The centrality of Catholicism to Irish identity in the post-independence era has to be understood against the background of nineteenth and early twentieth century Irish history. Fragmentation along rural conservative-urban liberal lines was set to become an enduring feature of Irish life henceforth, as evidenced in the results of two further referenda on divorce in 1995 and abortion in 2002. By the 1960s, many social, economic and political developments would cause cracks to appear in the too cosy coalescence between Irishness and Catholicism. In the post-war era Ireland lagged behind Britain, America and mainland Europe in terms of social and economic development. The commemoration in 1929 of Catholic emancipation and the triumphant celebrations at the time of the Eucharistic Congress in 1932 publicly underlined Ireland's Catholic identity.
Louise Fuller claims that there can be no doubt that Irish Catholicism is in serious decline. The decline itself is no huge surprise: it is the extent of the implosion and the consequences this has had on Irish society that require explanation. The ‘aggressive secularism’ that is now commonplace has led to a situation where it has become extremely difficult to express a Catholic viewpoint in the public arena, a situation that is as unhealthy in its own way as the theocracy that dominated for far too long in Ireland. Major changes in how it communicates the Word of God will be necessary if the Church is to have any hope of reengaging the minds and hearts of a population that is becoming theologically illiterate and indifferent to religious observance of any type.