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Tuam June 4, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, Irish Politics, Religion.

As requested on another thread, it’s entirely appropriate to consider the revelations as regards Tuam and that:

…796 babies died in a mother and baby home in Tuam from 1925 to 1961 and were possibly buried in a septic tank has put renewed focus on such homes.


Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Charles Flanagan described the latest revelations as “deeply disturbing and a shocking reminder of a darker past in Ireland when our children were not cherished as they should have been.”

But, of course, it’s not a matter of the past, but of the present in so many different and important ways.

Constitutional Convention February 24, 2014

Posted by Tomboktu in Bunreacht na hÉireann, Health, Housing, Human Rights, Judiciary, Religion.

It would not be correct ot say that the Convention on the Constitution has been radical, but it has wrapped up its work with its most radical recommendation.

In Ireland, economic, social and cultural (ESC) rights are included in the Constitution merely as “directive principles” for the guidance of the Oireachtas. (The exception is the right to a primary education.) The Constitution states that these rights “shall not be cognisable by any Court under any of the provisions of this Constitution”. [An aside: doesn’t the word ‘cognisable’ sound like street slang for ‘recognisable’? The image of Dev getting down with the lads doesn’t seem right. At all.]

The principles listed under this provision are

  • an adequate means of livelihood
  • ownership and control of the material resources distributed to best subserve the common good
  • the operation of free competition not being allowed so todevelop to the common detriment
  • the aim of the control of credit shall be the welfare of the people as a whole
  • there may be established on the land in economic security as many families as practicable
  • the State whall favour and, where necessary, supplement private initiative in industry and commerce
  • private enterprise shall be conducted to ensure reasonable efficiency in the production and distribution of goods and to protect the public against unjust exploitation
  • the State safeguarding with especial care the economic interests of the weaker sections of the community
  • ensure that the strength and health of workers, men and women, and the tender age of children shall not be abused

Those of us on the Left would hardly think it radical that any of these would move to legal requirements that can be invoked before the courts, and would not be thrilled to see the status of private industry — already sheltered with property rights — re-inforced by being made something judges must take account of in legal decisions.

An overwhelming majority — 85 percent — of the members of the convention voted in favour of the broad proposition that the Constitution should be amended to strengthen the protection of economic, social and cultural rights. A smaller majority — 59 percent — recommended that the Constitution be amended by the insertion of a provision that the State shall progressively realise ESC rights, subject to maximum available resources and that this duty is cognisable by the Courts. This was the strongest of three options the Convention considered for strangthening the status of ESC rights in the Constitution.

However, progressive realisation subject to maximum available resources is not a very strong standard.

It also voted on five possible specific new rights to be named in the Constitution:

  • housing
  • social security
  • essential health care
  • rights of people with disabilities
  • linguistic and cultural rights

In each case, it voted overwhelmlingly in favour of each of these — the least popular was linguistic and cultural rights, with 75 percent support.

It also voted for the “rights covered in the International Covenant on ESC Rights” to be named in the Constitution — this received support from 80 percent of the members of the Convention.

I do not expect this recommendation to go far. The idea that citizens could go to the courts to invoke rights on these matters is simply too alien to our governments, politcal and permanent. Indeed, when an alliance of NGOs first met last year to discuss the idea of asking the Convention to consider the issue, they held a seminar at which the political parties sent representatives to give their views. It was disappointing to hear the party representatives say that constituional protection of ESC rights is not something they support. I hope some them reconsider in lgiht of the numbers from Sunday’s vote.

LGBT and Africa and class and the right and religion… February 19, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Class/Class politics, LGBT, Religion, The Left, Uncategorized.

…a telling interview in the Observer this last weekend with celebrated Kenyan author Binyavanga Wainaina whose acerbic ‘How to Write about Africa’ brought him to an international audience. Wainaina who came out as gay this year has a lot to say about gay rights in Africa and what’s educative about it is the way in which the struggles lgbt people have there are one’s that run into a broad range of issues, class, politics, religion and the push from the right (in its cultural and religious forms but obviously also locked into certain economic lines).

