Against The Family


There is nothing natural nor primary about ‘the Family’, the entity enshrined in the Irish constitution. ‘The Family’ is an ideological abstraction, and an obnoxious one at that. The ways in which people live together and experience kinship are not fixed in time, and even now are far more varied than this looming abstraction would have you believe. What is more, the roles of parent and child contained in the family ideal have not always been the norm, not least since the way we recognise children nowadays is something quite new in human history.

Given that the constitution declares ‘the Family’ as ‘the necessary basis for social order’ and ‘indispensable to the welfare of the Nation and the State’, it should come as no surprise that any event that calls the validity of this ideological abstraction into question should meet with a defensive reaction on the part of those who have come to see the current social order as the natural order of things, and who see it as their calling to defend this order. Indeed, the State has a horrifying history of punishing those who do not fit in with this order.

The imaginary beast of ‘Middle Ireland’, in the minds of those who speak about it and write about it, is largely composed of a vast host of Families who conform more or less to the Family ideal set out in the constitution. Little platoons, as Edmund Burke put it, comprising pillars of the community, small-c conservatives who will always do you a good turn and who will prove decent to the core in your dealings with them. There they are, at GAA matches, at Tidy Town clean-ups on the roadside, chatting with the priest after Mass. Practical-minded people who have no truck with fancy notions that might disturb the idyll that largely prevails. Responsible breadwinners and devoted mammies. In this regard it is not surprising that a large part of the popularity -in so far as he is popular- of the current Taoiseach rests on the image fashioned of the active GAA man and schoolteacher, down to earth and full of bonhomie.

Alan Hawe certainly seemed to fit the bill in this regard. It may well be that those who spoke so highly of him in the wake of his murderous rampage had previously seen in him the kind of person that they themselves ought to be, because he appeared to conform so well to this image of the world, which many people presume to be the right one. For the chroniclers of ‘Middle Ireland’, the very idea that ‘the Family’ itself gives life to a multitude of atrocities, that it amounts in many cases to a form of prison, particularly for women and children, is not so much unpalatable as unthinkable, and so they seek out voices that confirm that whatever about Alan Hawe, all is well with ‘the Family’ as such.

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