“The republic that was created from the ashes of the rising was a perversion of the human rights ideals of 1916,” the outgoing Ombudsman and Information Commissioner Emily O’Reilly has said.
Addressing the first evening of the MacGill Summer School in Co Donegal, she said people were not yet fully aware of what a real republic looked like. Delivering the 13th annual John Hume lecture, Ms O’Reilly said it was particularly appropriate that the lecture was named after the Nobel peace prize winner as he was a “pre-eminent human rights defender”.
She criticised the successors of the 1916 leaders, accusing them of franchising the State “to a private organisation called the Catholic Church, shedding in particular its responsibility for the education and health systems, and thereby allowing little actual space for the elected leaders of this republic to play their role in pursuing the happiness and prosperity of the nation”.
It was difficult for citizens to remind themselves that “we are actually the ones in charge”.
This was a difficulty, she added, that the executive and judiciary also struggled with. Referring to former attorney general Peter Sutherland, she said his core assertion made in a speech earlier this year, that the courts were “inappropriately forced to decide not alone what our values in this republic are or should be, but also to divine what the elected representatives of the people think about those values”.
She said that while the courts had too much unwanted power, parliament spent “much of its time ducking and diving and pretending it has no power whatsoever”. She accused the executive of “planting its boot far too firmly on the neck of the parliament and wielding power in a manner never envisaged by the Constitution.”
Quoting President Michael D Higgins, she said: “There is a deep-seated anti-intellectualism prevalent in Irish life,” and that our political and cultural life was marked by the false notion that one person’s ignorance was as good as another’s knowledge. She turned to the Constitution, quoting article 28.4.1 which states that the Government “shall be responsible to Dáil Éireann”.
“Quite clearly this is not the case. The nub of the problem is that parliament does not take itself seriously,” she said. “Our failures are essentially human rights failures and we should be particularly alive to the fact that, never more so than at a time of recession and austerity, are bodies such as a Human Rights Commission and an Equality Authority needed to make sure that in a decade’s time we won’t be weeping our way through another pitiful cataloguing of State-inflicted abuse, albeit with a modern twist.”
In his opening address, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said he looked to 2016 and the centenary of the Easter Rising. “To be a real republic, Ireland has to be a sovereign republic,” he said. “We will strive . . . and work even harder so that we will become the best small country in the world for business, to raise a family and to grow old with dignity and respect. This will be the republic of 2016.”
On Thursday 11 July, Ireland passed an abortion law legalising abortions for women if a woman’s life is under threat.
The critical part of the legalisation bill that I take issue with is the specification that a woman’s life must be threatened by the continuation of the pregnancy, including by threat of suicide, and that neither rape nor a woman’s values, interests and wants are given any consideration in the matter.
How positive a step towards women’s rights has the Irish government made if it considers death to be the only valid release clause from an unwanted pregnancy? By its own words, the state is content to withhold the power of a woman to control what happens to her own body to the point that she resorts to suicide as a final act of control. This is an act of a government that has no respect for its women.
Anti-abortionists need to recognise that suicide is not the only way a woman’s life can be destroyed by an unwanted pregnancy, and that failure to acknowledge this fact is a failure to acknowledge the value and personhood of women.
Imagine a medical student. She is in her first year of university when she is brutally raped and subsequently falls pregnant. Suddenly, any plans or aspirations she may have had – to finish her degree, begin her career, help hundreds of sick people, and start on the road to achieving any number of anticipated life-goals – are blown out of the water. The life she would have had is terminated, for better or worse, before a physiological threat to her life even enters the picture.
On top of this, this woman then has to face a number of oft unappreciated, sometimes grim, realities of pregnancy.
When carrying a foetus, a woman’s body is no longer her own, it becomes unpredictable, even uncooperative. She may get nauseous for weeks on end, feel exhausted, physically and mentally, her changed body may well prevent her from doing many of the things that she finds important or enjoyable, she might even lose her job.
She then faces uncountable hours of labour, the threat of post-natal depression, or other, non-life-threatening consequences of childbirth. But most importantly of all, she has to take responsibility for a human life, even if this takes the form of putting that child up for adoption.
Even with the smoothest of pregnancies, the changes it wreaks on the mother’s life will stay with her for ever. To assume that the threat posed by pregnancy to a woman can be such a simple, black and white, life or death calculation is insulting and sexist.
Historically men have been permitted, if not encouraged, to take out threats to their valued way of life, whether in the form of a household intruder or a war-time enemy. It is viewed as a necessary and sometimes honourable act, even if it means harming an unwitting assailant.
Yet when the threat is to a woman’s valued way of life in the form of an unwanted pregnancy, the threat is ignored and the woman is refused powers to protect herself. This sends the misogynistic message that a woman’s only real purpose is as a mother, and her life could not possibly have as much value and meaning to herself and society as that of the undeveloped foetus.
It is time opponents of abortion realise that the debate surrounding the legalisation of abortion is not simply a question about the biological health of the mother, or the imagined potential of the foetus. It is about the complexities of a human life, and respecting a woman’s intelligence, autonomy and desire for fulfilment as having equal status and complexity as any man’s.
