The opening two paragraphs of the current draft of my paper for this conference:
“In the middle of the last decade, Ireland’s centre-right government attempted to create a formal structure for the engagement of religions and those of no faith with the State. Entitled the Church-State Dialogue, its first formal meetings took place in early 2007 and it was an extension of a project called Active Citizenship. In early 2010, the Office for Active Citizenship was closed down mostly due to budgetary considerations and over a short time it had no tangible outcome apart from a contextualising report in 2006. The Church-State Dialogue component of this process took place against the background of a radically changed economy and a partial resolution of the Northern Ireland conflict. Outside of general concerns about diminution of community cohesion, there was no serious consideration given to the role of faith groups in State affairs, the place of the Catholic Church in any new dispensation or the reconfiguration of Catholic Church and State relations.
In this paper, I will characterise Ireland’s Church-State Dialogue process as the attempted formation of a discourse on public religion. Drawing from José Casanova’s ideas on public religions and orthodox notions of the public sphere, I contend that Ireland has no realm of civic engagement for citizens and residents in the way that it might be understood elsewhere in Europe. Any discussion of a secularisation process in Ireland has to take account of this underdeveloped nature of the public sphere. In a socio-political environment where being Catholic is embedded as the default position, the paper asks questions about the value of the concept of a secularising public sphere after the publication of the Ryan and Murphy commissions’ reports on child abuse. From where do faith groups other than Catholic speak to a notionally-defined public? What do faith values mean in a context where politics inhabits most of an atrophied public sphere? The paper will pose these questions and provide some suggestion of answers for at least some of them.”
Here endeth the lesson.