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The Irish Times - Saturday, March 16, 1996


A chara, - Dr Noel Browne deservedly holds a special place in the folk memory of the Irish people. But his letter of March 11th strikes me as somewhat opportunistic, if not disingenuous. He writes "It was Rome, not the politicians, which was the author of most of our ills in the Republic then and indeed now, especially in the North."

He tells us what he resigned his office as Minister for Health in 1951 because he was unable to accept, this right of veto by Rome in connection with his proposals for a Mother and Child Scheme. If there was a veto, it existed because the politicians of the day were willing to go along with the desires of the bishops, and regarded it as Realpolitik to do so. There is little to be gained in judging people's actions 50 years ago, by today's standards.

James Staunton, secretary of the Hierarchy, wrote in October 1950 to the Taoiseach, John A. Costello. The bishops desire that you should give careful consideration to the dangers inherent in the present proposals, before they are adopted by the Government for legislative enactment." Dr Browne had earlier met the bishops with a view to satisfying them about his proposals that same October. In this exercise he was unsuccessful, but was ready to try again and meet them at least halfway.

Dr Browne writes that politicians of all hues accepted Rome's right to veto Cabinet decisions". The Cabinet, of which he was a member, did make a decision, but it went against Dr Browne. He left the Cabinet room asking for time to reconsider his position. He then reconsidered his possible resignation, while the Trade Union Congress became involved with a view to reaching a solution which would meet the views of the Hierarchy and still enable a non means test scheme to be introduced - The Cabinet was not impressed with this development and after a meeting, Sean MacBride wrote to Dr Browne:

"Following upon your own declarations and the indications given by me, I had hoped that it would not have been necessary to write this letter. Unfortunately, by reason of the situation which has arisen, and for which I fear you are largely responsible, I have no alternative, as leader of Clann na Poblachta, but to request you to transmit, as soon as possible, your resignation as Minister for Health to the Taoiseach." -

Yours. etc.,

Gilford Road.

Dublin 4.

The Irish Times - Friday, March 15, 1996

Sir, In response to Cardinal Daly and the many others who wish to apportion blame to the state for the mistreatment of orphans, I would like to draw their attention to the fate of Dr Noel Browne's Mother and Child scheme of 1951. Let us not forget that the Catholic Church brought down the government which attempted to make provision for unmarried mothers and their children.

Yours, etc

Dun Laoghaire.

The Irish Times - Thursday, March 14, 1996


Sir, - I read with interest Dr Noel Browne's letter (March 11th) in which he states that the former Archbishop of Dublin, Dr McQuaid, "wouldn't allow" legislation for adoption. Dr Browne puts it rather melodramatically: "He (the Archbishop) wouldn't allow Mr McKeown's (the Minister for Justice's) compassionate attempt, for the first time to allow for the adoption into loving, caring homes of these pathetic infants in the dreadful industrial schools and infant orphanages".

This is unfair to Archbishop McQuaid. Indeed, it seems that, in the matter of the respective rights of the various parties involved in adoption, the Archbishop was very much in tune with today's thinking and probably out of tune with the received wisdom of his own time.

The evidence for this is contained in the objective account of Archbishop McQuaid's view by the historian Dr J. H. Whyte. The following passage from his book, Church and State in Modern Ireland. first published in 1971, has a contemporary relevance: "I am in a position to state that the Archbishop of Dublin, Dr McQuaid, was consulted about the adoption issue by both General MacEoin and his predecessor in the Department of Justice, Mr Gerals Boland, and when consulted, advised against legislation. This issue, however, is one which I have had the advantage of discussing in interview with the Archbishop of Dublin, and I can also say that his view point was a good deal more nuance than the bald statement that he advised against legislation might suggest.

"Dr McQuaid was not opposed in principle to legal adoption. He was aware that the Catholic Church accepted it in other countries, and for that matter, that it is recognised in canon law. It was with his approval that the Catholic Protection and Rescue Society had been pursuing since 1945 the policy of arranging de facto adoptions for the children in its care.

"But he did feel that the advocates of legal adoption, in their zeal to safeguard the rights of the adopting parents, tended to overlook the fact that the natural mother and child had rights too, which must equally be safeguarded in any legislation. He did not feel, in 1950, that a solution which reconciled all these rights had yet been found. He also considered that public opinion required more preparation".

Yours, etc.


Catholic Press and Information Office, Dublin.


The Irish Times - Monday, March 11, 1996


Sir, It is not true to say that the politicians of the time "cynically" or "thoughtlessly" dumped the many unwanted or "illegitimate children on the Roman Catholic religious orders of nuns brothers and priests in the grim "loveless warehouses" known as Industrial Schools. Rome, in control of education, taught them "they must do so".

At one of the first Cabinet meetings of the inter party government in 1948, Sean McKeown Minister for Justice, and as kind hearted a man as you could meet, came in late to the meeting. Clearly disappointed, he threw his brief on the Cabinet table and, as he sat down, muttered "He won't allow it". Being neither a. member of his party, and my department being health, only later did I find out what "he" wouldn't allow was McKeown's compassionate attempt, for the first time, to allow for the adoption into loving, caring homes these pathetic infants in the dreadful industrial schools, and infant orphanages. The "he" referred to was the Archbishop of Dublin, Dr McQuaid.

To my astonishment, not alone did the Minister McKeown, but every one of my Cabinet colleagues accept without question the right of this non elected nominee of a powerful institution, the Church of Rome, the right of veto over government policy in the Republic.

Equally, it is not true to say that the politicians of the time, "cynically" or "thoughtlessly" dumped the health services on the religious orders. The religious insisted on controlling them. In 1951, I attempted to introduce a free, no means test health service for mothers in motherhood, and children up to the age of 16 years, to be run by the health authorities - our attempt to deal with the truly scandalous state of health care for ordinary people and especially children prevalent at that time, and only now obvious to all. This fine health scheme was vetoed as a "mortal sin" by the same Archbishop McQuaid, on behalf of the Roman Hierarchy. Both the inter party parliament, and the subsequent de Valera led opposition, without question, to a man, accepted Rome's right to veto Cabinet decisions.

Unable to accept this right of veto by Rome, I resigned my office. It was Rome, not the politicians, who was the author of most of our ills in the Republic, then and indeed now, especially in the North.

Yours, etc.,


Co Galway.