The Influence of Ther Catholic Church on Iriish Social Policy Essay

This essay examines the influence of the Catholic Church on Irish Social Policy. This essay will focus on the Church’s role as a provider of charity. It seeks to address the following questions: How does one define social policy? Why did strong ties exist between The Catholic Church and the Irish State? Why did the Catholic Church endorse the principle of subsidiarity? What key policies are evident of Catholic influence? How does one define Social Policy? According to Titmuss (1974) Social Policy includes “Social administration, Social security, social services and social welfare”.The development of such policies are a response at governmental level to meet specific needs in society . These needs tend to relate to areas such as health, education, housing ,employment. Voluntary and local groups play an important role in delivering certain social services which should not overlooked.

Social policy seeks “to meet human needs and to respond to the risks human beings face”(Considine and Dukelow,p. xx1,2009) . Complexities arise from defining, what these risks and needs .

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In order to implement social policy, resources are required.In times of limited resources constraints are enforced on social policy. Resources are provided by means of taxation, both direct (income tax) and indirect tax ( VAT). The accumulation of various taxations are then redistributed and fund social policy. It could be argued that social policy seeks to tackle Beveridge’s“5 giant evils” ignorance, want, squalor, disease and idleness equating to education, poverty,health,unemployment and housing ,ironically still evident in Irish society almost seventy after the Beveridge report was published.In order to fully comprehend the vast influence the Catholic Church had on social policy, it is necessary to examine the commonalities shared by the church and the state. The strong relations between The Arch bishop Charles McQuaid and De Valera initiated this long standing connection.

De Valera’s conservative values, resistance towards industrialisation and strong nationalistic tendencies were shared by the Irish Catholic church. McQuaid played a role in amending the 1937 constitution; Article 44. illustrates the granting of a “special position” to the Catholic Church (Considine and Dukelow, 2009). Mutualism was at the heart of this relationship as will be further explored in this paper. The state gained by having less financial responsibility as the main service provider, while the Catholic Church benefited by being permitted to maintain its power and to propagate the faith.

The Catholic church has been closely linked to the provision of charity in particular since the introduction of the first social policy in Ireland, namely The poor law in 1838 (Considine and Dukelow, 2009).Britain had implemented the Poor law in 1601, “outdoor relief” was provided to the needy including the able bodied, in 1834 the act was amended as its was deemed to be too “lenient” and costly “An act for the Amendment and Better Administration of the Laws relating to the Poor in England and Wales”(ibid. ,p. 8). Chadwick and Senior who investigated the Poor Law in Britain viewed the provision assistance under the 1601 act as encouraging pauperism as it included the able bodied.Based on “principle of less eligibility” workhouses were specifically aimed at the able bodied, conditions were extremely harsh ,one had to be destitute to avail of this form of indoor relief . The principle aim of outdoor relief (workhouses) was to deter the poor from availing of relief.

Harsh conditions were incorporated into the workhouse ethos in the hope that only the destitute would avail of them; The “potential pauper” would be converted into “an independent labourer” (Considine and Dukelow,2009,p. 9).In spite of the Protestant Archbishop of Dublin Dr Whately’s findings on Poverty in Ireland – O’Connor as cited by Considine and Dukelow states “The labouring class is eager for work: that work there is not for them……not from any fault of their own , in permanent want”(ibid. ) . Whately’s proposals for the provision of employment and the introduction of assisted emigration were rejected. The general attitude towards poverty was that it was self-inflicted. In 1845-47 one million people died as a result of the famine, yet the response of the Irish government to the famine was minimal.

The famine years witnessed the workhouses become overcrowded centres of disease and destitution – in March 1851, 250,611 people were paupers receiving poor relief in the workhouse” (Feriter,2004,p. 52) . Voluntary groups such as the Quakers emerged nineteenth century and established soup kitchens. The Catholic Church took on a more significant role as a” provider of social services from the mid-nineteenth century”(Considine and Dukelow ,2009,p.

