The news of Savita Halappanavar’s death this week has justifiably sparked fury and condemnation across the country and beyond. The refusal of doctors at University Hospital Galway to grant her a medical abortion was an inevitable tragedy, a direct consequ

There is more to it than that, however. The state’s reluctance to adequately address the issue of abortion rights represents a political hot potato which successive governments have failed to confront. In essence, this reluctance stems from a wariness about marginalising a constituency still wedded to the past.

The alleged comment from Savita’s doctors that “ this is a Catholic country” provides the fundamental context around which this whole sorry incident has its origins.

De Valera’s constitution of 1937 ensured that for decades to come, the spectre of the church would loom large over Irish society enacting its “special position”. Sadly, it has taken the country an awful long time to identify and recognise what many of those positions were, and how damaging they have proved to be.

Shame, fear and concealment were the tools of church indoctrination at the time, values which have sadly seeped into the fabric of Irish culture long since the church lost its grip on Irish homes. While Ireland voted overwhelmingly to remove the reference to the special position of the church in the 1972 Fifth Amendment of the Constitution, it is clear that by that juncture, much of the damage had already been done.  

It has taken decades, and vast resources for the state to get proper answers about exactly what the church was up to when given such a prominent role within society. Even then, various investigations were faced with denial and concealment. It was this lack of desire to address their own abuses that led Taoiseach Enda Kenny to so scathingly attack the church in the Dail last year.

Kenny’s remarks went some way to expressing the anger that many Irish citizens still harbour towards the church. Nonetheless it appears that Ireland as a society has yet to adequately address the issue of the church state divide. Catholicism remains the dominant religion in state national schools, while Catholic icons still adorn the walls of the nation’s public hospitals.

A survey carried out earlier this year found that one in three sexually active adults in Ireland did not receive sex education classes in school, while 55% of 18 year-olds will leave secondary school this year without receiving any sex education.These figures are shocking in the 21st century, and fully endorse the notion that the state system has failed to break from the guilt and shame culture of the past. This inability to communicate has ensured that Irish third level students now have one of the highest rates of certain STD infections in Europe.

It is clear that Ireland as a society has moved on from the days when fearful eight year-olds would enter dark rooms to speak to men in cloaks who would ask them about “sin”. That never was healthy, and thankfully parents in today’s Ireland are more circumspect about what they will allow their children to be subjected to.

But unfortunately, the death of Savita Halappanavar has highlighted that much of the self-righteous dogma of the past continues to haunt the present.  To an extent there is a growing dichotomy in Irish society between those indoctrinated within the confines of church control, and those embracing the liberal vales of a globalised world. Wednesday´s protest outside Dail Eireann offered a glimpse at the anger and exasperation which had been simmering and which is now almost certain to boil over. “ Enough” was the word that came to be used over and over again.

Whether it is the young women fighting for their right to choose, or middle-aged men aghast at the continuing prominence of archaic and inhumane laws, the appetite for a full embracing of a secular society and the values encompassed within are there for all to see. Certainly a minority may suffer a jolt to the senses, but theirs  is a voice that has been heard and adhered to for  long enough. It is high time that as opposed to listening to those voices, the Irish government listened to the country´s women and afforded them a  “special position”, which is after all, their basic human right.

Follow Seán Duffy on Twitter at @seanied8