It’s a freezing Saturday afternoon in Dublin and, on the corner of O’Connell Street, a nervous young man called Dennis wants me to sign a petition with a picture of a dead baby on it. Dennis is 21 years old and doesn’t like abortion one bit. Especially not now that there’s a chance, for the first time in a generation, of liberalising the law just a little to allow women at risk of actual death to terminate their pregnancies.
“I’m trying to keep abortion away from Ireland,” repeats Dennis, churning out the slogan being yelled by stern older men behind him. “If [a woman] doesn’t want a child, there’s obvious steps she can take to not have a child.” Like what? “Well, for example, abstinence,” he says, looking down at me uncomfortably. “Purity before marriage.” What about sexual equality? Dennis is blushing, despite the cold. “Well, I’m here against abortion. I wouldn’t have anything to say to that.”
It’s illegal for a woman to have an abortion under almost any circumstances in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, even if she might die in the delivery room. Every year, thousands of women with crisis pregnancies scrape together the money to travel overseas to have abortions – and that’s if they’re lucky. If they’re unlucky – immigrants, shift-workers or too poor to afford a red-eye Ryanair flight to London – the only options are to take black-market abortion pills or be forced to give birth. Right now, members of the Irish parliament are trying to push through legislation to allow women to have abortions if they’re at risk of suicide, but the Catholic hard-right are fighting back.
Since 1967, when Britain made abortion legal, over 150,000 Irish women have gone to England to end their pregnancies. They go in secret and, since that figure only covers those who list Irish addresses, the true number is probably much higher. It’s a situation that has been tacitly accepted in Irish society for years: abortion is sinful, but we’ll put up with it as long as it happens far away and the women involved are shamed into silence. “It’s an Irish solution to an Irish problem,” says Sinead Ahern, an activist with Choice Ireland. Now all that might be about to change.
A protest against Ireland’s abortion laws in Dublin after the death of Savita Halappanavar.
Last November, 31-year-old Savita Halappanavar died of septicaemia in a Galway hospital after being refused an emergency abortion. The inquest into her death is ongoing, but Savita’s husband and family are adamant that she would be alive had the doctors not insisted that, because there was still a foetal heartbeat, a life-saving termination couldn’t be performed. If the results of the inquest show that Savita died as a direct result of Galway doctors’ refusal to abort, she will not have been the first woman to die in great pain because of the Irish Catholic Church’s war on reproductive rights.
In 2010, Michelle Harte – a cancer patient who had to travel to England to have the abortion that would have prolonged her life – spoke before she died of how Cork doctors turned her away. It’s happened before, and without legislation it’ll happen again. But it’s the story of Savita Halapannavar that has drawn global attention and outrage to the situation.
Suddenly the grisly reality of women being forced to go through months of pregnancy and painful labour, begging to have dead babies removed from their bodies and sometimes dying in pain has a name and a face. Vigils have been held for Savita across Ireland. Pro-choice marches are being held in a country where calling yourself “pro-choice” is still a risk to your job and your safety. Answers are being demanded from the government, and now the government is being forced to listen.
Something is changing in Ireland. For women across the country, shame and intimidation are no longer quite enough to stop them from speaking out about abortion, about contraception and about sexual equality. A majority of the population now agrees, according to the latest polls, that the laws need to be relaxed. In response, Ireland’s pro-life movement, backed by big money from the United States, has poured its energies into a massive propaganda campaign, informing women that if they have abortions they will go mad, get breast cancer, kill themselves or, with any luck, all three.
On O’Connell Street the rain is blowing in horizontally. Two little girls in matching red jackets who can’t be more than six years old are handing out pictures of oozing, bloody foetal corpses. Muffled up in scarves and mittens, they look like they’ve stepped off the front of a Victorian biscuit box and smile as they offer you leaflets telling you that your sister, your mother, your best friend is a sinner. “We call these street information sessions,” says 29-year-old Rebecca, a spokeswoman for Youth Defence, one of Ireland’s largest pro-life organisations, which has recently attracted controversy because of its acceptance of large financial donations from the Christian right in the United States.
Rebecca tells me that opposition to abortion in all circumstances is “a value that’s held deeply by Irish people”. She is quite correct that in both the Republic and the North, and on both sides of the sectarian divide, anti-choice proselytising is one issue where religious men in positions of power find common cause. “In the North, where in previous years there would have been conflict between Catholics and Protestants, this is the one thing they both agree on,” says Rebecca. Her broad lipglossed smile seems to indicate that this is a good thing.
Some of the more extreme pro-life campaign groups make exceptions for pregnancies that are the result of rape, reasoning in their generous, Christian way that women who didn’t want to have sex in the first place should not be punished by being forced to carry a child to term. Even that, however, is too liberal for Ireland’s Youth Defence. “Rape is a horrific crime”, says Rebecca, “but even though that child is conceived in a non-ideal situation, two wrongs don’t make a right.”
The smile seems to be sprayed on to her face, but it doesn’t reach her eyes. Although they claim to represent a broad, grassroots movement against abortion, most of the pro-life groups operating out of Ireland list the same address as their base of operations. That address is 6A, Capel Street, Dublin – a building called Life House. Its facade is the colour of arterial blood.
In a hotel lobby in downtown Dublin, six pro-choice activists are distracted by a baby. Little Ailbhe Redmond is four weeks old and freshly-baked, blinking and wriggling as she is passed from hand to hand by a bunch of excited young women who spend their free time being called baby killers by the Catholic right. Ailbhe’s mum, Sinead Redmond of Choice Ireland, was new to activism when she started an online campaign against pro-life propaganda this August.
