March 2008 General meeting of the Irish Bishops’ Conference

12 Mar 2008

12 March 2008

March 2008 General meeting of the Irish Bishops’ Conference concludes in Maynooth

A press conference was held today in Maynooth at the conclusion of the March 2008 general meeting of the Irish Bishops’ Conference. In attendance were Archbishop Dermot Clifford, Bishop Éamonn Walsh, Bishop Donal McKeown, Bishop Colm O’Reilly, Bishop Brendan Kelly. The topics discussed at the press conference included:

– Preparation for Easter
– Keeping Sunday morning as a sacred time – see press release of 11 March
– Year of Vocation – 13 April 2008 to 3 May 2009
– (i) The Solemnity of St Patrick (ii) Migrants living in our communities (iii) Lenten pastoral on alcohol
– The Treaty of Lisbon
– Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill 2008
– Bishops’ Commission for Migrants
– Trócaire’s Lenten Campaign for 2008 – Climate Change
– Prison Chaplain’s Report 2006 – 2007

Preparation for Easter
In this season of Lent, the call to renewal of our Christian life is a central part of our preparation for Easter. In the Sacrament of Reconciliation (or Penance), we receive the gift of God’s mercy and forgiveness. Its celebration should be an integral part of our preparation for the Feast of the Resurrection of Our Saviour.

Bishops strongly encourage the faithful, between now and Easter, to make time available in their busy schedules to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation, which is a gift of God’s love to all of us.

Keeping Sunday morning as a sacred time
Please see Irish Bishops’ Conference press release of yesterday 11 March 2008.

Year of Vocation – 13 April 2008 to 3 May 2009
Vocation is about a quest for God. In the Catholic tradition that quest brings people together in many different ways and it always leads us back to the Gospel. Vocation has its beginning, and end, in the life of Jesus Christ. As the Christian community needs to support vocations to the priesthood and to consecrated life, Bishops ask that we listen to the Lord’s call and pray at this time for vocations to the priesthood and the religious life.

During 2008 and 2009, the Catholic Church in Ireland will focus, in a special way, on the vocation of all Christians. The word ‘vocation’ is in the singular because the aim of the Year of Vocation is to raise awareness of the common vocation that we all share in the Sacrament of Baptism as expressed through witness, love and service.

For the 12 months between Vocations Sunday on 13 April next to Vocations Sunday on 3 May 2009, a dedicated ‘Year of Vocation’ team led by Fr Paddy Rushe, National Director of Vocations, and Ms Brenda Drumm, Project Manager, will oversee various projects and initiatives which are being organised to highlight the special dignity of each of the specific vocations: ordained priesthood; religious life; married and family life; the single life, and the contribution to the common good through each individual’s calling or choice of career.

The ‘Year of Vocation’ will be officially launched by Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, the Archbishop of Dublin, on Vocations Sunday on 13 April next. Throughout the ‘Year of Vocation’ 2008 – 2009, the new dedicated website will be used to detail activities for the year.

(i) The Solemnity of St Patrick (ii) Migrants living in our communities (iii) Lenten pastoral on alcohol
Bishops wish everyone a joyful and peaceful St Patrick’s Day. This year the Solemnity of St Patrick is celebrated on Saturday, 15 March as the 17 March falls in Holy Week. As the days of Holy Week rank above all others in the Liturgical calendar, the Solemnity must be transferred from its usual date. Because the Solemnity has been transferred from its normal date for this year, the celebration of St Patrick on 15 March is not a Holy day of Obligation in 2008. The general rule would be to transfer the feast until after the Second Sunday of Easter but, in order to keep a link with the civic celebrations which take place as usual on 17 March, the feast of St Patrick will be on Saturday 15 March 2008.

St Patrick’s Day has always been a special day for Irish people living at home and around the world. The plight of Patrick, who himself was a migrant, has been faced by many Irish people, over the generations, who have struggled to live and assimilate into new cultures. In 2008 there are many people living in Ireland facing similar challenges to those of Patrick. As a community we have a responsibility to support and protect those who have made Ireland their new home.

