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How Did The Roman Catholic Church In Ireland Impact And Influence Ireland’s Free State And Ireland’s Political Society?

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The purpose of this research paper will be to investigate the influence and the effect that the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland has had on the Irish Free State and also on Ireland’s economy, political society, and civil society. The Roman Catholic Church’s influence on public policy has been called into question many a time, especially in the European context. Thus it is only logical that the influence of the church should also be investigated in the context of Ireland and its’ state and society (Green-Pedersen & Little 2020). The relationship between the Roman Catholic Church and the Irish state and society has been widely discussed in depth for many reasons, on many occasions, in an attempt to understand the hindrances of political-societal progression in Ireland in comparison to other European states up until more recent years. ‘Ireland was long an outlier, where access to contraception, abortion and divorce remained very restrictive when it had become more liberal across the rest of Western Europe’ (Greeen-Pedersen & Little 2020). While Irish legislation surrounding such morally entangled topics has changed in the last few years, in a sense ‘renewing’ itself to match the political movements of the rest of Western Europe, Emmet Larkin has suggested that despite these changes, ‘the Church does not exist independently of the Irish Political System’ but is instead one of the most basic and integral elements in the system (1975). Larkin’s work supports the theory that in lieu of Ireland’s more recent liberal political actions, the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland will still never not have an influence on Irish state affairs and Irish political society. As there is a plethora of research to uphold the theory that the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland has historically influenced the Irish Free state and its’ political society, and even more so, continues to maintain an influence on the Irish political society, the Irish Free State and its’ economy, then it is crucial to examine how exactly the church does this and to investigate further what impact such influence has, such is the aim of this paper.

Literature review

The Roman Catholic Church in Ireland, being among the foundational component elements of Ireland’s political structure, together with the nation and the (free) state at large, mainly impacts the country’s general politics. Historically, the church continues to have an influential say in the politics, policies, and decision-making of Ireland’s Free State, as well as their economy and general policies on moral issues and governance. The influence of the roman catholic church in Ireland is evidenced in the delays in reforms to the constitution and policies that address the ethical issues of abortion, divorce, contraception, and same-sex marriages (Green-Pedersen & Little, 2020); issues that go against the primary teachings of the roman catholic church. With a focus on the values of being right or wrong and the permissive nature of the Roman Catholic Church, the political interest and opinion, and their review or amendments concerning such issues have been primarily dictated by the church and its stand or views. In addition to this, the church has, over the years, dictated and controlled the education system and the provision of healthcare services in Ireland.

The ‘two worlds of morality politics’ theory point to the fact that the primary shaper of a state’s politics, with the inclusion of the influence of the roman catholic church, is the presence of conflicting religious and secular parties in the political system of the state. The conflict structure embedded in the government determines the politics of the state (Green-Pedersen & Little, 2020), especially on moral issues. The absence of conflict between the religious and secular parties in Ireland has been heavily blamed on the failure of the political parties to be strongly-secularized to take a stand on the majority of the policy issues, as well as the absence of religious-based political parties. The primary feature of policymaking and legislation in Ireland was reached through consensus and debates about the topics of concern. The debates and discussion illustrated the extent to which the constitution of the state of Ireland reflected the teachings and values imposed by the Roman Catholic Church to the population.

Unlike other countries with a large presence and spread of the Roman Catholic Church, Ireland has no existing religious or secular disagreements within its political system. Based on the ‘two-world’s’ theory, Ireland’s perspective on the moral issues arising of, for instance, abortion and same-sex marriages are expected to be similar to those of the other ‘secular’ countries. However, this is not the case. The Roman Catholic Church of Ireland influences the nation’s views and dynamics on the aforementioned moral issues. The Roman Catholic Church of Ireland and the Irish government have not been permissive on the majority of the ‘secular’ ethical issues. While almost all Western European countries reviewed and permitted, for instance, abortion, contraception, and divorce, Ireland steadfastly remained against these policies. This was majorly contributed to by the teachings and morality influence that the church imposed on the citizens and the government. The Roman Catholic Church has consistently held a ‘veto-power’ position in Ireland. The delay of this amendment can be attributed to the hindrance by the Roman Catholic Church. Hence, the Roman Catholic Church of Ireland has been a critical factor in the slowed-down liberalization of Ireland on the above moral issues.

