News & Events

Parliamentary Questions – 27th March 2018

Papal Visit

Deputy Michael Moynihan asked the Taoiseach if officials in his Department  are working on the Pope’s visit in August 2018.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach if his Department is involved in the planning for the visit of Pope Francis to Ireland in August 2018.

Deputy Robert Troy asked the Taoiseach the level of engagement his Department has held with the Vatican regarding the impending visit by His Holiness Pope Francis.

Deputy Robert Troy asked the Taoiseach the level of financial assistance that will be provided by the State for the impending visit by Pope Francis; and the level of input requested.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach the work his Department is planning to prepare for the Pope’s visit in August 2018.

Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach if his Department is involved in preparations for the visit of Pope Francis in August 2018.

Deputy Eamon Ryan asked the Taoiseach the arrangements for the papal visit in August 2018.

The Taoiseach: I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 7, inclusive, together.

Last week Pope Francis announced that he will visit Ireland for the World Meeting of Families from Saturday, 25 August to Sunday, 26 August 2018. While the main impetus for the visit is the World Meeting of Families, there will also be a number of official and public events. Full details of the programme will be released at a later date.

The involvement of civil authorities and various agencies in the visit and the related costs will be as appropriate for an official visit by a Head of State, similar to previous high-profile visits to Ireland. This will include security, public safety, protocol and co-ordination.

As is the norm for an official visit by a Head of State, staff in the protocol division of my Department, alongside protocol staff at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the event management unit at the Office of Public Works, are involved in preliminary meetings with key stakeholders, in the main concerning security and logistics for the visit.

Engagement with the Vatican is through the Irish Embassy to the Holy See, as is usual with such visits.

While this is not a formal state visit it will be a major event for Ireland, with a high degree of public participation and a high international profile, and I look forward to welcoming Pope Francis in August.

Deputy Micheál Martin: I thank the Taoiseach for his reply. The decision of Pope Francis to visit the World Meeting of Families in Dublin is very welcome. He is a very positive figure in the world today, as a voice for the weakest and a leader who is grappling with enormous challenges and issues. It would be a positive way of approaching this visit if politicians refrained from trying to tell the Pope what he should and should not do when he is here. This is especially true of people who reject the idea that his words should influence us. He is the highly regarded leader of the religious faith followed by most people on this island. He is visiting primarily for pastoral reasons but also as an expression of his regard for this country. Hopefully he will take the time to visit different parts of the country, but we should not presume to tell him what to do. I and my party welcome the Taoiseach’s commitment that the State will do all that it can to ensure that the Pope’s visit is a success. The reality of the modern world is that this requires a major security commitment but this is absolutely reasonable. In 1979, there was no such thing as our current health and safety legislation or related types of statute. Planning for people’s safety and security is essential. Will the Taoiseach assure the House that costs surrounding this visit will be treated as an exceptional event and that funding will not be diverted from other activities, especially Garda funding?

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Far be it from me to interfere in the business of the Holy See and Pope Francis, and the point is well made that the separation of church and state is an essential part of any functioning, open and healthy democracy. In the remarks I will make, I do not intend to, and I hope I do not, blur that division. I want to raise, however, a point that has been made to me very strongly north of the Border, namely, a desire that the Pope visit Ireland in its totality. As the Ceann Comhairle knows, there have been some words to this effect from within the church itself, particularly from the Bishop of Derry, Donal McKeown, who spoke on Sunday and reflected accurately the view of many people in the North who would wish to see Pope Francis visit.

There has been some controversy over this matter. I am not sure what, if anything, the Government here can do to influence the thinking of the Pope in this regard. We all know there has been a long debate and a lot of hurt reflected owing to abuse in the church. There is an appetite among many victims and survivors for reconciliation and recognition of this hurt by the church. I have no special call on the thinking, mind or actions of the Pope or Catholic Church but I hope they reflect on that and respond appropriately.

Deputy Robert Troy: I, too, welcome the confirmation of the visit of the Holy Father to the World Meeting of Families later this year. Pope Francis has inspired so much positivity and goodwill by practising what he preaches. He really demonstrates what is good about the church, of which I am a proud and active member. I signed up to volunteer at the World Meeting of Families later this year.

Acknowledging the separation of powers between church and state and what the Taoiseach said about the facilitation of the visit in terms of protocol, security and the funding that will be made available, I believe we have a role to play. I ask that the Taoiseach’s office, in consultation and negotiation with the Vatican, outline some of the points raised by Deputy Mary Lou McDonald and also the change in direction. Originally, the Catholic Church produced pamphlets and booklets demonstrating the traditional Irish family and moved away from welcoming the non-traditional Irish family. Given that this country was one of the first to have a referendum to establish marriage equality for the gay community, I believe that move is regrettable. I ask that the Taoiseach use his offices, through the embassy, to make that point known. It is only right and proper that members of all families, not just traditional families, be welcome to participate in the World Meeting of Families.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: The Pope should get a welcome only if he does what Pope Ratzinger refused to do, which was to provide the files containing the church’s own information on clerical sex abuse by its members in this country. Ratzinger refused to provide the Vatican’s own internal information on this after the production of the Ryan, Ferns and Murphy reports and so on. Ratzinger then, without any particular explanation—–

An Ceann Comhairle: It is not appropriate to refer to a Head of State—–

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: I think it is entirely appropriate.

