As the white smoke rises from the Sistine Chapel and Pope Francis emerges into the public gaze, now seems a good time to draw readers’ attention to David Lodge’s How Far Can You Go?, one of the wittiest and most intelligent novels ever written about Catholics and Catholicism. Although published in 1981, it’s set in the 1960’s, when the Church was riven by a simmering dispute between traditionalists and modernisers, with the question of sex at the heart of the crisis. For a while the modernisers seemed to in the ascendant, only to have their hopes dashed. Sounds familiar?
Here’s an excerpt:
In the early nineteen-sixties, however, [the modernisers'] main hope was that the official Church would change its mind on birth control; that they would wake up one morning and read in the papers that the Pope had said it was all right for them to use contraceptives after all. What a rush there would have been to the chemists’ and barbers’ shops, and the Family Planning Clinics! In hindsight it is claer that this was a fairly preposterous expectation, for such a reversal of traditional teaching would have dealt a blow to the credibility of papal authority so shattering that no Pope, not even Pope John, could reasonably have been expected to perpetrate it. Miriam [one of the group of young Catholic friends in the novel] was right: instead of waiting for the Pope to contradict his predecessors, they should have made up their own minds. This in fact they did, in due course, but it took a lot of misery and stress to screw them up to the point of disobedience. In the early nineteen-sixties they were still hoping for a change of heart at the top, at least in favour of the Pill, to which, some progressive theologians claimed, the traditional natural law arguments against artificial contraception did not apply.
In other respects the Church undoubtably was changing. Ope John, against all expectations (CARETAKER PONTIFF ELECTED, Angela and Dennis had read on newspaper placards when they returned from their honeymoon) had electrified the Catholic world by the radical style of his pontificate. “We are going,” he declared, “to shake of the dust that has collected on the throne of St Peter since the time of Constatine and let in some fresh air.” The Second Vatican Council which he convened brought out into the the light a thousand unsuspected shoots of innovation and experiment, in theology, liturgy and pastoral practice, that had been buried for decades out of timidity or misplaced loyalty. In 1962, Pope John actually set up a Pontifical Commission to study problems connected with the Family, Population and Birth Control. This was encouraging news in one sense, since it seemed to admit the possibility of change, but disappointing in that it effectively removed the issue from debate at the Vatican Council, which began its deliberations in the same year. Pope John died in 1963, to be succeeded by Pope Paul VI, who enlarged the Commission and instructed its members specifically to examine the Church’s traditional teaching with particular reference to the progesterone pill. Catholics, especially young married ones, waited impatiently for the result of this inquiry.
Meanwhile, other changes proceeded at a dizzying pace. The mass was revised and translated into the vernacular. The priest now faced the congregation across a plain table-style altar, which made the origins of the Mass in the Last Supper more comprehensible, and allowed more of the laity to see for the first time what the celebrant actually did. All masses were now dialogue masses, the whole congregation joining in the responses. The Eucharistic fast was reduced to a ngligible one hour, before which any kind of food and drink might be consumed, and the laity were urged to receive communion a every mass — a practice previously deemed appropriate only to people of great personal holiness and entailing frequent confession. Typical devotions of Counter-Reformation Catholicism such as Benediction and the Stations of the Cross dwindled in popularity. Rosaries gathered dust at the backs of drawers. The liturgy of Holy Week, previously of a length and tedium only to be bourne by the most devout, was streamlined, reconstructed, vernacularized, and offensive references to the “perfidious Jews” were removed from the prayers on Good Friday. Ecumenism, the active pursuit of Christian Unity through “dialogue” with other Churches, became a recommended activity. The change of posture from the days when the Catholic Church had seen itself as essentially in competition with other, upstart Christian denominations, and set their total sumission to its own authority as the price of unity, was astomishingly swift. Adrian,looking through his combative apologetics textbooks from Catholic Evidence Guild days, before sending them off to a parish jumble sale, could hardly believe how swift it has been. And from the Continent, from Latin America, through the religious press, came rumours of still more startling innovations being mooted — married priests, even women priests, Communion in the hand and under both kinds, inter-communion with other denominations. “Liberation Theology”, and “Catholic Marxism”. A group of young intellectuals of the latter persuasion, based in Cambridge, founded a journal called Slant in which they provocatively identified the Kingdom of God heralded in the New Testament with the Revolution, and charcterized the service of Benediction as a capitalist-imperialist liturgical perversion which turned the shared bread of the authentic Eucharist into a reified commodity.
These developments were not, of course, universally welcomed.
“As the church develops it faces new challenges and new questions but to say you have to change everything – I don’t agree … I prefer the word ‘repentence’ to [the word] ‘reform'” – Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor on Radio 4’s ‘Today’ Programme, 4 Mar 2013 08:25
O’Connor and C of E chum: ecumenical bigotry
Anyone who heard O’Connor’s semi-coherent, stumbling but strangely confident and supremely complacent performance on the ‘Today’ programme (BBC Radio 4) this morning, will realise that the Roman Catholic hierarchy, of which he is Britain’s leading representative, is quite simply incapable of reform when it comes to matters of sexuality. This is only of concern to atheists like myself insofar as it will perpetuate the misery being inflicted by the Church upon people round the world, and dash the hopes of many decent Catholics who are presently in despair. The immediate issue behind the interview was the de facto admission of Cardinal Keith O’Brien, an outspoken opponent of gay relationships, that he had himself engaged in gay sexual conduct.
But the hypocrisy and self-delusion of this sad man is really the least of it. The Catholic Church’s record on paedophilia, AIDS, womens’ rights and (of course) gay rights are the real issue: as interviewer John Humphrys put it to the wretched O’Connor this morning, “If the abuse that went on in the Catholic Church had gone on in a lay organisation, it would be shut down.”
The AWL’s Sean Matgamna (as ‘John O’Mahony’) wrote this open letter to O’Connor back in 2007, when O’Connor together with the C of E’s Rowan Williams, was trying to interfere in the implementation of Britiain’s sexual orientation equality legislation in order to exempt religious believers:
Dear Mr Murphy O’Connor,
Courage in “Defence of the Faith” is, I suppose, a requirement of your office. Even so, I find it hard not to admire your courage — or bare-faced cheek — in attempting to “lay down the law” to the British government and the people it governs on what legal rights gay people in the UK should have and what legal rights granted to others should be denied them.
You are joined in this by your “brothers in Christ” Rowan Williams and John Sentamu, Archbishops of Canterbury and York respectively.
What you and your Anglican brethren demand here is that in the way it treats gay people, Britain should be ruled by the laws and prejudices of your churches and by men like yourself, who are, to put things plainly, either lifelong celibates or thoroughgoing hypocrites.
