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Peadar Tóibín says Taoiseach's 'prejudice' would've been clear had he spoken about rabbis or imams

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has apologised for likening Micheál Martin to a priest ‘sinning behind the altar’.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Aontú leader Peadar Tóibín.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Aontú leader Peadar Tóibín.
Image: RollingNews.ie

AONTÚ LEADER PEADAR Tóibín TD has said that “the prejudice” in Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s controversial comments this week would have been clear had he instead been speaking about rabbis or imams. 

Varadkar apologised on Thursday for comments he made the previous day when he likened Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin to a priest ‘sinning behind the altar’.

Varadkar said he didn’t intend to offend anyone and that he intends to withdraw the remarks, which were made in the Dáil. 

The Taoiseach was criticised by Bishop Alphonsus Cullinan and Tóibín has now said that Varadkar comments were part of a wider lack of tolerance towards religion in society. 

“If the Taoiseach had’ve said a rabbi, or if the Taoiseach had’ve used the word imam in his comments people would have seen the prejudice in his comments for what they were,” Tóibín told RTÉ’s Saturday with Cormac Ó hEadhra.

I think Ireland is a fiercely orthodox place. I think Ireland in the 1950s you had a situation where there was one view and anybody who differed from that view there was very little tolerance for them. 

“I think in Ireland in 2019, we’re in exactly the same situation. We have one view, it’s a radically different view than the 50s view, but if you deviate from that view there’s very little tolerance for that view as well,” Tóibín added. 

Before Varadkar’s apology on Thursday, Independent Senator Rónán Mullen had described the comments as “deeply stigmatising” and also said they would not be accepted were they directed at other groups in society.

“It is not acceptable, at this moment in our history when clergy are fewer and older but continue to do good work, to make a mocking, stigmatising remark like that, whether for its own sake or in order to attack a political opponent,” Mullen told the Seanad. 

I need hardly say that if somebody made a similarly stigmatising throw-away remark about gay community leaders or spokespersons for the Travelling community, they would be rightly criticised. 

‘Heads down’

Tóibín also said today that he has spoken to many religious people around the country who feel they cannot speak publicly about their faith. 

He said he believes there is now “an extreme secularism” in society.  

“The amount of people who have said to me that they keep their heads down with regards to their faith, they wouldn’t mention in public or in work or in sports places that they go to mass, for example, because there is a kind of caricature.”

Now don’t get me wrong, people have a right to be angered and disgusted with regards the scandals that happened within the Catholic Church over the last number of decades. But the fact is that the vast majority of Catholic priests and nuns did very good things for people and communities.

“There is an extreme secularism within society that’s pushing faith into the private sector only, the private sphere is the only place,” he added. 

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Rónán Duffy

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