Irish Independent - Farming - - NEWS -

ASH Wed­nes­day is upon us, and though it is early, its ar­rival is a re­minder that this young year of 2018 is gal­lop­ing on apace.

The start of Lent also re­calls one my favourite po­lit­i­cal anec­dotes, which com­bines a dash of old­style roguery, a deal of grass-roots pol­i­tics and a smat­ter­ing of re­li­gion. A novice politi­cian, ar­riv­ing late at the ceme­tery for an im­por­tant con­stituent’s fu­neral, was obliged to park some dis­tance away.

The early leavers from the ceme­tery were cross­ing our friend who had now bro­ken into a smart trot fear­ing he could lose the busi­ness en­tirely. Sud­denly he no­ticed many of th­ese early de­part­ing mourn­ers had a big black smudge on their fore­heads, and just as quickly re­mem­bered that it was in­deed Wed­nes­day.

Our po­lit­i­cal novice could not sym­pa­thise with the be­reaved fam­ily with­out an ap­pro­pri­ately adorned fore­head. Not to be out­done, he reached a fin­ger into the ex­haust pipe of an el­derly car and then made the sign of the cross.

Hardly the blessed ash dis­pensed at masses that morn­ing, but it looked much the same. And im­age is vi­tal in pol­i­tics. Th­ese days, you do not see too many po­lit­i­cal fore­heads adorned with ash at Le­in­ster House. Some 20 years ago, the re­verse was the case, as it was eas­ier to count the ash-free ones. But times cer­tainly change, in pol­i­tics as much as in any­thing else.

This is also a re­minder that in the com­ing months, we will also be tak­ing a ma­jor step on the sep­a­ra­tion of church and state in Ire­land.

Some­thing very sig­nif­i­cant in that re­gard hap­pened last month, though the church-state ele­ment was barely re­marked upon. Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said his views on the is­sue of abor­tion had changed sig­nif­i­cantly over the years.

“I be­lieve we each have a duty to be will­ing to ques­tion our own views, to be open to dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives and to re­spond to new in­for­ma­tion,” the Fianna Fáil leader said.

Much of the com­men­tary fo­cused on how Mr Martin was at odds with some of his own TDs and sen­a­tors and the bulk of his party mem­ber­ship. But it also rep­re­sented the first clear oc­ca­sion when the party, which had led gov­ern­ment for the bulk of this State’s his­tory, di­verged from the Catholic Church’s teach­ing.

Back in au­tumn 1995, as vot­ers de­lib­er­ated on the ques­tion of di­vorce, the then-Fianna Fáil leader, Ber­tie Ah­ern, had pub­licly con­ceded what many peo­ple knew in­for­mally. He was sep­a­rated from his wife and in a new re­la­tion­ship.

But even then, Fianna Fáil mem­bers played an im­por­tant role in­for­mally in cam­paign­ing against di­vorce which in the end was car­ried by fewer than 10,000 votes. Fine Gael is only slightly dif­fer­ent in that re­gard.

True, then-Fine Gael Taoiseach, John Bur­ton, cam­paigned for di­vorce which was against the ad­vice of the Catholic Church.

Still, Leo Varad­kar’s state­ment of 10 days ago that he will cam­paign for a ref­er­en­dum ex­pected in late May which will lib­er­alise our abor­tion laws, was a sig­nif­i­cant step. You will note that sense of dread this writer ex­pressed about the up­com­ing abor­tion ref­er­en­dum cam­paign. We have not dis­tin­guished our­selves in the past when deal­ing with this most di­vi­sive and dif­fi­cult sub­ject.

So far the de­bate has been well-man­nered. But it is early days. What­ever your reli­gious views, Lent does of­fer an op­por­tu­nity for change and self­im­prove­ment. Pledg­ing to main­tain a cour­te­ous and moder­ate tone could be a Len­ten pledge.

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