An Ceann Comhairle: —–and a head of religion, for whom many people in this country have a lot of regard and who is now a very elderly man, in that form.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: I think it is entirely appropriate because—–

An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy might but it is certainly not in keeping with the dignity of this House.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Pope Francis, when he went to Chile and Peru in January this year, was met with very significant protest because he appointed a bishop who was widely believed to have covered up and turned a blind eye to clerical sex abuse carried out by a particular Catholic sect. There were uproar and protests every day over his decision to appoint this bishop. We need to put to Pope Francis the question of whether he is going to provide the information the church has in its possession that relates to clerical sex abuse in this country, which Pope Ratzinger refused to give us. If this is a new papacy with a new disposition and outlook that is more progressive, let it bring the files. Otherwise, do not bother coming.

Deputy Joan Burton: The Pope’s visit to Ireland will be very much welcomed by Irish people right across the island from all different walks of life, not just Catholics. Clearly, the Catholic Church has a legacy in Ireland characterised by enormous difficulty and enormous pain, which was inflicted on people in various institutions of the Catholic Church who were abused, used or badly used. The Pope will probably be staying at the Apostolic Nunciature on the Navan Road, as was the case during the last papal visit. The Taoiseach might confirm that. The nunciature is just a stone’s throw from St. Patrick’s mother and baby home, one of the largest homes for mothers and babies in Ireland. It was a pretty tough place 30 or 40 years ago in which to have a baby on one’s own, after which one might have given it up for adoption.

Will the Irish Government indicate, through the diplomatic channels, that the Pope’s agenda may include an appropriate visit to a mother and baby home that is just next door to where he will be staying, particularly given that approximately 2,500 of the 9,000 or 10,000 children who went through St. Patrick’s died there? These are the provisional figures we have.

My second question is a more local one on which I hope the Taoiseach and I agree. The Phoenix Park will be the venue for the visit. Will there be a definite fund provided by the Government to restore and reinstate the Phoenix Park, our premier public open space in an urban setting, after the Pope has gone home? During the last papal visit, the park almost collapsed under the strain caused by the great number of people in attendance. The people who visit will be welcome. The park is already putting in train arrangements to take down the gates at all the entrances and to refurbish them during the Pope’s visit with a view to reinstating them afterwards. The damage to the park was very significant on the last occasion. The Taoiseach has a local interest in this, as do I. It is very important to Dubliners and people from around the country who use the park to ensure that the Government will provide money to reinstate it to its full glory when the visit is over.

The Taoiseach: As I mentioned before, although this is not a state visit it will be treated as such in terms of security costs, media requirements, protocol, a transport plan and crowd control. We anticipate that there will be a requirement for security. It is expected that approximately 3,000 international media will be in Dublin for the World Meeting of Families. There will be the necessary protocol on the Pope’s arrival at the airport. This will include a Garda escort, an Army escort and a transport plan for him to get around and to ensure health and safety and crowd control. As this is a visit of an historic nature, akin to the papal visit of 1979 or the visit of Queen Elizabeth in 2011, we believe it is appropriate that the Government meet these costs. It is ultimately taxpayers’ money but I believe the majority of taxpayers in the country would want us to meet these costs as it is an historic visit. The vast majority of people will welcome Pope Francis to our country.

With regard to the issue raised regarding families, the Government is very much of the view that there are many different types of families and that all types should be celebrated, including the traditional nuclear family with the man married to the woman with children, but also one-parent families, families led by grandparents, and families led by same-sex couples. We will make it known in our meetings with the organisers that in line with our commitment to personal liberty and equality before the law, the Government’s view is that families in all their forms should be celebrated.

However, we are also committed to freedom of religion and the separation of church and state. While we will express our view, therefore, we will not try to impose it on a religious body. Regarding survivors of Catholic institutions who were used, abused and mistreated in them, there is some indication, albeit I have not heard it through official channels but rather through the media, that the Pontiff may wish to meet with former residents. That might be the most appropriate thing to do. While he might also visit a location, the strongest statement would be to meet people who are in those places rather than just to visit them. Perhaps that is an option too.

I was not aware so much damage was done to the Phoenix Park in 1979. It is a piece of local history I was unaware of. Certainly, I was taken on board and am glad I am aware of it now.

Deputy Joan Burton: It cost around £5 million to reinstate.

The Taoiseach: I assume the park will be reinstated fully and quickly. Certainly, I will look into the matter and ensure it is part of the discussions and deliberations in the months ahead. Rather than simply reinstate it, however, Project Ireland 2040 contains a commitment to upgrade the Phoenix Park with new facilities, in particular the full restoration of the Magazine Fort and a bridge to link it to the war memorial at Islandbridge. It is a very exciting project which will enhance the Phoenix Park as a national asset.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: What about the visit to the North?

The Taoiseach: That is a matter for Pope Francis to decide.