So what has he to say about class:

“If you are middle-class here, or international enough here, you can pretty much live as you want,” he says, of his own circumstance. That was not so easy, though, still, for his young friend, and increasingly impossible for gay men and women in Nigeria and Uganda (and to differing degrees in the 36 other African countries in which homosexuality remains illegal). “It is an irony,” he says, “that my friend had worked in the past for an NGO counselling people about the importance of being open about health issues, but he couldn’t even tell us he was going through this thing. I thought, ‘It is time: I have to write about it.'”

Politics? And feminism.

why, I wonder of Wainaina, did the subject seem so very raw in African societies now?

He pauses, before giving me a brief lesson in political history. “Partly homophobia is seasonal,” he suggests, “particularly with regards to election seasons. And it comes in different packages. Sometimes it is packaged with abortion, for example, what they call a wedge issue, a for or against.”

Religion, and in particular the religious right (and note how that inflects the societal discourse making somewhat more tolerant religions – or perhaps more accurately somewhat less intolerant religions – become less so).

Given the caveat that the cultural history is different in Islamic parts of Africa, Wainaina believes those currents of bigotry are best understood by examining the recent patterns of church-going. “In any forum where people discuss the issues – in the media, or in conversation – you will quickly hear almost the exact wording that has been distributed and disseminated in the churches,” he says. “Most importantly, the Pentecostal churches, which have in turn influenced Catholic and Anglican because they are shouting loudest and growing fastest.”
That language was no accident. It entered Africa in the late 1980s on the back of the heavily funded right-wing Pentecostal movement, mostly imported from the rapture-obsessed white southern churches of America. “They came in the last days of those dictatorships in the 1980s, and they came with presidential sanction,” he says. “From Malawi to Zambia to here to wherever. Those churches talked a lot about obeying your leaders, and about the mortal dangers of decadent influences bringing in abortion and homosexuality.” They used the fear and reality of HIV, often pictured as vengeance, to back up their preaching.

And politics again, this time the failure of politics to engage with economic failure, polarised societies and suchlike:

Nigeria under the presidency of Goodluck Jonathan, who spends a lot of time courting the born-again, has become a case in point. “Listen,” Wainaina says, “your nation is being polarised between Islamic militants and Pentecostal reactionaries: what is the single issue they can agree on and unite around? Your economic miracle is stalling, your popularity is tanking, and so in your desperation you create not just an anti-gay law but you blink your eyes to a wave of thuggery, beatings, whippings and everything else. Then you have that shit run on CNN and people suggest that it is part of a programme ‘to eradicate western influences’, and the beatings are to save young men from themselves.”

There’s the legacy of colonial interventions:

The last ruling monarch of the Buganda people, Kabaka Mwama II, was apparently gay. His “bestial enslavement” of 23 young courtiers was used to justify his overthrow and the seizing of his territories by colonial forces. Many of those 23 men became Christian converts and martyrs for plotting against the king. They were the first African saints and the unity of Ugandan state and its church were, Wainaina argues, forged from the propaganda of their homosexual suffering.
“That sexual secret has been simmering at the heart of Ugandan identity ever since,” he suggests. “It goes very deep.” (That long internalised schism perhaps also helps to explain why, in Google’s 2013 Zeitgeist survey, Ugandans searched for “homosexuality” more than any other nation on earth; Kenyans were third.)

How he himself will fare is far from clear. Perhaps he’s right that given his linkages, and profile, he’s safe enough, but think of this in class terms, that millions of ordinary working class African men and women haven’t got that license, must live in societies that are deeply antagonistic, murderously antagonistic, to a crucial part of their identity. And note the way in which there is a noxious confluence of various different elements that combined focus and accentuate that antagonism and how it is so often used as a diversion from economic issues and as a means of consolidating or event strengthening support – in a not dissimilar dynamic to how ‘social’ issues are used by the right in the United States and to a degree both in the UK, various parts of Europe and indeed here in Ireland.

