Religion in Ireland's 'public squares': Education, the family and expanding equality claims

Siobhan Mullally, Alfred O'Donovan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


The place of religion in the public sphere in Europe has attracted significant commentary and debate in recent years. In a post-secular age, it is argued, Europe's "faltering roject"1must recognise the significance of religion and the role that religious discourse can play in democratic debate.2 In Ireland, religious discourse has often played a contentious role in debates on the meaning and scope of fundamental rights. Although the 1937 Constitution, Bunreacht na héireann, did not provide for any established Church, and explicitly protected religious freedom, a conservative Catholic ethos permeated much of the constitutional text.3The implicit contract between the Catholic Church and the State both shaped and constrained the development of fundamental rights jurisprudence for many years.4Given its distinct historical traditions, and the religious ethos that permeates the constitutional text, it is not surprising that religious discourse has long had a role in the public sphere in Ireland. That role, however, is changing and continues to be contested. In 1995, the Supreme Court described Ireland as a pluralist state and rejected appeals to Roman Catholic doctrine as a justificatory basis for human rights claims.5This shift towards pluralism in legal discourse was given an added momentum by the Belfast Agreement 1998 ("the Good Friday Agreement"), and the subsequent constitutional amendment, recognising "the diversity of identities*285 and traditions on the island of Ireland."6Engagement with both the European Court of Human Rights and the ECJ has also played a role in this shifting momentum.7As in other parts of Europe, where religious strife had led to violent conflict, the desire for peaceful coexistence sought to ensure a more inclusive modus vivendi between faith communities. Against the background of these changes, the state and the judiciary could no longer assert a singular religious tradition or "ethnos" to limit the scope of fundamental rights claims.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)284-307
Number of pages24
JournalPublic Law: the constitutional and administrative law of the commonwealth
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2011
Externally publishedYes


Dive into the research topics of 'Religion in Ireland's 'public squares': Education, the family and expanding equality claims'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this