You want the state to back you in forcing those who reject your religion, including gay Catholics who reject your teaching on this point, to live by your religious rules. You claim it as a right of conscience for Catholics to be legally empowered to act punitively against those who reject your rules.
In what way is what you demand anything other than a demand for Catholic religious tyranny over gay people, including gay Catholics?
In what way is it not a demand to be given the right to impose your views on others who reject them?
In what way is your demand anything other than an assertion that the rights of gay citizens are less important than the “conscientious” right of Catholics’ to deny them those rights?
The blunt truth is that here you are demanding the right to inflict on others ethical concerns and rules of behaviour which are not theirs but yours! The rights of your religious consciences must, you insist, be elevated above other people’s civil rights!
You attempt to use blackmail, threatening to close down Catholic orphanages if you don’t get your way. That, Mr. Murphy O’Connor, shows how much you really care about the children you present yourself as being so keen to protect from the contamination of love and care by gay foster parents. Doesn’t it? If you are not allowed to inflict your own narrow mindedness on others, then, as far as you are concerned, the orphan children can, so to speak, go to Hell !
It does take courage – or a well-founded brass neck! – for a leader of a minority church to claim in the name of his religious conscience the right of his own co-religionists to determine how society treats others, here gay people. You want the religious tail to wag the large, de-facto secularist dog, Mr Murphy O’Connor!
Your “courage” here is, however, not the courage I have in mind.
For a couple of decades now, your church has repeatedly been shaken by the revelations that in Catholic care homes and schools all across the Western world, children have been subjected to systematic sexual abuse by clerics.
Such scandals have broken out all across the world, from the USA to our own Pope’s Green Ireland.
In Ireland, behind the façade of a bourgeois democracy, your church ruled for most of the 20th century over what was in effect a theocracy. So much so that Ireland was — as a 1950s writer could truly say in the Maynooth seminary’s magazine — like one great monastery, where people’s lives were in every respect governed by religion. That is by priests and bishops!
There, Mr Murphy O’Connor, where people like you ruled over a country to a degree unequalled, probably, since the Middle Ages, you made life a hell for children in the schools which, with minimal “interference” from governments, you ran, and in the orphanages and reformatories where children were at the mercy of priests and nuns.
Former child victims of such sexual mistreatment by Catholic priests and nuns, in Ireland and in many other countries, have brought a vast number of court cases and won large amounts of compensation from your church for its treatment of them when they were helpless small defenceless children.
These victims of sexual abuse have had serious psychological damage done to them. They have gone and still go through adult life blighted by their mistreatment by your priests and, typically by way of saavage violence, nuns.
By priests and nuns who themselves were victims, most of them from early childhood, of religious indoctrination, which induced them to accept a way of religious living built on the repression and condemnation of some of their own most-powerful, and most volcanic, instincts.
One does not have to think their abuse of children anything other than damnable — in your sense and mine! — to feel some sympathy for such people.
The children in that vast, world-wide archipelago of Catholic orphanages and schools had their childhoods and, many of them, their entire lives, blighted by priests and nuns whose own lives were blighted by trying to live within a rule of life-long celebacy, that was both inhuman and, for large numbers of them, untenable. The children were the victims of that system.
And you Mr Murphy O’Connor, in the name of an international organisation which, in the 20th century, functioned as a sort of International Paedophiles Anonymous — in which priests sought not cure, but licence and abundant supplies of victims – you, instead of questioning in the light of such experience your own beliefs, and the fitness of your church, and of men like yourself, to lay down rules for anyone, you claim the right to penalise gay people for not accepting the rules imposed by the clergy — the rules which so many, so very many, of your clerical brethren honoured in the breach rather than in the compliance!
As Jesus said: First remove the mote from your own eye!
Mr Murphy O’Connor, you cloak your religious prejudices in hypocritical concern for the children. What exactly is it that you fear?
Of course, any properly run adoption or fostering agency will check out the suitability of all potential foster parents, be they hetero or homosexual. It will be on guard, watching for possibilities of abuse, for predatory paedophiles, for potential violence, and so on.
For sure, the record of non-Catholic as well as Catholic foster homes, in Britain and elsewhere, as places where vast number of children were abused in various ways over many decades, does not suggest complacency about such things.
Nor do such terrible incidents as social service workers in deference to “cultural pluralism”, allowing little Victoria Climbie to be murdered by a religious maniac Christian aunt. Decent people can not be satisfied with the state of things in these institutions.
But that is an entirely different issue to the one we are discussing: whether Catholics should be allowed to discriminate against gay would-be foster parents.
Apply your approach to adoption by gay people to other matters of conscience Mr Murphy O’Connor and you will get very strange results.
After all there are still people who think witches with Diabolical power exist, and that they work their malign practices on good Christian people. There are people who believe that Jews, or some Jews, do similar things and that they drink the blood of “Christian children”.
Isn’t it a violation of their religious rights and of their conscience to deny them the right to persecute and kill witches and Jews by burning them alive or by driving stakes into their hearts? The right to act in relation to such obnoxious and sinful people according to their own morals and consciences?
The religion-crazed Christian aunt of the little girl Victoria Climbie did just that with a child her religious beliefs and state of mind led her to brand as a witch possessed by demons. There are, apparently, many small, Africa-rooted Christian churches whose members commonly hold beliefs like this. Why don’t they have the right to act according to their consciences? Why are the consciences of such people less important than the consciences of Catholics like yourself?
Shouldn’t you campaign for Marie Therese Kouao (Victoria’s aunt) to be released from jail?
Why is it right to treat sinful gay people as you want and not right to treat witches in the good old witch-burning time-honoured way? Who decides where the line is drawn?
Vast numbers of women were burned as witches in Europe some hundreds of years ago. Witch-burning was, as I understand it, much more a phenomenon in early Reformation Protestant states than of Catholic Europe. (After all, episcopal urbanity has to be of some use!) But it did happen in Catholic countries too.
And, of course, notoriously, the Catholic Church burned heretics, whenever and wherever it was strong enough to do it. The Catholic church backed or helped initiate the systematic coercion by Louis XIV, after 1685, of French Protestants that almost wiped out Protestantism in France.
Rowan Williams’ and John Sentamu’s church inspired, backed and administered the savage coercion of Irish Catholics, under which your ancestors and mine were condemned to social and legal outlawry for over two hundred years.
For a certainty there are individual lunatics lurking in your Church and in that of Rowan Williams whose consciences would dictate to them that they should now do things like that. Quite apart from the fact that Rowan Williams and yourself would not agree on exactly who should be persecuted, you would not, would you, advocate as a matter of conscientious right, that Catholic (or Protestant) lunatics should be allowed to burn those they thought were witches, kill obnoxious Jews, persecute Protestant, Catholic or Jew or Muslim? Why not? Because you know better?
