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The past is the present… Part 5. The next phase of the scandal… May 26, 2009

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, Religion, Social Policy.

A concise, if yet again depressing, piece by Mary Raftery addresses the next phase of the institutional child abuse issue, where the right goes next in terms of defending the indefensible. First up one must note that the noises coming out of the hierarchy, while not perhaps progressive, are at least sane in terms of accepting that the deal struck between orders and Michael Woods was entirely inadequate and… let’s be clear, unjust. The position of CORI on this, and its constituent elements, is – as I’ve noted previously – particularly disappointing. And as with all aspects of this issue it’s the sort of position that calls into question all manner of things, not least their statements on other issues across the last decade or so.

In the former minister’s media appearances we heard arguments the religious will likely use…

IT IS easy to discount former government minister and senior Fianna Fáil member Michael Woods. A former minister, he is no longer a prominent figure. He has, however, left a festering sore behind him which continues to weep poison every now and then.

The infamous church-State deal on redress for victims of institutional child abuse, under which the religious orders pay a mere 10 per cent of the compensation bill, was at its most septic over the weekend.

Woods, the main architect of the deal, defended it on the television news and gave a long RTÉ radio interview on Saturday. We were beginning to hear some of the defences likely to be chosen by religious conservatives as soon as they manage to regroup and fight back.

I like the term ‘religious conservatives’. We’ve already heard a lot from them (by the by, and as noted on another thread here, Kevin Myers offered us one of the most specious and – in light of his own position on many many matters historic – arguably entirely hypocritical apologia one might imagine). But what of this?

First among these is that it was all the fault of the State. To this end, Woods uttered his first untruth: “the Department of Education had control, management role, organisation”.

It is a simple fact that the department had no management role within the industrial school system – management was exclusively a matter for the religious orders. This has been legally determined in recent years by two separate High Court judges. However, while this may be the strict legal position, it is apparent from the Ryan report that, morally speaking, church and State were to blame in equal part for the abuse suffered by so many thousands of children. It is thus peculiar to see Woods, as a former cabinet minister, exaggerate the responsibility of the State and minimise the culpability of the Catholic Church. It makes you wonder who exactly he was representing all those years he was in government.

Well yes. And no prizes for guessing. He represents the traditional relationship between Church and State in this polity. Deference. Obsequiousness. Aversion to reality. But contradictions abound in this entire exercise.

Returning to his radio interview, he went on to state that “when the government went into this in the first place, we saw and we knew the kinds of things that had happened”.

Interesting to contrast this with the evidence he gave at a public hearing of the Ryan commission in 2004. Asked if he had formed a view as to how much abuse had occurred in the institutions, he replied: “No, not really, because we hadn’t enough information at that time.”

The time he was referring to was the period during which he was negotiating the church-State deal on compensation with the religious orders.

Rafterty continues:

Nonetheless, as he said on Saturday, the State was taking full responsibility “and it was a question of whether the religious orders would make a contribution towards that”.

Well, no, actually – that was not the question. It was instead whether the religious orders wanted to buy an indemnity from the State for the amount on offer, namely €127 million. In other words, for that amount they could get the taxpayer to foot the bill for all future damages found against them.

Woods explained that the congregations said at the time that they had estimated their legal liability at under €60 million should they have to fight the court cases on their own. It appears that he believed them. What he did not mention was that their estimate was based on a belief that only about 10 per cent of cases against them would succeed, in other words that they would fight and beat in court nine out of every 10 victims who sued them.

The congregations’ confidence in such a high attrition rate was based on the protection afforded to them under the statute of limitations. This is a simple piece of legislation limiting the time after an injury during which a legal case can be taken.

What’s most shameful about this is that event the most shallow of soundings on the part of the congregations would have indicated that the numbers claiming entirely legitimately would be far far in excess of 10%, would indeed be most likely (and again note Myers rather mealy mouthed reference to unwarranted allegations) to be the majority of them. And they didn’t have to take any soundings at all for they knew that this was the case.

And here the state becomes more culpable, because it is intrinsically a partner in maintaining a grim status quo that protects the congregations.

The statute, however, could have been altered, lifted or amended at any time, and indeed in the wake of the States of Fear documentaries in 1999 it was suspended for a short period to allow those sexually abused to pursue their legal actions. Victims of physical abuse, though, were specifically excluded from the exemption. What is clear is that without the statute, the exposure of the religious orders would be hugely magnified. And therein should lie the key to government strategy on how to renegotiate the abysmal church-State deal.

Arguing palpable bad faith on the part of the religious orders – entirely reasonable on foot of the Ryan report revelations – the State should break the deal. It follows that it must then lift the statute of limitations for all cases of child abuse, not just sexual assault, as the only way to permit victims to seek appropriate legal remedy against the religious orders.

This would open the floodgates on the religious orders, who would have to defend against a tidal wave of abuse cases not only in their institutions but crucially also in their day schools. Given that there is hardly anyone in Ireland over the age of about 45 who was not beaten in school – often far in excess of what was permitted under Department of Education rules – hundreds of thousands of cases could ensue.

That may or may not come to pass. But I’m personally glad I come in just under that age limit and that the schools I went to were amongst the first to jettison corporal punishment. Note though another point Raftery makes:

And, of course, as we know from the recent Louise O’Keeffe case, the State carries no legal responsibility for abuse suffered by children in schools. The entire liability for decades of violence against children in schools and institutions rests with either religious orders or with the bishops who continue to appoint schools’ boards of management.

This then brings the hierarchy into the picture. Michael Woods was at pains on Saturday to claim that none of this concerns the Catholic Church itself, but rather the religious orders – a somewhat Jesuitical distinction. The truth is that the entire church edifice is compromised, morally, legally and potentially financially. This appalling vista may well have dawned on the bishops.

