A return to ‘structured dialogue’ between the Government and Church leaders would be of great value as society becomes more pluralist, it has been claimed.
The Lisbon Treaty places an obligation on the EU to have a regular dialogue with religious and non-confessional organisations on EU policies and legislative proposals. Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern set up a structured dialogue forum in Ireland on a national level, and the meetings became a regular fixture until the current Government.
Mairead McGuinness MEP, who has been appointed to lead the EU Parliament’s dialogue with religions, told The Irish Catholic “there is always a value in having structured dialogue”.
“The remit of Churches is so broad and their engagement with communities so deep that they will add value to any debate,” she said. “As an elected politician I listen to all stakeholders in my individual work as an MEP whether they are farming or faith or retail or whatever they are, they have a right to be heard.
“In the case of Europe we make a conscious effort to listen and engage with faith groups and non-confessional organisations, so that their voices are part of the conversation. It seems to me Churches, who are embedded in parishes, village and towns, are part of European society and they have important things to say on the future of Europe, reflecting on their own members and congregation.”
Prof. Eamonn Conway, Professor of Theology & Religious Studies at Mary Immaculate College, said “the increasing intercultural and multicultural nature of Irish society” makes dialogue with faith leaders an “imperative”. “Thankfully the Catholic Church has put interreligious dialogue to the forefront of its concerns not just in Europe but globally,” he said. “The Irish Government has some ground to make up in terms of recognising faith leaders as partners in building a pluralist society and having structured dialogue could be an important first step in this.”
In reply to parliamentary questions, Taoiseach Enda Kenny recently admitted he had not held any meetings under the structured dialogue process since the formation of the current Government.