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Taoiseach Brian Cowen, Minster for Foreign Affairs/schoolteacher Micheál Martin and Ned O'Keefe T.D. pictured at the launch of the Fianna Fáil (FF) European Parliament election manifesto on May 14, 2009. Fianna Fáil is Ireland's dominant political party and like its counterpart in Japan, the LDP, is deeply conservative. Both have prospered in crony systems, which have seriously damaged their economies.
Is Ireland an Organised Hypocrisy? The answer is very simple. Like every other nation, it is. Countries have aspirations and stated principles, which more often than not, contrast with a grim reality. However, it is the record in recognising past hypocrisy and embracing change that sets countries apart and in Philadelphia, in March 2008, the then presidential candidate Barack Obama, spoke on America's troubled history with race issues and began his speech with the opening words of the US Constitution: "We the people, in order to form a more perfect union...” A big step on the road was taken with Obama's own election.
Change comes very slowly in Ireland and even amidst a catastrophic economic crash, the failed governance system and the related vested interests remain as protected sacred cows, while the once powerful Catholic Church has been knocked off its pedestal, only because of its own hubris and arrogance.
Two sectarian states had developed in Ireland from the 1920's and in the South, behind the veneer of "republican principles," conservative elites held power and brooked little opposition.
In the Irish Times last Thursday, journalist Mary Raftery wrote, on Mr Justice Seán Ryan's report on decades of child abuse in Ireland:"It's is quite simply a devastating report. It is a monument to the shameful nature of Irish society throughout most of the decades of the 20th century, and arguably even today."
On March 17, 1845, future prime minister Benjamin Disraeli had opposed his own party leadership and declared: "A Conservative government is an organised hypocrisy" - - a criticism of Prime Minister Robert Peel's abandonment of the protectionist policies on which his government had been elected. Disraeli also opposed the Maynooth Bill, which provided for an increase in government financial assistance to the Irish seminary. During a speech in 1844, he had said that Ireland had a starving population, an alien church, and the weakest executive in the world. England, he said, was the cause of misery in Ireland. Disraeli had come some distance from a decade before when he prompted a torrent of invective from Daniel O'Connell: "I can find no harsher epithets in the English language by which to convey the utter abhorrence which I entertain for such a reptile. He is just fit now, after being twice discarded by the people, to become a Conservative. He possesses all the necessary requisites of perfidy, selfishness, depravity, want of principle, etc., which would qualify him for the change. His name shows that he is of Jewish origin.
I do not use it as a term of reproach; there are many most respectable Jews. But there are, as in every other people, some of the lowest and most disgusting grade of moral turpitude; and of those I look upon Mr. Disraeli as the worst. He has just the qualities of the impenitent thief on the Cross, and I verily believe, if Mr. Disraeli's family herald were to be examined and his genealogy traced, the same personage would be discovered to be the heir at law of the exalted individual to whom I allude. I forgive Mr. Disraeli now, and as the lineal descendant of the blasphemous robber, who ended his career besides the Founder of the Christian Faith, I leave the gentleman to the enjoyment of his infamous distinction and family honours."
Disraeli had responded in a letter to The Times:"Yes I am a Jew, and when the ancestors of the right honourable gentleman were brutal savages in an unknown island, mine were priests in the Temple of Solomon."
Prime Minister Peel was eager to develop an alliance with the Catholic gentry and middle classes of Ireland, after the failure of O'Connell's campaign to repeal the Act of Union of 1800. Also in 1845, his government introduced the Irish Colleges Bill, which provided for the establishment of non-denominational universities in Belfast, Cork and Galway.
Peel's imprint was on the independent Irish State, which largely replicated the British system of governance. A conservative mindset was the default one and there were some exceptions in the courts by the early 1970's.
According to Dáil Éireann records, in the ten years to 1946, the industrial school system, which was the focus of the Ryan Report, held an annual average of more than 6,000 children - - 90% of whom were in custody because their families were "destitute."
The De Valera Government which was generally happy with the UK Children Act of 1908, introduced the Children Bill in 1940 to provide for additional restrictions. Both Deputy James Dillon and the former Lord Mayor, Deputy Alfie Byrne sought to have a provision for a medical and psychological examination of children before their committal to the industrial and reformatory school system. When positive examples of the way children were provided for in Glasgow and a number of American cities were referred to, De Valera’s Minister of Education Thomas Derrig found the comparison objectionable and said: "It is really painful to hear the case made here that there is some psychological disease or other in the City of Dublin, just because clinics have been established in Chicago or Detroit, or some other city. Where is the comparison between conditions in the Catholic City of Dublin and in the City of Chicago? There is no comparison."
The amendment to the Children Bill was rejected and Deputy Dillon said in the Dáil in reference to the three year sentence to an industrial school, that was given to a child who had stolen some grapes: "Can you imagine the son or the daughter of a resident of Fitzwilliam Square being brought down to Morgan Place and sent from there to an industrial school because he stole 5/- (32 euro cent) worth of grapes?"
The CeannComhairle (Speaker) intervened: "It is very well to demur at the removal of those children from their parents' control, but in so demurring is the Deputy not criticising judicial decisions?"
Not only were the children being mistreated in private institutions, that were protected by the taboo on criticism of the Catholic Church, lay teachers had very bad working conditions.
In reply to a Dáil question in 1943 on the prohibition by religious orders on lay male teachers being married, Minister Derrig said: "That is a matter for the school. Even in the ordinary national schools, as the Deputy knows, I cannot interfere with the discretion of the managers in appointing whatever teachers they wish. In the industrial schools, as they are entirely private institutions, run by the managers, I cannot interfere; it is entirely a domestic question. I do not know whether that is the position or not— that teachers who get married have to resign."
In 1973, the year of joining the then EEC, the Irish Supreme Court ruled the law to prohibit the import of contraceptives for personal use, as unconstitutional. It took the politicians another 20 years to properly reform it - starting with the requirement of a doctor's prescription to buy condoms in a pharmacy to a Taoiseach (Prime Minister) voting against his own government's Bill on the issue.
Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern (fifth from left), in pensive mood during Taoiseach Brian Cowen's speech at the Fianna Fáil Ard Fheis in February 2009. Ahern had no tolerance for criticism of his reckless economic policies during the property boom and as a traditional politician, had supported FF's opposition campaign to a referendum on divorce in the 1980's. In the past week, Ahern's successor Cowen, has referred several times to the "bad news brigade," emulating Ahern during the boom.
Minimal reform has taken place in response to various tribunals in recent decades. Those who kept their heads down and ignored what others were doing, prospered. Baby steps have been taken in making public administration more transparent. Our cute hoor system of politics is as strong as ever and fifty years after US television was instrumental in exposing Irish-American Senator Joseph McCarthy as a fraud and bully, it served the powerful in Ireland, to exclude both radio and television from the proceedings of all the tribunals. The multi-millionaire lawyers have been the biggest winners.
Change came to Irish economic policy in the late 1950's, following bleak years of decline and emigration. Change will only come a half-century later, if the failed politicians are put out to grass, by an Irish people, prepared for change and a rejection of apathy.