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50 Years Ago Irish Politics and the Church

Mr. Ritchie Calder, writing in the “New Statesman” (28/4/51) gives an account of the dismissal from the Eire government of their Minister of Health, Dr. Noel Browne. Appalled by the high infantile death rate he proposed to give free medical services, “without any means test, to all mothers and children, to provide mothers with specialist gynaecological care, and to give health education.”

The Cabinet had not objected until the Catholic Bishops intervened, one of their objections being that “the right to provide for the health of children belongs to parents and not to the State.” They objected to the possibility of information on birth control being supplied though Dr. Browne had given safeguards on this matter.

Although Dr. Browne was able to show that Vatican spokesmen did not object, the more reactionary views of the local Catholic Bishops prevailed and Dr. Browne was dismissed.

Mr. Calder quotes some states made by Ministers:

“As a Catholic, I obey my church authorities and will continue to do so” (Prime Minister, Mr. Costello). “There is going to be no flouting of the Bishops on Catholic morals and social teaching (Minister of Labour).

And finally Dr. Browne, describing the Health Service before his resignation, said:

“As a Catholic, I accept the ruling of their Lordship, the Hierarchy, without question.”

Mr. Calder points out that one result of these disclosures is that the Northern Ireland parties opposed to Union with Eire are using the incident effectively as propaganda among Northern Ireland Protestants, as proof of “the political duress exercised by the Catholic Church.”

(From Socialist Standard, August 1951)