McAleese trying to raise profile of son with attacks on Church, says Fine Gael official


Former President Mary McAleese, husband Martin and their son Justin (second left) with his husband Fionan. Photo: Brian Lawless
Former President Mary McAleese, husband Martin and their son Justin (second left) with his husband Fionan. Photo: Brian Lawless
Former President of Ireland Mary McAleese, with her husband Martin (second left) and her son Justin (second right) and his husband Fionan (right) during the Pride Parade in Dublin Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Justin McAleese. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Justin McAleese: Standing by comments about FF during marriage referendum. Photo: David Conachy

ONE of Fine Gael’s most senior officials has suggested former President Mary McAleese is criticising the Catholic Church in a bid to raise the profile of her son ahead of a general election.

Chairman of the party’s national executive Gerry O’Connell claimed Ms McAleese’s outspoken behaviour in recent weeks was politically driven.

He described her statements as “twice-daily briefings on behalf of Fianna Fáil in Dublin-Rathdown” where the ex-president’s son Justin hopes to stand in the next election.

Mr O’Connell, who was a central figure during the Fine Gael leadership contest last year, said the briefings were “as dependable as the Angelus these days for setting your clock”.

The remarks in a social media post were linked to a news article in which Ms McAleese was quoting as saying she was “terrified” by gay priests and nuns who taught children that homosexuality was wrong.

It was ‘liked’ by a number of Fine Gael figures, including senators Neale Richmond and Martin Conway, and Dublin city councillor Ray McAdam, who works closely with Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe.

A spokesperson for Fine Gael said they had “no comment”, and Mr O’Connell also said he had nothing to add.

One comment under the Facebook post said it was “bloody infuriating”, adding that Ms McAleese was “too busy to bother making a stand” when the Ferns Report into clerical sex abuse was published in 1998.

“Nothing like making a stand when the son is going to run in the next election,” the poster said, to which Mr O’Connell replied: “Too right.”

Justin McAleese spent his teenage years growing up in Áras an Uachtaráin.

His mother was president from 1997 until 2011.

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He was actively involved in the marriage equality referendum in 2015 and since then has gone on to be appointed a Fianna Fáil representative in the constituency where the sitting TDs include Culture Minister Josepha Madigan and Transport Minister Shane Ross.

Responding to Mr O’Connell’s comment, he told the Irish Independent: “Imagine there are a few people who think that it is OK to play petty parish-pump politics with issues as serious as LGBT equality, equality of women, and justice for the abused.”

Ms McAleese has become increasing critical of the Catholic Church in recent months, sparking a backlash this week by describing the World Meeting of Families (WMOF) as a “right-wing rally”.

She said the event, which is the reason for Pope Francis’s visit to Ireland, aimed to “rally people to get them motivated to fight against the tide of same-sex marriage, rights for gays, abortion rights, contraceptive rights”.

Ms McAleese is refusing to attend any of the events directly organised by the WMOF, but she will be present at a State reception being hosted for the Pope in Dublin Castle on Saturday.

When asked about her comments yesterday, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he “strongly” believed in the separation of church and State.

Freedom

“We need to have greater separation of church and State. I also believe in freedom of religion. It’s not for me as Taoiseach to tell any faith what their faith should be.

“I respect the fact the Catholic Church has its views and has its doctrine.

“That doesn’t necessarily mean I agree with it.”

He added that a number of the events taking place to mark the pontiff’s visit are outside of the WMOF.

“Those very big events such as the [one in] Dublin Castle and the Masses in Knock and Phoenix Park are broader than the World Meeting of Families,” Mr Varadkar said.

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