15. The Church strongly endorsed the principle of Subsidiarity, supporting the belief that areas concerned with provision should be managed at local level, by various community based groups.The wording used in the papal encyclical Quadragesimo Anno in written by Pope Pius X1 in1931 as cited by (Ibid) illustrates this endorsement. The language used in the encyclical reflects the dominance and control that the Church had over society; “our right” “our duty” “deal authoritatively with social and economic problems” “our weighty office” “entire moral law” “social order” “our supreme jurisdiction”(Considine and Dukelow, 2009,p. 15). By endorsing the principle of subsidiarity, the Church was able to safeguard it’s power.

In the late nineteenth /early twentieth century there was a tendency to view overty in a different light, the notion of poverty being a self –inflicted problem was fading somewhat. Consideration was given to rights, resulting in the introduction of two key policy developments, namely The Old Age Pension 1908, and National Insurance 1911. The initial proposals for National Insurance included more entitlements , which were rejected, as it faced opposition from both the church and medical professions . (Ibid. ) Housing was an area that saw some improvements in the early twentieth century under the Fine Gael Government (Considine and Dukelow, 2009, p. 30).The introduction of the Children’s Allowance in 1940 was a radical advance in social policy. It was unique in so far as there was no categorising, no means testing also; it was a universal payment to all Irish citizens.

This policy had its origins in the principle of subsidiarity thus it received the approval of the church (Considine and Dukelow, 2009). According to Feriter (2004, p. 402) this was an acknowledgement by the state that “they had a more active role to play in relieving poverty”, it was the preferred alternative to the employment of “wives”.

This would further explain why it met with Church approval (ibid. .However the same cannot be said for Dr Noel brown’s proposal “The Mother and Child Scheme”, which was strongly opposed by the Catholic Church. The church was concerned that this scheme would not endorse “Catholic social principles” and fearful that advice regarding “birth control” would be available under this scheme. However, Brown stood over his proposals and as a result of the controversy caused by his proposed health scheme, he was forced to resign . In 1953 a revised scheme, which was means tested and meet with the Church’s approval was introduced. 968 saw the “introduction of free post-primary education “and “local Authority (Higher Education Grant)”. This was highly significant, previously, the state took a back seat where education was concerned , allowing the Church act as its main provider (Considine and Dukelow,2009,p45).

As Lee (1990, p. 362) puts it policies emerged which “began to shift the balance of power in the administration of education between the traditional Catholic Church and the state”. Interestingly this policy development was not an endeavour to promote equality of opportunity.But was initiated with the view to increase the Irish economy, these policies were based on the notion of education as” human capital” (Considine & Dukelow, 2009,p. 45). It is important at this stage to refer to what Lee (1990, p. 396) “Missionary achievement abroad” points out “deserved the highest recognition”. From the late nineteenth century ,the Catholic Church’s power was in decline, this was due to a variety of reasons; Maher as cited by Moran (2009) ;“It is difficult to think of any area of Irish society that has changed so dramatically in recent decades as the attitude to organized religion and Roman Catholicism in particular.

This is due to a number of different factors, most notably the revelations of clerical sex abuse in the 1990s, increased prosperity during the Celtic Tiger years, greater mobility, disillusionment in relation to the pillars of Irish society, Church and State, and, more recently, the banking sector”. In conclusion it is highly evident that the Catholic Church has influenced social policy. This has been demonstrated by The Church’s role as a main provider of charity, which was approved by the state as it reduced their financial responsibilities.

The Church/State relationship was largely based on the principle of reciprocity.In the arena of education the Church was more concerned with maintaining social order and promoting the faith than producing educated citizens. It is clear that several policy proposals designed to improve human well-being faced strong opposition from the Catholic Church ; “Mother and Child Scheme” and the initial proposal for” National Insurance” both were seen to contravene Catholic social thinking ,thus policies had to be revised. Instead of promoting social justice and fighting for the rights of the oppressed, one could argue the Catholic Church was more concerned with maintaining its powerful position and propagating the faith.


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