Since then, over the course of a lot of rainy marches and a reeking heap of harassment, the women of Choice Ireland have become, amongst other things, good mates, and these women need all the friends they can get. Pro-choice activists in Ireland face targeted retribution – harassment of a kind that feminist activists in many other countries would struggle to comprehend.
Many have been individually targeted by right-wing groups. Over four days in Dublin, I spoke to women who had been followed home, had phone-calls tipping off their employers about their politics and made to fear for their jobs, and had graphic hate-mail and death threats delivered to their homes and the homes of their families. The favourite flavour of hyper-religious hate-mail is the delivery of a set of rosary beads in an unmarked package, which seems an odd message to send: “Jesus knows where you live.”
Sinead Redmond got a rosary whose individual beads were carved to look like foetuses in pain. She unhooks herself to breastfeed Ailbhe as she tells me, “Being pregnant made me so much more pro-choice. It brought it home to me how barbaric it is to force a woman to go through pregnancy, never mind labour.
Photo by Andrew Flood.
“Pregnancy is incredibly emotionally and physically debilitating. I would never, ever dream of forcing that on another woman and I don’t know how anyone who’s been through it can. Furthermore, having given birth to a baby girl, I don’t understand how anyone who’s the parent of daughters can not be pro choice. I just don’t get it.”
Fear of prosecution and of social backlash has kept generations of Irish women from speaking out against abortion and contraception. The paranoia is so pervasive that, of the many women and girls I spoke to who had had abortions, only two were willing to go on the record. “A lot of people talk about having abortions, but they don’t want to put their name or their face to it,” says 23-year-old Suzanne Lee, a shy mathematics student at the University College Dublin. Last summer, Suzanne ended an accidental pregnancy at six weeks by taking the abortion pill, which she ordered off the internet.
As one of the few people willing to speak out about her abortion experience, Suzanne has been interviewed on television before and received death-threats from pro-life individuals. “I knew if I was ever going to have a child I needed to be in a position where it could have everything,” she says, explaining her decision.
Ordering the abortion pill online is risky, but international organisations like Women on Web attempt to make the process simpler for those who can’t afford to travel to England. “What I’ve done is completely illegal,” says Suzanne, who had to cross the border and travel to Belfast to pick up the pills. “It’s weird knowing that I could be facing years in prison.”
A pro-choice group demonstrating outside the courts during the “Miss D” case.
“In some ways, I’m not the best face for this cause because mine was what they’d call a ‘social abortion’ – my life wasn’t at risk,” she says. “But the majority of women having abortions are probably having them for social reasons.” “Social reasons” would include: not wanting to go through pregnancy against your will, being too young or too poor to have a child or simply not being ready, which are – when you get down to it – the reasons most people decide that abortion is the best option for them.
Even if the new laws do pass, they won’t permit women any real choice about abortion unless they’re on death’s door, at which point a doctor will choose for them. Thousands of women will continue to travel abroad every year and risk their health by taking black market abortion pills, unless there are major changes to the constitution, which was amended in the 1980s to enshrine the “rights of the unborn” as equal to the rights of women.
The shambolic state of the Irish economy makes the situation more urgent for women in need. Unemployment in Ireland is 14.6 percent, and standards of living and income are falling all over the country. “A lot of it is to do with the recession,” says Bebhinn Farrell, an activist with Choice Ireland. “Before, there wasn’t as much talk about social issues, it was all about money and spending. If you needed to have an abortion, you went to England.” Now, however, with the economy wheezing and stuttering, the class divide between those who can afford to travel to England and have an abortion and the many who can’t has been brought home.
Many of those who can’t receive help from the Abortion Support Network (ASN), a group that funds and supports women flying from Ireland to terminate unwanted pregnancies. ASN sends money to hundreds of Irish who can’t afford the ticket to an English clinic, but because of the time it takes to organise travel and drum up the cash for the procedure, many don’t arrive at English clinics until they’re at a late stage of pregnancy.
A pro-life counter demonstration during the “Miss D” case.
That delay makes every difference. It means that the procedure is often costlier and more complicated than it needs to be, that British abortion law directly affects Irish women and that current efforts by British pro-life groups to reduce the time limit on legal abortion will have devastating implications for women travelling from Ireland.
Abortion is, effectively, the one issue where the laws of the English still hold sway over Irish citizens. “It’s really ironic,” comments Anthea McTiernan, a journalist at the Irish Times, “that the loyalists are fighting to keep the Union Flag over Belfast city hall, but we’re willing to have the flag of the Catholic church flying over the wombs of Irish women 365 days a year.”
“It’s a democratic issue about women’s bodily integrity,” says Ivana Bacik, a politician in the Upper House of the Oirechtas and a leading spokesperson for abortion rights in Ireland. It is pure chance, Bacik tells me, that the case of Savita Halappanavar hit international headlines just as the new laws allowing abortion in the case of a risk to the pregnant woman’s life started passing through parliament. These laws centre on the story of an anonymous woman 20 years ago, a woman known only as “Miss X”, whose human rights were found to have been violated by the Irish Supreme Court.
