Taoiseach’s speech: An end to ‘Never explain, never apologise’?

The papers are full of the taoiseach’s speech to the Dail yesterday. Rightly so. It was an audacious speech, and one made in stark contrast to the parliamentary mumbling and stumbling of the two previous taoisigh. And, importantly, it was a defence of thousands upon thousands of ordinary Catholics, ‘who have been shocked and dismayed by the repeated failings of church authorities to face up to what is required’.

Somewhere in the Irish media in the last few days, someone described the Catholic church as the largest franchise holder in the world. In his speech, Enda, as westerly and as Catholic a TD as they come, was siding with the franchisees against the franchise holders in Rome. And a statesman like statement that the era of ‘Roma locuta est. Causa finita est’ (Rome has spoken, the case is closed) is at an end.

But there is something deeper here. The organs of the state have been examined and found wanting in regard to it’s handling of child abuse. But the church is not an organ of the state, or at least it has been put on notice that it is no longer to be slyly so conceived.

This was an appeal to the wider community, that they should allow the law take primacy over the strong local bonds of patronage and obligation, not least when he offered this brief precis of the social import of the Cloynes report:

Cloyne’s revelations are heart-breaking. It describes how many victims continued to live in the small towns and parishes in which they were reared and in which they were abused… Their abuser often still in the area and still held in high regard by their families and the community. The abusers continued to officiate at family weddings and funerals… In one case, the abuser even officiated at the victim’s own wedding…

And he further notes:

Clericalism has rendered some of Ireland’s brightest, most privileged and powerful men, either unwilling or unable to address the horrors cited in the Ryan and Murphy Reports.

This Roman Clericalism must be devastating for good priests…. some of them old… others struggling to keep their humanity….even their sanity……..as they work so hard…..to be the keepers of the Church’s light and goodness within their parishes…… communities… the human heart.

The promise of this speech is a powerful one, and one that is long overdue. The primacy of law is something the state has struggled with since its inception. Much of the huge debt burden Foreign Minister Noonan is desparate to extract the Republic from in Brussels today accrued because too much burden was put on trust between indivduals to the extent to laying the law to one side

The much vaunted referendum mechanism for empowering the wider citizenry of the state, and which was, in the past, often treated as a device for taking steam out of an issue which was then treated with disdainful neglect, has several times in the last decade been used to upbraid a political elite which has become over-embedded in the compromising vagaries of the local parish to detriment of their obligations as custodians of the national law.

There’s a striking parallel between “Roma locuta est; Causa finita est” and Charles Haughey’s famous maxim “Never explain, and never apologise”, which has to have been intentional. Little is left, for now, for his critics but ‘to parse and analyse with the gimlet eye of a canon lawyer‘.

For all the short term impact of Enda Kenny’s audacious and statesman-like speech, this is not yet even the beginning of the struggle to bring such a profound change in Irish political and social culture as to firmly establish the primacy of law over the pernicious clientelism which has dogged the Irish Republic since its independence.

Such actions that follow will speak much louder than words..

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  • “by the repeated failings of church authorities to face up to what is required”

    Kenny has rightly noted the failings of Church and State but there must also have been many others who knew the score but who sat on their hands in the pews and elsewhere.

  • Mick Fealty

    I think he’s deliberately taking the case to the boss, as a means of pressuring just those folk.

    It should also be noted that, further to your point about ‘many others’ that not all Catholic clergy are/were abusers. Far from it, they schooled many of us towards generosity and consideration of those less well off than ourselves.

    And not all abusers are Catholic clergy, a point that is too often lost at such powerful moments, as the church struggles fitfully and variously to get itself right with the world.

  • “a means of pressuring just those folk”

    Mick, I think Enda should also have addressed folk directly – reminded them of their individual and collective responsibilities.

    “not all Catholic clergy are/were abusers”

    I’d have thought that relatively few are/were abusers. As I’ve stated on previous occasions, religious of all denominations were some of the best supporters of JCSS and of Corrymeela.

    Back in the summer of 73 some Corrymeela friends and I from the summer of 72 ran our own summer scheme. On one occasion we were short of transport so I rang several contacts – a local Mother Superior sent a minibus, a driver and a message that anything I wanted I could have! This was in very sharp contrast to other leaders who were setting folks at each others throats or were organising murder, mayhem and destruction.