Indeed it’s striking how this deep antagonism of the conservative and reactionary right to the concept of lgbt equality (as well, as issues like abortion, certain aspects of bioethics – IONA for example is no fan of IVF – etc) is sometimes forgotten in struggles closer to home. In part that is perhaps a function of how far there has been a societal shift on these matters (albeit in this state and on this island abortion remains an issue that appears unlikely to be addressed even in part anytime soon), how far the distance travelled has actually been, and perhaps because victory is within grasp. But as to that last I wonder. In some polities conservatives are savvy enough to support (rhetorically or nominally) marriage equality – for example the British Tories are in favour of it albeit it has caused some splintering within that party and the new legislation means that the first marriages will take place next month. In others conservatives are dead set against and even today the US Republican Party remains dead set against.

Of course, contextualised with the situation in most African states (with South Africa being a shining exception) the fact that marriage equality is contested at such a level perhaps appears beyond imagination and it underscores the distance to go that just this last weekend in Uganda the following occurred:

Rights campaigners and health professionals have condemned Uganda’s president after he said he would approve controversial anti-homosexuality laws based on the advice of “medical experts”.

Yoweri Museveni told members of his governing party he would sign the bill – prescribing life imprisonment for “aggravated homosexuality” – that was passed by parliament late last year, dashing activists’ hopes he might veto it.

Ofwono Opondo, a government spokesman, tweeted on Friday that “this comes after 14 medical experts presented a report that homosexuality is not genetic but a social behaviour”.

Perhaps this is the most appropriate last word on that:

The findings by Museveni’s medical experts were disputed in an open letter by more than 50 of the world’s top public health scientists and researchers. “Homosexuality is not a pathology, an abnormality, a mental disorder or an illness: It is a variant of sexual behaviour found in people around the world,” they wrote. “Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are normal.”

Stories of the Congress ….. January 3, 2014

Posted by irishelectionliterature in History, Religion.

Two small excerpts from a 1932 edition of a Hong Kong Catholic Magazine ‘The Rock’ which was a special issue covering The Eucharistic Congress which came into my possession today.


Interview with Archbishop Martin – Part Two December 23, 2012

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, Irish Politics, Religion.

… from today’s Mail on Sunday, and again part of a series conducted by Jason O’Toole. Those assuming any nascent liberalism in his message would be sorely disappointed – which on one level is fair enough. You don’t get to be Archbishop in the current period through an inclination to the heterodox. But it is interesting how he has been portrayed as a softer voice than those heard in the past. That may well be true, but the song remains the same.

[and] what about those in the Church who either covered up cases of abuse or turned a blind eye. Do they have questions to answer here? ‘We had in the archdiocese of Dublin a small number of serial paedophiles who did immense damage and they should have been stopped at the early stages. I honestly believe that mistakes were made somehow or other, that these people deceived people and played on divisions.

The state of the RCC in Ireland?

Dr Martin acknowledges that, in the wake of the scandals, the Church faces an uphill struggle to encourage people to return to Mass. It’s one of his major concerns for the New Year. ‘If I were to get out a graph it would show the number of people attending Mass is going down and the number of young people attending Mass is going down. If I were in business, the shareholders would probably be saying, “You’ve got the wrong man in there.” You’re facing this situation and you have to try and give leadership. On the other hand, you know your own limitations.’

Same-sex marriage?

When I broach the subject, the Archbishop says: ‘There are times when popular opinion may not be right. Morality can’t be built simply on public opinion polls. Parliamentarians are not elected to be herded; you give them a mandate to do what is best for the country. Sometimes, they should be able to stand up to their political leadership and even populist opinion.


‘Marriage is something quite unique. There’s an enrichment of the relationship between a man and a woman that is unique. From a Christian point of view, from the very beginnings in the Scriptures, it says the image of God can be mirrored in male and female. That doesn’t necessarily mean that gay and lesbian people don’t have rights that have to be protected. It isn’t in denying marriage that they become second-class citizens.’



