News Roundup

Details of festival of families with Pope Francis at Croke Park announced

As many as 2,000 performers, including a 1,000-strong choir, are to take part in the two-hour Festival of Families at Croke Park in Dublin on August 25th, which will be attended by Pope Francis. Among the Irish and international artists taking part are Nathan Carter, Daniel O’Donnell, the Riverdance Troupe, Celine Byrne, Paddy Moloney of the Chieftains, Moya Brennan of Clannad, and the Priests trio.

Ruán Magan, creative director with Tyrone Productions, which is staging the event, said the pope had “very much asked to sit among the people. He didn’t want to be on the stage.” Instead, the pope will instead sit among those attending on the pitch but on a platform “about 2ft high so people can still see him.

Between 75,000 and 77,000 people are expected to attend the event, with Croke Park’s capacity reduced from more than 82,000 to make room for staging. All tickets for the event are gone but it will be broadcast live on RTÉ2 television as well as on radio.

World Meeting of Families 2018 secretary general Fr Timothy Bartlett said that, as part of the programme, “five families from across the world are chosen to present to the Holy Father the realities, the joys the challenges of family life today”. The families concerned would be from India, Burkino Faso, Ireland, Canada and Iraq. “Pope Francis will address everybody before he departs,” Fr Bartlett said.

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New law to allow children identify as neither male nor female

A government report has recommended lifting all age restrictions on children legally identifying as any gender they wish, including one that is neither male nor female, so-called ‘gender non-binary’. A simple administrative process would then grant the child a new passport and birth cert with their new officially-recognised, legal gender. It is not clear to what extent puberty blockers will be used by children who change their legal gender in this way.

Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty brought the review of the 2015 Gender Recognition Act to Cabinet Wednesday and asked that the report be accepted so she may produce legislation in accord with its recommendations. The Minister is said to be hopeful to have that completed and introduced in the Oireachtas in the autumn.

The report recommends that all children under the age of 18 should be allowed to change their gender if they have consent from both parents. It states that courts should only become involved in adjudicating gender recognition applications for children when a parent does not give consent or there is a concern about their mental health.

The report contains a recommendation to produce a straightforward process if the child wishes to reverse that decision at a later stage in their life.

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Ireland ‘least Christian’ part of English-speaking world, says prominent Church of Ireland cleric

The Republic of Ireland is the least Christian part of the English-speaking world and a place where “God is now seen as redundant and unnecessary”, a prominent Church of Ireland rector has said.

In an interview with an evangelical Australian newspaper, Rev Trevor Johnston said  “there is significant overall decline in the denominations on the island, but the Church of Ireland in the South is feeling this most acutely. The age profile is old, the reach is small and the major urban centres lack any kind of strong ministry”.

The Republic “has now come of age as a western European nation, rejoicing in having thrown off the shackles of its Roman Catholic heritage. We saw this clearly in the referendums on abortion (2018) and same-gender marriage (2015). For the southern Irish, God is now seen as redundant and unnecessary,” he said.

There were “significant swathes of the Church of Ireland that are revisionist in their approach to the questions of human sexuality. The official teaching of the church remains that marriage is between one man and one woman but there are many (bishops, clergy and laity) who are trying to change this teaching and in 2017 a motion, defeated by about 10-15 per cent, sought to push against this traditional teaching,” he said.

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Students should not be penalised for studying religion, say bishops

Catholics bishops have called on the Minister for Education to withdraw a directive which mandates that students who opt out of religion classes in State-run secondary schools must be timetabled for other subjects.

In correspondence with Richard Bruton, they have warned that students who study religion will suffer an unfair disadvantage in comparison with their peers who don’t, who will instead receive extra tuition in examinable subjects, such as maths, Irish or English: “While we are respectful of the wishes of those who opt out of religious education … we are equally clear that those who continue to take religious education should not be disadvantaged …”

The bishops have proposed that students who opt out of religious instruction should instead be offered a course in “religious heritage and values as well as ethics”.

The bishops also say the Minister’s circular overlooked the fact that religious education being taught in ETB schools is “not religious indoctrination” but a syllabus devised by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA), an agency of the Department of Education.

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Govt Minister calls for referendum to remove special status of marriage

Minister for Health Simon Harris has called for a referendum to change the definition of family in the Constitution so as to remove the special status of marriage. He said that it is an area that needs careful consideration and work, but added that “the idea that a mum or dad bringing up a son or daughter, or a grandmother bringing up three or four grandkids for years, effectively raising them, are not recognised as families because of our Constitution’s outdated understanding of what constitutes a family is something that we should examine.”

It means the Government has is moving even further away from the idea that the biological family of mother, father and child based on marriage is of special importance.