Absolutely. This is a dagger pointed right at the heart of the Catholic Church on this island, and in particular in this state. One can try to pretend that the orders are in some sense apart from the RCC, but that is far from the case. They are a central element of the Catholic Church. If they fall their fall will inflict enormous damage on what residual authority remains with the Church. In Martin there is a chance that at least some openness will be evident, and it is good to see him eschew the comfortable and deceitful rhetoric of some of our right wing commentators on this matter. But rhetoric is insufficient – and I’d argue that it is insufficient both in a moral sense as regards the necessity to make amends as best as is possible for past crimes inflicted on the defenceless and in order to preserve the Church as a legitimate entity. And Raftery believes that the penny may have dropped with the hierarchy on this matter.

But note this next statement of hers:

However, the religious orders are tough customers. The Christian Brothers, in particular, have been fighting off similar demands for compensation across three continents for the past two decades, ever since their appalling abuse of children in Canada and Australia was revealed.

This is astounding stuff. There’s the oldest cliche in the book, but it seems somehow appropriate. Have they no sense of shame? No sense of responsibility? I’ve said it before, but it repays being said again. They are part of an entity that has harangued and berated and in certain instances imposed upon the Irish people a very specific morality across a protracted period of time. And yet when they are asked to step up and deal with appalling and grievous wrongs committed by their members, – and not just a few isolated individuals but institution wide networks of brutality, cruelty and the rape of children – they retreat into a narrow legalism whose only purpose is to protect them financially.

Raftery concludes:

As the Ryan report points out, deference and submissiveness characterised the government’s dealings with the Catholic Church during much of the 20th century. It was clear that little had changed during the negotiation of the church-State deal in 2002.

Today, the Government faces a clear choice: will it continue its supine and cowed attitude – so disastrous in the past for the children of Ireland – or will it at last on our behalf stand up to those who have bullied and intimidated us all for so long?

One thing is for sure… in light of the statement from the congregations, which goes as follows, there is no sense that they will concede without a fight:

“At our meeting in Dublin this morning, we again recognise and accept the gravity of the findings and conclusions contained in the Ryan Report. We fully accept that we seriously failed vulnerable people while in our care and that we have an on-going responsibility to try to meet their needs.

“Rather than re-opening the terms of the agreement reached with Government in 2002, we reiterate our commitment to working with those who suffered enormously while in our care. We must find the best and most appropriate ways of directly assisting them.

“We will meet again in the coming days to explore the detail of our responses.”

The absurdity of the same institutions who were responsible for such wrongs proposing that they be the ones who ‘find the best and most appropriate ways of directly assisting them’ is self-evident, and perhaps indicative of a consuming, and near monstrous, arrogance as to their place in the world and a crushing insensitivity as regards the crimes committed by their members, and more or less indirectly themselves.

As was noted elsewhere, if it were any other element within Irish society, there is little question but that it would have been shut down. Little question at all.

Dog bites Madam… May 25, 2009

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Economics, Economy, Irish Politics.

Fancy this…

Madam, – I refer to your Editorial of May 22nd (“Financing our debts”). You ask: “But how much did the latest bond auction success depend on investment by Irish banks which have already received some €7 billion from the Government to help secure their survival? The NTMA should ease investor concerns and set out the details.”

The NTMA auctioned two bonds on May 19th, the 4 per cent Treasury Bond 2014 and the 4.4 per cent Treasury Bond 2019. In the auction, bids were received from all 10 of the primary dealers in Irish Government bonds. Nine of the primary dealers are major international banks based in London, Paris, Frankfurt and Amsterdam, and one an Irish stockbroking firm (Davys). Total bids of €1,440 million were received for the 2014 bond while bids of €1,292 million were received for the 2019 bond.

The NTMA accepted the best bids for €300 million of the 2014 bond and €700 million of the 2019 bond. The detail of the amount of the bonds taken up by each of the primary dealers is confidential because it is commercially sensitive market information. However, the take up was widely spread across the primary dealer group.

The 10 primary dealers are: Barclays Capital, London; BNP Paribas, Paris and London; Calyon, Paris and London; Citigroup, London; Davy, Dublin; Deutsche Bank, Frankfurt; Dresdner Bank, London; HSBC, Paris and London; ING Bank NV, Amsterdam; and Royal Bank of Scotland, London. The practice of selling government bonds through auctions to a primary dealer group of banks is followed by all the European countries who have bond markets of significant size.

There was no arrangement with the Irish banks to take up any of the bonds that were offered for auction nor are we aware whether they would have bought any of them from the primary dealers.

I should add, however, that we would have no problem with Irish banks or indeed any other Irish institutions taking up our bonds, which is the norm in other countries. From the viewpoint of the banks, these bonds are eligible as collateral with the ECB, ie, they can bring them into the ECB and borrow using them as security. – Yours, etc,


Chief Executive,

National Treasury Management


Grand Canal Street, Dublin 2.

Probably best not to ask a question that can be answered quite so easily…

The Dublin Central Local Elections and byelection Promotional Material – Ruadhán MacAodháin of Sinn Féin… Part 11 of a continuing series. May 25, 2009

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Dublin Central Local Election and By-Election Promotional Material.

More from Sinn Féin. A pretty elaborate offering from Ruadhán MacAodháin of Sinn Féin, candidate for the local elections. As the person who very kindly scanned this for me noted, they like the “Dinosaur Developments” line.

R Mac A inside 2

R MAC A Front

As ever I’ll gladly post up any literature from left and center-left candidates/parties as I get it or as it is sent to me… usual address see email on right hand column.

The Irish Left Archive: Nation or Province, Sinn Féin pamphlet on the Common Market, 1963 May 25, 2009

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Left Online Document Archive, Sinn Féin.

A guest post by John O’Neill of the Irish Socialist Network, who scanned this document in. John is also a candidate at the Local Elections in Finglas. This is a document that he forwarded to the Archive earlier in the year. Perhaps not quite ‘left’, but a useful insight into Sinn Féin in the early 1960s.