Because you live in more enlightened times — times in which the desire to continue behaving as your’s and Rowan William’s churches behaved in the past would brand such “traditionalists” as out and out lunatics?
Because you accept that the law that forbids, and would punish severely, such behaviour towards “witches”, Jews, “heretics”, Papists, etc, is a more enlightened law than the laws under which such things were done in the past?
The point, Mr Murphy O’Connor, is that so, too, is the law that now — since very recently, and very belatedly — forbids and would punish violence and discrimination again gay people.
It is a law to regulate citizens’ behaviour according to standards that are, I submit, greatly superior to your own prejudiced, Dark-Ages-rooted, mind and conscience on the rights of gay people.
Nor is your own Catholic morality immutable, as the things of the past which I have mentioned demonstrate.
Older Catholics and ex-Catholics will know very well that articles of faith in which they were educated, and trained to obey, on pain of the threat of damnation, ceased in the 60s and 70s to be Catholic law. Your attitude to gays is part of a complex of teachings on sexuality and procreation of which your attitude to contraception is also part. Such things as your churchs prohibition of contraception will, almost certainly, eventually be jettisoned, like so much in the past.
There are, perhaps, signs of that already.
You make the point, Mr Murphy O’Connor, obviously with Ruth Kelly in mind:
“It would be deeply regrettable if in seeking, quite properly, better to defend the rights of a particular group not to be discriminated against, a climate were to be created in which, for example, some feel free that members of the government are not free to hold public office on the grounds of their faith affiliation.”
The point here, though, is that no one has the right to be a minister, and impose their own faith-derived beliefs on those who reject them.
Let us, indeed, take the case of Ruth Kelly.
One could make a strong case in favour of Ruth Kelly. In contrast to most of the Blair Government’s ministers, Kelly, Minister for Women and Equality, and former Education Secretary, comes across as a proper and possibly likeable human being, a bright young woman who has managed to combine having a sizeable brood of kids, still young, with a high flying political career.
On one level, even Kelly’s Catholicism might be taken to recommend her. In contrast with most ministers and most MPs, her affiliations suggest that she believes in something other than her career and getting on in the world. She is a fervent, old-fashioned, practicising Catholic.
Though she approaches things differently, she probably believes, more than most Labour ministers, in some of the values socialists believe in. Catholic Popes have sometimes criticised capitalism for its predatory, cancerous cultural commercialism and its idolatry of the market.
Here too Ruth Kelly stands in favourable contrast with most of her government colleagues and New Labour MPs, whose capacity for belief and care is exhausted by their over-fervent belief in and care for their own careers.
But Ruth Kelly is a member of the militant Catholic cult, Opus Dei (the Work of God) — or as near to membership as a miserable, weak, sinful, inferior woman can get with this organisation. A member of an ultra-Catholic, semi-secret cult that originated in fascist Spain (and the dictatorship of Generalissimo Franco was very much a Catholic dictatorship, just as the civil war through which that dictatorship was established, was on that side very much a Catholic crusade).
Therefore, despite all the things one might say for Ruth Kelly, it is nothing less than an outrage that Kelly should have been Minister for Education, and is now, Minister for Women and Equality, in charge of deciding how the rights accorded to gay people by the British Parliament will be implemented in particular cases such as adoption policy.
Her support for the proposal that Catholic orphanages arranging adoptions and fosterings should be exempt from the legal obligation to treat gay the same as heterosexual couples, is evidence that Kelly is unfitted by her faith to hold such positions.
And of course it isn’t just a question of Kelly’s views. The Prime Minister is a crypto-Catholic, who, like Charles the Second, will formally convert to Catholicism at the end of his career. He, most likely, shares Kelly’s doctrinal guidelines on matters like this. He, after all, appointed her.
Kelly’s successor as Secretary of State for Education, Alan Johnson, is not a member of Opus Dei or even a Catholic. Yet Johnson bowed to Catholic objections to imposing on Catholic and other religious schools an obligation to take in a percentage of non-believers as pupils.
Under pressure, Johnson buckled and settled for vague assurances from yourself, Mr Murphy O’Connor, and others who run the big network of Catholic schools in England.
Believing Muslims do not, as far as I know, dominate the present British government. Yet this wretched government has legislated to outlaw “incitement to religious hatred” — the freedom to criticise, denounce and mock religion — in a desire to placate Muslim leaders, for whom any sharp criticism of Islam is an insult and an outrage. (You, of course, also wanted such legislation. )
Blair and his colleagues thereby showed themselves to be as far from serious liberal thought in their approach to these matters as you yourself are.
Ruth Kelly is important not only because she is a member of Opus Dei in charge of ministries in which her own strong religious beliefs come into conflict with the liberal norms of the society presided over by the New Labour government, but because she dramatises the conflict between liberal social arrangements and serious, believing, Christians, Muslims and others.
She demonstrates how preposterous it is to have Ruth Kelly, or Tony Blair the crypto-Catholic, in government positions where conflict arises between the personal beliefs of the minister and the norms and expectations (and, here, laws!) of an advanced liberal bourgeois democracy such as that in which you and I, Mr Murphy O’Conno, live.
Yet the root problem is not the religious beliefs of individual ministers, or even the Prime Minister. The root problem is the framework of institutions, laws, norms and expectations within which British governments work.
You, Mr Murphy O’Connor, and Ruth Kelly and Tony Blair, can only play the role you are playing in this discussion because British institutions so far lag behind those of France and, even, the USA, in putting organised religion in its proper, subordinate, place — in constitutionally ruling out attempts by the religious to decree how non-believers will live in a common society with them.
Both France and the USA have experienced radical bourgeois-democratic revolutions. Britain, whose bourgeois revolution was made much earlier, in the 17th century, when social and class interests were cloaked in religious garb and expressed in terms of religious dogmas and disputations, is here, simply backward.
Ignorant, bigoted, backwards religion — which is often very anti-Catholic, to be sure — is a great force in the USA. It has given to the world the Magi gift of President George W Bush. They are busily attacking the secularist political traditions of US public life. Even so, the separation of church and state, established in America at the end of the 18th century, remains a great force for public good, despite such antics as Donald Rumsfeld, when he was secretary for defence, holding daily prayer meetings in his office.
By contrast, Britain has a State Church, the Anglican Church, whose titular head is the monarch, the British head of state.
Arguably the worst thing which the Blair government has done in its decade in office has been to encourage the growth of “faith schools”. A later generation, and maybe the present one, will be faced with the consequences of the religious segregation of children — religious segregation which in some cases coincides heavily with ethnic segregation. A terrible price may have to be paid for that.
Even so, put the case against Blair at its strongest, and it is still true that Blair has only built on and expanded existing traditions. Blair has sowed his poisoning crop in a garden that was laid out long before his time.
