disrupting the visit as for not attending?

And, lest we forget, we have a right to protest. The Catholic Church’s grip on Irish society has been vice-grip tight. In a significantly Catholic country, you couldn’t get any form of contraception until 1978 and even then it was de facto reserved for married couples, homosexuality was considered a crime until 1993, the divorce bill was passed by a whisker in 1995. We’ve had the Ryan Report and the Murphy Report that revealed the extent of the abuse in Catholic institutions across the country. There was a gradual trickle of information on the Magdalene Laundries that has turned into a torrent over the last decade.

We are still finding babies buried in mass graves.

My father was born and raised in Tuam. As a boy, he remembers leaving muddy rugby and GAA jerseys in a bag on the gates on the laundry and collecting them sparkling fresh. He remembers the priests he was instructed to avoid.

This litany of “sins” by the Catholic Church on Ireland’s people is still very much in living memory. We are entitled to protest.

And protest is meant to be subversive and controversial. If it works in tandem with what it is protesting, then it is not protesting, that’s acquiescence.

Perhaps the Papal visit will address these issues, in which case we will have to rethink the role of the Catholic church in Irish society and governance. We will have to wait and see.

With the passing of gay marriage in 2015 and the overwhelming ‘Yes’ vote from this year’s Repeal vote, I think Ireland is done with being deferential.