Nation or Province
Published by Sinn Fein, 30 Gardiner Place, Dublin 1, this is their position on the ‘common market’ in 1963. The introduction isn’t authored but the 3rd paragraph summarises this pamphlet “Sinn Fein stands opposed to the latest attempt to sell Ireland’s right to freedom, sovereignty and neutrality, and to allow our own Christian way of life to be swamped in a flood of European materialism.”
The pamphlet warns of the influx of foreigners who will sell their services at a cheaper rate than native workers, higher taxes, homesteads (farms) will be merged into rancher holdings, and the surrender of National rights. It touches on the democratic deficit correctly pointing out that Ireland would have only two votes out of twenty seven and cautions that it will mean Ireland would be a part of NATO.
It disparages unnamed politicians who argued that not to join would leave Ireland vulnerable to communist invasion and reminds the reader that, in 1939-45, Irishmen were inveigled by politicians to join the forces of Britain then an ally of Communist Russia and further reminding all of the fact that the six counties are still occupied and not by communist Russia.
The pamphlet gets worse, warning that Italy and France, having the largest communist parties outside the Iron Curtain and the freedom of movement the Common Market permits could mean Ireland couldn’t stop communists coming to live here!
Personally, the possibility of Ireland being flooded by Italian communists would have me voting ‘yes’ early and often.  
Goulding really did have his work cut out!

What’s past is present… Part 4… the central question and why the Catholic right keeps evading it. May 24, 2009

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, Social Policy.

For me personally, I have to be honest, this is in some respects difficult beyond the obvious reasons for finding the Ryan report a crushing indictment of this society. Over the years I’ve known, and continue to know, quite a few religious (not all of them RCC either). To see this report come out, to see that it wasn’t appalling but isolated cases but instead was a pattern of abuse across many if not indeed most institutions calls into question the nature of the organisation at its centre. Actually it does more than that. It call into question the nature of the organisation as a totality. This isn’t a case of a ‘few bad apples’ but of a systemic and near endemic problem with the complicity and collusion of Church authorities.

I don’t wish to belabour this, but one thing that struck me over the weekend thinking back about the Ryan report and the response from those on the Catholic (and other) right has been a curious void at the centre of the reactions. The various commentators all exercise their particular hobby horses in a bid to shift responsibility from the Church to whatever they wish to excoriate.

For John Waters the issue is of such seeming small interest or concern to him that in the course of just under 900 words he devotes half of one sentence to this… it is the State that is centrally responsible in his view. Again. I don’t dismiss or deny the responsibility of the State, but his analysis implicitly weighs a greater responsibility on the state than those who were directly carried out these crimes. An odd thesis from one who is quick to place ‘blame’ in other contexts. What is also striking is that were John Waters honest in his appraisal he would be directing his fire at the Catholic Church. But his bait and switch is essentially that of an apologia.

Of course Waters is only emulating the argument used by Bruce Arnold for which you can see here

For a long time, the Church was blamed for the sufferings of children in Irish industrial schools. The Irish State wanted it this way. This is because the State was culpable. Its exercise of control, through the Department of Education, was negligent to a criminal degree. It has not been made answerable.

Yet this goes no way to answering the central charge that the Church was the entity whose institutions and members carried out this abuse.

Breda O’Brien is somewhat more discursive, but again, for her the issue of religious culpability is swiftly passed over to arrive at a sort of hazy ‘everyone is responsible’ approach. Does she quite understand how power operates in semi-authoritarian societies? Has she no sense of our history?

The same charge can be made against Eoghan Harris, who as Wednesday noted, this week in the Seanad was opining on the fault of Irish Republicanism in all this. There are basic problems to that thesis, and yet again one wonders has he read the report? Firstly these institutions were established under the British administration. They pre-existed an independent Irish polity by decades. That the Irish state did not see fit to rework this is a disgrace of, as we know, massive proportions. But before we don rose tinted glasses let’s be clear that the situation pre-Independence was far from optimal. Harris’s thoughts are worth recounting, not least because as Wednesday has also noted Joan Burton has complimented him on them.

Senator Eoghan Harris: Under British rule, these abuses were not practised in Roman Catholic institutions and Protestants did not practise them. The responsibility belongs to the Republic as a whole. I will not rehearse any political indignation but I challenge the assumption that this cover-up is new.

Daniel Corkery said Irish identity was made up of land, religion and nationality. These three factors operated in this abuse. Most of the Irish Christian Brothers I knew came from rural Ireland. They came from the tradition of the cover-up of the Great Famine. The fact that strong farmers survived the Famine and spailpíns died was covered up. In west Cork they talk about the descendants of Famine victims. The victims of the Famine are all dead and the descendants are in graves. The victims of the Famine in the Skibbereen area were all people who looked after their turnips. The complicity of the Famine has been covered up. A few landlords cannot grow, transport and export grain. The rural bourgeoisie was involved in the Famine.

There was a cover-up of the brutality of the War of Independence and the Civil War. We covered up pogroms against Protestants. We are very good at covering up things which touch on the national question. I have no doubt that every brother and priest involved was a devout nationalist. Indeed, that was part and parcel of the thing. The relationship with the Republic, its professional classes and the republican ethic concerns me. Ministers for Education, politicians, barristers, lawyers, doctors and the entire Irish professional middle class, who all professed republicanism and all wanted a united Ireland, turned a blind eye. It is ironic that if we had never left the British Empire and if the Treaty had never been signed, whatever else we might have suffered, these innocent victims would never have suffered. Our promise to cherish the children of the nation equally turned out to be an empty one.

I say these things as a warning. There is a deep brutality in Irish nationalism. It came up most recently in the Provos punishment beatings of children in Belfast ghettos. The problem is not simply in the Roman Catholic Church. It is in the republican ethic itself.