It is now almost forgotten — you won’t have forgotten it! — what an uproar greeted the proposal at the beginning of the 20th century for the British state to endow Catholic schools. Catholic schools which mainly catered for the children of immigrant (Irish) workers, much as Muslim schools do now.
Paradoxically, then as now, the argument for faith schools, for an intrinsically-divisive, religious-run system of education, for extending support to Catholic, and now to Muslim, schools, rested on the high ground of egalitarianism: the right of Catholics, as now of Muslims, to equal treatment.
Anglican schools were then already endowed, as now, when we discuss Muslim faith schools, thousands of Anglican, Catholic and Jewish state-funded schools already exist. For you, Mr Murphy O’Connor, that is how it should be.
It is a terrible judgement on the backwardness of Britain in such matters – a backwardness which your own involvement in this discussion loudly proclaims – that the separation of church and state was realised in the USA over two hundred years ago and is still unrealised in the UK!
For those of us who reject the idea that the obscurantist doctrines of archaic religions should have any influence in shaping the social laws through which we regulate our lives, a different conclusion follows.
The whole framework needs to be changed!
• The very possibility of any sort of privileging of the viewpoint or the representatives of any religion, the privilege you are now demanding for Catholics when you demand that they should have the right to discriminate against gay people — that possibility should, as far as possible, be eliminated.
• Religion must be made into a private matter in relation to society.
• Religious men and women like yourself must be, in your capacity of religious leaders, excluded from any role in the state system of education greater than that to which you are entitled as an individual citizen having a citizen’s rights.
• Catholic and other religious-run orphanages must become the property of society, rather than what they are now, receptacles in which young and vulnerable children are held at the mercy of religious indoctrinatiors.
• In every area of society, I repeat, the church should be separated from the state.
• The Anglican church should be disestablished, and disendowed, its property must be made public property.
• As part of the separation of church and state, all faith schools should be taken over and turned into secular state schools — schools in which no religion is taught and religion is studied only as comparative religion.
Paradoxically, this would have as one of its effects the strengthening of freedom of religion, which is and must be an inalienable right of the citizen.
Right now, the sniping and speculation about Ruth Kelly’s religion and its possible relationship to her judgements as a minister, is inevitably intrusive. It probes and prods at her and her religion. That is because, under the existing system, her private believes are a legitimate concern of people who know that Kelly’s religion – and yours, and Tony Blair’s — will play a part in the resolution of the current crisis.
Kelly does not have to have a placard around her neck proclaiming that homosexuals are evil and deservedly damned, etc, for people to know very plainly that she has such views and that her views cannot but influence her attitudes.
There will always be some areas in which the practices associated with or forbidden by some religion will, in the interests of others, place some limitations on the practitioner’s role in society.
The idea that a woman with her face veiled should teach was absurd, and the woman concerned was rightly sacked. Even though she had the right as a citizen to wear the veil, she had no right to teach while veiled.
You too, Mr Murphy O’Connor. You have and should retain the right to believe any absurdity you like. And the right to lay down any absurd rules you like for people who voluntarily accept what you, or your Pope, decree, as rules for themselves. You have no right to inflict your own opinions, to cramp and curtail the lives of others by the bigoted imposition on them of rules of living which they reject.
The absurdity of a compulsorily celibate man, part of a large world wide caste of compulsorily celibate men and women, championing the “traditional family”, and demanding sanctions against those who take a different view, is not only a crying, but also a vicious, absurdity!
So too is the whole British system of relationships between the state and the churches.
To adapt a slogan from the women’s movement:
Keep your hands off our bodies, Mr Murphy O’Connor! And our minds!
Above: O’Brien coming out?
Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell has reacted to the resignation of Cardinal Keith O’Brien, Britain’s most senior Roman Catholic, who has been accused of inappropriate behaviour with male priests.
Earlier on Monday, Cardinal O’Brien apologised to those he had offended for “failures” during his ministry and announced in a statement that he was standing down as leader of the Scottish Catholic Church.
He will not take part in electing a new pope, leaving Britain unrepresented.
In a statement, Peter Tatchell said:
Cardinal O’Brien condemned homosexuality as a grave sin and was a long-time opponent of gay equality.
He supported homophobic discrimination in law, including the current ban on same-sex marriage.
In the light of these allegations, his stance looks hypocritical.
He appears to have preached one thing in public while doing something different in private.
Several other prominent opponents of equal marriage are guilty of double standards and vulnerable to similar exposure. They include anti-gay clergy and politicians.
It is estimated that around 40% of Catholic priests in Britain are gay, which makes the church’s opposition to gay equality so two-faced and absurd.
Nearly half of all Cardinals worldwide are thought to be gay.
Recent revelations in Italy have alleged the existence of a gay mafia within the Vatican, including senior Cardinals and other Vatican officials, and their participation in gay bars, clubs, saunas, chat rooms and escort services.
The Vatican is shamelessly championing homophobia and the denial of legal equality to gay people, while hosting a hotbed of secret, guilt-ridden clerical homosexuality.
Perhaps covering up for child abuse, promoting anti-gay bigotry, spreading AIDS throughout the world, and explaining away his organisation’s hatred of 50% of the human race finally wore him out?
“Man will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest.”
― Denis Diderot
Justice delayed is justice denied.
Associated Press reports:
A new report is expected to lay bare the extent of responsibility that successive Irish governments must accept for what went on in Magdalene laundries.
An 18-month investigation into the Catholic-run workhouses will formally reveal state involvement and knowledge of the harrowing life women in the institutions endured between 1922 and 1996.
A committee chaired by Senator Martin McAleese, who has since resigned from politics, spent 18 months establishing the role official Ireland played in the for-profit Church-run operation. Survivors have been campaigning for the last 10 years for an apology from state and Church and a transparent compensation scheme.
Over the 74 years, thousands of single mothers and other women were put to work in detention, mostly in industrial for-profit laundries run by nuns from four religious congregations. Each woman had her Christian name changed, her surname unused and most have since died.
James Smith, associate professor at Boston College and member of the Justice for Magdalenes (JFM) advisory board, said: “I hope the Government listen. The women can no longer be held hostage to a political system. Time is of the essence, it is the one commodity many of these women can ill afford.”
Survivors have called for a transparent and non-adversarial compensation process for all to be set up, with pensions, lost wages, health and housing services and redress all accounted for.
Mr Smith said: “Until there is an apology – I have met so many women who will not come forward, and have no intention of engaging in any process – they might still not come forward, but other women might come forward if they get an assurance that they were wronged.”
