As an Atheist Eamon, Can You Really Be Taoiseach? but Labour Leader Tells Voter Religion Is 'A Private Matter'

Daily Mail (London), February 19, 2011 | Go to article overview
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As an Atheist Eamon, Can You Really Be Taoiseach? but Labour Leader Tells Voter Religion Is 'A Private Matter'


Byline: Niamh Lyons Political Correspondent

EAMON Gilmore was grilled over his atheism yesterday... leading to claims that he could not be Taoiseach in a country where the Constitution contains numerous references to Christianity.

The Labour leader, who led his party into the election campaign with the chant 'Gilmore for Taoiseach', made a determined stand for religious tolerance yesterday.

Speaking on RTE's Today With Pat Kenny, the Dun Laoghaire TD was taken aback when a voter blankly asked him if Ireland was ready for an atheist Taoiseach. 'Well I think religion is a private matter,' Mr Gilmore responded.

'I think we have to be tolerant. This country has changed a lot over recent decades, we're a country now of many different religious persuasions and people who have no religion.

'We need to be a tolerant society where we respect each other's beliefs and work together as a country irrespective of what religion we are.'

The party leader first made his views about the matter known during an interview with Hot Press magazine last year.

Yesterday he insisted that the religious leanings of a politician shouldn't make a difference if they are elected by the people.

Deputy Gilmore insisted: 'I think that Ireland is ready for a Taoiseach that is elected, irrespective of what religion that person holds, what private views they hold. We're a very tolerant country, a very open country and very generous, we all have to respect each other's views, values and work together.' However, the remarks could serve to isolate Mr Gilmore from Mass-goers and undecided voters.

The Labour Party yesterday announced their plan to overhaul the Constitution in order to have a new document in place by the centenary of the 1916 rising. The Constitution contains numerous references to the Christian faith and assumes it is the main religion of the Irish people.

However, launching the latest policy document at the party's election headquarters in Dublin, justice spokesman Pat Rabbitte claimed Mr Gilmore's religious views did not matter.

He said: 'What matters are one's values; the proposition that you can only have decent values of solidarity and co-operation and community and society if you are practising a particular religion is nonsense. It is the value framework that matters.'

Asked if Jesus Christ, who advocated compassion and was clear about his position on excessive wealth, was a socialist, Mr Rabbitte admitted there were similarities.

He mused: 'Well He was against usury and He banned them from the temple so if He had been the regulator or the Governor of the Central Bank we wouldn't be in the mess we're in. I think we could have made common cause with Him and the conversion of water into wine would have been very helpful at night when one is finished campaigning.'

However, Labour TD Brendan Howlin claimed socialism was a relatively new political idea. 'I don't think Jesus Christ was a socialist. Socialist theory is a new political concept,' the Wexford TD said.

'I think it's a new political concept that has been developed in the last 100 years and refined.'

Labour said their new Constitution would be drafted by a 90-member convention within 12 months of the election.

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