Demonstrations during the “Miss X” case. Photo by Andrew Flood.
Miss X, a 14-year-old rape victim, was denied permission to travel to England to terminate her pregnancy. The police found out about her travel plans after her parents asked them if DNA from the aborted foetus could be used to convict the rapist. Miss X was left suicidal as a result of being forced to continue to pregnancy and the Supreme Court ruled that, in her case and others, risk of suicide should be considered a case for legal abortion. By the time the ruling came through, Miss X had had a miscarriage.
That was in 1992. Wherever she is now, Miss X is 35 years old. It has taken 20 years for Irish politicians to even begin to implement the legal changes. This, according to Bacik, is “because the anti-choice lobby is so powerful that no politician has wanted to touch it. Until the last election in February 2011, there were only a handful of us willing to identify as pro-choice, but the mood has changed politically. We will bring in legislation before the summer,” she insists.
Ivana Bacik has been fighting the lonely battle for women’s sexual health since long before she entered parliament. As a student at Trinity Dublin, she was taken to court for providing information on abortion and contraception and almost went to prison. “The introduction of this legislation will undoubtedly change the culture in Ireland,” she says. Bacik, like many others, hopes that the extremely limited legal changes coming in this year will pave the way for real choice for women in the future. “Things are changing, and for many young women [the suicide exception] won’t be enough.”
Right now, though, thousands of women and girls continue to catch budget flights to London every year, alone and scared to have abortions they aren’t allowed to speak about without shame. Jan O’Sullivan was caught travelling to England to have an abortion 20 years ago at the age of 18. “I’d seen how unmarried mothers get treated,” says Jan, who now has two kids of her own. “There’s huge stigma even now – you’re damned if you have the baby and damned if you don’t.”
Contraceptives were only made legally available over the counter in Ireland in 1993 and the infamousMagdalene laundries were still open for any young woman who slipped up. “We’d been using condoms, but one broke and I ended up pregnant,” says Jan. “Sheer panic. I’d never left the country before, never been on a plane. Between finding out, trying to get an appointment and sorting out traveling and money, I was 11 or 12 weeks pregnant when we arrived in London. My hands shook nearly the entire time. We were terrified we’d meet people – we had already done so much lying about leaving the country for three days for a ‘romantic break.'”
“I woke up after the procedure to find I was lying flat on my front, and I knew before I was even awake that I wasn’t pregnant any more. It took a year to pay back the credit union loan.” Jan still believes it was the right decision, but the trauma of the journey has stayed with her over two decades. It’s a journey that thousands of desperate Irish women continue to make every year. “I haven’t been back to London. I’ve travelled plenty of other places, but not there, never there,” she says.
“Abortion isn’t rare in this country, it’s just not talked about.”
To find out more, or if you’d like to donate to the Abortion Support Network, visit abortionsupport.org.uk.
Follow Laurie on Twitter: @PennyRed
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Mr Baggott said Northern Ireland was a “safe place to work and live”.
He said he would be doing everything to ensure “it was the most successful G8 summit in history”.
Secretary of State Theresa Villiers said it would be one of the biggest policing operations ever in Northern Ireland, with mutual aid from Great Britain and 600 private security staff from G4S and others.
Chief constable Matt Baggott has said an extra 3,600 police officers are being brought in
It will be the first time the annual summit has been held in the United Kingdom since it was at Gleneagles in Scotland in 2005.
Mr Baggott said protesters would not get within sight of the world leaders and that they would have the space to get on with their “important work”.
“Military will be providing assistance to the police during G8,” he added.
He said he had received “huge support” from police in Great Britain, the Republic of Ireland and Canada.
PSNI assistant chief constable Alastair Finlay said it was possible some G8 leaders would visit other parts of Northern Ireland but nothing had been requested yet.
Illustration Mice Hell
The 19th-century term Gom’beenism, the practice of borrowing or lending at usury, is increasingly referenced in relation to Ireland’s domestic economic practices. Conor McCabe takes a look at the history of the Irish middleman and argues that they haven’t went away.
On Tuesday 3 January 1882 the nobility and landed gentry of Ireland met in Dublin to discuss the future of the island. Among those present was R.J. Mahony, a landowner from Kerry. He stood and said that the recently-passed land act would be the ruin not only of the landlords but of the small farmer as well. He explained that as soon as the landlord class was put out of the way, another would come along to take their place.‘The merchant, the trader, the usurer, the gombeen man,’ said Mahony, were ‘the future rulers of the land.’ Mr. Mahony called these the middlemen, and although he may have had his reasons for defending landlordism, his warnings were not without foundation. Forty years later the middleman were in the ascendancy and set about carving the newly-independent free state in their image – and we’ve been living with the consequences of that ever since.
Just who were these middlemen? In an article published in 1982 Michael D. Higgins wrote that the mainstream image of the period – and the one taught at secondary level – was one of poor small farmers fighting against perfidious, foreign landlords. However, what was glossed over in such a black and white analysis was that there was another struggle – a class struggle – going on, one that involved small farmers and the rancher/grazier families. These large rancher farmers fattened cattle for export, and occasionally they were the local shopkeepers, the arbiters of credit in the community, and the dispensers of loans. It gave them significant societal influence and power. Not all shopkeepers were graziers, of course, but neither one was the friend of the smallholder. The social relations which underpinned Irish rural society were not only framed by land, but by credit: those who needed it, and those who profited from it. And in the north and west of Ireland, it was the Irish entrepreneurial spirit of the middleman and his gombeen cousin that held sway over credit.
