Friday, August 8, 2014

Honoring Daniel O'Connell

From Supremacy and Survival:
Francis Campbell, writing for The Catholic Herald, comments on the plan to honor Mahatma Gandhi with a statue in Parliament Square. He says it's a good idea, but that it highlights another mission statue: in honor of Daniel O'Connell:
It is time for the Government to recognise the debt of gratitude we owe to Daniel O’Connell: the London-trained lawyer who went on to lead the Irish through a time of great turbulence and who could lay claim to be the inspiration for non-violent civil rights movements. Indeed, Gandhi himself looked to figures in 19th-century Irish history for inspiration, O’Connell among them. A statue of O’Connell would honour his legacy and send out a powerful message about democratic pluralism, inclusion and non-violence.

Nearly 170 years after his death, there is no statue of O’Connell erected anywhere in London, let alone Parliament Square. Yet few figures in the 19th or 20th centuries changed the course of Britain’s parliamentary democracy, and influenced the health and vitality of its democracy and pluralism, as much as he did.

O’Connell’s greatest contribution was in the area of religious pluralism. He fought for and won the right for Catholics to take their seats in Parliament. Choosing politics over force, he achieved Catholic emancipation through the passing of the Roman Catholic Relief Act in 1829, which also annulled the remaining Penal Laws and the Test Act, and helped to pave the way for the restoration of the Catholic Hierarchy in England and Wales, and Scotland. O’Connell’s 1829 Catholic Emancipation Act is also credited with helping to secure the passing of the Jews Relief Act of 1858.

O’Connell’s absence from his rightful place in Parliament Square is all the more grating given that Robert Peel, who initially opposed Catholic emancipation, is honoured there. It was a lonely campaign for O’Connell, and Peel was ultimately persuaded not on any grounds of enlightened principle, but simply by fear that failure to repeal prejudicial laws would trigger further rebellion in Ireland. Why should the former stand proud just minutes from our seat of power, and the latter be overlooked? (Read more.)

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