From top: Phoenix Park Master of Ceremonies Fr Damian McNeice; traffic restrictions around Phoenix Park on Sunday; Anne Marie McNally
In the wake of Pope Francis’ visit to these shores much has been made of the numbers, or lack thereof, which bothered turning up to see him.
For those of us who pointed out the vast discrepancy between the actual numbers and the widely publicised expected numbers, the counter argument has been that we are somehow gloating or belittling those who did attend.
On the contrary, I am delighted that anyone who wanted to attend had the opportunity to do so.
I am delighted that those who find comfort in their faith and who still worship the official Catholic Church got to experience what, to them, must have been a significant event.
I understand and thoroughly respect the positive influence and the personal comfort that a person’s faith can provide.
However it is, and should be, a deeply personal thing.
Yet last weekend that private choice was thrust upon the many of us who haven’t made that choice, both in terms of travel restrictions and costs.
I completely accept the fact that I live in a capital city and major events happen which require coordination and planning and oftentimes restrictions.
That’s not an issue. I also understand that the Pope is (despite my personal opinion of him!) a fairly big deal and a visit from him is likely to upend normality somewhat.
However that should not stop us asking the very legitimate and pertinent questions regarding the completely overestimated scale of the event and the corresponding overreaction regarding event management.
It is worth pointing out that this was not an official State visit but rather a private Church gig for their World Meeting of Families.
This coming Sunday is All-Ireland final day. 82,300 ticket holders will descend upon central Dublin from all across the country and indeed the world.
That figure doesn’t include the many others who will make their way to the city to soak up the atmosphere and try to get their hands on a golden ticket.
All in all, 100,000 sports fan in a fairly tight quadrant of Dublin City is extremely realistic.
There will be Garda in place to help traffic flow; there will be some access roads closed to traffic to facilitate the pedestrian surge; and there will undoubtedly be packed buses and Luas trams.
There will not however be a city lockdown for the entire day.
There will not be people who have to get pre-clearance and ID passes for personal visitors to their own home.
There will not be significant changes to the public transport system meaning people cannot get to work or about their usual daily lives.
There will not be entire dual carriage-ways closed off for 15 hours.
Yet all of the above happened on Sunday last when, according to official estimates, the crowd only just exceeded that of a good All-Ireland Final day in Croker and was perhaps even less than the crowd in the Phoenix Park for Robbie Williams or Ed Sheeran.
I respect those Ed or Robbie fan’s right to worship at their chosen musical altar as much as I respect the pilgrims on Sunday choosing their particular altar so why is one choice treated so differently and deferentially?
Quite simply it is because Official Ireland and its media has refused to hear the increasingly loud message from Irish society that such deference to religion and the Catholic Church is simply not representative of Irish society any longer.
It’s not that the message hasn’t been delivered repeatedly, loudly and clearly. When Ireland effectively rebuked a Catholic Church that had shouted at it in the foulest of ways with the gravest of threats in the months leading up to the referendum on the 8th Amendment it did so resoundingly.
When the patronage question is asked, parents respond clearly on the need for new school models without the influence of the church.
Mass attendances alone tell a story or have a look at the number of applicants for the priesthood of late.
Catholic Church dominance in Irish lives is a historical feature of times past and no amount of sensational headlines about “600,000 expected in park” can change that.
The powers that be proceeded with event management plans based on perceptions of an Ireland from a bygone era and as a result we, the citizens, ended up with a ridiculous bill and an overreaction in event planning that cost many of us our plans; many others who were forced to take the day off lost wages for the day, and many businesses lost their income for the day.
And for what? a slightly larger than normal concert attended by some die-hard fans for all intents and purposes.
A whole other column could be dedicated to the fact that such costs and plans were put in place to facilitate the head of the institution responsible for so many crimes both here in Ireland and worldwide; so much suffering; and even on the day of the visit such hurtful and damaging remarks not least the Pope’s classification of homosexuality as a mental illness.
But for this column at least I think I’ll stick to making the point that if we seek to live in an actual Republic, which we supposedly do, then we simply cannot turn a blind-eye to the State expenditure and resources – both in planning and organisation – that were expended and potentially wasted on what was essentially a private gig by a celebrity for his fans.