News Roundup

One in two in NI are ‘practising Christians’

One in two people in Northern Ireland describe themselves as “practising Christians”, according to a survey of over 1,000 people by the polling company Savanta which was commissioned by the Evangelical Alliance (EA).

While the UK’s 2021 census found that 80% of the NI population identified as Christian, the new research asked people whether they are “practising” their Christian faith.

The resulting report – ‘Northern Ireland: Who are the Good News People?’ – concludes that 50% of people in NI regard themselves as “practising Christians”, with 35% praying, 23% going to church and 13% reading the Bible every week.

The report also found that 38% of “practising” Catholics also consider themselves to be evangelical Christians.

David Smyth, head of EA in NI, said: “We always suspected that the Christian faith continued to play an important role in life here and this research confirms high levels of religious identification and practice. The findings in this report have challenged, surprised and encouraged us”.

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‘Free’ contraceptives given to 200,000 women last year

Almost 200,000 women availed of ‘free’ contraception, paid for by the State, in the first 10 months of last year.

A 2019 Working Group on Access to Contraception, under the then Health Minister, Simon Harris, said the proposal would probably be a waste of public funds.

The State scheme is available for women aged 17-31 and, Health Minister Stephen Donnell said that latest figures show over 198,000 women availed of it between January and October last.

He also reported that 17 of 19 maternity hospitals are providing abortion.

He said the final two maternity hospitals, Cavan General Hospital and South Tipperary General Hospital, are expected to provide abortion by the year’s end.

The total number of abortions carried out in the State is expected to exceed 10,000 for last year, having numbered 8,156 in 2022. There were 4,577 in 2021, although the numbers that year were affected by the pandemic.

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Polish coalition partner submits “compromise” abortion bill 

A bill that would slightly liberalise Poland’s strict law against abortion has been submitted by the Third Way party, the more conservative wing of the coalition Government.

The group wants to restore abortion in cases where an ultimately terminal condition is diagnosed in the foetus. Such abortions were banned by a court decision during the former conservative Law and Justice (PiS) administration.

Currently, abortions can only be performed if a pregnancy threatens the life or health of the mother, strictly understood, or in cases of rape. In practice, this results in very few terminations.

The other two parties of the ruling coalition have submitted their own bills that would legalise abortion on request up to the 12th week of pregnancy.

As there is no consensus, the Third Way wants to organise a referendum to ask the public for their view.

However, another Govt partner, The Left, has criticised the idea of a referendum, arguing that access to abortion is a ‘human right’ and as such should not be put on a ballot.

One of its MPs, Katarzyna Kotula, said the proposal is not a liberalisation, and would continue a “near-total ban on abortion.”

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Farming body has ‘serious misgivings’ about ‘durable relationships’ amendment

President of the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association (ICSMA), Denis Drennan, said the Government was asking the electorate to vote “blind” in the coming referendum, without a practical definition of a ‘durable relationship’.

Mr Drennan said farmers contacting him about the upcoming referendum were expressing serious misgivings about the Government’s inability or unwillingness to present voters with a practical definition of a ‘durable relationship’.

He said that all types of scenarios were easily imagined where, in the absence of a strict and workable definition, estates could be undermined or even wiped out through legal contests brought by individuals against the estate of the deceased individual all based on ‘durable relationships’ with the deceased individual, with potentially the same constitutional standing as his or her marriage.

Drennan said that ICMSA was most concerned with viable and successful farm succession, but the questions were no less valid and pressing for any individual with an asset or property.

Meanwhile, Ireland’s largest farming organisation, the Irish Farmers Association, has confirmed it will not take a position on the upcoming family referendum.

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Students vote No No at debate on referendums

A majority of attendees at a debate at South East Technological University (SETU) indicated they would vote No No in the upcoming family and care referenda.

Over 100 people, mostly students, listened as Councillor Mary Roche (Social Democrats) and Senior Lecturer in Management at SETU Ray Griffin were on the side of the ‘Yes, Yes’ vote. Lecturer in Religious Studies and Social Ethics at SETU Colette Colfer and Wicklow woman Catherine Monaghan were on the ‘No, No’ side.

Colette Colfer said a “gender neutral Constitution is a neutered constitution, robbed of vitality, maturity and wisdom.”

Stay at home mother Catherine Monaghan said she faced judgement, and endless questions when she decided to stay at home to raise her first child.

“Our constitution says that I was doing work without which the common good cannot be achieved. Yet everybody around me, even strangers would ask, ‘When was I going back to work?’”

