Gerry the Prod


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.


  1. Liam said,

    May 30, 2009 at 10:37 pm

    Why is “this blog” advertising a company selling beds?

  2. splinteredsunrise said,

    May 30, 2009 at 10:44 pm

    Gerry does like his entrepreneurs. It shows that West Belfast is a first class community.

  3. charliemarks said,

    May 31, 2009 at 1:09 am

    Rather reminds me of the joke about the ban on the British royal family marrying Catholics – that is was there to stop the Queen Mother running off with Martin Maguinness.

    Given this photo ( I wonder which Protestant Mr Gerry might run off with? Personally, I find Paisley Jnr quite attractive…

  4. WorldbyStorm said,

    May 31, 2009 at 7:57 pm

    I understand entirely the point you’re making, and it’s absolutely true that within the ‘ordinary’ schooling system, even as late as the 1982 in the Republic corporal punishment was a basic feature. But having read the report it is clear that it lists a series of abuses implemented (if that is the correct term, which it isn’t but it gives a sense of how it worked) systemically across these institutions that go very far beyond even the then partial understanding of ‘rights’, not to mention that in the Department of Education guidelines under which these institutions were meant to operate where there was clear and unambiguous language that limited the use of corporal punishment. The response has, in part due to the interventions of those who suffered under this such as former FF councillor Michael O’Brien, resonated far far beyond the usual D4 suspects. Indeed one of the less pleasant aspects of it has been how the ‘polite’ Catholic right in its D4 incarnation (I won’t list the usual suspects) has attempted to deflect attention elsewhere since their project to rework the RCC in their image is seriously dented by these events and their aftermath.

    There are in fact quite a number of perpetrators still alive. Beyond that it is now increasingly clear that the deal that the government struck with the Church in the early 2000s as regards financing claims of abuse was wholly inadequate and vastly too protective of the interests of the Church. That this has been accepted by the hierarchy in the past number of days speaks of their recognition of and determination to forestall a catastrophic situation as regards the perception of the Church in the state. That it took their interventions, that of the President and the Taoiseach to prod the various congregations involved to this recognition tells us much about the nature of the relationship between church and state previously.

    Next on the list is the report on abuse in the Dublin Diocese which is released next month. That will be telling because it moves away from the institutions towards individual clergy within the Diocese.

    As someone with more than a fondness for the RCC, sometimes despite itself and probably like many others, this has pointed up some fairly ugly truths about the nature of the overall institution in its operation, a nature that has at almost all times sought to protect itself from the ramifications of crimes committed by a significant tranche of its own members, a protection that included covering those members and allowing them to work with children again and again. It’s far from hyperbolic to suggest that were it any other entity in the state it would have been disbanded on foot of these incidents

  5. splinteredsunrise said,

    May 31, 2009 at 8:52 pm

    If memory serves, corporal punishment lasted even longer in the north. But you’re absolutely right, we’re talking about something very widespread that went well beyond what you or I might recall. Though I haven’t got to the end of the report, what I’ve read so far has been bad enough.

    I do think as well that such movement as we’ve seen has come from the church’s instinct for self-preservation much more than the state’s willingness to hold the church to account. The bankrupting of some large American dioceses has concentrated minds wonderfully here, in Britain and in Rome. A powerful institution once sought to protect itself by covering up crimes; now it has to consider protecting itself by helping to put things right.

  6. charliemarks said,

    May 31, 2009 at 11:35 pm

    Given that attendance figures have recently been picking up for the RCC in Ireland, they’d be wise to have a bit of glasnost with regards this whole issue…

  7. WorldbyStorm said,

    June 1, 2009 at 7:54 am

    Sorry, just reading back my post 4 went into very discursive mode, which wasn’t my intention…

    I think that’s a crucial point you make, which I hadn’t thought through in quite that way, about the church’s intuition as to how to preserve itself being both clear and much much more important in this dynamic than any efforts of the state. And what do you think? Could it then be coincidence that the President, who in her time (and as it happens I think she’s broadly speaking a good President) has been at least on nodding terms with the hierarchy who flew the kite about prosecutions for perpetrators?

  8. Phil said,

    June 1, 2009 at 8:13 am

    having read the report it is clear that it lists a series of abuses implemented (if that is the correct term, which it isn’t but it gives a sense of how it worked) systemically across these institutions that go very far beyond even the then partial understanding of ‘rights’

    As I think I said at your gaff, I think it’s an entirely predictable pathology of power (Stanford Prison Experiment, anyone?) – which in this case went really unusually bad, because it was overlaid on both the unchallenged authority of the Church and the widespread cultural assumptions about disciplining kids that Splinty talks about. Authority behind closed doors is (almost invariably) bad enough; what you had here was divinely-ordained authority over little savages*, behind closed doors.


  9. June 1, 2009 at 10:53 am

    isn’t it possible, that Adams’s courting of the Presbyterian Church is simply an expression of republican “Geschichtsbweusstsein” trying to relaunch the alliance of 1798?

  10. Garibaldy said,

    June 1, 2009 at 2:35 pm

    I think courting of the Presbyterian church is too strong a word entdinglichung (especially given the rather spectacular decline of the post of director of unionist engagement), but you are definitely onto something about 1798 leaving an overly rosy view of Presbyterianism. No-idea what that German word means by the way. Can you approximately translate it?

  11. June 1, 2009 at 2:47 pm

    it is one of these non-translatable German “philosophical” words … it can be paraphrased with “awareness of history” … I was asking if some Irish Republicans probably are regarding todays Presbyterians as “unconscious” Wolfe Tones (not the band) or Henry Joys

  12. Garibaldy said,

    June 1, 2009 at 3:58 pm

    Thanks for that. I figured it was an offshoot of German philosophy. Some people do indeed regard them as still possessing the potential to be radical just as in the past. Others simply regard them as “Orange bastards (or insult of personal choice)”. For what it’s worth, while I think that socialists must work across all sections of the community, I don’t think that Presbyterian or not matters.

  13. Cian said,

    June 1, 2009 at 10:11 pm

    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.

    Well what happened in the UK up to at leasts the 60s was worse. Barnardos sent British orphans to the colonies to be used as slave labour by farmers (including sex slaves in some cases). Although all the details are in the public domain, nothing much came of it. And obviously sexual abuse, physical abuse and the rest was rampant.

    Of course there was a political scandal in Portugal where state orphanages were being used as brothels by politicians. So you can always find worse, I guess.

  14. Cian said,

    June 1, 2009 at 10:17 pm

    Incidentally on the extreme class hatred. Is it any different in the UK? The only difference I can see is that the extremely poor in the UK probably had more power than their counterparts in Ireland did. But you get similar tropes, including the way that the “respectable” working classes demonise their poorer breathren.

  15. splinteredsunrise said,

    June 2, 2009 at 7:28 pm

    That’s true, of course. But there’s also a sort of odd mix of class and psychology that you’ve tended to get in the Irish clergy, which probably derives ultimately from the Penal period and post-Famine demographics. Myles, it goes without saying, was virtually a documentarian.

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