Today the middleman is concerned with the tax avoidance, commercial property and resource licences. In the nineteenth century it was the sub-letting of land. The link between the centuries is the practice of positioning oneself between foreign capital and the resources of the island. In an article for the London Times on 7 October 1845 the newspaper’s Irish correspondent explained the ‘middleman’ system to his English readers. Large tracts of land, including waste-land, were let by landlords to a class of businessman known as middlemen. ‘The middleman of 100 acres is no farmer as in England, who invests his capital and skill and industry in the land, and looks for a fair profit,’ write the journalist. The middleman’s ‘laziness makes him prefer doing nothing, his greediness and necessities make him resort to subletting at exorbitant rents to poor tenants, whilst he lives an idle, useless extortioner on the profit rent.’ The poor tenants, in turn, become themselves rent-seekers. ‘He lets out an acre out of his farm of six acres in conacre to some wretched labourer’ wrote the correspondent, ‘who for the potatoes grown on this land is perhaps compelled to work for the farmer the whole year.’
This is not to say that the middleman and gombeen man always got their own way. In the early 1850s the sin of usury and profiteering was punished in the North-West of Ireland by local secret societies such as the Ribbonmen or Molloy Maguires. In one particular case in 1852, recounted by an ex-policeman 50 years later in the Irish Times, three men ‘known as gombeen men purchased agricultural produce in the harvest time and sold out seed in the spring time to needy farmers… touching heavy interest on their three or six months’ bills.’ Their business acumen brought them to the attention of the Ribbonmen. The ex-policeman explained what happened next:
When a gombeen man infringed the rules of the Ribbonmen he was put on trial, and if found guilty, the sentence was carding. His house was visited by a select party of these legislators, generally between midnight and 2am, and he was taken out of bed naked, and placed on a chair in the room, and a pair of wool cards were used with vigour on his chest and back until the blood flowed freely. He was then solemnly cautioned to obey their orders in the future or worse would follow….. The parish priest denounced [the Ribbonmen] from the altar, and a message was conveyed to him to mind his own business.
By the end of the nineteenth century the middleman had expanded their business model into the cities. The decline of Dublin in the decades after the Act of Union and the retreat of the landed gentry from the city opened up the Georgian squares and grand houses to the speculator and rank-renter. In his evidence to the 1884-85 Royal Commission on the Housing of the Working Classes, the chief medical officer of Dublin, Sir Charles Cameron, was scathing in his criticism of this urban class of middlemen. In the word of his biographer, Lydia Carroll, this class ‘rented houses from absentee landlords, to re-let at exorbitant rents to the poor.’ Cameron in his evidence stated that they ‘live by screwing the largest amount of rent they can out of the tenants. The disproportion between the rents which the actual owner of the house gets and the rents these house jobbers get out of the tenants is sometimes as one to three.’
In 1924, when the dust had settled on the Civil War, and with the industrial north ensconced in its own mini-state, the grazier, shop-keeper, rank-renter and gombeen man set about the task of carving the Irish State in their image. And what a sight it is to behold.
Since the 1920s the gombeen has become a shorthand for all the ills and evils of the Irish business class. The sins of the middleman, the rank rents and money lending, have concertinaed into a Pat Shortt bumbling character of cloth cap and Guinness stains proportions. And throughout the history of the state, although the type of business has changed, the underlying principles have not. The Irish entrepreneur is still a rentier-class, still acting as middleman between foreign capital and the resources of the State – but whereas before it was the Georgian houses that marked their lives, now it’s the IFSC and the law and accountancy firms that make billions by handling the tax-avoidance millions of others. The resource for sale today is the right of a nation-state to set its own tax laws, and to have those tax laws recognised internationally. That is a tradable commodity, one that provides a comfortable living for those engaged in it. The business suit has replaced the cloth cap, but the gombeenism and criminal self-interest remain.
Clergy sex abuse revelations and a more secular climate have created a stigma against attending Mass.
Raised without religion, they are flummoxed by the practices and customs that accompany a Catholic ritual. Though he himself left the church as a teenager in the 1960s, he’s ambivalent about the loss of a binding and, at times, beautiful religious culture.
“People are rejecting something they don’t even remember,” said O’Doherty, whose 2008 book “Empty Pulpits: Ireland’s Retreat from Religion” chronicled the impact of secularization on Ireland. “We may have only a sterile, secular culture that looks at the Catholic Church as an army of priests raping children.”
As Pope Francis takes over the global church, O’Doherty, like many church-watchers in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, ascribe the religion’s current troubles to secularization. In 1946, Pope Paul VI called Ireland “the most Catholic country,” but starting in the mid-1960s, a growing number of the Irish — like many in Western Europe and the United States — began questioning the authority of religious institutions. Today, the percentage of Irish practitioners remains high compared with most of the rest of Europe.
But attendance at weekly Mass continues to decline, also reflecting fallout from two decades of revelations about clergy sexual abuse. William Crawley, a BBC journalist who covers religion in Belfast, agreed that secularization and the sex abuse crisis have dealt a one-two punch to the faithful.
