Can we create a new national movement out of the ashes of the abortion referendum?

Feb 13, 2016
Anyway I think a lot of people are wondering what happens next post the referendum. Does everybody who came together during that great campaign now just go their separate ways etc and nothing ever changes? Wouldn’t it be great if somehow we could build some great movement that would make the actual result a kind of pyrrhic victory? After all it has been calculated, by those who really know, that something like 5,000 canvassers were on the doors fighting for No during the campaign, and upwards of 100,000 marched at one time or another, big numbers in a country the size of Ireland, so there is the makings there of some great movement if we could only harness that energy and commitment in some enduring way?

The obvious next step for many thinkers out there is to form some kind of political movement but therein lies many problems:

The real essential problem about founding or supporting a new (or newish) political movement is that you end up against the same establishment brick wall that you had during the campaign. The media will either ignore or pour vitriol at any new movement. And remember electoral politics in Ireland is quite expensive and very time consuming, both factors which favour the existing parties, because they get state political funding which you wouldn’t receive – at least initially – and they have so many highly paid officials these days that Irish political parties can afford to take the time needed for long campaigns etc, as opposed to the fleeting time that penniless volunteers can realistically devote to political campaigning.

So you have to ask hard questions about these things before you would jump into at least electoral politics. There are many people out there who have devoted decades of their lives to Irish electoral politics only to end up with a bare few thousand votes and no seat on anything for all their trojan efforts, if the deck is so stacked against you maybe we should not be encouraging people to play the hand?

Also maybe it doesn’t need any push from outside, we already have Renua, and apparently Senator Mullen is thinking of founding a party so I guess people might like to just support them. Of course its possible to found an institute or something on political grounds which doesn’t fight elections, say on the Iona Institute model, which could be created more as an excuse to give people a structure that they can come and meet and discuss politics in – in a genuinely open minded way, which is not really possible otherwise in modern Ireland – than for any other reason?

But maybe if we were to scratch the surface of what the No campaigners really want in modern Ireland, or if we were to go deeper into the issue of why the campaign failed, we might end up talking about religion and so I wonder if founding a movement on this subject might be popular/most needed.

For what its worth I have been mercilessly interrogating every No campaigner I have met over the last few months about why they think we lost and while the answers are varied of course there is a bit of a consensus that religion is a key element. One well known campaigner was quoting to me for example what Solzhenitsyn said about the Russian Revolution, that after all the books have been written the real reason was that people had forgotten about God. Dr Brian O’Cathnia has also spoken about this at a conference in Belfast on the subject.

At one level though this is a strange thing to say. The Catholic Church in Ireland, contrary to all the mythology, never had a leading role in bringing about the 8th amendment or keeping it there or in supporting the pro-life movement in Ireland in general. Of course the relationship went up and down, and some priests/bishops were very supportive in the past and now but actually there were some also utterly hostile to the movement in Ireland, even bishops, as Dr O’Cathnia also outlined in Belfast, and at no stage did they manage or fund the movement in Ireland to any serious extent. After all even the main spokesman for the main pro-life group in the last campaign, John McGuirk of Save the 8th, describes himself as an agnostic.

But that being said if you got a chance to talk to or know the bulk of committed people who campaigned for No during the referendum you would actually be struck in how religious they were, overwhelmingly Catholic but also sometimes committed Protestants. In otherwords they were nearly all genuine believing Christians. Again referring back to Dr Brian’s speech he even went so far as to say that in his canvassing group of about 400 people none at all were atheists. Furthermore I would say if you knew all the people who go to the Latin mass in St Kevin’s in Harrington Street in Dublin, St John’s near Dun Laoghaire, and Johnstown near Navan, you would have met the majority of the senior people who ran the pro-life campaign in Dublin and environs.

So the bottom line is that maybe abortion is a kind of side issue to what the No campaigners really want? And maybe anyway its hopeless trying to motivate a sense of justice and truth in a people whose conscience’s have been dulled by the endless anti-clerical waves that crash over the Irish media, and maybe also dulled by the very poor formation in morals they get from the kind of Catholic lite teaching that Irish people have received for at least a generation now? In otherwords vast numbers of even Catholic – self described – Irish have learned to hate the Catholic Church and its teachings but haven’t supplanted it with any other real moral code, just a kind of legalism, or globalism whereby they are always trying to chase after some international norm.