Religious orders the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity ran laundries at Drumcondra and Sean MacDermott Street in Dublin, the Sisters of Mercy in Galway and Dun Laoghaire, the Religious Sisters of Charity in Donnybrook, Dublin, and Cork, and the Sisters of the Good Shepherd in Limerick, Cork, Waterford and New Ross.
JFM is aware of at least 988 women who are buried in laundry plots in cemeteries across Ireland and therefore must have stayed for life. Mass graves have been identified in Mount St Lawrence Cemetery in Limerick, Glasnevin in Dublin, Sunday’s Well in Cork and at sites in Galway.
The inquiry into the Magdalene scandal was finally prompted by a report from the United Nations Committee Against Torture in June 2011. It called for prosecutions where necessary and compensation to surviving women.
The Irish blogger Bock The Robber has been covering this scandal for several years. Here’s what s/he wrote in June of last year:
As usual, it has taken outside pressure to force acknowledgement of the imprisonment, torture and degradation inflicted on Irish women by this State and by the nuns who carried out the abuse. The United Nations Committee Against Torture has published a report condemning Ireland for a crime. Women who had children outside of marriage, or who might simply have been perceived as having a bright, cheerful spirit, were abducted by State agents and imprisoned for ever more.
The disgracefully-misnamed Magdalene laundries broke the spirit of thousands of women, enslaving them for the financial gain of warped, sexually-frustrated nuns who inflicted their vindictive self-hatred on these helpless prisoners.
Ireland being what it is, the government excluded the nuns’ gulags from the terms of reference of the Ryan report, no doubt hoping that the problem would go away as the former prisoners became older and more frail, but there it still is, an indictment on the confessional nature of this State from its foundation.
Let nobody tell you that the nuns and the priests and the brothers saved the State money by imprisoning these people.
They did not.
The religious orders made a handsome profit from their prisoners, through slavery. And if they got a little sexual kick along the way, so much the better.
We have to acknowledge that the nuns who ran these prisons were deeply disturbed individuals, but their disorder seems to be widespread, and not just among those who controlled the Magdalene laundries. There’s a creepy commonality in the stories told by women who attended nun-run schools, of violence, vindictiveness and small-minded cruelty.
The motif of the keys is the one that stands out most strongly. Many women, including members of my own family, and also survivors of the laundries, describe being struck on the knuckles with bunches of keys by enraged nuns. And this punishment always seems to have been administered coldly.
What was wrong with these women that made them so cruel, so callous and so angry?
In my opinion, it isn’t natural to live your entire life without sex, and I think the experience derailed them, but maybe that’s just me being a dirty bastard. I don’t think so, though, and neither did the old women I grew up among who used to say the same thing, in less explicit terms.
I think these nuns, and all the other hated torturers in the schools and the laundries were so cruel because they were completely screwed up by being who and what they were. And I think they took it out on the poor unfortunates who fell into their insane grip.
The sooner the crime of the Magdalene laundries is exposed, the better. There are still nuns out there, walking around, who tortured, beat, enslaved and humiliated other women in the name of Christianity. They should be held accountable now.
We have to exorcise all the ghosts haunting modern Ireland, until we finally acknowledge the disgrace that happened after independence, where absolute power was handed over to one church.
Until we do that, Ireland will never achieve maturity as a nation.
Previously : The Magdalene Laundries
All Bock posts on the Ryan Report
All Bock posts on the Murphy Report
By Jessica Luther, reblogged from KYBOOMU
Her name was Savita Halappanavar.
She was 31.
She was a dentist.
Her husband was Praveen Halappanavar, 34, an engineer at Boston Scientific.
She was 17 weeks pregnant in Galway, Ireland.
She presented with back pain at University Hospital Galway on October 21st, was found to be miscarrying.
She asked several times over a three-day period that her pregnancy be terminated.
This was refused because the foetal heartbeat was still present and the doctors told her, “this is a Catholic country”.
She spent a further 2½ days “in agony” until the foetal heartbeat stopped.
She died of septicaemia a few days later.
Mr Halappanavar took his wife’s body home on Thursday, November 1st, where she was cremated and laid to rest on November 3rd.
There are now two investigations are under way into her death.
According to the World Health Organization, 26.1 million people seek unsafe abortions every year in the world because they do not have access to safe ones. 47,000 die from those unsafe abortions.
I have been unable to find a stat of how many people, like Savita Halappanavar, die because they are denied abortion as a medical option.
Her name was Savita Halappanavar.
So many people will die in situations similar to hers and we will never know their names.
This is unacceptable. It is morally bankrupt. It is the definition of tragic.
Her name was Savita Halappanavar.
Shiraz Socialist has on a number of occasions described Mr George Galloway, MP for
Blackburn Bradford West, as a “Stalinist,” a term that implies a belief in a form of socialism, characterised by state control of the means of production and opposition to private property.
Above: young Galloway while still a socialist… of sorts
In view of Mr Galloway’s inteview with Ms Decca Aitkenhead in today’s Guardian G2, in which he states:
“But my main political mistake, in retrospect, was that state ownsership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, in which I believed, and for which I campaigned, was a false God…Yes I’m not saying that everything in the private garden is rosy. There’s just more flowers than there were in the state garden. I’m sorry to say that, and, yes it is painful.”
…we accept that it was completely untrue to suggest that Mr Galloway is presently a “Stalinist” or, indeed, a believer in any ideology that could be described as in any remote way, however degenerate, as “socialist.” We unreservedly apologise to Mr Galloway for any distresss caused to himself, any of his wives, or Mr Ovenden.
We accept that Mr Galloway is a godly, religious man, perhaps a Catholic or possibly a Muslim, but either way he opposes secularism and seeks to re-introduce religiously-based communalism to British politics. As Ms Aitkenhead notes:
“We had talked a great deal about the role of religion in politics, and could not have disagreed more. I thought it outrageous to urge voters in Bradford, as he did, to vote for him or fear the wrath of judgment day. Galloway can’t see the problem at all: ‘I believe that, on judgment day, people have to answer for what they did.’ When I ask if he is troubled that many voters thought he had converted to Islam, he replies: ‘Well, I don’t think many of them are interested in my religion’ – which is pretty rich, considering he put out a leaflet all about which candidate was more of a Muslim. Contrary to every report I’ve read, he doesn’t deny writing the leaflet himself. I think he is ludicrously slippery about invoking religion, playing it both ways to suit his own purposes, but, as he says, we are never going to agree because he doesn’t think politics should be secular. ‘So it’s apples and pears, dear’.”
And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. (Matthew 6: 5-6)
When Lady Warsi came out with her denunciation of “militant secularism” allegedly “denying people the right to a religious identity” in Britain and Europe, my initial reaction was to treat it as self-evident bollocks from a self-evident dim-wit, unworthy of further comment.