The Roman Catholic Church’s impact in Ireland has over the years, particularly ever since the passing of the Anglo-Irish treaty and Ireland’s subsequent independence from the British, making Ireland a free state, significantly been felt in almost all sectors of the nation. Over the nineteenth century, the church had managed to latch itself onto the political, social, and economic departments of Ireland, making it a part of Ireland’s identity and gaining controlling power over the sectors. This was in such a way that Ireland’s nation and the Roman Catholic Church were not independent identities. As early as the nineteenth century, the role of the church and its spread among the farming population of Ireland (farming was their staple economic activity) was very widespread, with a revolution of devotion from paganism to Christianity taking place as Christianity (Ireland, The Catholic Church in |, 2020), especially Catholicism, spread among the population. The practice of Catholicism by the Ireland population became second nature to them, further embedding the Roman Catholic system into the nation’s structure and its political system. The moral principles enforced by the Roman Catholic Church on its congregation in Ireland were implemented as the state’s law.

The influential teaching of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland from its social stand and view, as well as its practical lessons arising from the roles and responsibilities of the church on the provision of services, are among the overall impacts of the Church on Ireland and its state. By providing mass social services such as education and health care to the Irish community, the Roman Catholic Church remained relevant and further spread into the country. In the nineteenth century, the mobilization of politics in Ireland was primarily spearheaded and driven by the alliance between the Roman Catholic Church and the nationalist movement. The church’s influence was seen in its participation in the drafting of the Irish constitution in 1937, with the church being key in the structuring of the foundations of the political system and state of the nation of Ireland. The impact of the church was majorly based on the agreement with the politicians of Ireland and the clergy of the Roman Catholic Church and its electorate, who had common thoughts and ideas. The political parties and individuals hence strongly leaned to the church and its opinions or influence.

Education in Ireland’s Free State was majorly controlled by the Roman Catholic Church, particularly in the nineteenth century. This was also the case with the health facilities at the time. Catholic schools, however, illustrated the social and economic classes existing since the church was keener on the provision of the services rather than dealing with the social and economic inequalities. The control the church had on the education system in Ireland was great, as evidenced in the failure of the English-imposed system of education that was aimed at challenging the church. The church strongly opposed the establishment of ‘secular’ schools throughout the nineteenth century and early twentieth century. The acceptance of the managerial control and management of schools by the commission, with schools being divided based on religion and management allocated based on denomination, was among the government’s first milestones. The state having full control of the schools was the ultimate win for the Ireland nationalists.

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Moreover, before the great famine, schools were initially struck Ireland, non-denominational, and public (Girvin, 2008). This system had been created to ensure that all citizens would have equal education rights despite the differences in religion. Additionally, both catholic and protestant clergy would manage and teach in these institutions. After the great famine, however, the Roman Catholic Church started restructuring itself, amassing a lot of power over both the civil, social, and personal lives of the population of Ireland. Led by the cardinal at the time, Paul Cullen, the church progressively tore down the established education system and replaced the national schools with their ideal schools. Cullen described the existing national schools as savage and dangerous- because it advocated for mixing the Catholics and Protestants. The church utilized the power it had gained over the education system in Ireland to control the country’s political system and its concept of a free state. The church hence controlled the population on their perspective on mora issues like sexuality and same-sex marriages. In addition to this, the government, interested movements, and the church were continuously at odds on education provision to the population. As a result, the church’s dominance spread to many sectors of the state, including those that were previously public systems and departments free from the denominational disparities.

During the same nineteenth century, the dominant Roman Catholic Church exercised its power by preventing the national government from providing citizens with social services like health care. The clergy’s influence on the political system and governance saw to it that the Ireland citizens seldom had freedom or right of say for effective implementation of changes in the public services provided. The church, for instance. Influenced the rejection of the health insurance scheme that ensured free medical care and medicine for the workers in Ireland. The public health in Ireland, as a result, deteriorated, with numerous cases of diseases like tuberculosis being reported.

Furthermore, the church opposed establishing a national health system in Ireland after the second world war in the mid of the twentieth century. The roman catholic church continued to hold a lot of power on social service provision over the government. The church also rejected the health minister Dr Noel Browne’s proposal in 1948 for a health system that would provide free health care to children and mothers.