The issue of the Catholic Church handing schools back to the State will be at the forefront of debate next year, too. Will the Church be seeking financial compensation? ‘It’s a very complex question. Take, for example a school run by a religious congregation. There was support by the Government, by the local community and by the religious congregation, who’ve put a lot of money and effort back into a school – how is that to be compensated? They may have to maintain a large number of elderly religious and so on. Some recognition of that is part of it.


…for Dr Martin, the Church’s position is not negotiable. ‘There are two lives here and we must do everything we can to ensure that we deliver both safely,’ he says. ‘We were all unborn children at some stage. At that stage, all the potential that was in us was there. We should be able to look towards a situation that stresses the protection of both, as far as possible.’

Again, the language is more emollient. But…

Does he believe the Government will have blood on its hands if the legislation is enacted? ‘That’s not the language that I use,’ he says. ‘But I do say that all legislators should look from a moral point of view at the fact that we can work to ensure that both mother and child can survive, if possible. If a pregnancy is actually a threat, I think there are ways of dealing with that. The Constitution at the moment is about the equal protection for mother and child. If we lose that, I think we are losing something very significant.’

And it is interesting to note his response when given the example of slightly less abstract circumstances:

What about specific cases when an expectant mother could die if her pregnancy is not terminated? ‘You can’t legislate for every case. I believe the tight pro-life situation, that we’ve had in Ireland has actually driven the medical profession to reach a very high standard. By relaxing that, things could be different. All the indications are that cases like that are very rare. The fact is, the level of maternal mortality in Ireland is one of the lowest. I’m not too sure that changing the law will actually improve that. ‘There are always going to be cases where something happens, either the child is lost or, very rarely, the mother is lost. They are real tragedies. But we have the ability to continually to do better in those cases – to ensure healthy life for the mother and for the baby that’s being born. If we weaken that, then we are deciding that one life is more important than the other.

Politically there’s also a certain… well, read on…

How well does Dr Martin feel the current Government is serving society? ‘There’s a big political challenge. You don’t know who you are voting for any more because the likelihood of any parliament is that there will be a coalition.

You vote for one party and for its programme and then, when they don’t live up to that programme, you’re told: “Well, really what we are doing is the Government programme; it’s when we came together.” ‘This will bring a certain disillusionment with politics. You ask the other question – were the original aims realistic or were they simply promises or do they make plans that are possible but they know that they are never going to be realised because they’re going into a coalition?’

And this isn’t exactly the option for the poor…

‘I understand that it’s very difficult to write a budget and spend more when money isn’t there. But these across-the-board cuts are also pretty blunt instruments. You have to have some way of measuring. They should be constantly doing this, where the cuts are hurting more than they should be and where they are hurting the disadvantaged.’

A safe pair of hands? Yes, indeed.

Interview with Archbishop Diarmuid Martin… December 22, 2012

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, Irish Politics, Religion.

…by Jason O’Toole in the Mail. Some food for thought, this being more the colour piece as it’s a two parter, and tomorrows instalment promises his thoughts on the X case, same sex marriages and a church in crisis. As will be well known he’s the brother of Seamus Martin former Moscow correspondent of the Irish Times (and IIRC someone who wasn’t unsympathetic to the WP).

He had an ordinary working class background

Their father worked as a mechanic for CIÉ, but the Archbishop remembers the family constantly struggling. ‘Financially struggling, housing struggling, it was pretty rough,’ he says. ‘It was very hard to get a house at the time, [my parents] were pretty poor. ‘I moved to Ballyfermot when I was five, but before that we were living in pretty rough conditions with relatives because there was no housing. Then these new areas were built and people moved out to them, most of them from very similar conditions. ‘We lived opposite a pub and you had the problem on a Friday night of people spending their wages before they even got home. People built up lives for themselves and their children, but there was no luxury, there wasn’t very much around.

And while clearly compassionate there’s a sense that he’s in no way the liberal he’s sometimes portrayed as. Orthodox is the term that comes to mind.Even on the issue of marriage – while he admits he himself would have liked to have been a father:

[he] is, however, against the concept of priests being able to marry. ‘At the moment I would not be rushing to say it should change. Listening to bishops around the world, I don’t think there’s a great desire just now to change the law of celibacy. ‘When I’m ordaining a deacon I say to them: “Are you prepared to remain celibate for the rest of your life? For the sake of the kingdom?” And you’re looking at a man made of flesh and blood and it’s a huge commitment. If they lose that fundamental commitment then the celibacy becomes a burden.’