I’ll leave aside for the moment the fact that Warsi’s comments were delivered during an official visit to the Vatican – an outfit responsible for the systematic cover-up of mass child-rape and torture by its own clergy, as well as the appeasement of Hitler and collaboration with Franco’s Spain, Tiso’s Slovakia and Pavelic’s Croatia. No, what struck me as self-evidently preposterous was that Wasi could claim that religion is being victimised at a time when, in Britain:
* Christianity (specifically the C of E) remains the state religion, with reserved seats in the legislature.
* “Religion or Belief” (but in practice, just religion) has legal protection in employment matters and religious organisations are exempted from other aspects of equality legislation.
* One third of state schools are run by religions (mainly, but not only the C of E), while religions are busy setting up ‘free schools’ where they will have something close to a free hand to promote their dogma within the curriculum.
* More and more ‘outsourced’ social service provision is being given to religious organisations, who are then free to proselytize to vulnerable clients.
* Religion is given a free plug (Thought for the Day) in the middle of the national broadcaster’s flagship news programme every weekday.
Hardly a picture of religion being “sidelined, marginalised and downgraded in the public sphere” (Warsi’s words), is it?
The other self-evidently (at least to me) preposterous aspect of Warsi’s ignorant and self-righteous bleating wes her use of words like “militant” and “intolerant.” Does she know what these words mean? Compare are contrast:
* The National Secular Society brings a court case against Bideford Council, to stop it holding prayers as part of its official business (councillors would, of course, remain free to pray before or after meetings if they so choose).
* At Queen Mary College last month a meeting had to be called off when a man came in, filmed the audience and threatened to “hunt down” anyone who he considered had insulted his religion.
Who, exactly are the “intolerant”, “militant” people at large in Britain today, Lady Warsi? Secularists, with their occasional legal actions, petitions and letters to the Guardian, or violent religious fanatics threatening people, picketing plays and demanding the banning of books? And that’s not to mention suicide-bombings.
As for the wider world, who is it terrorising Christians in Africa, the Middle East and Asia (where physical attacks have risen by over 300% between 2003 and 2010)? Secularists or religious people? Surely even Wasi knows (or can guess at) the answer to that.
Sadly, it seems that Warsi’s arguments have not been laughed out of court, at least not by the ‘intelligensia’ (the picture amongst the general public, and even most self-identifying ‘Christians’ seems to be more encouraging – further proof of the contention sometimes attributed to Orwell, that “There are some ideas so absurd that only an intellectual could believe them”). A large part of the problem seems to be a confusion between secularism and atheism. Just as all cows are animals but not all animals are cows, so it goes with atheists and secularists. As Dave explains here, secularism is no more and no less than the seperation of church (or mosque or synagogue) and state – far and away the best arrangement for religious freedom. Julian Baggini makes the same point here, though in my opinion he is too willing to concede the maintenance of religious privilege in the public sphere.
It has certainly come to something when a leading liberal intellectual like Will Hutton (in today’s Observer) clearly doesn’t understand what secularism is (“Secularism unsupported by atheism is nonsensical,” quoth he) and has to be put right by Richard Dawkins, who has always been clear on the distiction between atheism and secularism, even while he is an outspoken advocate of both:
“Secularism unsupported by atheism is nonsensical.’ Really? You mean the US first amendment is nonsense? The Indian constitution? Their idealist founders enshrined secularism in those constitutions because they wanted all religions to be free: no religion should dominate; no religion should impose. Secularism is supremely liberal, the epitome of tolerance, and you, Will, should be the first to treasure it.
“Gandhi’s and ML King’s inner strength may well have come from religious conviction but they were passionate secularists because they believed religion was a private matter – inner, indeed – and an area in which, for everyone’s sake, it was important that the state remained neutral.”
Read the rest of this fascinating exchange here.
But my main mistake on Wasi was to assume that her Valentine’s Day message to fellow-bigot Benedict XVI was merely a frolic of her own. As Polly Toynbee (not someone I often quote with approval) has suggested, “For Cameron, Lady Warsi may be a useful canary: testing if American flag-and-faith culture wars might fly over here.”
Yes, the more you think about it the more it makes sense: Cameron’s too canny and sophisticated to be seen to advocate a turn to US-style religious bigotry and anti-science ignorance in British public life. But Warsi: she’s just the canary for the job.
“A hundred real thalers do not contain the least coin more than a hundred possible thalers…My financial position is, however, affected very differently by a hundred real thalers than it is by the mere concept of them (that is of their possibility)” – Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason (1781)
Now, please don’t get me wrong about this: like all right-thinking folk I consider the pop-“philosopher” Alain de Botton to be a complete prat. I especially despise his preposterous plan for a “temple to atheism” and (although I haven’t yet read it), I’m sure I’ll hold his book Religion for Atheists in the same contempt.
You’re either an atheist (or a believer) or you’re not. Which is why the term “agnostic” always strikes me as a bit of a cop-out. And as for appreciating the wonders of nature and existence, the warmth of human companionship, or even the grandeur and profundity of religious writing and religious buildings, plenty of atheists (including the supposedly “destructive” Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens) have made it clear that we can appreciate all that stuff. Philip Larkin put it very well in his poem ‘Church Going’:
A serious house on serious earth it is,
In whose blent air all our compulsions meet,
Are recognized, and robed as destinies.
And that much never can be obsolete,
Since someone will forever be surprising
A hunger in himself to be more serious,
And gravitating with it to this ground,
Which, he once heard, was proper to grow wise in,
If only that so many dead lie round.
Note that the atheist Larkin is writing about a proper (albeit deserted) church, not some neo-Comptean fake-religious travesty. We atheists (especially, but not only, those brought up on Marxism) understand what religion is all about, even as we reject it.
Which is why de Botton’s attempt to appease religion and the religious – to meet them halfway – is so pathetic and insulting to both sides. Much healthier is the straightforward “destructive” atheism of Dawkins, who declared (of de Botton’s plans), “Atheists don’t need temples. I think there are better things to spend this kind of money on. If you’re going to spend money on atheism you could improve secular education and build non-religious schools which teach rational, sceptical critical thinking.”
Having got all that of my chest, I have to admit that I harbour some sympathy with de Botton when he writes in last week’s New Statesman (not yet on line, so no link) about being “Eagletoned” (his soft-on-religion book had been blow-torched by the so-called “Marxist” Terry Eagleton in the Guardian):
de Botton on Eagleton:
“This kind of sympathetic atheism infuriated Eagleton for reasons that entirely escaped the archetypal Guardian reader. They may remember him fondly (as I do) from the days when he used to explain critical theory to us – and was unrivalled in the clarity with which he popularised otherwise complex thinkers such as Lacan.”