Of course the reality is that, just like the broader society, the Church was split by the national question and arguably split with greater weight towards the Free State side eventually. Now, as to every brother and priest being a nationalist (which Redmond was as well) perhaps he considers the history of this island to be irrelevant, particularly in the implementation of laws that proscribed Catholicism. As for the professed Republicanism of our elite classes, I find that hard to believe.

But if we examine the Ryan Report we’ll see that the structures were well in place long before Republicanism was even close to state power in the South.

Religious ownership and management
Each type of school was to be independently managed and run, though subject to State approval and inspection. Thus, a fundamental feature was private, largely religious philanthropy. It seemed natural that churches should take responsibility for providing assistance to the poor. In Ireland,Catholic emancipation in 1829 made the Church a central institution. It was powerful both at the level of the Hierarchy and, even more so, at grassroots where, in the absence of a trusted
landowner class, the priests who were educated and nationalistic were regarded as community leaders. Apart from religion, the main focus of the Church’s influence lay in education. The burgeoning character of the Catholic Church in the post-Famine period may be illustrated by the simple fact that the number of nuns increased eightfold between 1841 and 1901. There was huge growth in the numbers of priests and Brothers as well as nuns, and the establishment of a comprehensive range of services in the fields of education, health and social services. Moreover, there was even surplus capacity, so that many of the Orders exported personnel and services to America, Canada and Australia.

Indeed one could easily argue that it was the imposition of a model that sought to ensure the religious ownership of schools, which occurred in 1868, that copper-fastened the opportunity for the most pernicious outcomes to occur.

A related issue was the fear of each of the major religions of proselytisation by the other side. On either side, this was not an unreasonable fear: Catholics were moved by the fact that the last relic
of Catholic subservience was not gone until 1829. The ‘established Church’ was Protestant, in particular Anglican, and Protestant institutions were more richly resourced. Thus, a major concern of the Catholic side, which persisted into the twentieth century, was to keep Catholic orphans from being taken into the ‘Birds-nests homes’ run by the Protestant orphan societies. On the other side, the immense potential of the Catholic Church as the church of the great majority of the people was evident. From the perspective of both sides, the schools allowed an opportunity to imbue children with religion and to present a caring image of the Church.10

In response to these considerations, the main modification of the English model, contained in the Irish Industrial Schools Act of 1868, concerned safeguards to prevent any change in the religion of a child committed. Catholic and Protestant children had to be committed to separate schools.
The control of the religious was also copperfastened by a provision that State funds could be used only for maintenance and not for capital expenditure to set up State schools; and that funding would be on a capitation basis. This avoided any suspicion of the Government favouring one denomination, which might have existed had payments been based on the institution as an entity.
In addition, this met Catholic resistance to State ownership. From the perspective of the State, the cost would be less, and it was believed that schools conducted by voluntary management would retain an adaptable character, and that their pupils would have better opportunities for employment than those afforded by juvenile houses of correction under official management.

In all that the issue of ‘Republicanism’ seems to be irrelevant, if it were a consideration at all. Economic and cultural issues trumped political at all times. Economic perhaps being the most important one.

And Harris ignores a basic fact that the Republicanism which he excoriates was arguably the version least amenable to the blandishments of the Church having been argued against time and again during the pre-Independence period and indeed afterwards. In fact it’s hard to take seriously the contention that ‘Republicanism’ as a philosophical – or political – construct in the sense he uses the term (which a lot of the time seems to simply be short hand for those he disagrees with and incorporates a spectrum as we see above ranging from the mild Home Rule nationalism of Redmond all the way through to de Valera and on to the Provisional IRA) had any serious part to play in this.

And lest it seem that the pre-Indepence period was idyllic.

Barnes and most other writers give a largely favourable impression of the nineteenth century industrial schools system. On the other hand, John Fagan, who was appointed Inspector of Reformatory and Industrial Schools in 1897, criticised virtually all aspects of the system at the end of the nineteenth century, especially the physical conditions in the schools and the overall
condition of the children. He was particularly critical of the poor hygiene and lack of cleanliness in the majority of the schools.O´ Cinneide and Maguire summarise Fagan’s criticisms, and conditions in many of the schools seem to have deteriorated around the turn of the century, in what Barnes termed a spirit of “complacency and a resistance to change”.

Nor are his entreaties that such matters were confined purely to Catholic institutions entirely convincing either.

Senator David Norris: The most chilling and damning words on the front page of The Irish Times this morning are “systematic” and “endemic”. They tell the whole story. This was known to many people in authority. In the Church, responsibility goes right to Rome, where a report detailing the systematic and endemic sexual abuse of children gathered dust for 60 years.
(11 o’clock)

I respectfully disagree with Senator Harris, to an extent. The Protestant section of this society is not exempt, except by whitewash. I attended an up-market Protestant boarding school where sadism was rampant and someone very close to me had his life destroyed by this sadism. It is extraordinary that the Protestant churches should be so completely excluded. I feel great compassion for the victims but I also feel compassion for the many decent, good and self-sacrificing members of the clergy who are now tarred with the same brush, in the same way that we as politicians are tarred.

But in all this what is striking is that for Harris, Arnold, O’Brien and Waters each has an excuse, but none of them has an explanation. How did these events happen? Why did they happen? The question as to why they were never dealt with by the Catholic Church is never addressed. It is as if this is simply taken as read, almost as if they share a view that this abuse is like a force of nature.