There are some fairly straightforward thoughts too, not quite motherhood and apple pie, but…

Archbishop Martin believes that we lost our way during the Celtic Tiger boom years when ‘people became more selfish’. In his Christmas message this year, the Archbishop will be urging his congregation to rebuild stronger relationships with neighbours, particularly the elderly and most vulnerable, in an effort to restore a community spirit that he feels is lacking.

None of that is incorrect, but it wasn’t the CT’s fault by a long shot. I’m sure many of us have heard same our entire adult lives, and long predating the CT.


‘We have to refine the simplicity of Christmas, especially for children,’ says Archbishop Martin. ‘There’s a great thrill for children to get toys but I do think we should be going back to something more simple, and also things that have an educational value. ‘It may sound a bit old-fashioned or square to say something like that, but there can be ways of being much more constructive. ‘You see this in schools with children in Nativity plays and so on, this represents to a great extent a lot of the simplicity of Christmas. I think they are the things children will remember — they won’t remember the huge toys that break down very soon.’

I have to admit to really enjoying O’Toole’s rather laconic segue from the above paragraph:

Another thing children would remember would be a papal visit. I ask whether, as a personal friend of Pope Benedict XVI, the Archbishop thinks that there’s a possibility that he might visit Ireland? ‘The Pope is getting old so his trips are being limited. This year he’s going to World Youth Day in Latin America. There was a real possibility of it being the first time that a Pope didn’t go to a World Youth Day. It’s a huge event and they’re expecting four million young people in Rio de Janeiro and he decided to go. I think that will limit his possibility of [coming to Ireland].’

And what of this?

I ask if it’s true that his brother Seamus is actually an atheist and whether Archbishop Martin thinks that there is a place in heaven for non-believers? ‘I hope we’ll meet up there, both of us,’ he says. ‘We can talk with certainty about all sort of things, or we think we can. There’s two things we can’t talk with certainty about — what dying is about and then what happens after death? You’ve never spoken to a person about what it means to die. ‘We’ve all observed death, we’ve been with people when they die, but this is something that comes afterwards. In faith you can have an understanding of what it is, but the afterlife is something about an encounter with God, which enlightens who you were in a way that isn’t blurred by the things we think about.

Here’s hoping. Tomorrow’s piece should make for even more interesting reading.

Science and anti-science, Catholicism, and… oh yeah, Mars. November 22, 2012

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Astronomy, Religion, Science, Uncategorized.

It’s interesting to hear news from the United States that up and coming Republican contender Marco Rubio has been explicitly saying in a GQ magazine interview that he doesn’t know whether the earth is 4.54 billion years old. Actually it’s even worse than that because he slips into a discourse rooted in the Bible.

Q: How old do you think the Earth is?
A: I’m not a scientist, man. I can tell you what recorded history says, I can tell you what the Bible says, but I think that’s a dispute amongst theologians and I think it has nothing to do with the gross domestic product or economic growth of the United States. I think the age of the universe has zero to do with how our economy is going to grow. I’m not a scientist. I don’t think I’m qualified to answer a question like that. At the end of the day, I think there are multiple theories out there on how the universe was created and I think this is a country where people should have the opportunity to teach them all. I think parents should be able to teach their kids what their faith says, what science says. Whether the Earth was created in 7 days, or 7 actual eras, I’m not sure we’ll ever be able to answer that. It’s one of the great mysteries.

Er… no, no it’s not a mystery at all. The research and theoretical basis for asserting that the Earth is 4.54 billion years old is solid.

Actually it’s arguably even worse than that again because Rubio, as it happens, is a Catholic and whatever else about the Catholic Church, and boy are we seeing it in some respects at its most unlovely at the moment in this state, it has never been shy in the modern period about integrating scientific theories and concepts into its worldview. In other words the Catholic Church accepts the science on the age of the Earth, the universe and so on. Though interestingly – to me at least – it adds its own spin as regards believing is a process guided by God. Tricky one that.

