Tottering trinity of power collapses but we’ll pick up the tab

Sunday Tribune 7 June

Money is the first thing to greet you as you approach a churchyard: it calls from the collection tin being rattled at the gate.
Money is the first thing to greet you as you pass the font, forehead dripping. Catholic newspapers for sale – and “every Catholic home should have one”.
Money is everywhere inside the church. The candles near the altar can be bought for a special intention. The slot in the wall is for the parish dues. The second collection is for the upkeep of the priests.
Money is there when you first enter the spirit of the church. Silver is given for christenings. Money is the first thing you hope for when you receive First Communion and are confirmed. A Catholic childhood is marked by this trinity of religious landmarks and windfalls. Adulthood is marked by the trinity of births, deaths and marriages, requiring gifts and donations to the church. Irish Catholicism is awash with money and we are bred to receive it as children and give it back as adults. Only the church gets to keep it.
A Catholic life is mapped out by trinities. A Catholic country is too.
Those of us under 50 didn’t know the trinity that once ruled Ireland: the church, the banks and the state’s biggest party, Fianna Fáil. We do know, however, what it’s like to watch it falling from grace.
The banks have been falling for months, the church – by which I mean the entire organisation from bishop to brother – has been damned by the Ryan report, and Fianna Fáil have been flayed at the polls. Natural justice is prevailing.
Fianna Fáil were in power for most of the 1950s and all of the ’60s, that dark period investigated by the Ryan report. It colluded, one way or another, with the church in the abuse of children. In 2002, it colluded again and capped the orders’ liability at €127m while they lied about the extent of the abuse. The man with ultimate responsibility for that deal was taoiseach Bertie Ahern, a visibly devout Catholic.
Last Thursday, Fianna Fáil again spoke to the orders, who said they were willing to make “substantial additional financial contributions”. The government must wait two weeks to learn how much that will be. It hopes it will equal the state’s contribution.
Instead of finding a legal way to undo the black knot tied by Ahern, the government is sitting on its hands waiting to be dictated to by the religious orders. It’s waiting outside the head brother’s door, hoping it won’t get smacked again.
This government has looked after its banker friends with billions and is still kow-towing to the cloth. It should put a gun to the church’s head and make it pay for all the ‘redress’. It’s as straightforward as that: drag the church to its knees and punish it.
Those are hard words to type. I was baptised a Catholic. To have faith and to lose it is worse than never having believed. The realisation that the church which taught you how to pray at night was actually the monster under the bed is almost too hard to comprehend.
Twice daily, the church reminds us of its presence. At lunch and teatime, God’s dinner bell rings out for the Angelus. With every clang of the bell, we are reminded that this is a Catholic country – and reminded of the sins perpetrated by our predecessors.
And here is the point: none of this is my fault. My generation is not responsible. We are paying for other people’s sins. While perverts are at liberty, the victims are, rightly, seeking compensation. Thanks to Fianna Fáil, we are picking up the tab.
I want the victims of abuse to be properly cared for, but I am not willing to pay for it while the church can. It’s rotten with money – we are not, thanks to Fianna Fáil’s developer friends. The state that existed back then is gone. Today’s generation should not be sharing its guilt. I would rather bankrupt the church than accept any of the blame for what Ryan revealed. The church must rip up Ahern’s 2002 deal and prostrate itself before its victims. It should not be given two weeks to decide what contributions it wants to make.
There are many good people in the church. This must be heartbreaking for them. They would still be good people even if there was no church. Their contribution should not be forgotten.
Eighty six per cent of us said we were Catholics at the last census. Many of us are really just à la carte, picking the bits we like – weddings, Christenings – and ignoring the rest. After Ryan, how many can stomach being associated with the church, even on that basis? A similar question can be asked of Fianna Fáil’s ‘rump’ supporters. After all the revelations, how could you vote for it last Friday?
According to a Newstalk poll, 73% of us want a general election. Fianna Fáil must give it to us now.
For the past month, their canvassers have vied with the collectors for Catholics’ attention at the church gates – a reminder of the old trinity of politics, piety and the sound of money.
Today, just the charity workers remain – without politicians to hinder their work.

dkenny@tribune.ie

June 7, 2009

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Greens have sacrificed principles for the illusion of power