“Who is my Neighbour?” was the theme of a conference that the Bishops’ Commission for Justice and Peace held in Croke Park last month. The conference theme was based on Pope Benedict XVI’s first Encyclical Letter: Deus Caritas Est (God is Love). Today we must ask ourselves the same question: “Who is my Neighbour?” As Christians, we must be mindful to help the weaker amongst us in society, and our thoughts and actions are guided by the parable of the Good Samaritan. At this time we remember in our prayers those new members of our society, and their families, who may have suffered in any way since there arrival to Ireland. In the words of St Patrick: “Therefore may it never befall me to be separated by my God from his people whom he has won in this most remote land. I pray God that he gives me perseverance, and that he will deign that I should be a faithful witness for his sake right up to the time of my passing” (The Confession of St Patrick).

In the Bishops’ pastoral letter for Lent 2008: Alcohol: The Challenge of Moderation, Bishops ask that we refrain from alcohol, or alternatively to moderate and reduce our alcohol intake, say by one third or a half, during the weeks of Lent. Such choices would be positive decisions. This challenge may be achieved by:

– Alternatives – spend time with family/friends; plan other activities; set a goal to do something different this weekend.
– Begin – by setting a limit to number of drinks and a time you will stop
– Can Do – drink in moderation by drinking more slowly. Pacing yourself and space your drinks, drink soft drinks on occasions, refrain on occasions, avoid ‘rounds’.

Bishops encourage the media, secondary schools and youth clubs to view their recently commissioned DVD on alcohol moderation, “Find the Balance Dare to Dream”, which is now available on the internet site: You Tube.

The Treaty of Lisbon

The Bishops are to issue a statement on the Treaty of Lisbon after the Government announces the date for the referendum on the Treaty. Bishops noted that the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, recently addressed this subject when in discussion with the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See on 7 January last. Specifically referring to the Treaty of Lisbon Pope Benedict said: “Last September, I made a visit to Austria, partly in order to underline the essential contribution that the Catholic Church is able and willing to give to European unification. On the subject of Europe, I would like to assure you that I am following attentively the new phase which began with the signing of the Treaty of Lisbon. This step gives a boost to the process of building the “European home”, which “will be a good place to live for everyone only if it is built on a solid cultural and moral foundation of common values drawn from our history and our traditions” (Meeting with the Authorities and the Diplomatic Corps, Vienna, 7 September 2007) and if it does not deny its Christian roots.”

Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill 2008
The Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill 2008 which is currently being debated in Oireachtas ireann, contains many provisions of concern relating to both asylum and immigration. Unlike the first draft of the Bill which dealt only with immigration, the current draft deals also with asylum (protection), despite the very different regulations and international obligations relating to each, particularly regarding the right to enter the country.

Overall, there is an anxiety that the Bill allows for the disproportionate use of ‘Ministerial discretion’. Also, significant areas relating to asylum and immigration policy and procedures are not covered in primary legislation. The policy statements relating to those areas have not yet been drafted and many substantial aspects will, therefore, be missing when the Bill is voted on. In addition, changes to policy statements can be made without their having to go through the normal process of scrutiny and voting by the Oireachtas.

Key concerns in the context of the Bishops include:

– Lack of statutory provision for family reunification

– Insufficient protection for trafficked persons

– Increased powers of detention

– Absence of clear and comprehensive immigration policies and procedures and lack of an appeal mechanism for review of immigration decisions

– Restrictions on access to benefits and services for persons in an irregular situation

1. Family reunification for people granted refugee status continues to be included in primary legislation. Nevertheless, in the Bill, minor refugees are not allowed apply to be reunited here with their siblings, placing parents in the dilemma of having to choose between joining their children in Ireland or remaining in their country of origin with their other children. Ireland is the only EU State which does not have migrants’ right to family reunification enshrined in primary legislation. Where applications for family reunification have been unsuccessful, the Bill fails to provide for the right of appeal.

2. Included in the provision for the protection of suspected victims of trafficking should be an extension of the proposed reflection period from 45 days to 6 months, with the possibility of granting temporary residency on humanitarian grounds, irrespective of whether or not the trafficked person is in a position to co-operate with the authorities in the prosecution of the traffickers. Ireland has not yet ratified the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings or the UN Trafficking Protocol.

3. Increased powers of detention have been added to the 2008 Bill with provision to detain persons at every stage of the asylum (protection) process. As proposed in the Bill, a person seeking protection could be detained from their point of arrival to their point of removal (deportation) from the country. Included also is the possible of detention of children (in violation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child). UN High Commission for Refugees guidelines allow for detention only in exceptional circumstances and for minimal periods.