“People are rejecting something they don’t even remember.”
“There’s no stigma in not going to church,” said Crawley, who is an ordained Presbyterian minister. ”In fact there’s a stigma to going. Parents need to explain why they are sending their children to church.”
Although Catholicism is declining in both the north and the south, the situation is different in each country. The south is 84 percent Catholic, while the north is 48 percent. In both places, however, the number of those practicing their faith is significantly lower than those who just check the census box. According to Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin, in 1984, nearly 90 percent of Irish Catholics went to weekly Mass. In 2011, only 18 percent did. Numbers in the north are harder to come by. Rev. Edward McGee, spokesman for the Diocese of Down and Connor, where Belfast is located, said his jurisdiction has no longitudinal surveys on membership or attendance.
That may be why northerners like McGee say the church merely faces challenges, while southerners tend to call the current situation a “crisis.”
“Northern Catholics were a persecuted people, those in the south were more like landed gentry,” said Rev. Gary Toman, Catholic chaplain at Queens University. “There is a very different experience of being [part of the] church in the north. We came through a difficult time during the Troubles and were grounded in the community.”
The Troubles, which started in the 1960s and ended in the “Good Friday” agreement of 1998, was a period of ethnic and religious violence between Protestants and Catholics. According to O’Doherty, years of fighting helped make Catholicism as much an ethnic and political identity as a religious one.
“Leaving your church had the same connotation as leaving your community,” he said.
Another reason for the church’s relative strength in the north may be that neither the northern dioceses nor the local government have thoroughly investigated clergy sexual abuse.
A series of church-based and government investigations in the south revealed widespread abuse of children as well as illicit heterosexual relationships extending over the last quarter of 20th century. Compounding the problem, offending priests had been reassigned by bishops, seeking to cover up or ignore problems.
The revelations were particularly painful for a population that revered priests and saw the church as its social bedrock. In 2010, Pope Benedict apologized to the Irish Church, admitting there had been “serious mistakes.” But victims’ groups felt the statement did not go far enough in accepting responsibility or positing change.
Adding insult to injury, the church may ask parishioners to help pay settlements for abuse victims. The estimated cost of claims is 1.36 billion euros (about $1.75 billion). Since the Catholic Church is a state institution in Ireland, the government is expected to pay part of the bill, but wants religious orders and the dioceses to help.
Still, an ongoing economic slump as well as dwindling numbers of worshippers have made collecting donations difficult. In 2011, a leaked document suggested fining local parishes to help pay costs.
The church, which is the biggest property owner in the south, has been slow to turn over real estate to be sold for compensation. As of last year, a third of the buildings promised in 2002 have yet to be handed over to the state. Some of the buildings may be held in trust and unable to be transferred; others are protected by an indemnity agreement that in 2002 capped the amounts owed by 18 religious orders.
Anger over the handling of the abuse crisis has fueled calls by reformers for a more democratic church. According to Rev. Sean McDonagh, head of the Association for Catholic Priests, the clergy now needs to catch up with laity — the legion of faithful.
“The laity is way ahead of the bishops in terms of the ordination of gays and women,” said McDonagh, referring to two issues that many reformers consider basic. “I’d like to see the church as a communion of equals. The question is: How do we get there?”
Following the demise of Fianna Fail in the last election Micheal Martin announces the Resurrection is at hand. He stated the country would undergo far-reaching changes. Subject to party approval, Fianna Fail would its name to the Irish Frankenstein Party. He declared he would levy special tax on all citizens to complete the transformation of what was the Republic of Ireland into the Republic of Zombie.
In his speech, Mr. Martin declared Zombies rarely suffered from ill health and that future governments would therefore be able to do away with the department of health and social security. Zombie needs were minimal and would greatly benefit the tourist trade
His new election slogan is you can’t beat the Zombies all hail Michael Frankenstein
Is he Irish Healthcare system in a state of terminal decline? What can Dr. James Reilly do about.
Both questions are easily answered – The system as we know it is in Terminal decline. As for Minister Reilly rising to the occasion to save our healthcare system the answer is of course no chance
Ireland who Rules?
The ruling class is ruling, the working class is barely working and for the middle class, well let us just say for them it was fun while it lasted. Unbeknownst to them the middle classes are merging into the proletariat but fail to recognize the signs
The new Rulers
The new rulers are the IMF/ECB and the global Corporations which will slowly but surly turn Ireland into an economic concentration camp and we will meekly comply. What great fate Marx had in humanity if he were alive today he would turn in his grave with shame
Future children will say to their Grandfathers… what was it like to be rich?
Grandfather: It was very nice but alas, those days are gone… The days of wine, roses, and song
Child: why do people refer to as an appendage of the machine?
Grandfather: Because they have taken away your character, your value is no more than that of an add-on to the machine. You in fact are of less value than the machine itself. That child is now your lot.
Child: Will we ever be rich again Grandfather.
Grandfather: Maybe, Maybe when we learn to fight and resist the dictate of the global corporations and their various lackeys
Understand child, your struggle is a class struggle. The politicians your parents vote for have become the servants of the monetary powers. Please realise, these people no longer represent the people. Your vote is no loner an exercise in democracy it has become little more than a cruel fantasy of what democracy should be.
