The Irish Government has denied that its decision to cut funding from the Church’s marriage preparation programme is linked to its opposition to same-sex marriage.
Accord, an agency which offers marriage preparation and counselling, lost €378,000 in state funding for 2015. The decision to withdraw funding was for pre-marriage courses was announced on 7 May and has been backdated to January.
Bishop Kevin Doran told the Irish Catholic newspaper it seemed to him that “if the state does have a commitment to marriage, as the Constitution requires it to do, it is a rather strange move to be withdrawing funding from pre-marriage preparation courses.”
But the head of the Government’s Child and Family Agency, Gordon Jeyes, described the bishop’s comments as “utterly disingenuous”, telling RTE radio: “We are looking at having to reduce services to stay within budget.”
Coalition figures say funding will still be provided to Accord for its counselling services.
Bishop Denis Nulty, President of Accord, said the move was “baffling”, “perplexing” and a “retrograde step for society”.
Demand for Accord marriage preparation courses has increased every year for the last five years, and last year more than 15,500 men and women participated in one.
But many Irish bishops have voiced fears that freedom of religion could be compromised if the 22 May referendum on same-sex marriage passes.
The director of the Catholic pro-family Iona Institute, David Quinn, on Wednesday described the Government’s decision as “appalling and indefensible”.
He issued a statement saying, “This decision certainly adds to fears already expressed by the Catholic bishops over what will happen to marriage counselling organisations that believe marriage can only be the union of a man and a woman.”
Mr Quinn added, “Now we see funding of marriage preparation courses axed even before the referendum takes place. Can the complete ending of state funding of Accord be far behind?”