The reasons why the Church itself refused to admit of these crimes, to the point that it facilitated their commission by relocating known abusers and shielding them from the state, was a matter of perception and power. Quite simply the Church could not, as it saw it, retain its authority if this were to be known. For it to show weakness would undercut its societal dominance. And this was a societal dominance predicated on control of education and health and … in some respects… welfare. Beyond that it was predicated on an implicit, and occasionally explicit, veto on the political system and processes and on the general culture. Pull away any element of that and the whole would crumble. Remember too that the stresses which modified and ameliorated this took place due to external rather than internal influences. Vatican II wasn’t the result of the internal lobbying the Irish Church. The move towards European norms as regards sexual morality – a project still half completed – took place a painful slowness and one can, I think point, in part to economic forces as playing a part in that. And hence the history of the latter part of the 20th century has been littered with successive last stands, contraception, divorce, secularism and so forth. But even then, remember that still, still, our education and health services, such as they are, remain linked to the religious. That these links grow thinner and thinner doesn’t detract from that point.

Again, to reiterate the point I made yesterday, for O’Brien and others to argue that the religious are victims of theological repression is to ignore that they were the theological oppressors.

And there are even darker interpretations of all these matters as well. One might wonder at the sort of networks that existed within the Church during this period and how they distorted matters to their ends. Again, this isn’t beyond historical memory. Many of those involved are still alive. Their deeds unpunished. Their names given an anonymity that beggars belief.

But for Harris, O’Brien, Arnold and Waters to admit to this would be to admit that the central institution is at fault. And that, from their perspective, would be to undermine the entirety of that worldview. So better, by far, to point at anything and anyone to deflect from that inconvenient truth.

And finally on this topic, cutting through the cant and rhetoric a useful spanner was thrown into the cosy Catholic right consensus by Senator Joe O’Toole, who noted that when given an opportunity to actually do something to protect children in the contemporary and near-contemporary era they were found wanting. As he notes:

Senator Joe O’Toole:I propose an amendment to the Order of Business that we discuss the Ryan report today, if at all possible. I listened to the Leader’s reply on it, but I believe this is an urgent issue.

Senator Fitzgerald’s point is crucial. This covers the whole of our community and follows logically from one step to another. The problem two weeks ago with the Ombudsman for Children was that she did not get some information from the HSE. The reason the executive did not give the information was that it was supposed to have come from Cloyne. The reason it did not was that the church authorities would not give all the information and sent their lawyers chasing the HSE. That is what we need to look at.

It is not just the churches, although I shall come back to that. There is the clergy and the churches, the State, politicians, the Judiciary and the media. All of us have questions to answer. We have provided an enormous carpet under which all of this was swept and hidden. We need to look at the common bonds. I want to put on record where I believe an enormous element of the problem lies – I know what my phone is going to do after this – namely, with the pervasive influence of those secret, shady, sinister, right-wing Catholic organisations that have been in the middle of this all my working life.

Senator David Norris: Hear, hear.

Senator Joe O’Toole: can give the House chapter and verse and name the people who stood in the way of the Stay Safe programme, mandatory reporting, sexual education programmes in schools and I could go on. These people did the same here in education in some of the high offices of State and managed to carry the day. They have escaped in the course of these reports and I certainly believe they have much to answer for. There are people in this and the other House who can back up what I am saying.

A former Minister for Education, Deputy Mary O’Rourke, sat in a room with me when we saw them at their worst, having a go at us on the Stay Safe programme, and that is 25 years ago. Inside this House more than 20 years ago we raised issues concerning mandatory reporting after Kilkenny, Mayo, etc. to ensure teachers, social workers and gardaí would have to report, but it never happened. All these things ended up in culs-de-sac when they were reported. The information was to be found in many places and yet it never flowed out of those culs-de-sac. Excuse me if I have a curl in my lip when I think again about all that spurious, specious argumentation being put about by these groups about destroying the innocence of young people at a time when they were being destroyed and wrecked and their lives, not just their childhood, was being taken from them in these institutions.

We have a great deal to answer for. I would like this investigation to go further to see where these influences were brought to bear on the Department of Education and Science, other Departments, Governments, media and on the church to ensure this thing was never dealt with when it should have been.

That small fact, something our commentators ignore entirely, perhaps points up the near total hypocrisy on the part of those who wring their hands and point fingers at everyone other than those directly responsible for the horrors catalogued in the Ryan Report.

There’s Independents and Independents… May 23, 2009

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Dublin Central Local Election and By-Election Promotional Material.

Niall Ring, ex-Fianna Fáil, perhaps heroically missing the point (as someone noted earlier in the week) on this leaflet here…



As it happens I’m a big fan of Affordable Housing Schemes, but the current dispensation is entirely inadequate for the demands placed upon it…

What’s past is present… part 3… Who is to blame? Everyone apparently. May 23, 2009

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, Religion, Social Policy.

One has to admire the amount of hand waving that is taking place over the clerical abuse scandal. For a prime example what of Breda O’Brien’s piece in today’s Irish Times which argues that:

The religious orders were aided and abetted by a society in thrall to a punitive theology…

And goes:

It really is the most damning indictment of Irish society that these places existed, and continued to exist for so long. The religious orders have to accept that they presided over places where brutality was accepted as a necessary means of maintaining control, and where sexual abuse was hushed up with no thought of the consequences for children. They have to deal with the shame of falling so far short of the ideals not only of Christ but in many cases, of enlightened founder figures.

Oh yes. The religious orders have to accept some blame. But… for there’s a but…

….let us not slide conveniently from idealising and idolising people in religious life, to demonising them. Who were these nuns, Brothers and priests? They were our brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles and cousins, who were shaped by the same repressive society and punitive theology as everyone else, and who were aided and abetted by politicians, An Garda Síochána, the judiciary, the Department of Education, by organisations such as the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (then NSPCC), and the silent shrugs of many in Irish society. Nor did journalists distinguish themselves, with honourable exceptions such as Michael Viney and Joseph O’Malley. Prominent journalists have admitted self-censorship from fear of being sued and put out of business.

