Remarks by Mr. Dermot Ahern, T.D., Minister for Foreign Affairs at the Pontifical Irish College, Rome, 13 November 2004, Part II
Charles Bewley, the first Irish Minister Plenipotentiary and Envoy Extraordinary to the Holy See presented his credentials to Pope Pius XI on 27 June 1929. It was noted in the Vatican that in his address to the Pope he expressly referred to the “re-opening” of diplomatic relations between Ireland and the Holy See, noting that Pope Innocent X had sent Cardinal Rinucinni to Ireland as Nuncio in the 17th Century. It was regarded as significant at the time that the event coincided with the celebrations in Ireland of the centenary of Catholic Emancipation, although, to the unconcealed irritation of the Government, and of Joseph Walshe in particular, the Holy See could not appoint a Nuncio in time to participate in the celebrations. The first Papal Nuncio, Monsignor Paschal Robinson, presented his credentials in Dublin on 30 January 1930. The Vatican accepted the Government’s offer of the former residence of the British Under Secretary for Ireland in the Phoenix Park. Joseph Walshe commented in an internal note at the time that “the occupation by a Papal Nuncio to an Irish Government of one of the three principal official residences of the old regime cannot but strike the imagination of the people as a symbol of a very great change indeed”.
The successors to Monsignor Robinson and Charles Bewley – the Apostolic Nuncio and Dean of the Diplomatic Corps in Dublin, Archbishop Lazzarotto, and Ambassador Philip McDonagh – have played a central role in the celebrations today. They can attest to the very great, positive changes in Ireland and in Ireland’s relations with the Holy See. But great change creates new contexts. And it is true that in Ireland today there are quite a few who no longer remember the contribution to our success and prosperity of many of the individuals and groups who gave their lives to education and to the care of the sick and the poor, when the State could not. I want to pay sincere tribute today to the huge contribution made over the centuries by Irish priests, Brothers and Sisters in Rome and across Europe. I would like also to echo the Taoiseach’s tribute here in Rome just two weeks ago to the indispensable work of religious communities in Ireland over the years. Our debt of gratitude will not be clouded by the undoubted sense of hurt and disappointment caused by the more recent revelation of the actions of some. For many years, when the success of the past decade was beyond our imagination, and was by no means inevitable, the vision, imagination and humanity of members of religious communities in Ireland gave hope and opportunity to our people. They continue to give hope today, especially in the work for social justice and the development of more equitable societies at home, and in the developing world.
The Taoiseach’s speech in Rome two weeks ago, which many of you here today heard in person, was delivered following the historic signature of the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe. The Constitution, which has of course still to be ratified, establishes the basic legal order of the EU. It will provide an enduring basis for the future development of the Union. The Constitutional Treaty specifies that the European Union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, liberty, democracy, equality, rule of law and respect for human rights. Our shared European values and aspirations are at the heart of the Constitution, and it recognises the role and the status of the churches in Europe.
A widely-welcomed provision of the European Constitution is the commitment that the Union shall maintain an open, transparent and regular dialogue with churches and with philosophical and non-confessional organisation. The Government believes that such arrangements would be of value in Ireland. They would also help build on the contributions already being made by the churches and church-based organisations, including at the National Forum on Europe and through social partnership. Accordingly, we will be inviting all churches and faith communities to join with us in exploring this important issue further.
I want to stress that, in Ireland as in Europe, any arrangements which might emerge would have as their objective the improvement of the quality of our dialogue with the churches and faith communities, which form such an important part of our society. That dialogue would have to be open, inclusive and transparent, and, of course, fully in accordance with the provisions of Article 44 of Bunreacht na hEireann, which guarantee freedom of conscience and the free profession and practice of religion.
As Minister for Foreign Affairs, I look forward too to continued close cooperation between Ireland and the Holy See in the world of multilateral diplomacy. This cooperation is based on our deep, shared commitment to the central role of the United Nations in preventing and resolving conflict. Given the nature of today’s celebrations, it is only appropriate that I pay tribute today to the role played over the years by Irishmen in the Vatican diplomatic service. Archbishop Tom White, who served with distinction as Papal Nuncio in several countries is with us here today, as, of course, is Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, who was the Apostolic Nuncio at the Holy See’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations in Geneva before he returned to Dublin last year. I know that they would join me today in paying special tribute to the memory of Archbishop Michael Courtney, from Nenagh, Co. Tipperary, who lost his life so cruelly in the service of peace in Burundi last December. The Government have established the Archbishop Courtney Fellowship as a memorial to his work for peace and reconciliation, which I hope will be of real benefit to a number of Burundian students over the next five years.
Michael Courtney spent many happy years in Rome and would have hugely enjoyed these celebrations. In the spirit of the many generations of the Irish who have enjoyed the hospitality of the Irish College in Rome since its foundation in 1628, may I invite you now, in this 75th anniversary year, to raise your glasses to the continuing warmth and closeness of diplomatic relations between Ireland and the Holy See.