Fianna Fáil Seanad Spokesperson on Foreign Affairs, Senator Jim Walsh, has expressed his disappointment at the decision of Fine Gael and Labour Senators to vote down a motion calling on the Government to extend an official invitation to the Vatican for Pope Benedict XVI to visit Ireland.
Senator Walsh said: “I raised today the need for the Government to take a proactive approach with the Vatican in relation to a possible State visit of the Pope to Ireland. Fianna Fáil secured support for a motion before the Seanad from Independent members and Sinn Féin to urge the Government to convey to the Holy See that it would welcome the opportunity of extending an official invitation to Pope Benedict XVI. I believe this would be extremely important for the relationship between Ireland and Vatican.
Speaking in the Seanad Senator Walsh said: “Last week, we [Fianna Fáil] explained the difference between a pastoral visit and an official state visit. The Tánaiste indicated that the Government would facilitate the Pope if he wished to visit. The Pope can visit without being facilitated by the Government, however. This is a question of the Government sending a signal which would be contrary to the negative signals sent over the past year.
“On 20 July the Taoiseach made comments in the Dáil with regard to the Vatican frustrating inquiries over the previous three years. These comments were unfounded but were not corrected. A second issue involved a quotation attributed to the Pope which dealt with an entirely different matter relating to the vocation of the theologian but was applied in a pejorative manner to the child abuse scandal. When that was clarified by the Vatican, the record was not set straight.
“The third issue arising was the closure of the residential embassy to the Vatican. The fourth issue, which disturbed me and many others, was the Clontarf report that sought to discriminate against Catholics in the public service and remove religion from all schools. Such blatant anti-Catholicism has not yet been disowned by senior people within the Labour Party. I recognise there are good people in the Labour Party and Fine Gael who share my concerns and would like to see a papal visit. There is little point in being critical of human rights abuses in respect of freedom of religion in far away countries if we do not stand up against similar breaches of human rights in this country.”
Speaking after the Fianna Fáil motion was defeated, Senator Walsh said: “I am extremely disappointed that Fine Gael and Labour Senators decided to defeat this motion. Fianna Fáil is not seeking to make this a party political issue and I was pleased that Independent Senators and Sinn Féin supported the motion. Indeed Senator Feargal Quinn acknowledged that the motion was moderate and very reasonably drafted to attract cross-party support and he appealed for the Government parties to support it.
“I accept that the Government says it will facilitate a visit of the Pope but for me I believe if it is to happen the Government needs to send a more positive signal than they have displayed over the past year and come across as being genuinely in favour and welcoming of such a visit.”
The wording of the motion put to the Seanad reads:
“That Seanad Éireann calls upon the Government to convey to the Holy See at official level, through existing diplomatic channels, that it would welcome the opportunity of extending an official invitation to Pope Benedict XVI to visit Ireland at a time of mutual convenience.”
The motion was co-signed by the Fianna Fáil Seanad group, Independent Senators Ronan Mullen, Feargal Quinn, Jillian van Turnhout, Martin McAleese, Fiach Mac Conghail and Sinn Féin Senators David Cullinane, Kathryn Reilly and Trevor Ó Clochartaigh.