Maybe what we really want is for Irish Catholics – and actually Christians in general – to really know and live their faith, authentically and genuinely, and if thats what No campaigners would really like to see then any movement that we might hope to found after the campaign should aim directly for that? But how do you go about that is the next obvious question.

So in a sense what we (meaning the group of people that I seem to bump into anyway who were involved in the campaign) would really really like for modern Ireland, is that it would return to its Christian roots, that Ireland would once again become a nation of saints and scholars. So presumably we would wish to proselytise across the country, spreading the good news as it were, but caution also needs to be observed because the public generally recoil from too pushy or overt a display of personal Christianity.

Rather what you are probably trying to achieve with this organisation, I guess, would be a group that would help people to achieve a better spiritual standing if you like, in otherwords you are forming it among people who already wish to live an authentic Christian life, and in this group it might be easier to get there, and then hopefully they might set a good example for others which might be the true proselytising element. (And thats why it might help if this group wore some sort of insignia, say a very small token on their lapels, in the model of the pioneer movement or the fáinne worn by Irish speakers.)

As I am sure many of you know, traditionally a lot of religious congregations had/have a ‘Third Order’ which is a kind of branch of the Order for lay people. So hence a lay person could sign up to that and as part of which they would agree to say some prayers every day and maybe agree to interact with the Order’s congregation for a few days a year, for a retreat/pilgrimage, and wear some religious symbol also as proof of their membership.

So, to cut a long story short, I would propose that we found a kind of Third Order for Christians in Ireland, open to all Christians in Ireland who at least aim to espouse a traditional Christian outlook, and dedicated to building a community of hopefully genuine Christians and also praying for, and practically seeking to bring about, a renewal of the Christian faith in Ireland. So if you wanted to join this organisation you would agree to:

1) Say some prayers everyday. I think for Catholics we would encourage the saying of a Rosary a day and maybe for Protestants an Our Father everyday and also it might be possible to draw up our own prayer which might seek the renewal of the faith in Ireland. At any rate we would insist on some prayer to be said, no matter how short, every day.

2) If Catholic we would insist that the person goes to confession at least once a month.

3) We would draw up some badge to be worn, if possible outside the clothing but that might not always be possible, in the same way, as aforesaid, that say Irish speakers popularised the fáinne and pioneers also traditionally wore a badge. This helps to counteract the media image that ‘nobody in Ireland anymore believes’ x, y and z orthodox Christian doctrine. We need to fight back a little in the public space and this small and modest visibility might be the way to do it. We would get that badge/emblem blessed of course, with Protestants being requested to ask their clergy to say a prayer in encouragement of the wearer in his undertaking this Third Order membership, if they do not wish to get their badges blessed as such.

4) Yes I think membership should be open to Protestant and Catholics. Why? Well look again at the type of person that came together during the referendum, clearly there were many sincere Protestants involved, who are also enthusiastic at reviving a kind of genuine/traditional/orthodox Christianity in Ireland. Somewhat obviously the next question is what exact doctrine could this group possibly agree on but I would reply that a simple statement like ‘the traditional Christian interpretation of the ten commandments’ captures both a counter cultural spirit and unites quite a swathe of the type of people that I think we could get together like this. If you were to go into some commandments we would say that:
a) Abortion should be classified under the same heading as murder, and opposed by this group accordingly.
b) That sexual activities – of any type – outside marriage would be considered wrong.
Etc, the point is that if you scratch the surface of these Protestant groups you will find that they think alike on many of the key issues with the Catholic ones, especially the emerging traditionalist Catholic groupings. And furthermore this unity of thought is very different to what Irish society now thinks/acts, so we agree on what we would like to see change and be renewed for there to be a genuine Christian society in Ireland, broadly speaking?

5) The approach to homosexuality needs to be addressed separately. I think we all need to be clear that we don’t do the ultimate judging of people, thats done by God, so we are very respectful to all human beings, but we need to oppose the bandwagon of homosexual propaganda that sweeps across Ireland right now. Live and let live with those we disagree with does not mean that we need to support gay rights parades and I think we need to draw the line there and oppose that kind of proselytising of the opposite type. Also I think we should completely deplore, and work against, the practice of homosexuality in any Christian Church institutions, because that goes so obviously against the 10 commandments that it breeds cynicism/hypocrisy across these Churches and then makes it harder for these institutions to work effectively.

6) You would also undertake to go on pilgrimage or retreat at least once a year. And that has to be an occasion of much prayer etc, not just a tourist thing!

