Monthly Archives: August 2013

On Ireland’s ‘Catholic Ethos’


-“If private medicine is funded by the State, why do we need private medicine?”

“Poor guy, he’s delirious”

(El Roto)

Let’s recap.

The Sisters of Mercy are the owners of the Mater hospital. The Sisters of Charity are the owners of St. Vincent’s Hospital.

Both hospitals may refuse to perform life-saving abortions because this might conflict with their religious ethos.

Both orders have refused to contribute to a compensation fund for the victims of the Magdalene Laundries owned and run by them.

So, two religious orders that ran slave institutions are the owners of publicly funded hospitals.

And not too many people seem to see anything wrong with that.

What is more, the Sisters of Mercy and the Sisters of Charity operated various industrial schools. The Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse report concluded that there was a ‘high level of severe corporal punishment’ in Goldenbridge, an institution run by the Sisters of Mercy. There was a ‘pervasive climate of fear’ in the Institution as a result.

  • ‘Children were beaten and humiliated for bed-wetting by both nuns and lay staff’.
  • ‘Bead making became an industrial activity that was pursued obsessively; the work was difficult and uncomfortable and it was painful for children’.
  • ‘Scraps were thrown out of a receptacle into the yard, and children scrambled for them.’
  • ‘Children drank out of the toilet… some children were deprived of water in an effort to cure bed-wetting, and they found water where they could.

The idea that religious orders should own hospitals paid for by the public, but with an important private and exclusive component, is regarded as something normal. The idea that religious orders should own schools paid for by the public, but with an important private and exclusive component, is regarded as something normal too.

The officially acknowledged involvement of the religious orders in deeply abusive and repressive institutions has had no effect on their ownership of hospitals funded by the public. The present Government has said it cannot compel the orders to make any contribution to the compensation fund.

(The congregations transmitted their refusal after the Government had unleashed ferocious investigative Rottweiler Martin McAleese upon the congregations.)

The priest on the board of the Mater hospital, Fr Kevin Doran, has objected to the Mater carrying out abortions. Because, he says, this would go against the ethos of the Catholic hospital.

An ethos is not very easy to define in the abstract. It can’t be characterised simply by its declared values. You also have to look at the way those values are reflected in practice.

What are the particular characteristics of the Catholic ethos in Ireland’s hospitals and schools? You can’t really say that the Catholic ethos, in hospitals, is characterised by compassion or dedication to treating sick people, because you find such things in hospitals that are not Catholic. And if it is a matter of religious belief in gospel teachings, those teachings are open to interpretation. It is their interpretation through practice that counts, but it is hard to distinguish between what flows from religious conviction and what does not. People who work in the hospitals themselves may be atheist but conduct themselves no different from their Muslim or Christian colleagues.

What we can say about the ethos of a Catholic hospital in Ireland, or a Catholic school in Ireland, is that there is no contradiction between the Catholic ethos and the ownership of private property. There is no contradiction between the Catholic ethos and excluding someone from medical treatment or access to education because they don’t have enough money.  There is no contradiction between the Catholic ethos demonstrated in Ireland’s education and health systems and capitalism.

This shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. If we look at the history of said ethos in Ireland, we see slavery, child labour, corporal punishment and humiliation, psychological torture, the subjugation of women, and a ‘pervasive climate of fear’, to use the words of the Ryan Commission.

Well, such an ethos has served, and continues to serve, certain people rather well, both in terms of its repressive function and its ideological function. If you don’t believe you have the right to universal health care, if you don’t believe your child has the right to free education, because the education system and the health system has treated you as inferior, you are unlikely to mobilise for it.

So we might want to start talking about how this Catholic ethos serves Ireland’s ruling class and its discourse of privatisation and meritocracy, especially in relation to health and education. We might want to start talking, for instance, about the fears of Ireland’s ruling class for what might happen if women were to win abortion rights.  Because this goes a lot further than a problem of a few antediluvian priests and nuns who rear their heads every now and again.