Eagleton’s vituperative review of de Botton’s book is often perceptive (well, you’d expect that of an academic of his background), and I especially like his (Eagleton’s) comment about atheists who think religion is necessary and/or accepatable, for the lower orders:
“There is something deeply disingenuous about this whole tradition. “I don’t believe myself, but it is politically prudent that you should” is the slogan of thinkers supposedly devoted to the integrity of the intellect. If the Almighty goes out of the window, how are social order and moral self-discipline to be maintained? It took the barefaced audacity of Friedrich Nietzsche to point out that if God was dead, then so was Man – or at least the conception of humanity favoured by the guardians of social order. The problem was not so much that God had inconveniently expired; it was that men and women were cravenly pretending that he was still alive, and thus refusing to revolutionise their idea of themselves.”
Now, it’s important to remember (or just know) that Eagleton made his name in the 1970’s as “Marxist” academic and then -quite suddenly – after 9/11, and rational people like Christopher Hitchens had begun a serious attack upon religion, Eagleton began attacking atheism, whilst still allowing himself to be billed as a “Marxist”, and indeed, as a (self-proclaimed) “atheist” all the better to give “intellectual” credibility to his defence of religion.
Meanwhile, some of us began to question whether Eagleton really was the “atheist” he claimed to be, and was billed as being…
Eagleton’s attack on Dawkins in the London Reveiw of Books was well-received on much of the “left” and liberal-Guardianista-“left”:
One of Eagleton’s complaints, in that article, against Dawkins’s book (‘The God Delusion‘) was that:
“He (Dawkins) can scarcely bring himself to concede that a single human benefit has flowed from religious faith, a view which is as a priori improbable as it is empirically false. The countless millions who have devoted their lives selflessly to the service of others in the name of Christ or Buddah or Allah are wiped from human history – and this by a self-appointed crusader against bigotry.”
Yet, now, then self-same Eagleton complains about de Button:
“De Botton does not want people literally to believe, but he remains a latter-day Matthew Arnold, as his high Victorian language makes plain. Religion “teaches us to be polite, to honour one another, to be faithful and sober”, as well as instructing us in “the charms of community”. It all sounds tediously neat and civilised. This is not quite the gospel of a preacher who was tortured and executed for speaking up for justice, and who warned his comrades that if they followed his example they would meet with the same fate. In De Botton’s well-manicured hands, this bloody business becomes a soothing form of spiritual therapy, able to “promote morality (and) engender a spirit of community”. It is really a version of the Big Society.”
That may well be true, but Eagleton must now tell us where he stands on religion: not as some “objective” commentator, but as someone who is a vigorous participant in the debate and who seems to have a strong personal investment in it. We have a right to know where this person stands, and so far he has noticeably failed to inform us.
And a final (for now) theological point about Eagleton’s ‘position’ upon religion; he says, in his much-vaunted ‘critique’ of Richard Dawkins:
“Dawkins speaks scoffingly of a personal God, as though it were entirely obvious exactly what this might mean. He seems to imagine God, if not exactly with a white beard, then at least as some kind of chap, however supersized. He asks how this chap can speak to billions of people simultaneously, which is rather like wondering why, if Tony Blair is an octopus, he has only two arms. For Judeo-Christianity, God is not a person in the sense that Al Gore arguably is. Nor is he a principle, an entity, or ‘existent’: in one sense of that word it would be perfectly coherent for religious types to claim that God does not in fact exist. He is, rather, the condition of possibility of any entity whatsoever, including ourselves. He is the answer to why there is something rather than nothing. God and the universe do not add up to two, any more than my envy and my left foot constitute a pair of objects.”:
This is, in fact, no more and no less than the well-known (and ridiculous, banal) “ontological argument” of St Ansulem: “Something than which nothing greater can be conceived”: he then argued that something that exists in reality must be greater than something that exists in the mind only; so God must exist outside as well as in the mind, for if he existed in the mind only and not in reality he would not be “something than which nothing greater can be conceived.” I’d call that a circular argument, not worth the time of day, if anyone asked me.
The idea that someone (even a prominent academic like Eagleton) can come out with such religious nonsense, and still be taken seriously as some sort of left-wing figure, is (sorry about this)… beyond belief.
Eagleton continues, to this day, to present himself as a ‘Marxist’ , whilst concealing the fact that he is, in fact, first and foremost, a Catholic. Nothing wrong with that as an individual human right, of course, but in the context of this debate, it is relevant: religious belief and Marxism, are, of course, incompatible.
But the final reason that it’s important to know where Eagleton is coming from is this: he appears to truly believe that sinners (like Christopher Hitchens) are – or should be – roasting in hell; he writes:
“Liberal-capitalist societies, being by their nature divided, contentious places, are forever in search of a judicious dose of communitarianism to pin themselves together, and a secularised religion has long been one bogus solution on offer. The late Christopher Hitchens, who some people think is now discovering that his broadside God Is Not Great was slightly off the mark, would have scorned any such project. He did not consider that religion was a convenient fiction. He thought it was disgusting. Now there’s something believers can get their teeth into …”
Or, as de Botton puts it in the New Statesman:
“You’d almost miss it: Eagleton believes that Hitchens is roasting and regetting having written God is Not Great. In other words, I was up against a reviewer for whom balance was going to be a challenge.”
What I am saying is this: Eagleton has clearly returned to his Catholicism: that does not in itself disqualify him from the debate about religion and related matters. It does, however mean that we must take everything he says in the context of his backward superstition. And also in the light of his dishonest concealment of it for many years.
In the evolution of civilisation, the progress of the fight for national liberty of any subject nation must, perforce, keep pace with the struggle for liberty of the most subject class in that nation.
The children with whom I have played, the men and women with whom I have eaten Have had masters over them, have been under the lash of masters, and though gentle, have served churls.
Some village-Hampden, that with dauntless breast The little tyrant of his fields withstood.
(Below: Sean Matgamna, founder and leader of the AWL, has started recounting his family background and his earliest political influences – it will be continued):
The economic earthquakes that for three years now, from 2008, have shaken our capitalist world have led many people to look again, but with a more receptive mind, at the analysis of capitalism made long ago by Karl Marx.
They have disposed some of them to adopt a new view of the nature of capitalism. The ultra-Tory British newspaper, the Daily Telegraph, carried a cartoon in 2008 of Karl Marx laughing in his grave at the woes on Wall Street.
Capitalism itself has once more forced to the attention of serious people the objective case for a socialist reorganisation of our world. This comes after two decades of breakneck globalisation in an enormous capitalist expansion and the collapse of the murderous and reactionary Stalinist counterfeit socialism.
In 2008, when this writer debated socialism with the Observer columnist Nick Cohen, Cohen thought he was dealing a commonsensical knockout blow when he asked: how could Karl Marx have understood the world we live in a century and a quarter after his death?
