Editorial Note: This article was originally published in the Burkean Journal on the 3rd of April but it was lost when we were fixing our website in the last couple of days.
Everyone deserves their 15 minutes of fame. Some are even lucky enough to really achieve it. But even these people eventually have to go back to being nobodies.
Fine Gael Senator Catherine Noone’s 15 minutes haven’t yet expired, but she is still showing why she wasn’t taken seriously up until the issue of abortion threw her temporarily into the spotlight of Irish politics.
On Easter Sunday, Noone tweeted her dissatisfaction with a church sermon she had just been exposed to.
“Easter mass in Knock Basilica this afternoon with my parents – an octogenarian priest took at least 3 opportunities to preach to us about abortion – it’s no wonder people feel disillusioned with the Catholic Church,” she wrote, remembering to add in #Together for Yes.
She had been subjected to a sermon which touched upon one of the core teachings of Catholicism, after voluntarily entering a Catholic church, on arguably the most important date in the Church’s calendar.
Separation of Church from State
Regardless of whether most people share Noone’s disillusionment, this is a strange complaint.
No grown person is ever forced into a church.
Those who attend Mass do so voluntarily, in the knowledge that the 2,000-year-old institution which they are choosing to engage with has its own clearly-defined teachings, among which is that the deliberate killing of an unborn child is immoral and unjustifiable.
With the Government about to hold a referendum to legalise abortion, priests around the country are preaching about this regularly, and will continue to do so.
Noone has quite recently gone from supporting protection for unborn children to advocating the introduction of abortion-on-demand.
The fact that the Church holds true to its beliefs, and that a priest explains why the destruction of innocent life is incompatible with Christianity, appears to have angered Noone, as it would many Fine Gaelers who probably do not hear very much by way of contrary opinions in the bars and restaurants which their kind frequents in the more salubrious parts of South Dublin.
And yet if they’re not happy in church, they shouldn’t go.
To participate in a voluntary organisation, while bemoaning a core part of its ethos, is ridiculous.
Those who lambast the Church for its age-old teachings are welcome to do so, but to believe that it should automatically ‘move with the times’ or else remain silent on life-and-death misunderstand the purpose of the Catholic Church.
Catholicism is not Anglicanism. It is not a plaything of the political establishment. It doesn’t exist to give glory to the ruling class. It doesn’t decide to dispense with core teaching based on what the chattering classes think of it.
Catherine Noone has as much right to a say on what the priest in Knock preaches as Leo Varadkar has to determine the itinerary of Pope Francis when he visits in August.
None at all. The same holds true for all our politicians, in all other countries, always.
If a politician wants to find out what the Church thinks, Caesar can go to Mass.
If he thinks he can decide what is said in church, Caesar can go somewhere else…
Noone’s jab at the age of the priest giving the sermon was also noticeable, and ties in with the countless examples of ageism from Repeal activists online.
Pictures of older pro-life canvassers commonly elicit nasty comments, as do images of mature women and men at pro-life rallies.
The implication is that old people should not express opinions on political matters, although rarely do the Repealers have the guts to say this openly.
Though it may be difficult for Noone et al to appreciate it now, that “octogenarian” priest may well have acquired a good deal of life experience during his eight decades on this earth.
He has likely gained a good deal of pastoral experience in the area of pregnancy too, from ministering to couples through difficult pregnancies, to visiting people in the hospital, and manning the confessional box too.
The same principle hold true for elderly people more generally, who having been there and done that, are now told that they should shut up because they don’t know enough about life, by spotty teenagers in black jumpers.
Or 41-year-old women, for that matter.
The personal attack on the old cleric earned Noone a good deal of criticism, and likely contributed to her decision to delete her original tweet.
“I’m not ageist,” she later protested, “anyone who knows me knows I’m not ageist.”
At least she didn’t say that some of her best friends were old, I suppose.
From public health champion to this?
In a strange sense, this Easter controversy represents another victory for Catherine Noone, albeit an insignificant one.
Once more, she has tied herself to the issue which has seen her emerge from a previous position as something of a laughing stock within Irish politics.
After all, up until a year ago, if a reporter asked a member of the public what they thought about Catherine Noone, they would have said ‘Who?’ And if they did know her, then they would have known her as the woman who wanted to ban Mixed Martial Arts and crack down hard on ice cream vans.
For a long time, there was no nanny state measure, no matter how hair-brained, which the good senator would not support.
In 2014, Senator Noone called for the use of chimes on ice cream fans to be outlawed. One year on, she wanted UFC banned, along with vending machines in schools. The following year, she called for ‘no-fry zones’ to be set up within a 500m radius of all schools.
The prohibitionist-in-chief didn’t exactly endear herself to the masses by trying to outlaw their every pleasure or vice. When selected as Leo Varadkar’s running mate in the Dublin West constituency in 2016, Noone bombed, getting only 2% of the vote.
As a January 2018 profile in The Phoenix describes, Noone had only ended up in Dublin West due to her fellow party members in Dublin Bay South being aghast at the idea of running her there, a feeling which was shared by party HQ.
The same Phoenix piece went on to describe how her hopeless campaign in Dublin West helped Noone to become Chairperson of the Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment, a role which has placed her momentarily in the centre of Irish politics, for once not because of some ridiculous policy proposal of hers.
Being chairperson of the committee which recommended introducing abortion made Noone a media darling late last year.
Political observers began to refer to her in different tones to those used before. Miriam Lord of The Irish Times awarded her ‘Best Senator Award’ to the Mayo native, for merely chairing a Committee.
Noone still has a picture of the Committee launching their report pinned on her Twitter account, a picture in which she is in the centre, looking very pleased with herself.
But it could never last, and won’t.
All of the shortcomings which made Noone an electoral liability before hold true now. There is no Dáil seat for her in Dublin Bay South. There is no seat for her in Dublin West. There is no seat for her in her native Mayo. All there is for her is that last refuge of the unelectable: Seanad Éireann.
Besides, if the Eighth Amendment is retained, Noone will look foolish for associating herself so closely with this Committee. And if the Eighth Amendment is repealed, she will be a footnote in history, not the trailblazer some have made her out to be.
When the dust of the abortion referendum settles, and her anger with a random priest’s sermon recedes, Catherine Noone will have time to reflect on how far she hasn’t come.
And she will do so alone, and away from the spotlights reserved for those of political significance.