At a stretch so, one could say that in terms of science on the big ticket items it gets it particularly right, whereas on the smaller more human scale as we’ve seen… well… anyway.

Now, as noted here in the past, there have been some wobbles, a certain tone entering the discourse which is troubling. And perhaps in the super-heated context of US political activity, in a state where 58 per cent of Republicans and 46 per cent of US citizens claim to believe in creationism (as noted in the NYT by Juliet Lapidos) – statistics that are stunning in their own way.

But one wonders is this a straw in the wind as regards unreason. The list of Catholic creationist organisations and lobbies appears to be increasing – many are US based, but not all, and tellingly some are allied with ‘traditionalist’ views. In that context perhaps Rubio’s remarks are suddenly more explicable, in that lamentably creationist views are gaining a wider currency. And closer to home there’s more than a hint of the broader environment within which these beliefs flourish from Alive!

Meanwhile in Slate there’s a good [no it’s not, on reflection I read it too quickly and as smiffy says it’s disingenuous] piece on how this discourse distorts even Obama’s responses, albeit not to anything like the same degree – where he too fudges on the age of the universe, while giving a sterling performance in regards to supporting evolution.

But what sort of a pass have we reached?

And as for Mars, also from Slate, seems like the Curiosity rover may have found something very interesting there. Very interesting indeed. Though they’re not saying what. Yet.

Scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena are keeping their lips sealed for the time being while they run additional tests to make sure the discovery holds up. That, however, hasn’t stopped one of the mission’s leaders from speculating loudly that it’ll be one that rewrites at least some of what we know about the universe. 
“This data is gonna be one for the history books,” John Grotzinger, the rover mission’s principal investigator, told NPR last week for a the buzz-inciting segment that aired today. “It’s looking really good.”

If you look through the comments you’ll find some entertaining suggestions as to what has been found. Tongue in cheek, I have to add.

Rubio and NASA. There one has it, a sort of dichotomy between world views, between abstractions and actual events both on this world and an immediate neighbour.

Saudi Arabia: Executing Witches in 2011 December 13, 2011

Posted by Garibaldy in Reaction, Religion.

Unbelievable news on the BBC website that Saudi Arabia has executed a woman for “witchcraft and sorcery” by beheading. That’s the second person executed there for witchcraft this year, the other one being a Sudanese man. As in the past, it seems people at the margins of society are being victimised by the forces of social conservatism and religious reaction using witchcraft. I am so glad that the leading democracies in the world, who have been spending so much money and blood on bringing democracy to places it is lacking keep such a close eye on Saudi Arabia, and are doubtless planning to act on this as we speak.

More on the Lux Occulta Archive… June 20, 2011

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, Irish History, Irish Politics, Religion.
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As ever, it’s well worth keeping an eye on the Lux Occulta Archive which deals with all things Irish and Catholic. Some recent additions that may be of particular interest to readers here include the following:

Joint Letter of the Spanish Bishops to the Bishops of the Whole World Concerning the War in Spain, July 1st, 1937

Irish Hierarchy’s Reply to the Joint Letter of the Spanish Bishops

Irish Catholic Historical Committee: Papers read at the Conference on Irish Church History, Easter, 1961

Lux Occulta Archive… May 10, 2011

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, Irish Politics, Religion, The Left.
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More interesting material from the archive at Lux Occulta that deals with all things Irish and Catholic and is becoming most comprehensive. Shane has a number of additions that will be of particular interest to those of us on the left…

A Catholic Catechism of Social Questions

The Catholic Bulletin, July 1928 (I think the CB was then under the editorship of skellig – one time president of SF and the Gaelic League)

Shane notes that:

I’m currently transcribing the Letter of the Spanish hierarchy during the Civil War and the response of the Irish hierarchy. It’s quite long but it should definitely be done this week.

As ever many thanks to him and do take a look.

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