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Tabernacles Full Of Money

I left a shorter version of this comment on the Irish Times article titled ‘Mater board priest says hospital can’t carry out abortions’

What the hell is going on here? It seems there is a priest who says that the Mater Misericordiae University Hospital will not perform abortions in order to save the life of a pregnant woman. Since when did priests get to decide what medical treatment women ought to receive? Since when did priests have a say in determining women’s reproductive rights? Are we living in some kind of patriarchal theocratic backwater? Answer: this is a Catholic country.

The imperious ejaculations from the Catholic Church with regard to ethos are all a means of obscuring the real ethos of the Catholic Church. It has nothing to do with ‘the healing ministry of Jesus Christ’. It has to do with making money. Tabernacles full of money. And, in the case of health services, making tabernacles full of cash out of people’s pain and, in the particular area of women’s health, out of the subjection of women.

Reflection time: Mater Misericordiae. That means ‘Mother of Mercy’, right? Well, what kind of mercy is it that requires a cash payment, as is the case with the ‘Mater Private’? That kind of mercy sounds to me like the sort dispensed by hitmen and mercenaries: pony up €5,000 or lose a kidney.

Sketching out the common characteristics of the so-called PIGS countries in 2011, political scientist Vicenç Navarro pointed to the fact that Portugal, Greece, Ireland and Greece had all been ruled by deeply conservative forces for the greater part of the 20th century.

But whilst it is recognised that peoples of the other three countries were subjected to dictatorships, an implicit distinction is drawn in the Irish case. From the point of view of Ireland’s political and media establishments, Ireland is the site of a liberal parliamentary democracy of impressive longevity.

To hold Ireland up as a beacon of democracy entails ignoring certain inconvenient facts about this ‘Catholic country’: an array of brutal carceral institutions -industrial schools, slave laundries and psychiatric hospitals; wide-ranging censorship; impunity for corruption and fraud by the rich; the longstanding privileges afforded to financiers and property speculators at the cost of the public’s welfare; the systematic evacuation of poorer sectors of society through the safety valve of emigration and their subsequent loss of the political franchise. The neglect and abuse of children. A constitution that guarantees the subjection of women and enforces drastic restrictions on their reproductive rights. A meagre and judgmental welfare state and a public culture that prizes charity over solidarity. Decisions made by unaccountable cliques. A reluctance to challenge authority for fear of retribution and winding up in hell with the filth of the world.

None of these things could have been achieved without the backing, the blessing, and the active collaboration of the Catholic Church, with its hatred of democracy and its love of hierarchy and privilege. It has long opposed the building of institutions in Irish life that are seen as basic achievements of democratic life in other countries, including universal health care and free education. The hierarchy said such things would lead to totalitarianism. It supported Franco’s fascist dictatorship in Spain and denounced those who fought against it. Its priests subjected children to heinous abuse, and its bishops covered it up. It promoted the ownership of property as a bulwark against revolutionary change. In every city, town and village throughout Ireland where it operated it fostered an awe of the rich and powerful and contempt for the poor, who were to be patronised and stigmatised.

It is a major player in maintaining Ireland’s two-tier health and education systems. Some of the priests, like the one on the Mater board of directors, are awful, but some of the lay members are worse: millionaire private health investors who fund conservative think tanks to produce anti-abortion materials and campaign for state funding of private schools.
If it is anything, the Catholic Church in Ireland is a racket operated in order to protect the regime of property and the privileges of the rich. Casting it out of public institutions would be a useful first step toward a democratic society.


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I Support The Dublin Bus Workers

Image via 1913 Unfinished Business.

I left this comment on The

I fully support the Dublin Bus workers in their fight to maintain a decent standard of living for themselves and their families. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, but it really is still hard to take the abject whinging and sniping from ordinary people who think collective action in protection of wages and conditions is some kind of outrage against natural justice.

What, you think the IMF wants you to live a long and prosperous life? You think the ECB is on your side? You think the weekend, paid holidays and sick leave are gifts from above, from the likes of Denis O’Brien and Dermot Desmond and John Bruton? You think Leo Varadkar finds it hard to sleep at night because you struggle with your bills?