  • Mick Fealty

    How would you suggest he did that? Remember, as Brian reminds us, these are just words. Actions are what matters.

  • “further to your point about ‘many others’ that not all Catholic clergy are/were abusers”

    Mick, just for the sake of clarity, by ‘many others’ I was referring essentially to laity who were aware of abuse or who suspected it but chose to remain silent.

  • “How would you suggest he did that?”

    By referring to the people and reminding them of their responsibilities too, Mick; a failure to mention them IMO absolves them of such responsibilities. As we all know from our recent history, words do have an impact and are just as relevant as actions.

  • Mick Fealty

    A comment from Facebook:

    “I would have more respect for a speech like that when he tackles child abuse by the state, he heads a country that created secret courts so that child abuse could be hidden, all talk no bark and miles off a bite”

  • pippakin

    Surely its a beginning a recognition of where the main responsibility within the church lies. Its a remarkable and refreshing change from previous leaders.

    To deal with the state and its abuse of children will take more and different methods but I wonder if FG are not the only party who could do it? their support base is kind of ‘middle Ireland’ and that is where real change will spring from.

  • Mick Fealty

    Kevin McGee at Broadsheet.ie:

    As to the charge of populism, do you really think any spin doctors would really have advised a politician who is already popular to launch a carnivorous assault on the Pope? How secular do you think Ireland is?

    “Kenny has been both brave and considered here, and he should be supported.”

  • Alias

    It is now politically popular to condemn the Church based on the various reports and to deliver the standard ‘must never happen again’ spiel with a suitable tone to counter the public’s weariness that ‘never again’ is the standard mantra, so this is just a political hack saying what it is politically popular to say. No change there at all.

    The Vatican is a foreign state with its own system of law and is own command of fidelity that supercedes that of the sovereign state wherein it operates, so until the state re-asserts the sovereignty over institutions of the state that it has derogated to a foreign state then all this is just words. The problem is the system, and that systemic corruption remains fully in situ, with no delarating from the foreign state that it intends to recognise the host state’s sovereignty and with the full knowledge of any one with an ounce of common sense that systemic problems cannot be solved without reform of the system.

  • Alias

    delarating = declaration

  • The Church* is just a dirty little secret intelligence organisation ….. for just imagine the uses and leverage you have with all of those confessions? Just imagine the crimes you would be privy too and complicit in by virtue of the omerta/silence?

    And that is not to mention its MkUltraSensitive brainwashing activities with its tales to children before they are able to think for themselves of eternal damnation and the such like. Many folk, who may even be most folk, never reach a stage where they can think for themselves and are always subject to the slavery of other’s tales who would be just following an old defunct script specifically designed for that very perverse task.

    And that is the flip side to Mick’s very valid post too …. 21 July 2011 at 12:46 pm …… for religion is a useful temporal and/or temporary crutch for many a lost soul.

    * And that is all churches, for they all are selling the same thing and pretending it is different from the opposition/competition.

  • Greenflag

    @ Alias

    ‘any one with an ounce of common sense knows that systemic problems cannot be solved without reform of the system.’

    Which also applies to the world wide financial services and monetary and fiscal mess.

    I’d like to see Mr Kenny give the IMF/ECB a similar lambasting- not that there’s any chance of that any time soon.

  • Alias

    The con job that Kenny and FG pulled on the Irish people during the election was to talk about the level of interest that should be made on the cost to Irish taxpayers of bailing-out the eurosystem, thereby establishing the principle that the debt was legitimate and should be made by taxpayers. The only issue was the interest rate on the debt, not the debt itself. It was obvious to anyone who cared to notice at that point that the pup would not bark at the EU.

    And what did the other FG clown, Noonan, do? He saw that the EU were linking a possible reduction on the rate to reform of Ireland’s corporate tax rate, so he boldly declared that he would rather keep Ireland’s corporate tax rate than accept a reduction! What an utter moron! The two issues had no valid link to begin with, but he allowed them to be linked and traded the imaginary concession for no reduction in the rate that they promised to reduce.

    Sorry, but you’ll be waiting a long time if you’re waiting for those muppets to promote Ireland redundant national interest.

  • Alias

    made = paid