It is observed that the church played a crucial role in the status quo in Ireland, looking at the liberalization of the moral issues, particularly abortion and same-sex marriage. There was weak participation of the political parties of Ireland on policy and morality issues arising. The failure of the political parties in Ireland to gain or take a leadership role on the moral and policy issues that arose as they remained marginal ignoring them, taking no significant interest, the roman catholic Church of Ireland progressively took advantage of the situation, influencing the slow permissiveness on these issues. There did not exist a party or individual to sufficiently challenge the church. However, since the church had no allies on the political sector of Ireland, the ‘secular’ group of policymakers, if assertive, could challenge and overthrown the influence that the church had on these moral issues (Green-Pedersen & Little, 2020). For instance, this was evidenced by the same-sex marriage issue whereby the mobilization of the ‘secular’ parties was more potent than the church, and the status quo of the church could not be sufficient enough for the rejection of the policy amendment.

The liberalizing groups and the church were the primary players in the passing or changing the restrictive policies on abortion, contraception, divorce, and same-sex marriage. The politicization of the moral issues, from the ‘two-world’ view in Ireland, was marked by the failure of the political parties in the country to take an interest in these issues and the significance placed on the part geared by mobilized liberalization groups against the imposed status quo of the Roman Catholic Church. The church’s prior held status quo on the issues of, for example, contraception, abortion, and divorce dwindled fast due to the mobilized ‘secular’ groups of interest seeking the changes in the policies of their interest.

On the law and policy on divorce, the church influenced the continuous passing of laws against divorce. Before the free state of Ireland was established, people (non-Catholics particularly) could obtain a divorce upon passing their presented bill in the government. Under the control of the catholic nationalists by 1925, several motions presented to the parliament for the amendment of the constitution on divorce were futile. Referendums to amend this policy in 2019 resulted in the reduction of the waiting period before a divorce was granted down to two years, from the prior defined three years.

Ireland had for a very long time remained an outlier on the issue of abortion and contraceptives. However, the state allowed for same-sex marriage in 2015, becoming among the first countries to permit such (Knill & Predel, 2015). Abortion, however, remained restricted until 2018. This unusual sequence of policy amends is argued to result from the characteristic two world perspective imposed by the interested groups. As the support and following of the teachings and laws by the roman catholic Church in Ireland reduced and the need for liberalization of the morality policies, groups of individuals outside the political system who had interests in these moral policies mobilized to push for amendments and changes on the constitution and the law to be more permissive. This resulted from the marginalization and impassiveness of the existing political parties. The fast catch-up by Ireland with the rest of the west European nations is attributed to the stalemate of the church; that is, as the external mobilized groups pushed for the policy changed that were deemed ‘secular,’ the secular nature of the political system meant that the stand of the roman catholic church on the moral policies had no influence. The church did not have any real secular opponents, nor did it have any tight friends in the political system.

Research design

The primary research design method for this proposal is the literature review and descriptive research design. Existing literature on the spread and influence of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland will be studied and reviewed for the purpose of this research. Additionally, journals and historical sites will be used to describe how the Roman Catholic Church influenced the political system in Ireland and its free state. The main objective of this research is to provide a detailed description of the impacts and influences of the Roman Catholic Church to the free state of Ireland.


  1. Girvin, B., 2008. Church, state, and society in Ireland since 1960. Éire-Ireland, 43(1), pp.74-98.
  2. Green-Pedersen, C. and Little, C., 2020. Without enemies, without friends. Morality policies, the Roman Catholic Church, and Ireland’s ‘secular’party system. Journal of European Public Policy, pp.1-19.
  3. Knill, C. and Preidel, C., 2015. Institutional opportunity structures and the Catholic Church: explaining variation in the regulation of same-sex partnerships in Ireland and Italy. Journal of European Public Policy, 22(3), pp.374-390.
  4. Larkin, E., 1975. Church, state, and nation in modern Ireland. The American Historical Review, 80(5), pp.1244-1276.
  5. Madeley, J., 2003. A framework for the comparative analysis of church–state relations in Europe. West European Politics, 26(1), pp.23-50.

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How Did The Roman Catholic Church In Ireland Impact And Influence Ireland’s Free State And Ireland’s Political Society? (2022, February 21). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 8, 2023, from
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