7) If Catholic I would propose that a member receives Holy Communion on the tongue and kneeling only, if at all possible. Also members would not sign up to be Ministers of the Eucharist, except in circumstances where very large numbers were in the congregation, and hence distribution of Communion would take a very long time, or if the priest was somehow incapacitated. If you read up on it this is what the current Code of Canon Law actually states are the only permissible grounds for a lay person to distribute the Eucharist, and we would abide by that.
Obviously both the above steps are intended to start off this group in an extra special sense respectful of the presence of Our Lord, which seems a right footing to begin on.

We would definitely be lay led and not under clerical authority, because to be so generates huge problems, not least if we are to unite Protestant and Catholic groups in this. Mind you if we could get a kind of Episcopal blessing on our group, and especially for any prayer we might draw up, that would be great. We could also ask some prominent religious figures, Catholic and Protestant, to be patrons if they would like.

I don’t know what name we should give it. I was thinking maybe the Ceile Dé movement, the People of God movement, after the 8th century Irish Church reform group (sometimes called the Culdees), but I am open to suggestions. Maybe our motto could be that of Michael O’Cleirigh’s, one of Ireland’s greatest historians and a Franciscan brother, “Do chum glóire Dé agus honora na hÉireann,” “For the glory of God and the honour of Ireland”.

Also miscellaneous suggested activities of this organisation could include:
i) Draw up and distribute a Sunday missalette for the use of the various Latin masses in Ireland. This could bring the different traditional congregations together a little and of course you could add a few announcements of upcoming events or whatever and maybe a religious reflection from a more orthodox viewpoint than some have espoused.

ii) Assemble an audio-visual unit to conduct some youtube interviews etc.

iii) Maybe even assemble a legal unit, in case it might be helpful to for example combat homosexual propaganda in the Church, if it was felt possible to do so on that front.

iv) As regards proselytising as such, again care must be taken not to take actions that end up counter productive. I think maybe some priests might like to spread this organisation in their parish, so maybe somebody might be invited into the parish to talk about it and seek recruits whatever. Also it might be possible within a parish for members to accompany the priest as he visits across his parish, in case it might help to spread genuine Christianity as it were. But this would only be done alongwith the parish priest, not without him, because people accept that a priest’s duty is to spread the Gospel etc whereas they would not like lay people taking on that role and hence we would be falling into the counter productive trap again.

v) We could also seek members during Fresher’s Week in the Universities maybe.

vi) Compile on the internet a list of forthcoming events, excluding some current ostensibly Christian events that seem to run very counter to orthodox doctrine, and of course in time we could hopefully run our own national conferences etc. We might also run a discussion forum on the net etc, but in general though I don’t think we should be too online focused, there are enough keyboard warriors out there as it stands!

So sin a bhfuil, I hope some of you like the suggestion anyway and if so we could have a meeting on it maybe, we need to do something to restore the Glory of God and the Honour of Ireland in these times!

Helen Back

Premium Account
PI Member
Jan 10, 2017
Dublin via US
A thoughtful well-written post, with some good practical points. I hope you're a member of a Parish Council, where your thoughts will be noted and possibly acted upon.

FWIW, I believe these things are cyclical, and we haven't yet reached the nadir of narcissism, self-indulgence and decadence that will be required before a critical mass eventually say "Look, isn't this all a bit shallow? Does it not feel wrong, and just a bit too easy and self-serving to ignore the fact that abortion is killing? That designer babies, surrogacy and human genetic modification is too far, even if we have the technology?"
Right now society is riding the crest of a liberal wave. It will take a few generations, then will there be a resurgence of Catholic values, imho.

Dan Óg

Ui Máine
Staff member
PI Member
Oct 31, 2015
That is an excellent post. Good luck to Senator Mullen for having the gumption to form a party.

Deleted member 189

Non Registered Member
Well constructed OP. But I don’t seen anything in that isn’t being offered by various small outfits at the mo, and there lies the issue: it’s a small market.

A party/movement that incorporates policies that any sex outside marriage is wrong and Catholics should go to confession once a month will be seen as irrelevant.

A glorified Legion of Mary overlapping in parts with Iona and The National Party will have as little success as those entities do.

And in any case, like all Irish fringe movements, the 2nd meeting will be to discuss the split.


PI Member
Oct 31, 2015
County Londondoire
Worth pointing out that Christ was at pains to point out he wasn't a nationalist, and that wile I disagree with the Vatican's thoughts on many issues, I do agree with their disapproval of nationalism
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