Cardinal Seán Brady presentation to the Oireachtas Sub-Committee on Ireland’s Future in the European Union

05 Nov 2008

5 November 2008

Opening Presentation to the Oireachtas Sub-Committee on Ireland’s Future in the European Union by Cardinal Seán Brady, Archbishop of Armagh

I would like to thank you Chairman and members of the Sub-Committee for your kind invitation to be here this morning. I welcome this opportunity to join with you in conversation about the relationship between Ireland and the European Union. I understand that our conversation will focus primarily on what is described as the ‘social dimension’ of the European Union.

I experienced the reality of this social dimension of the EU very recently. I have just returned from a meeting of European Bishops in Budapest followed by an international Synod of Bishops in Rome. On both occasions the EU featured in conversation. In Budapest there was a debate about the result of the Irish Referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. It became clear to me that on the one hand many of those present, like me, shared an enthusiasm for the ideals of Europe, notably solidarity, peace and collaboration between nations. On the other there was evidence of a growing scepticism about the general direction of the EU and of its intentions. The reasons for this were often vague, difficult to pin down. Several of those present suggested that had their own member- State held a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty a similar result would have been expected: not necessarily a ‘NO’ but certainly a close result.

In contrast, at the international Synod of Bishops in Rome, the conversation about Europe focused more on its founding ideals. Representatives from Iraq, Israel and Palestine, from China and other places in the world spoke of the need for the EU to play a more active role in promoting peace and religious freedom in the troubled regions of the world and in international politics generally. To some of those present what the EU has achieved in bringing stability and integration to countries with a long history of conflict was a real source of inspiration and hope.

It struck me that maybe something of this original idealism has been lost within the EU itself. Is it possible that citizens experience the EU nowadays primarily in terms of bureaucracy, legislation and economics rather than as a social project based on fundamental human values? Has something of the vision and the energy been lost because the human and social dimension of Europe, on which it was founded, been relegated by more structural and bureaucratic priorities.

This may be a question which the sub-committee would like to consider in its report to the Joint Committee on European Affairs. Should greater priority be given to developing the social dimension of Europe and to providing a permanent structure for transparent and collaborative dialogue about the values of Europe at the level of the EU itself?

I am mindful here of the particular contribution of Irish Christianity to the tradition and ideal of the EU. Robert Schuman famously described our own Columbanus as ‘a patron saint for all involved in the construction of a unified Europe’. I believe Ireland still has something important to offer the social dimension of Europe today. Our Christian heritage, shared by the different Christian traditions on this island, contributed immensely to the values upon which the EU was founded. A rediscovery of these values, giving renewed priority to the question of a ‘Europe of Values’ may help to reconnect some citizens with the broader project of the EU itself.

In 1999 I attended the second Synod of Bishops on Europe. That Synod asked the European Institutions and the States of Europe to recognise that a proper ordering of society must be rooted in authentic, ethical and civic values, shared as widely as possible by its citizens. In the final message, the Synod Fathers called upon the Leaders of Europe to do a number of things;

to protest against the violation of human rights of individuals, minorities and peoples;
to pay utmost attention to everything that concerns human life from the moment of its conception to natural death and;
to pay attention to protect the family based on marriage, for these are the foundations on which our common European home rests.

The Synod also asked European Leaders to care for migrants and to give the young people of Europe reasons to hope in the future.

In 2003 Pope John Paul II, reflecting on these issues, acknowledged that the institutions of Europe promoted the unity of the continent and were at the service of humanity. He supported the aim of the EU at that time to propose a model of integration which would be supported by the adoption of a common fundamental Charter. This exists today in the form of the Lisbon Treaty and the associated Charter of Fundamental Freedoms.

While noting his respect for the secular nature of the European Institutions, Pope John Paul II went on to ask that any such Treaty would include a reference to the Religious and Christian Heritage of Europe.  He also asked that three things would be recognised:

  1. The right of Churches and Religious Communities to organise themselves freely in conformity with their proper convictions;
  2. That the Union respect the specific identity of the different religious confessions and make provision for a structured dialogue between the European Union and those confessions;
  3. That the union would have respect for the juridical status already enjoyed by Churches and Religious Institutions within the States of the Union.

I want to acknowledge today that much progress has been made in these areas. I acknowledge in particular that Ireland was among the first countries in Europe to initiate the ‘structured dialogue’ now proposed in the Lisbon Treaty. Concerns around the right of Churches to organise themselves in conformity with their proper convictions as well as some ethical positions at the EU level continue to exist. Greater assurance around these may alleviate some of the legitimate concerns that exist about the future intentions of the EU in this regard. It may also provide a stronger basis on which to challenge those who might chose to misrepresent the EU position on these issues as part of a broader anti-EU approach.

If I may conclude in the words of Pope Benedict: “The ‘European Home’, as we readily refer to the community of this continent, 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. Europe cannot and must not deny her Christian roots. These represent a dynamic component of our civilisation as we move forward into the third millennium.’

Further information:
Martin Long, Director of Communications (086 172 7678)
Kathy Tynan, Communications Officer (086 817 5674)