What is the difference between the backwash of the Ryan report and the conviction of Frank Dunlop? I think here that there’s a rather obvious disconnect between individual responsibility and corporate responsibility. The multiple tribunals on corruption have tended to look for high-profile scalps. Charlie Haughey, of course, is dead, but they did manage to get a damning report out on his finances. Bertie Ahern, sleekit weasel though he is, may yet be done – in fact he’ll have to be, if the astronomical cost of the Mahon tribunal is to be justified.
And so it is with Frank the Canary. Not that Frank can complain about his conviction, but self-evidently he didn’t operate in a vacuum. He bribed politicians to advance the business interests of his clients. His activities can’t be separated from the politicians who willingly accepted his bribes, or from the business clients who profited from those politicians being encouraged by Frank to take the right decisions about planning applications. Furthermore, while the Irish lobbying industry has been straining mightily to insist that Frank is such a singularly bad apple that no conclusions about their industry can be drawn from his transgressions… well, you can believe that if you want.
The Ryan report is something else. Let’s leave aside Biffo Cowen rumbling about prosecutions of the miscreants. That’s not very likely, since all of the institutions investigated have long since been shut down, most of the perpetrators are long since dead and, following previous sex abuse scandals, the Catholic hierarchy has put serious effort into getting an effective vetting procedure in place. So we have the spotlight being turned on the religious orders and whether they’re willing to shoulder responsibility for the sins of their predecessors – which is the point that Archbishop Nichols was discussing. That’s fair enough, but it’s far from being the whole story.
Another point is that much of this is really about catharsis. The 2000 or so victims are a constituency who feel, rightly, that they have been ignored in the past and want to be heard now. Basic human sympathy, and public acknowledgement of their pain and anger, is the most important thing that can be done.
There are other points about Ryan – which is a hefty and complicated document – which shine a light on aspects of Irish society, some of which haven’t really been touched on. It will be argued that the failure of the Irish state to become properly independent, which meant that the historical outsourcing of important social services to the churches was never rolled back, forms a crucial part of the backdrop. (I realise that a lot of the media coverage in Britain and its D4 colony has depended on the frisson of Catholicism. It may be worth asking whether a study of care homes in Britain over the same period would show a difference in the fundamentals, as opposed to the details.) There’s also an aspect of the industrial schools being used as a source of what really amounts to slave labour, and what that says about class structures in Ireland.
While we’re on the class aspect, there was another thing that struck me, which was the broad definition of what constituted abuse. Had Ryan had a narrower focus on serious cases of assault or rape, the report would have been much thinner, but there would certainly have been enough there, and in a focussed way, to make a big impact. The introduction of categories like “emotional abuse” had me scratching my head a little. Perhaps this is a generational thing, as I can remember an educational system where a rap across the knuckles with a ruler, or occasionally a chalk duster thrown at your head, were accepted disciplinary tools, and if you got a clip round the ear at school, you would get another one at home. The revelation that the regime in these institutions decades ago was not in accordance with present-day thinking on the rights of the child is not very startling.
On the other hand, you have to bear in mind that the kids who were sentenced to these institutions were drawn from the poorest of the poor. The religious who administered the institutions were, as a general rule, drawn from more respectable layers of society. There is something to be said for a rounded description of the routine brutality in the institutions, not least for what it says about the extreme class hatred that existed – and still does – in Irish society.
Well, there is a lot of backwash still to come from this. And, if experience is any guide, it won’t be long before the substance of the story is drowned out by the sound of grinding axes.
Anyway, on the same general theme, this provides me with an opportunity to look at a contribution on the issue from someone who’s relatively new to blogging, but whose presence does lend a bit of tone to the Irish blogosphere. Yes, it’s Gerry Adams.
I have to say, I’m finding the Grizzly blog compulsive reading these days, as much for linguistic as political reasons. Gerry can do the folksy thing when he’s down with his constituents addressing local politics, but when he puts on his high politics hat, he sounds like nobody on earth. Or at least nobody in West Belfast. More precisely, he sounds like a Trotskyist sociology lecturer circa 1978, overlaid with a heavy veneer of Humespeak. And I’ve noticed that he has a liking for the impersonal locution “this blog believes…” when he’s dealing with serious issues, as opposed to the “me and my muckers” style he uses for local stuff, or quoting Meat Loaf lyrics.
Anyway, Gerry has been dealing with the Ryan report. And, by and large, he writes well on the subject and I agree with most of what he says. But what struck me was a little bit in the middle where he gets all theological. You see, Gerry agrees with Mr Tony Blair that the Catholic Church needs to be reformed:
This blog has long held the view that the institutionalised Catholic church is undemocratic in many ways. For example women are denied the right to become priests. Church lay members have no say in who their pastors are. Bishops and cardinals are elevated to positions of power and authority for life. Compulsory celibacy is a nonsense and the theology on which it, and other teachings, are based is entirely flawed.
Yes, well, we will skip over the incongruity of the leader of Sinn Féin complaining about the top-down style of the Catholic bishops. But this isn’t totally new. Gerry, when not hugging trees, has publicly bigged up the Protestant churches in the past, having particularly kind words for the democratic regime in the Irish Presbyterian Church. (Your actual Presbyterians are wont to say that it’s a self-serving oligarchy, but at least they have the appearance of a democratic say.) And the other stuff he’s saying, about ending celibacy and ordaining women, looks very much like a programme of radical reform to me. I certainly can’t see Pope Benny going for it.
This poses an interesting question, because Gerry is, as we know, a regular Mass-goer and certainly is at ease with what we might term cultural Catholicism. And, bearing in mind where his support comes from, you can understand why he doesn’t just up sticks and join a Protestant church. But there is a certain fascination in his occasional revelations of Prod tendencies. After all, as I remarked about Mr Tony, I couldn’t figure out why the arch-moderniser had chosen to belong to a reactionary church. As for Gerry? Next thing you know, he’ll be parading on the Twelfth.