The National Party is not a religious party, much less a theocratic one, and as such we neither pretend nor attempt to explain ourselves in religious terms. Ireland being Ireland, the vast majority of members are at least nominally Catholic, by birth if not by conviction, but over its short existence I’ve noted the presence of Protestants, Agnostics, Atheists etc. Insofar as I do know anyone’s religion it is by way of conversation. It’s not a question I’m interested in knowing the answer to very much and never a question I would ask bluntly. That makes us a “secular” party I guess in the strict sense of the term, though I dislike it as it has acquired a pejorative of liberalism. Our values are traditionalist and it’s difficult to cordon off traditionalist values from their origin, which in Ireland’s case makes for a culturally Christian outlook, if not a devout one, or denominational.

So, when the leader of the largest Christian denomination in the world, and by far in Ireland, says something, we listen. When that denomination takes a stance purporting to be based on faith and morality, as perceived through the lens of that denomination it’s not easily dismissed. If only for the simple fact that many of our members are going to be swayed by such statements and at least some part of the electorate from whom we must ultimately seek a mandate take these things as somewhere between persuasive and binding. And yet may it be stated clearly, the National Party is bound ultimately only to the National Idea and the Nine Principles which are its practical expression in broad terms. They are as unchanging and unchangeable as we are unchanging and unchangeable to what is fundamental. They are not tactics nor momentarily practical, policy is policy, but a Principle is a belief.

Moreover, they are necessary. There are many things which the leaders of the party believe that are not even alluded to in the Nine Principles, we could have made twenty easily, and doubtless the others will make their way into broader party statements by way of policy document or individual statement and they will come to be what we are seen to “stand for”. But the Nine Principles are essentials, the Principles have been distilled to express how Ireland may survive and prosper, a healthy even a happy nation. There is much else we would like, but these are what we need, bare minimum, or we go under, sooner rather than later.

And so Pope Francis says the death penalty is “inadmissible” and goes so far as to amend the Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church to reflect that new found belief. And make no mistake, it is new found. At no time in history has any Pope ever stated this so unequivocally, there is no room to think that he thinks anything else. The nuance to be found in previous Popes’ assertions concerning the matter are absent. And absent too is the unequivocal support for, even the Papal sanctioning directly, of the death penalty we find the history of the Church replete with.

I’m open to correction but over the past 24 hours I have heard, I think, very nearly every conjecture. That Francis is a heretic and has by this “un-poped” himself, through to it’s a “mortal sin” now to believe anything else. That Benedict XVI is still the valid Pope, and Francis a poor pretence, to the Catechism is not dogmatic and therefore itself “inadmissible” against two thousand years of unbroken teaching. And there’s the Protestant who says there’s your rock upon which the Church will constantly move, to the atheist saying if there is a divinity can it hold two opposite opinions and not reveal its own absurdity? It is my misfortune to have spent too much of my life on such angelic pin dancing calculations, and I don’t propose afflict it upon anyone else.

“The National Party (Principle Nine) demands a complete reform of our criminal justice system, placing the protection of society from criminality as its imperative value, up to and including restoration of the Death Penalty for particularly heinous crimes.” We make this demand in the name of the National Idea and therefore the survival of the Nation. It is stated not on a whim, nor is it much calculated to win popularity. It would have been easier to leave it out since many who will hail the Pope’s statement already believed it anyway.

[Though to them I would say this: If the death penalty was immoral when the Church held that it was moral, how does the Church changing its teaching to align with your belief have any consequence?]

The argument is put that in “modern” society it is no longer necessary, like so may other things that “modern” has magically made dispensable. The fact is that the moral chaos overwhelming the Western World at this particular juncture in history has made the case for tougher not more lenient law, since it is often State power alone which protects the citizen in a society where the lines of right and wrong, until recently taken for granted have become so blurred as to be meaningless. Witness any city in Europe where there is even a momentary breakdown in law and order to see what suffering human beings are willing to inflict upon one another, and compare it to a time not so long ago when whole regions hardly needed policing at all.

We have other means like prison for life. Yet it never does become prison for life does it, and when opponents of the death penalty swagger forward with the bold “Lock him up and throw away the key!” do they give thought to how endlessly and needlessly cruel that would actually be if it were not in the relatively comfortable circumstances that “prisoners rights” campaigners insist upon, or that incarceration in Ireland today costs an estimated €232 a day. For what? So the perpetrator of heinous crimes, bloody vicious murders, child rape and torture, can have their human rights upheld? How much is left that is human in a man who rapes and murders a child and dismembers the body to hide the evidence?

God may be merciful we all hope, we should be forgiving inasmuch as our frail humanity permits us to forgive, but the State has no right to forgive or show mercy where such forgiveness and mercy comes at the expense of the innocent, it rather has an absolute duty to protect by deterrence. And if a murderer be not deterred then you can be certain, that hung from the gallows, he will not re-offend either.

The entire judicial system in Ireland needs radical reform, sentences need to be longer, prisons need to be more unpleasant and judges need to have before them in the ultimate (not the common) to consider whether society would altogether be better off if the offender before him/her, having considered the evidence carefully, and the nature and circumstances of the crime, were not to be removed permanently. Obliterated, and remembered only as an object lesson.

Rehabilitation is great, but all too rare. Punishment is justifiable, but it cannot become vigilante. The protection of society is the State’s obligation. And some things are absolute, they don’t change.

Justin Barrett
Uachtarán An Pháirtí Náisiúnta