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Analysis/Comment Last Updated: Jan 9, 2015 - 5:11 AM


Ireland as an Organised Hypocrisy is in lots of company
By Michael Hennigan, Finfacts founder and editor
Jun 6, 2014 - 4:49 PM

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1962 photograph of the "Turning the Sod" ceremony at Belfield, South Dublin for the new University College Dublin (UCD) campus: Éamon de Valera, president of Ireland, preparing to kiss the episcopal ring of John Charles McQuaid, Catholic Archbishop of Dublin. De Valera had supported insurgents who had opposed a 1921 treaty with the United Kingdom for the establishment of the Irish Free State. Fianna Fáil the political party that he founded in 1926 dominated Irish politics from achieving power in 1932 until 2011. Photo: UCD School of History and Archives

Every country is an Organised Hypocrisy to some degree. Countries have aspirations and stated principles, which more often than not, contrast with a grim reality - - at least in democracies today, there is an opportunity for some rebalancing.

Thomas Jefferson, America's third president and a cruel slave master, who had penned the line in the 1776 Declaration of Independence: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal..." fathered at least six children with his slave Sally Hemings but he regarded them as sub-human, while Karl Marx a German philosopher, who had seen the grim existence for workers in Germany and Britain in the first century of the industrial revolution, would not have expected to become the god of brutal dictatorships that crushed the human spirit in the twentieth century.

The revelation that 796 babies died in a facility run by a religious order in Tuam, County Galway over 36 years, is shocking even after the litany of stories of abuse in recent decades.

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 in 2009, the late 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."

In the 1980s when my wife and I adopted the first of our two children from the Philippines, a woman from Tuam told us that a neighbour of hers who had adopted a child years before, was on the way out of mass from the cathedral on a Sunday morning when  another woman asked her: "How could you leave a stranger's child into your house?"

Ireland was very conservative then and it remains generally conservative today but while the Catholic Church allowed itself become part of the colonial establishment in the nineteenth century, why in the early decades of the State were the revolutionaries who had used violence to force the timetable on Home Rule, so spineless when they achieved power?

A Civil War was fought for what in reality?

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 Deputy Alfie Byrne, a former Lord Mayor of Dublin, 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, Thomas Derrig, De Valera’s minister of education, 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 Ceann Comhairle (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."

Education and health was effectively privatised in the new state and following the defeat of Éamon de Valera's Fianna Fáil in 1948, Dr Noel Browne, the young minister for health in the new government, proposed an urgent anti-tuberculosis programme and his other focus was on reducing child mortality by introducing free ante-and post- natal care for mothers and extending free health treatment for all children under 16 without a means test. However, the medical profession feared that their incomes would be threatened while conservative Catholic members of the Cabinet were believed to be influenced by the bishops who feared the scheme would lead to family planning and contraception.

The Catholic bishops however did not take a public position on the issue but the divided coalition government collapsed in 1951.

In 1973, the year of joining the then European Economic Community, the Irish Supreme Court ruled that the law prohibiting the importation 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.

An organised hypocrisy

On March 17, 1845, Benjamin Disraeli, a future British prime minister, 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's 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, Ireland's greatest parliamentarian: "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 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, a former chief secretary for Ireland, 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 and a conservative mindset was the default one for most of the period since 1922.

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