They have betrayed us all by belittling and replacing democracy by the illusory notion of a hybrid Democracy to serve the interests of national security. Child you have nothing to loose but your chains.
Child: Thank you grandfather Marx
In the name of the free market, the lives of millions of people all over the planet are now predestined to expropriation, unemployment, destitution, misery, wars, and State repression.
This is done not under the names of your not your government but at the bequest of the IMF/ECB and the global Corporations
Politics is dead in the Irish Republic. The Irish parliament, the Dail, is now little more than a rubber stamp for the Troika, the generic name for the European Central Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the European Union, the three powers to which the country is in hock.
Things are bad. Ireland’s debt to GDP ratio is set to reach 122 percent in 2013, above the 120 percent threshold the IMF considers unsustainable. The total debt of the country, according to an Irish Times report, is €192 billion, four times what it was in 2007, with a projected need to borrow a further €34 billion before 2015.
The fact is that Ireland is technically cash-flow insolvent. The country simply doesn’t have the revenue to fund the day to day running of the state. And the projections are for continued borrowing for years to come, with a hope – it can be little more than a hope –that somehow, miraculously, the economy will return to growth.
But with little or no sign of that desperately needed economic growth, emigration of graduates and the unemployed is about the only welfare relief the country has – and at a terrible economic and demographic cost to the future of the state.
Over the past year, 87,000 people left Ireland for countries far afield such as Australia, Canada, and the UK, countries that are now reaping the benefits of Ireland’s expensive-to-educate graduates and tradesmen.
Yet fascinatingly, as those 87,000 people leave the country to find work abroad, the number of immigrants entering the country was steady at 52,700, with 12,400 of these from non-EU countries.
This glaring anomaly of educated and skilled people leaving because of unemployment, being replaced by typically low-skilled immigrants, is not mentioned by the political class. It is mentioned on the streets of Dublin, often in great anger, but no politician will touch it. Political correctness along with the Troika now rule the Irish state.
So even in the midst of financial Armageddon, the numbers entering the country continue at Celtic Tiger levels. Ireland’s welfare entitlements are still very generous, and on any common-sense view of human nature would attract takers. And that seems to be what’s happening.
In north Dublin, for example, over half the applicants for social housing are from immigrants, with over 43 percent of the total being lone parents. While waiting to be housed, all social housing applicants receive rent allowance, with the result that over half of all residential rents in the country are now paid for by the state, or more accurately by the few remaining tax payers.
This socialist policy of state housing support is a lucrative business. One Dublin landlord received €620,000 last year in rent subsidies. On the back of socialist welfare policies, landlords are building wealthy property portfolios – all paid for by the Irish tax payer.
One local councillor from north Dublin broke the rigidly enforced political correctness by talking about ‘welfare tourism’, but quickly back-pedalled and qualified his remark by repeating the well established liberal mantra of how Ireland ‘needs immigrants.’
So what, if anything, is the Irish government doing about this unsustainable mess, apart from drawing lucrative salaries and gold-plated pensions? The Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny is paid more than David Cameron.
Economically the Troika is in charge, and the recent austerity budget – which imposed a swingeing property tax on householders, many of whom are in negative equity – was designed largely to facilitate repaying the country’s debt. The government doesn’t have much option here. It simply has to do what it is told by the Brussels apparatchiks.
The Irish political class, in effect, are reduced to being managers working for the Troika, and there’s virtually no serious political debate in the country about any alternative, such as leaving the euro and devaluing. All political parties, both left and right, give absolute and unconditional support to the euro project.
As Nigel Farage said on Irish radio a few months ago, Irish politicians are “the good boys of Europe. Brussels says jump and the Irish say how high.”
Such Brussels worship is unique in the EU. In the UK for example, as in France and other EU states, there is some degree of rational opposition to the EU and to the euro single currency, and these issues often split along left and right lines. There’s no such split in the Irish body politic.
But there is one, highly contentious issue where the Irish political class has dug in and taken a stand – Irish corporation tax rate.
Ireland has one of the lowest corporation tax rates in the EU, at 12.5 percent. This makes the Irish Republic a major corporate tax haven, competing with places such as the Cayman Islands. Many large corporations, including Mit Romney’s Bain Capital Private Equity, use Ireland as a corporate base for tax purposes.
There is unanimous support for this beggar-thy-neighbour policy right across the Irish political spectrum – and for good reason. Thanks to its much resented tax haven status, Ireland pulls in large tax revenues that account for an Irish share of global profits hugely disproportionate to the size of the economy.
But the country risks becoming a pariah state over the issue. Many countries in the EU, particularly the French, are furious at Ireland’s tax haven status. They claim companies such as Google use transfer pricing – routing profits from high tax to low tax jurisdictions – that benefits Ireland and takes from the French exchequer.
With such fierce opposition, it’s difficult to see how the Irish can, in the long run, hold out against French demands for change. So even on the issue of setting its own corporation tax rate, it looks like the Irish political class will eventually have to concede to the power of Brussels. When that happens, along with closer political union, many argue there will be little need for an independent Irish parliament.
Vincent Cooper is a freelance writer
There is a plethora of companies, both big and small, thirsty for a drop of oil wealth
THE movers and shakers of our fledgling oil industry are small by any standards.
