If you ask me what I remember about 1979, I’d be hard put to remember many significant events beyond Margaret Thatcher coming to power in the UK, Jack Lynch being replaced as Taoiseach by Charles Haughey and one of the darkest days of ‘The Troubles’ when Lord Mountbatten and two young boys were blown up on a boat in Sligo and 18 British soldiers were killed in Warrenpoint, in simultaneous IRA attacks.

For me this period was all about CB (Citizen’s Band) radio, a rebellious fad which was sweeping the country at the time, and about music. I worked on a pirate radio station in Limerick and spent my Saturdays helping out in one of the city’s record shops. For me 1979 was above all the year when disco vied with punk (by then called ‘new wave’) for my devotion and my hero David Bowie unforgettably took to drag for the video of ‘Boys Keep Swinging’. What may look tame now, was considered outrageous then.

The visit to Ireland by Pope John Paul II, largely passed me by unnoticed. A few years earlier I had opted out of the Catholic Church as I simply wasn’t a believer. This display of teenage rebellion was a major disappointment to my devout Catholic mother who later suggested it was a significant contributing factor to my coming out as gay.

For me it was nothing personal against The Pope when I decided to stay home and not join the 400,000 people who attended his mass in Limerick. It wasn’t so much a defiant boycott as a ‘couldn’t be arsed’, as I had steadfastly ignored the bombardment of daily updates on the visit, for weeks in advance. In those days of Holy Catholic Ireland there was no dissent, this was a major event and daring to suggest otherwise was a matter of heresy, treason or both.

Move the clock forward to today and we live in a very different Ireland, undoubtedly better in many ways but certainly not in all. Today we see people rightfully questioning the exorbitant cost of the latest Papal boondoggle and whether the millions of taxpayer monies would be better invested in other ways. However some of the rather cynical linking of the cost of the trip with the government’s very deliberate decision to underfund social housing or their failure to deal with an increasingly wasteful health service, is nothing short of blatant opportunism.

The main question for me is what is the point of this visit? In today’s Ireland four out of five people identify as Catholic, but fewer than one in five fill the basic requirement of weekly church attendance. We live in an era of à-la-carte or cultural Catholicism, where the majority of people pay little more than lip service to church teachings. Even as an agnostic I believe that there are inherent issues with such a pragmatic approach to any belief system.

The stated purpose of the Papal visit is to mark the World Meeting of Families, which is a bi-annual forum to discuss the role of the family in today’s society. In Ireland, such a debate is not only necessary, but long overdue, as many powerful influencers in civil society try to redefine and undermine the family, which has been the cornerstone of all enlightened societies.

The gap that has been left in supporting the traditional family is being filled by those who have a very different ideal of civil society. Many of these people unashamedly challenge the unique and complementary roles of mothers and fathers in raising children, they use ‘diversity’ as a rallying call to say that children don’t need a mother or a father, despite the fact that all international reporting suggests that children do best in the traditional family unit.

Many who would undermine the role of fathers and mothers would also seek to have the state replace the extended family in supporting situations where both parents wish to work outside the home. We can see this underhand agenda at play in Ireland with the taxpayer pouring millions into commercial childcare, without giving similar support to the families who choose to use other family members to help them. This statist agenda will not come as a surprise to those who have seen the work of totalitarian regimes in attacking families.

Consequently, we badly need a civic debate on support for families. We need to ask why we have a society that forces both parents out of the home to survive financially, when many would wish to remain full-time homemakers and carers. Have we simply replaced one form of tyranny with another? We need to promote the traditional family as the best environment for children.

The big question is whether the Catholic Church is a help or a hindrance in this debate. Church teachings on things like contraception, divorce and same sex relationships makes them an easy target for those that would say that they are out of touch with the reality of modern life. While the latest cantankerous rantings of former President Mary McAleese, comparing the event to a ‘right wing rally’ can be easily dismissed, the question is whether the church is really best positioned to support the traditional family, and if it isn’t, who will fill the gap?

Once again I’ll be largely ignoring the Pope’s visit. I see no point in attending a high profile gathering if I can’t take the trouble to attend weekly mass. I know some friends who will go, as they see it simply as an event, or to support more dependent family members. I wish them well and I hope they enjoy themselves, but the one thing that I hope that this trip brings is a fuller debate on how we as individuals and acting in unison as part of a society can better support families, before the statist agenda does even more damage.