Mr Harris was speaking in the Seanad on a revised Children and Family Relationships (Amendment) Bill which corrects drafting errors in legislation from three years ago. That legislation was meant to declare that a child’s real parents are those who intend to raise it, rather than those who are genetically related to it.

Speaking on the new bill, Independent Senator Ronan Mullen said “the child’s best interests are supposed to be paramount, but time and again we see that they only come into it after adults’ aspirations have been facilitated by politicians”.

There was, he said, a “complete absence of debate about the morality of many of these modern techniques designed to secure and procure children for adults to bring up and the herd-like rush to a right-on, politically correct, slavish obedience to a new set of moral norms”.

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Pro-choice doctors incensed at Government leak over abortion payment negotiations

Doctors who supported Health Minister Simon Harris in his campaign to repeal the Eighth Amendment are angry at Government threats to force them to accept a set fee to provide abortions, reports the Irish Independent. A leaked Cabinet memo said GPs may demand substantial fees for the service and exploit Government promises to have a service in place by January. Doctors for Choice, which provided strong support for the Minister during the referendum campaign, warned the delivery of the service would have to be properly resourced. They warned that if GPs are not given a three-figure negotiated fee to cover two to three visits, doctors may be pushed to say no to participating in providing the service. They also questioned whether the minister was trying to pitch the public against GPs.

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Labour senator launches petition to end state-funding of denominational schools 

The rights of denominational schools to State-funding should be stripped from the Constitution according to Labour party Senator, Aodhan O’Riordan. Toward that end the Labour party have launched a petition demanding that a Citizens’ Assembly be convened to prepare the way for the radical constitutional changes that would require.

The party’s education spokesman, Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin said that 95pc of primary schools are run by religious denominations. He said: “Instead of a public education system, we have a State funded education system which farms out responsibility for the running of schools to patron bodies.”

Mr Ó Ríordáin has launched a petition calling a Citizens’ Assembly to be convened to consider changes to the Constitution to address religious control of the education system.

“It’s time for a national conversation about how we achieve a modern, secular and equality-based education system for the Ireland of today, and what we hope to achieve for tomorrow,” he said.

Mr Ó Ríordáin also said: “The legislative and policy changes introduced to date on how we hire teachers, allow schools enrol pupils, and how patronage is awarded and divested, are limited by our basic law. “To fundamentally change our education system, the Constitution must change, and that should start with a meaningful and considered analysis, discussion and debate through a Citizens’ Assembly.”

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Dutch prosecutors to investigate suspicious euthanasia cases

Criminal investigations have been launched into four cases of euthanasia in the Netherlands after a sharp rise in the number of doctor-assisted deaths, reports the Guardian newspaper. The cases follow the opening of a criminal inquiry last year into the euthanasia of a 74-year-old woman who was described by prosecutors as “seriously demented” and legally incapable of choosing whether to die or not.

The law in the Netherlands changed in 2002 to allow doctors to end the life, on request, of people in “unbearable suffering”, for whom there is no prospect of improvement. About 7,000 people were euthanised by doctors in 2017, according to official records, up from 4,188 five years ago. Despite this rise in numbers, there is yet to be a single prosecution of a doctor involved but concerns have been raised that assisted death is becoming normalised.

The four cases being investigated have been referred to the prosecutor’s office by regional euthanasia committees and alleged they had found problems. The cases were then found to warrant criminal investigation.

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Govt fears GPs have upper hand in abortion payment negotiations

GPs may use Government promises to introduce abortion by early next year as a negotiating ploy to seek “significant” fees for carrying them out. The fear was stated in a memorandum sent to the Cabinet this week. The document from the Department of Health says that in the past, “when the State has attempted to introduce new services by a specific date, the Irish Medical Organisation has negotiated significant fees in return and it is possible that it could adopt such an approach in the current situation.”

The document also said that although Mr Harris’s preference is to have abortion “delivered primarily by GPs”, he also envisages services being provided by other providers such as family planning clinics.

Regarding the potential numbers of abortions that will take place when the new regime is in operation, it says: “It is expected that, as in other jurisdictions, an increase in the expected numbers could be anticipated in the early years.”

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Gender-change certs may be used as ‘passports to sex change’ says leading endocrinologist

Transgender groups are encouraging teenagers to use their ‘gender-change’ certificates to access sex-change treatments abroad, a leading Irish doctor has warned. Professor Donal O’Shea who works with adults and teenagers suffering gender dysphoria and who directs sex-change treatments told the Irish Mail on Sunday that Irish doctors are not concerned about people ‘self-declaring’ their new gender. However, “what is of concern is the potential use of the certificate as a passport to treatment that involved major hormonal manipulation and surgery, and we are already aware it is occurring, particularly in Poland where patients are told ‘Bring your cert.’” Medical professionals are concerned that, absent a psychiatric assessment, many more adults and teenagers may regret the changes that are irreversible.

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