4. The Bill fails to set out clear regulations regarding rights and obligations of migrants seeking to come to Ireland. In relation to the review of immigration decisions, the commitment made in the Programme for Government – Toward 2016 to introduce a “visibly independent appeals process” is not reflected in Bill in its current form.

5. While acknowledging that the Government has the right to control inward migration, this must not be at the expense of vulnerable migrants in the State who, often through no fault of their own, have become undocumented (unlawfully present). Access to complaints procedures re employment etc and to stipulated medical and legal services must not be limited on the basis of the person’s residency status. To allow access – as the Bill does – to essential medical treatment only risks forcing HSE staff to assume the role of immigration officers.

In addition, the Bill stipulates that a marriage contracted in the State where one or each of the persons is a foreign national is invalid unless notification of the intention to marry has been given – by one or both – to Minister (of Justice, Equality and Law Reform) “not later than three months before the date of solemnisation of the marriage…”

Evidence of this notification and of possession of an entry or residence permission must be required by the minister of religion before officiating at such a marriage… if this evidence is not complied with, the minister of religion must refuse the request and “inform the Minister of that refusal and the reasons for it”.

Bishops’ Commission for Migrants
The Irish Episcopal Commission for Emigrants has been restructured. In its place now exits the Commission for Migrants, which is a Commission of the Irish Episcopal Conference. This Commission is supported by a Council for Immigrants and a Council for Emigrants. The pastoral outreach for this new Commission is guided by the norms as set out by Erga Migrantes Caritas Christi.

Trócaire’s Lenten Campaign for 2008 – Climate Change
For Lent 2008 the Bishops’ development agency Trócaire is highlighting how the developing world is being hit hardest by climate change. According to Trócaire, developing nations are unequally bearing the brunt of climate change and this in turn is undermining their fight against poverty.

Trócaire’s work in 38 countries around the world includes helping vulnerable communities to cope with climate change through projects such as water storage and irrigation projects, agriculture projects, community emergency planning and by supporting local ‘green’ technologies. In this way Tr caire is working to make communities less vulnerable to the devastation caused by erratic weather patterns.

To support Trócaire’s campaign log onto

Prison Chaplain’s Report 2006 – 2007
The Bishops’ Conference welcomeS the Prison Chaplains report for the year 2006/7 and would like to add their voice to the real concerns raised by the chaplains. The Bishops too are concerned that we continue to incarcerate more people for longer periods of time in what the chaplains describe as one of “the most non-rehabilitative environments and regimes that one could imagine” Surely the time has come to look at alternatives to imprisonment?

One alternative is that of the restorative model as opposed to the retributive model of justice. Research has shown that building more prisons and handing down longer sentences does little to deter or prevent crime. Research has also shown that the vast majority of people are keen to find ways forward that will deal more positively with criminal offending. The root causes of crime need to be addressed by society at large.

Homelessness among ex-prisoners is a well-documented fact. Many enter prison as a result of homelessness and many become homeless as a result of imprisonment. We are prepared to spend vast sums of public money in imprisoning people and as many ex-prisoners will tell you there is nothing for them on the day of release. They are given the see-through plastic bag with all their worldly possessions to face the hostile world of homelessness unemployment addictions and sometimes violence and even death. Is it any wonder we have such a high rate of recidivism? The call of the chaplains for sentence management leading to re-integration needs to be heard and acted upon.

The effects of imprisonment are multifaceted. The families of prisoners – the invisible victims – seldom recognised.

That our criminal justice system continues to incarcerate the marginalised: those with intellectual disabilities, those on low incomes and at times even children, these are issues that need to be addressed as a matter of urgency.

At the heart of the report is the belief of chaplains that the current criminal justice system if failing. It is failing: failing the victims of crime, the offender and indeed society at large. A model of Restorative Justice needs to be further explored and implemented.

Finally of particular concern for the chaplains is the care of juveniles in our prison system. Bishops welcome the establishment of the Irish Youth Justice System.


Further information:
Martin Long, Director of Communications (086 172 7678)
Brenda Drumm, Communications Officer (087 233 7797)