Self serving nonsense. I’m far from one who would criticise religion, and the Catholic Church in particular, for the sake of it in some sort of knee-jerk fashion, and its clear that there were many clergy who were not involved in these horrors. But this is a ludicrous argument. Does O’Brien have any sense of the history of this society that she can so glibly say…

…[they] were shaped by the same repressive society and punitive theology as everyone else, and who were aided and abetted by politicians, An Garda Síochána, the judiciary, the Department of Education, by organisations such as the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (then NSPCC), and the silent shrugs of many in Irish society.

But they were the punitive theology. They were its arms and its hands. They took to themselves a status that exalted them, that in effect moulded the society to their will and their aims.

They shut away the most vulnerable in institutions that operated behind a veil of clerical secrecy, whose organisation and approach was beyond question or investigation so that a process of near-mechanised cruelty was imposed. That was the point. They could do what they liked without fear of retribution. And that, of course, wasn’t enough.

They broke Noel Browne in the late 1940s when he sought to introduce a very mild social reforming programme in maternal and child healthcare. They oversaw boycotts, the imposition of a public social morality that was made a mockery of by the actions in the institutions they ran. They saw that this society had a code of cultural (and political in terms of dismissing truly radical voices and marginalising them) censorship that lasted until very recently indeed. They didn’t quite run the show, but they directed it with the willing complicity of the polity.

And even today, as noted in the Ryan Report significant sections of the Church refuse to acknowledge their responsibility in full, not least amongst them the Christian Brothers.

But Breda wants to spread the blame. No prizes for guessing why.

What’s past is present… Part 2… John Waters opines about ‘Church and State’…mostly State. Mostly State. May 22, 2009

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, Religion, Social Policy.

I’m hesitant in dealing with Waters latest thoughts, particularly in terms of the context he seeks to frame them in, but…

Waters takes the report on child abuse in institutions released this week to offer a remarkable thesis which goes a bit like this…

Reserving to itself vast resources of power, the State tends towards evil. It cannot really be “good”, and even with eternal watchfulness and openness does well to avoid outright corruption,

I’m always dubious about applying such absolutes to human generated processes. The idea that it is any more than a tool, or construct seems to me to be a fundamental misunderstanding of its nature. The idea that ‘vast resources of power’ per se means a tendency to ‘evil’, however we define the latter term is an intriguing one, but only so much so. Let’s consider that the Irish “State” is less complex than – say – that in Sweden, or the United Kingdom or indeed Germany. It’s sphere of influence is lesser, it’s tendency to sub-contract, or more usually ignore, so much greater. But there are other problems too. It’s not in the more highly regulated Nordic states that we see endemic corruption, and yes, I’m taking the term entirely literally whereas he may be using it in a more metaphorical sense. But what alternative does one have when he throws around concepts with little or no definition? By contrast it is the societies where state like structures have atrophied or disappeared entirely which are most clearly ‘corrupt’. And even if we consider it on a larger state/smaller state axis one can see that more highly regulated/regulatory states fare better, at least according to that not entirely convincing source of Transparency International.

So, one wonders what basis Waters has for his assertions, if any?

He then shifts to the Ryan report which he argues:

…describes a wholesale State-driven system of child abuse. The Catholic Church was up to its dog-collar in it, but with the collusion of the Department of Education, An Garda Síochána and the courts.

I’m sorry, but I find this thesis entirely unconvincing. The Irish State, as I’ve noted before, must carry full co-responsibility for what happened, but it wasn’t from any excess of application of its ‘vast’ resources of power. Quite the opposite. It was a state which conveniently for itself didn’t believe the state had any role in engaging on any level with the institutions given responsibility to do so. And effectively the systems within which these abuses occurred were privatised.

Let’s look at the report summary again [again, available on the IT website]:

The Department of Education had legal responsibility under the Children Act 1908 for all children
committed to the Industrial and Reformatory Schools. The Minister had the power to grant and
withdraw certification, and when certified the institution had to accept the Rules and Regulations
set out by the Department. They defined the standards that were acceptable for accommodation,
clothing, diet, instruction, training, visits by family and home visits, and the time of discharge. The
Department’s inspectors had the duty of ensuring these regulations were complied with.

The Minister also determined the amount of money paid for the upkeep of the children. The
amount was negotiated periodically with the Congregations.

It continues:

The Department had too little information because the inspections were too few and too limited in
scope. If the Department had been in possession of better information about the Schools, it would
have been in a stronger position to exercise control. The officials were aware that abuse occurred
in the Schools and they knew the education was inadequate and the industrial training was
The Department of Education should have exercised more of its ample legal powers over the
Schools in the interests of the children. The power to remove a Manager given to the Department
in 1941 should have been exercised or even threatened on more than the handful of occasions
when it was invoked, which would have emphasised the State’s right to intervene on behalf of
children in its care.

Does this sound like a state which was pursuing its powers to their fullest extent? Or how would he explain this?

The Department was lacking in ideas about policy. It made no attempt to impose changes that
would have improved the lot of the detained children. Indeed, it never thought about changing
the system.
The failures by the Department that are catalogued in the chapters on the schools can also be
seen as tacit acknowledgment by the State of the ascendancy of the Congregations and their
ownership of the system. The Departments’ Secretary General, at a public hearing, told the
Investigation Committee that the Department had shown a ‘very significant deference’ towards
the religious Congregations. This deference impeded change, and it took an independent
intervention in the form of the Kennedy Report in 1970 to dismantle a long out-dated system.

And its conclusion is very clear:

2. The deferential and submissive attitude of the Department of Education towards the
Congregations compromised its ability to carry out its statutory duty of inspection and
monitoring of the schools. The Reformatory and Industrial Schools Section of the
Department was accorded a low status within the Department and generally saw itself as
facilitating the Congregations and the Resident Managers.