Providence Resources and Lansdowne Gas and Oil don’t really belong in the same sentence with Exxon or Shell, but it’s the minnows who are pushing the new wave of exploration off the Irish coast.
The big guys are here too. Shell and Statoil are lead names in the controversial Corrib gas field, while Exxon plans to drill the Dunquin prospect off the south west coast next year.
There are 69 exploration areas scattered around the Irish coast, with multiple exploration licences awarded. Here are the companies, local and international, that hope to strike it rich on Irish territory.
The biggest player on the Irish exploration scene, the O’Reilly family- controlled Providence says it has invested more than €600m in exploring Irish territorial waters over the last 30 years. Payback came in October when it announced the discovery of 1.8bn barrels of oil at Barryroe, 43% of which was accessible. Providence has interest in a further 12 sites off the Irish coast, from Antrim to the Barryroe field off Cork, where it shares the wealth with San Leon Energy (30%) and Lansdowne Oil & Gas (20%).
The company is also principal operator of the controversial Dalkey well.
Serica Energy PLC
Serica has been active in Irish waters since 2006, when it was awarded an offshore frontier licence in the Slyne Basin. In 2009 it drilled the Bandon oil discovery well, estimated to contain up to 292m barrels. The same year, Serica was awarded an offshore frontier exploration licence in the Rockall Basin, with a further licence awarded in the same area in 2011.
Royal Dutch Shell
One of the largest and most valuable corporations on earth, Shell’s involvement in the Corrib gas field has been dogged by controversy and claims of human rights abuses. The Corrib field remains the company’s primary interest in Ireland. Shell E&P Ireland Ltd also has interests in three exploration licences off the coast, two in the Slyne Basin; the third in the Rockall Basin.
Lough Allen Natural Gas Company (Langco)
One of the largest natural gas deposits on Irish territory lies beneath Lough Allen, straddling parts of Roscommon, Sligo, Cavan, Fermanagh and Leitrim. A licence was granted to the Lough Allen Natural Gas Company and its partner Tamboran Resources in Feb 2011.
PSE Kinsale Energy Ltd
Producing natural gas off the Old Head of Kinsale since 1978, and operating the Kinsale Head and Ballycotton gas fields. The Kinsale Head field is thought to be nearing the end of its life. The company was acquired by Malaysian oil giant Petronas in 2009.
Lansdowne Oil and Gas plc
A 20% partner in the lucrative Barryroe field, Lansdowne is an independent exploration company that has been listed on the AIM market of the London Stock Exchange since Apr 2006. It also has an interest in the Carrigaline and Galley Head gas discoveries, estimated to contain 81.8bn cubic feet and 86bn cubic feet of gas respectively.
Fastnet Oil and Gas
Another small independent, recently formed by Cove Energy boss John Craven and backed by Raglan Capital. Fastnet is focused on identifying early stage exploration opportunities in offshore Ireland and Africa. It has been awarded four offshore licensing options in the Celtic Sea.
San Leon Energy
A specialist oil and gas company with interests across Europe and North America, the company has a 30% stake in the Barryroe discovery. Following the awarding of further licenses last November, San Leon now has eight assets around the coast.
Chrysaor E&P Ireland Ltd
UK-based Chrysaor began vessel- based geotechnical and environmental survey work at the Porcupine Basin, 200km off the Clare coast, last August. Partnering with Providence Resources and Sosina Exploration at Spanish Point, the company estimates the field may contain the equivalent of 200m barrels of oil.
Antrim Energy Inc
A Canadian-based international oil and gas exploration and production company with assets offshore in the North Sea and Tanzania as well as Ireland. In Oct-Nov 2011, it was awarded a frontier licence option covering over 1,400km² in the Porcupine Basin.
The largest corporation in the world, on 2011 figures, it said in October it planned to drill the Dunquin gas prospect off the west coast next year. The energy giant holds two exploration licenses in the Porcupine basin — 27.5% of Dunquin and a 36% share in Cuchulainn, further west. Total assets cover just over 700,000 acres, 125 miles out to sea.
In 2011, Repsol acquired 25% of the Exxon Mobil and ENI stake in the Dunquin project in the Porcupine basin. Also in 2011, the Spanish company acquired 40% of the Newgrange exploratory project in the South Porcupine/Goban Spur basin to the south of the country. Total net surface area under investigation is 969km².
The Norwegian oil giant’s interest in Ireland consists exclusively of a 36.5% stake in the Corrib gas field. The terminal which will process the gas is under construction, while the pipeline from field to shore is in place.
Europa Oil and Gas
This AIM-listed exploration and production company has assets in Britain and France, as well as two licensing options — Mullen and Kiernan — in the South Porcupine Basin.
Island Oil and Gas
This small independent has an interest in three significant prospects including the Connemara oil field and Schull gas field.
Shares in this company quadrupled overnight when it announced last November that it had found 1bn barrels of oil in the South Porcupine Basin off the Kerry coast. Set up by John Teeling, Petrel has been around for more than 20 years. Previous exploration activity focused on Iraq and Ghana, though the company did drill in Ireland in the 1990s.
Two Seas Oil and Gas
A small company started in 2010, pursuing exploration opportunities in the Netherlands and Britain as well as Ireland, where it jointly owns two blocks in the Porcupine Basin.