13 June 2008

Did the Pope invoke St Columban in favour of the Lisbon Treaty?

In my blog yesterday I wrote: I don’t know if Pope Benedict timed his talk yesterday deliberately for the eve of the referendum today in the Republic of Ireland on the Lisbon Treaty, the only one of the 27 states in the European Union to have such a vote. Polls indicate that the vote could go either way.

In a report in today's Daily Telegraph Tom Peterkin seems to think that he did: Even the Pope intervened to urge backing for further EU integration, describing Irish missionary St Columbanus as 'one of the fathers of Europe.'

Pope Benedict is not the first to speak of St Columban in such terms.

Before the last Irish referendum on abortion in March 2002 the Vatican sent out signals that the wording of the proposed referendum was acceptable to Catholics. The Irish bishops urged people to vote 'Yes'. But one small pro-life lobby thought the wording didn't go far enough and asked people to vote 'No'. It is thought by many that their 'no' votes brought about the defeat of the government's proposal. As a result, abortion is, in theory though not in practice, unrestricted in the Republic of Ireland. 42.89 of those eligible actually voted. of those, 50.42 percent voted 'no' while 49.58 percent voted 'yes' In other words, 10,500 votes made the crucial difference.

Votes are being counted in Ireland as I write this. The turnout was probably around the same as that for the abortion referendum and the final result could be as close - going either way.

I really don't know which result will be better for Ireland and for the rest of the European Union. The Irish Republic is the only one of the 27 member-states to have a referendum, for constitutional reasons.

And I really don't know if Pope Benedict deliberately gave is talk on St Columban to give a hint to the Irish electorate to vote 'yes'. Even if he did, they didn't have to take the hint. We'll know later if they did.

One of the delightful quirks of elections and referenda in Ireland is that after the polling stations close, everyone goes home and has a good night's sleep before counting starts at 9 the following morning.

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