And continues:

The system of inspection by the Department of Education was fundamentally flawed and
incapable of being effective.
The Inspector was not supported by a regulatory authority with the power to insist on changes
being made.
There were no uniform, objective standards of care applicable to all institutions on which the
inspections could be based.
The Inspector’s position was compromised by lack of independence from the Department.
Inspections were limited to the standard of physical care of the children and did not extend to their
emotional needs. The type of inspection carried out made it difficult to ascertain the emotional
state of the children.
The statutory obligation to inspect more than 50 residential schools was too much for one person.
Inspections were not random or unannounced: School Managers were alerted in advance that an
inspection was due. As a result, the Inspector did not get an accurate picture of conditions in
the schools.
The Inspector did not ensure that punishment books were kept and made available for inspection
even though they were required by the regulations.
The Inspector rarely spoke to the children in the institutions.

The State failed not because it was a State but because it didn’t even fulfill its own responsibilities and obligations. It failed in the worst possible way it could. It left undefended those who depended upon it utterly for their safety and well-being. And it did it year after year. Decade after decade.

9. The Rules and Regulations governing the use of corporal punishment were disregarded
with the knowledge of the Department of Education.
The legislation and the Department of Education guidelines were unambiguous in the restrictions
placed on corporal punishment. These limits however, were not observed in any of the schools
investigated. Complaints of physical abuse were frequent enough for the Department of Education
to be aware that they referred to more than acts of sporadic violence by some individuals. The
Department knew that violence and beatings were endemic within the system itself.

The State refused even to countenance the idea that anything was wrong.

13. Complaints by parents and others made to the Department were not properly investigated.
Punishments outside the permitted guidelines were ignored and even condoned by the
Department of Education. The Department did not apply the standards in the rules and their own
guidelines when investigating complaints but sought to protect and defend the religious
Congregations and the schools.

But this isn’t true of all States. Not all states have had this endemic problem. We can look at the entirely problematic history of social care in the UK and further afield and see that this news – even despite their own instances of appalling abuse – is regarded as almost sui generis.

Which makes his following assertion simply wrong.

State-run systems operate on a reflex impulse of denial, at the heart of which is a knot of ideological rationalisation called upon by each component to justify its own role.

This idea that ‘state-run systems operate on a reflex impulse of denial’ is empty rhetoric. What does it mean? What could it mean? Is the NHS a ‘reflex impulse of denial’? Does that seem likely when even the Conservatives are lining up to attest to its centrality in British society?

Privatise our police, our health services and whatever and precisely the same outcome, if not indeed worse would have happened. Not because of some intrinsic malfeasance on the part of privatised bodies (although ideologically and rationally I’m dubious about their utility in such contexts…not least because I suspect profit motives are simply inapplicable in broad societal structures like those). But because the problem lay with a lack of regulation on the part of the state, because this state had an intrinsic aspect to it that allowed such abuses to occur.

But of course the true vacuity of the argument is demonstrated by his not suggesting an alternative. It is reminiscent of a sort of ‘shit happens’ approach. Which it can, but doesn’t mean that all and every step should be taken to prevent it happening.

In the case of the horrors set forth in the Ryan report, the dominant ideological proposition was that troublesome children were a threat to public order, so any means were justifiable in their subjugation. Such children were beyond the human embrace.

There he is correct. But he’s ignoring the basic central truth about all of this, which makes all the cant about the ‘State’ entirely irrelevant.

He refuses to engage with the essential convergence of ideology and convenience between Church and State. The latter completely in thrall, and opportunistically willing to dump social problems be they educational, health or welfare related, onto the former. It was also willing to use a sort of sub-corporatist line where the Church could ”… do the job”. The latter jealous of its societal power and unwilling to cede anything to even the faintly invigorated state of the mid to latter part of the 20th century other than under the fracturing impacts of declining vocations, rocketing costs and a diminishing societal power due to various reasons not limited to a general liberalisation. Because let’s be clear. If those impacts hadn’t occurred our educational systems – as we can see from reading between the lines in reports such as this – would remain dominated by the religious in the context of a state which didn’t want to pay the costs of state education.

He continues (and later drags in his own hobby horse, something which so profoundly distorts his judgement it is now all but impossible to take anything he says with any degree of seriousness, and it is only the egregiousness of the analysis that makes it necessary to critique – and BTW his analysis as regards the way in which men are treated in some contexts where families disintegate isn’t entirely wrong either but his means of bringing our attention to it is massively counter-productive):

Once the State closes ranks around any breaking of the law, the illegality creates a new dispensation, a new constitution that nullifies the old. The wider society knew that decency had been abandoned, but the corruption of State power unleashed a deadly concoction of fear, contrived scepticism, powerlessness and impatience with anyone insisting that something evil was happening. It takes great courage to challenge people with powers to snatch children and incarcerate them in state gulags, and so the popular perspective on these by-no-means-secret obscenities was expressed in lame and guilty jokes.

But the state didn’t ‘close ranks about the breaking of the law’. It accepted almost unquestioningly the bona fides of the Church. It rendered spiritual and temporal power to the latter. Where there was evident abuse it walked away. Because that too was fundamental to this sub-corporatist approach. The state believed it had no business involving itself in such matters, that this was within the sphere of the Church. And it did this with respect to this particular issue as it did in a more public way during the Mother and Child controversy in relation to both the Church and the medical profession. Another instance where religion and economics entwined in the most pernicious fashion possible.

And why? Because it was ideologically in keeping with the supposed centrality of the religion to Irish life, it incurred no cost to the state. It avoided confrontation. It was easier. It was, as ever, fundamentally about class and power and it was all in the name of received laissez faire economics filtered through sub-corporatist/religious approaches to the organisation of society.

But he knows, one presumes, that only be establishing clear guidelines within state institutions such as the Gardaí and the Department of Education with parallel reporting structures that would have independent autonomy and authority and a proper regimen of regulation and oversight at all stages would it be possible to mitigate against the crimes that were committed. And that requires not less state intervention, but more of it. Considerably more (and even were these functions subcontracted to third parties it would still necessitate greater interventions).