A show of hands at the end of the event showed a majority in favour of a ‘No, No’ vote.

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Requirement to promote ‘gender ideology’ a ‘threat’ to academic freedom

A newly formed group of academics says a requirement for university staff to pledge their commitment to “gender ideology” is a threat to freedom of speech.

Universities in Ireland are required to participate in the Athena Swan charter to become eligible for State research funding, under rules overseen by the Higher Education Authority.

Dr Tim Crowley, a lecturer at UCD’s school of philosophy and member of the group, said the principles of the charter were “politically and philosophically contentious”.

“Every single participant in the Athena Swan scheme in Ireland has thus committed, or has been committed, to embracing and promoting gender ideology,” he said.

Yet, he said, the Universities Act states that academic staff shall have the freedom to question received wisdom, put forward new ideas and state controversial or unpopular opinions, without suffering any disadvantage.

Dr Crowley said the issue was less about the politics of the principles, but rather the “demand for commitment and pledging is itself the problem”.

Dr Crowley said Athena Swan “boasted” in its literature that the decision of funding bodies to tie eligibility for research grants to holding one of its awards was “an effective ‘stick’” to force universities to apply for such awards.

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Catholic bishops set out case against two referendum proposals

Ireland’s Catholic bishops have set out the case against the referendums on changing the sections of the Constitution on families and on mothers in the home.

In a statement read at some Masses on Sunday, they say that the proposed family amendment is likely to weaken the incentive for young people to marry, by putting so-called “durable relationships”  on a par with marriage, while the second proposed care amendment would abolish all reference to motherhood in the Constitution.

In their statement the bishops will say that the proposed family amendment to the Constitution “diminishes the unique importance of the relationship between marriage and family in the eyes of society and State and is likely to lead to a weakening of the incentive for young people to marry”.

The family, “based on the exclusive, lifelong and life-giving public commitment of marriage, is the foundational cell of society and essential to the common good,” they write.

Where the proposed care amendment was concerned, they said “rather than removing the present acknowledgment of the role of women and the place of the home, it would be preferable and consistent with contemporary social values that the State would recognise the provision of care by women and men alike.”

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Parents can sue for negligent destruction of frozen embryos, says US court

The US state of Alabama’s Supreme Court said the negligent destruction of frozen embryos is covered by the state’s Wrongful Death of a Minor Act which allows parents to recover punitive damages in the event of a child’s death.

The case was brought by several couples whose embryos were destroyed when a patient dropped them on the floor in a fertility clinic’s cold-storage section.

The law already covered in utero embryos and the Court had to decide whether the statute excluded “extrauterine children” (e.g., IVF embryos) from its protection.

The court said that nothing in the act’s language stops it from being applied to frozen embryos. The ruling added that it isn’t the court’s role to make such an exception, especially considering a 2018 constitutional amendment that made it state policy to “recognize and support the sanctity of unborn life and the rights of unborn children.”

The decision has prompted a local university hospital to suspend in vitro fertilization treatments while it assesses the ruling’s implications.

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Burkina Faso: At least 15 dead in attack on church

At least 15 people have been killed and two others injured following an attack on a Catholic church in north-eastern Burkina Faso on Sunday.

It took place during a Sunday mass in an area close to the border with Mali.

A church official indicated the gunmen were suspected Islamist militants.

A statement by the head of the local diocese, Abbot Jean-Pierre Sawadogo, said 12 people were killed instantly, while three others died at the hospital.

“In this painful circumstance, we invite you to pray for those who died in faith, for the healing of the wounded, and for the consolidation of grieving hearts,” the statement reads.

It is the latest atrocity in the country to be attributed to Islamist militants.

More than a third of Burkina Faso is currently under the control of insurgents.

The authorities have been battling Islamist groups linked to al-Qaeda and Islamic State, which have taken over large swathes of land and displaced millions of people in the Sahel region.

In the last three years, churches have been targeted and scores of worshippers killed.

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House of Commons poised to decriminalise abortion up to birth

The British House of Commons is poised to decriminalise abortion next month meaning women can abort babies beyond the 24-week limit – when a baby is viable outside the womb – and face no legal sanctions.

Less than one in four MPs favour criminal action in such cases.

Women can be jailed under the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act if they have an abortion outside set circumstances.

An amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill, due to be voted on in the House of Commons means the 1861 law would no longer apply to women ending their the life of their own unborn babies in the third trimester of pregnancy during which time abortion remains illegal in Britain in most circumstances.

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