Sunday Tribune 10 May

What’s that sound? Is it the thunder of hooves just over the next ridge? Hurray! It’s George Lee leading the cavalry (he’s the one on a Segway) to rescue us from the dole queue. Hip, hip, hurray etc, etc.
No matter how you look at it, Fine Gael has floored Fianna Fáil with its choice of candidate for the Dublin South by-election on 5 June. George ticks all the boxes: he’s sincere, popular and knowledgable. With the exception of FF, the announcement was loudly applauded. Too loudly. The reaction bordered on mild hysteria. George, while being very, very good at maths, has no political track record. He might be rubbish. Still, it said a lot about where we, the electorate, are at emotionally.
Lee’s decision may turn out to be a missed opportunity. Many would like to see a new party enter the fray. With George’s financial acumen bolstered by a couple of seasoned dissidents, we could have seen the birth of the George Lee Party. (‘George Lee’ and ‘party’: there’s three words you don’t see together too often.) In time, it might have become known as the Glee Party – ‘Spreading the message of gloom with Glee’. Now we’ll never know.
While George was throwing shapes over the economy, another man of principle, Eddie Hobbs, reminded us of Fianna Fáil’s culture of hard-necked cronyism. Hobbs resigned in protest from the National Consumer Association on Thursday. He had called for Bertie Ahern’s ‘ex’, Celia Larkin, to step down over the revelation that she was fast-tracked for a mortgage by Michael Fingleton. True to FF form, she refused.
The two ‘people’s economists’ aren’t the only men of principle taking pot-shots at Fianna Fáil. The Greens are at it too. The first rumblings between the Saviours of the Earth and Fianna Fáil came over the TDs’ bonuses debacle. Then John Gormley announced the scrapping of electronic voting, despite a Cabinet decision to defer it. Last Wednesday, Eamon Ryan really stuck the boot in. He told Newstalk’s Eamon Keane that he wouldn’t recommend Green voters give their transfers to Fianna Fáil in the upcoming local elections. He also said the Greens would be open to doing business with Fine Gael/Labour in a possible National Government. Principled Ryan spoke of “values”. He didn’t mention loyalty to his government partners, though.
FF played down Ryan’s disloyalty and revealed its grand by-election plan to defeat George Lee. It has chosen the late Seamus Brennan’s son, Shay, to run against him. Fine Gael is putting up a trusted economist, while FF is relying on sentiment. Economies are not saved by sentiment.
To compound the impression that Fianna Fáil is entirely clueless, Brian Lenihan said, disingenuously, that the three sets of elections on 5 June don’t constitute “a referendum”. This is rubbish. Fianna Fáil will be tested across the entire voting spectrum: local, by-elections and European. The outcome will reflect the public mood: 384,000 unemployed people are looking forward to letting him and his colleagues know how we feel. You only have to look at the election posters to see FF is really worried: the words ‘Fianna Fáil’ are microscopic. It’s like they’re trying to distance themselves from themselves.
Ryan’s comments, too, were designed to distance the Greens from them in the run-up to the elections. The question is: What will the Greens do when the elections are over? If Ryan was disloyal last week, imagine what he’ll be like when FF is really down.
There’s revolution in the air. The public is subconsciously preparing for a new government. As Seán O’Rourke was grilling Lee on Tuesday’s News at One, the speculation wasn’t whether he would win the seat, but what portfolio he would get in the next cabinet. Lee had leaped that hurdle and was already in a new Fine Gael-led government in the public’s mind.
The Greens realise this and that they face annihilation in a general election. They need to start building bridges, which may be why Ryan spoke about doing business with Fine Gael on Newstalk. This double talk, however, is giving weight to ex-Green Patricia McKenna’s assertion that they are hypocrites who have sold out.
George Lee has sacrificed his power as a commentator to follow his principles. The Greens have sacrificed their principles for the illusion of power. Their weasly behaviour is at odds with the image of a party with lofty ideals. They used to stand for integrity and plain-speaking. It’s taken them just two years to learn how to speak like Fianna Fáil. They are still politically immature though. Trying to be Machiavellian doesn’t suit them and is, frankly, a bit embarassing. It’s like watching the class nerd trying to act tough.
The response to Lee’s candidacy has shown that, psychologically, we are already on a general election footing. By failing to strongly endorse their partners now, the Greens are effectively undermining them. They are hinting that they’re having doubts. If they don’t act upon these doubts, they are finished as a party. It’s a dangerous game they’re playing.
The Greens can still show they have some principles left. They should jump ship now, before it’s too late, and nail their colours to a National Government mast.
It’s either that, or get nailed by a seething electorate.

dkenny@tribune.ie