And none of this, none of this, has anything to do with his cod-philosophical anti-statism which explicitly by ignoring their centrality to this lets the Church wriggle off the hook (consider that his only thoughts on their guilt is the reference quoted above ‘The Catholic Church was up to its dog-collar in it’ – remarkable for a piece just over 850 words). Nothing. It’s the absolute opposite. It’s a state which criminally refused (and refuses) to live up to its constitution and its responsibility. A state which criminally allowed itself to become the instrument of a religion that continually rewrote the rules for itself as it simultaneously demanded the most exacting standards for others. And if we look at the range of services that this state provide it is clear that as regards the issue of the state the sin was not of commission, but of omission.

And that’s still no excuse.

One hopes that John Waters takes a moment to look across the page on which his piece is printed at the concluding paragraph of Mary Raferty’s piece on the deal made by the State with the religious which limited liability in abuse cases…

When protecting their own (usually financial) interests, the religious orders displayed a zeal and even ferocity notably absent from their attempts down the years to control the criminal battery, assault and rape perpetrated by their member Brothers, priests and nuns against small children.

What this underlines is the vulnerability of a State which owns and controls so little of its vital social infrastructure. For as long as several of our key hospitals, and the majority of our schools, remain in the possession of religious orders, we will continue to be vulnerable to the naked self-interest of nuns, priests and Brothers who have now been so thoroughly discredited by the Ryan report.

The Dublin Central Local Elections and by-election Promotional Material – Colm Stephens of People Before Profit… Part 10 of a continuing series. May 22, 2009

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Dublin Central Local Election and By-Election Promotional Material.

Interesting leaflet, particularly compared to the previous one from PB4P. Some concentration on local issues, but a broad sweep including national ones. Note the call for voters to Vote No. 1 for Joe Higgins for Europe and No.1 for Maureen O’Sullivan in the by-election. Also note the use of the word ‘socialist’ in the “Who are People Before Profit”…



As ever I’ll gladly post up any literature from left and center-left candidates/parties as I get it or as it is sent to me… usual address see email on right hand column.

Choices, choices for Unionism. May 22, 2009

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Northern Ireland, The North.

Following on from the thoughts last week on Sylvia Hermon and her distaste at the emerging Ulster Unionist/Conservative Party lash-up, entertaining to see that there has been another defection from the UUP. This time it is the chairman of the UUP, Mark Brooks, in North Down who has jumped to the DUP.

His reasons?

He said he had been unhappy for some time within the UUP, especially over moves to form an electoral pact with the Conservatives.

“This unhappiness stems from the fact that internal wrangling and attempts at selling themselves to the Conservative Party have been of higher priority than that of serving the people of Northern Ireland,” he said.

“That is not why I am involved in politics.

That’s a most interesting analysis, and one presumes that it was crafted with his new found friends in the DUP. Note the localisation of the argument into a six county, Northern Ireland context, one which pits the DUP against the metropolitans of the London. It goes further linking back into historical events with very specific resonances.

“The Conservative Party was responsible for the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1985, the removal of our own Stormont government before, and it is my feeling that they cannot be trusted on this occasion either.”

Now there is a remarkable position to take. For, in fairness, while one can understand from his perspective his upset at the AIA, surely the party of which he was a member over subsequent years was responsible with the British Labour Party of much more egregious breaches of trust in the form of the BA/GFA.

But this intellectual high-wire act doesn’t end there…

He also said DUP councillors worked more productively for the local electorate, and he offered his backing for DUP candidate Ms Dodds in next month’s European election.

“Northern Ireland needs a strong party to deliver for householders whilst still defending the union and standing against Sinn Féin in government.

“Only the DUP is delivering policies in Northern Ireland which are benefiting the province.”

Defending the union and standing against Sinn Féin in government? Surely he means standing with Sinn Féin in government. Or is this a case of keep your friends close but your enemies closer?

And yet, it is intriguing to see the gulf opening up between the UUP and the DUP on the GFA/BA dispensation. The former appear, despite their centrality to its development and implementation – however unwillingly that might have occurred, to wish to step away from it and reset to a sort of detached approach that, for all the world, reminds me of the tack taken by Jim Molyneux back in the day. Even the hand waving about UCUNF (Ulster Conservatives and Unionists – New Force – surely the worlds worst acronym?) can’t detract from that. Whereas the DUP almost cheerily (quite an achievement that in itself) seem, due to their involvement in the St. Andrews Agreement, to have dived in with a will. And they appear to have decided that – for the moment – the only frame of reference that matters is the North itself. And if that means working a revised GFA, well so be it. It’s their GFA now.

All of this is easily explained by recourse to the potential avenues for power that are opened up to the two parties. The DUP may be heading up the power-sharing administration, but the UUP genuinely seems wedded to the idea that some portion of executive power in London is a game changer, that by doing so they will project the Union writ large.

One wonders though if that is quite the winning approach they seem to think. Their history is problematic. The DUP has the great advantage of being the party that can always say that they had no hand or part in the fracture of Unionist government in the 1960s and the eventual proroguement of Stormont since those that founded it some years later were on the outside looking in (that such an argument ignores the very pointed effect of their interventions, or at least introduces a complexity that perhaps will be lost in translation). They didn’t sell the pass. And they can paint the current UUP direction as of a piece with that, a distraction from the serious business of governing the North with ideas above its station.

No wonder then that the DUP would seek to further underscore its credentials as a party that can best deliver a deal by operating within Northern Ireland. And they may have a point, because whatever nominal participation the UUP has in a future Conservative government such participation opens the UUP to the charge that their interests are too broad and too diffuse.

But the shape of these arguments and the narratives that will be used in the near future is definitely coming clearer.

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