Something is rotten in the state of Ireland

May 21st, 2009 | By | Category: Ireland

Fie on’t! ah fie! ’tis an unweeded garden,
That grows to seed; things rank and gross in nature

Waking to the sound of news bulletin after bulletin filled with stories from the report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, there is a profound frustration that all this noise will lead to nothing, no prosecutions will arise, no assets will be seized, nothing will be changed.  In a few days, the media will move on; the pain will be unresolved and justice will not be done.

There is a deep malaise within Irish political culture, a malaise that allowed systemic exploitation and abuse to continue for decades and that now allows those evils to go unpunished.  There has been a complete lack of any proper political discourse since the foundation of the state.  The main parties differed on the 1921 Treaty, they did not differ on their fundamental understanding of the nature of Irish society.

The Republican ideal evaporated after independence as whole sectors of society were allowed to be controlled by the church, not just education but health care and social services became clerically dominated.  Any measure that might dilute the ecclesiastical dominance of society was resisted with vehemence, as was any legislation that might have taken the State in a direction not approved by the bishops.  While de Valera may have resisted McQuaid’s attempts to have the Catholic Church declared the established church in the 1937 Constitution, the funding of church activities that should properly have been the responsibility of the state represented a virtual endowment.

The state funding of Catholic institutions might have been expected to have given ministers leverage in their dealings with the church, yet the politicians seemed to forget themselves.  They behaved as though Ireland were not a twentieth century democracy and deferred to the bishops in almost every matter; the image of people bending to kiss episcopal rings emblematic of all that was wrong, no political philosophy or biblical theology ever sanctioned such medieval obeisance.  Otherwise educated, articulate and cosmopolitan politicians seemed to lose their critical faculty when dealing with the church.

Even with the airwaves filled with the appalling details, a search of the websites of the two main political parties produced “Commission Report is Shocking Litany of Abuse and Suffering” from Fine Gael, yet the website of the party that has dominated the politics of the state since its foundation had yesterday not a single mention of the Commission.  There was ample time yesterday for political points scoring by a succession of ministers, but not a word on matters that question the very nature of the state.


As a consequence of Michael Woods’ agreement with the religious orders in 2002, capping their financial liability for compensation, and of the 2004 judgment secured by the Christian Brothers, guarding against evidence given to the Commission being used in the courts, there will be neither civil proceedings nor criminal prosecutions arising from yesterday’s report.

The thought that those responsible for such heinous deeds will escape with impunity marks Ireland as a place as unweeded as the world condemned by Hamlet, as a place rank and gross.

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  1. Ian, that is a superb piece and reflects many of my own thoughts.

    My main quibble would be that you do not go far enough!

    You correctly speak of the deep political malaise in this country. However, I think that it is reflective of the deep social malaise that exists in Ireland, but mostly goes unheeded.

    Beyond the terrible deeds that we have read in the past few days about, I think that the manner in which faith-based schools have educated generations of us (myself included) to think in a conformist, unimaginative, and conservative manner that never truly questions either authority or the manner in which this society works has truly hindered the development of this country.

    Incredibly, your concerns are not likely to be misplaced when you fear that this will be old news in a week or so. Yet think about that – many institutions of authority within the Irish State have been found to have been knowingly complicit in the atrocious and sustained abuse over decades of children and we, as a society, will move on from it in jig time.

    “Sure, the State will sort that out now. We said our piece.”

    What sort of society behaves like this?

    Unfortunately, as I wrote yesterday, the answer to that is a society in which you can see still see today much of the same indifference and ingrained beliefs about how not everyone should be treated with dignity and respect.

    Anyway, I hope that this does not read too much like a rant.

  2. I would concur completely. I think that the only way in which the church might redeem itself is for it to humbly step back from all positions of influence and adopt the attitude of servanthood found in the Gospels, and for the orders to voluntarily agree to meet their moral obligations. I would not expect either to happen.

  3. “there will be neither civil proceedings nor criminal prosecutions arising from yesterday’s report”
    … and because they’re Catholics, they’ve probably confessed and had it all forgiven! Very tidy!

  4. I don’t believe Ireland’s rotten though. The airwaves are abuzz with indignation, which proves the populace is sound even if they are not being served well by the institutions of government (but we knew that anyway and it is the same everywhere else).

  5. Which is why I think the analogy of an unweeded garden is appropriate. The test that lies ahead is whether there is the will to pull up the weeds.

  6. Agreed.

    Sexually repressed power freak society.

    Wouldn’t it be nice to see the RC Church as a servant of the people rather than the lord of the manor. Unfortunately, based on the current top down theology, this is probably not on the cards. And it is a great injustice against those who have always served, honourably and in good faith.

  7. Pól,

    I’m gobsmacked that a week on and there is barely a hint of humility on the part of the orders. They are making no concessions whatsoever.

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