Reading the Irish Independent newspaper on the train from Dublin to Cork I came across an editorial by Mary Kenny captioned “Old Protestant virtues can help us through this economic crisis.” Her opening point is that successful businesses in Ireland – Guinness beer, Jameson whiskey, and Jacobs, a biscuit company – prospered because their senior managements were Protestant.
With modernisation, everything changed in society, and generally for the better. We do not discriminate against individuals, nowadays, on grounds of their religion: or if we did, we would be ashamed to admit it. And yet, was there some substance in the traditional belief that Protestant cultures were steadier and more reliable when it came to handling money, while Catholic societies might be more reckless and improvident.
She expands her point to take in the entire European Union. Germany, the Netherlands and Finland are prospering while Catholic Portugal, Ireland and Greece struggle. Tony Blair, a Catholic convert, was in favor of England joining the EU while Gordon Brown, a “son of the manse” who admired his father’s “formidably Calvinist Presbyterian” values, kept Britain out, Kenny notes. Never mind the history of official discrimination against Catholics. Never mind that Blair’s conversion to Catholicism came after his term as Prime Minister had ended, nor that Catholics are the largest religious groups in Germany and in the Netherlands. Never mind that Iceland, an EU country in which all three of its major banks collapsed, is 80 percent Lutheran.
During the 1913 Lockout of workers, in which [Independent owner William] Murphy was the leading figure among the employers, the Irish Independent vigorously sided with its owner’s interests, publishing news reports and opinion pieces hostile to the strikers, expressing confidence in the unions’ defeat and launching personal attacks on the leader of the strikers, James Larkin. The Irish Independent described the 1916 Easter Rising as “insane and criminal” and famously called for the shooting of its leaders. In December 1919, during the Irish War of Independence, a group of twenty IRA men destroyed the printing works of the paper, angered at its criticism of the Irish Republican Army and largely pro-British and Unionist stance.