Things such as weekend, paid holidays and sick leave were fought for and won through long years of struggle on the part of working people. The thrust of public policy in Ireland, as elsewhere, is toward the destruction of the social fabric, in the interests of the wealthiest in society. The goal is to crush the power of organised labour, privatise public services and roll back the social gains that took decades of effort on the part of working people to achieve. This is a pattern we have seen time and again, in the US, in the UK, in Greece, in Spain, and presently, in Ireland.

It takes resolve and determination to stand up to that, and I have nothing but contempt for the sniveling hyenas who think other people’s wages and conditions should be destroyed simply because they themselves have no rights at work and because they think the best way of saving their own hide is to ape their boss.


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The Economic Management Council and the Heavenly Machine

I left this comment on Economics editor Dan O’Brien’s article in today’s Irish Times, titled ‘Economic Management Council so good it should be made permanent’:

Dan O’Brien is correct about the need for technocratic elites unencumbered by structures of democratic accountability.

Decisions that affect millions of people must be concentrated in the hands of as few people as possible.

These supremely intelligent people should not have to explain themselves. Nor should they have to endure the effects of their decisions.

What is more, all such people, by dint of certificates from major universities, and references from people like Dan O’Brien, are above politics, because economics is the point where grubby politics ends and the pure order of scientific perfection begins, and its track record as a critical intellectual discipline is beyond compare.

If the capitalist State is a ‘sprawling behemoth’, as Dan O’Brien describes it, it must be kept under a tight rein by a narrow cadre of experts.

If not, it will fall into the hands of the motley and uneducated hordes, who might start interfering with property rights and profits and collective bargaining and what else have you. Before you know it they might re-organise society on a basis that prioritised public welfare over the health of the financial sector.

The State must be on its guard against people with what the author describes as ‘ulterior political motives’, such as the establishment of a democratic society with universal public services.

In short, the State must not have to endure the ululations of the rabble interrupting the workings of the heavenly machine.

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The Plank Walks


Pat Kenny

Pat Kenny moved to Newstalk yesterday. Pat Kenny is a current affairs and occasional light entertainment broadcaster who has spent a very long time working for RTE, the state broadcaster. He has been working for RTE a lot longer than most people in Ireland have been alive. That means that for large numbers of people, the fact he will be no longer heard on RTE is akin to the abolition of Weetabix. Kenny is a national institution, like alcoholism and paying for schoolbooks.

There does not seem to be much weeping and gnashing of teeth at his departure, though I may just be moving in the wrong circles. By ‘wrong’ I mean circles where everyone thinks he is a pompous asshole who gets paid too much.

If Pat Kenny were just a matter of an ersatz Alan Partridge, a big fish in a small pond who would struggle to crack Radio Norwich had he been born somewhere like Peterborough, there would be no need for this post.

But he is not just an ersatz Alan Partridge, though he is that. For many years he has been a dogged and meticulous defender of the Irish ruling class and free market economic orthodoxy. He has played a linchpin role in maintaining a generalised sense of inevitable necessity about austerity policies.

When someone was making an argument for taxing wealth, he would use histrionics to adumbrate it. When someone was making an argument for protecting profits, he would treat it as the quintessence of common sense. In regular slots on Kenny’s radio programme, Paddy O’Gorman, a roving reporter, would be sent out on human safari, speaking with marginalised people as if they were exotic wildlife. In a two-step of class condescension, Kenny and O’Gorman always took pains to make clear that these specimens were individually responsible for their predicament.

Pat Kenny embodied everything that stinks about RTE’s claim to be a public broadcaster. It was not just his exorbitant salary; Kenny saw to it that your TV licence went towards advocacy of your continued expropriation. Seen in this light, his departure to Newstalk, owned by Malta billionaire Denis O’Brien, is not only a moment of welcome release for the public; it is a fitting finale for his broadcasting career.


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