The fact, however, is that Marx uncovered the basic laws under which capitalism exists and moves. Capitalism has changed and developed enormously since then, of course, and shows a great power of adaptation. But what has adapted and modified is still recognisably the capitalism which Karl Marx anatomised.
Capitalism itself creates the basic economic elements of socialism. It creates gigantic, world-straddling enterprises, some of which have budgets bigger than governments. It “socialises” the forces of production, communication, and, in part, of exchange. This is the tendency which Frederick Engels long ago described as “the invading socialist society”.
We have seen governments that had made a God of free-market economics – for instance, the Bush regime in the USA and the pre-2010 New Labour government in Britain – forced to assume responsibility for the banks, and for orchestrating the economic affairs of society. The problem is that this capitalist “socialism”, spectacularly surprising though it was and is, was social regulation in the interests directly of the capitalist class
The “socialising” character of capitalism is is a fact, a gigantic fact, no matter how defeated, the depleted and marginal the advocates of socialism may be at a given time.
But if even an honest Tory journalist can sometimes see and admit that Karl Marx’s basic analysis of capitalism still tells a lot of truth, and the fundamental truth, about the nature of capitalism, many of those who are inclined to adopt a general socialist critique of capitalism balk at the idea that the proletariat can re-make the world, that we can overthrow capitalism and replace it with international socialism. They doubt the core idea of socialism, that, as Karl Marx put it back in 1864: “That the emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves”.
The proletariat, the wage-working class, is what James Connolly like his socialist contemporaries described as “the slave class of our age”; what Jim Larkin indignantly called the “undermen”; what an elitist snob, the liberal John Maynard Keynes, dismissed as the social “mud”. The visible working-class in our world, and for a long time now, seems too far from what the working class will have to be to play the role of the gravedigger of capitalism and builder of a new world in which first working-class solidarity and then human solidarity will replace the dog-eat-dog ethos, “the war of all against all”, which defines the bourgeois society in which we live.
The short answer to the doubt, though in itself not necessarily the conclusive one, is to point to the working class in history – what it has done and what it has tried to do. And not only to the great, big-scale, world-shaking deeds and attempted deeds and projects of the working class. There are many smaller actions and attempts by the working class which are buried, unmarked and unknown, in the subsoil of modern history.
For it is the victors who write history. The history of wars between countries and empires, and especially of the war of classes, where the defeated working class can so easily be misrepresented in the aftermath. Those who resisted are “Luddites”, senseless malcontents, justly defeated and conquered Calibans, dark forces from the subsoil of society, the yahoos, the morlocks, the weasels. The history of much of the working class, much of the time, is lost, sifted out by historians.
Just as the many local acts of resistance to the movement of food out of the country that must have occurred in the 1840s Irish famine are lost, buried in the obscurity of old newspaper files, so that the overall picture is one of passive acceptance of their own starvation, so too with many other aspects of the history of the working class.
And so too with the Irish working class during and after the Irish bourgeois revolutions, the economic revolution on the land and the political revolution after 1916.
The first modern labour movement, Chartism in the late 1830s and the 1840s, emerged out of the bitter disappointment of those who had helped the British bourgeoisie win its bloodless political victory in the Reform Act of 1832 and were then ill-treated by the bourgeoisie in power, and faced with being locked up in the workhouse prisons created by the New Poor Law of 1834. It would be strange if the working class which had participated in the revolutions that put the Irish bourgeoisie in power had shown no signs of fight for its own interests.
In at least two areas in County Clare, the working class showed a great deal of resistance to the conditions in which they found themselves under Irish bourgeois rule. It is probable that there were similar working-class movements in many areas. The working class of the towns, those disinherited when some of the people got the land from the old landlords, and many of whom would be doubly disinherited by being forced out of the country altogether, were anything but passive spectators of their own disinheritance, degradation and continuous victimisation.
My viewpoint, by inheritance and conviction, is that of the town labourers, a little of whose history I attempt to explore and chronicle here, in what can be no more than a rough sketch of the resistance of the working class of Ennis.
In the events in Ennis which I describe here there is a strong parallel to events that took place in England in 1973 and 74. 31 building workers — oddly, the group is known as the “Shrewsbury 24” — were charged and tried in connection with trade-union activity.
After Britain’s first national building strike – June to September 1972 – 31 building workers were brought to trial for the mass picketing with which they had attempted to stop all sites in North Wales. In court the prosecutor described the mass picketing as “like Red Indians”. The strikers had demanded a 35 hour week, a minimum wage and an end to employment of casual workers organised by what we would now call gang masters – it was called “the lump” in the building trade. They won a big wage rise but not the end of “the lump”.
There were three “Shrewsbury” trials in all. In the first the 31 men were acquitted of all but minor charges. However five of them then had had the charge of “conspiracy to intimidate” added to the indictment against them.
During 1972 mass picketing had inflicted major defeats on the Tory government. The decisive turning point in the miners’ strike at the beginning of that year was when a mass picket of engineers, miners and other workers in Birmingham had forced the closure of the Saltley Coke Depot.
Five dock workers had been jailed in July for picketing that had recently been made illegal, only to be released under duress by the government when upwards of a quarter of a million workers all over the country immediately went on strike, and the TUC decided to call a one-day general strike. Many thousands of workers laid siege to Pentonville jail in North London for the whole time the five dockers were incarcerated. The one-day general strike proved unnecessary.
Someone in authority then decided to make an example of the mass-picketing builders. It was a political trial. Typical of the reckless misrepresentation of the workers in court had been a witness testifying that a mass of pickets had descended on a building site shouting “Kill! Kill! Kill!” Indeed, building workers all over the country had chanted “Kill!”… But they specified what they wanted to kill. “Kill… the lump”.
Three of the prisoners, John McKinsie Jones, Des Warren, and Ricky Tomlinson, were charged with unlawful assembly and conspiracy to intimidate. They got sentences of nine months, three years and two years respectively.
They had been on the strike committee which had met in Chester on 31 August 1972 and among other things discussed the mass pickets that were to be mounted during the strike. On 24 February 1974, three more men were jailed for six months on the charges of “unlawful assembly” and “affray”. In response building workers struck in London, in Glasgow, and on 25 building sites in Manchester. Warren and Tomlinson went on hunger strike.
A Labour government had been elected on 28 February 1974, in an election called by the Tories against industrial militancy, under the demagogic slogan: “Who rules, government or unions?” Would Labour now act on behalf of the victimised building workers? No, of course they wouldn’t! They too wanted to demobilise working-class militancy.
It was as a result of that experience that I first became properly aware of what had happened in Ennis 40 years earlier. Watching a TV report early in 1974, both my father and my mother were visibly upset by a report that some appeal or other had failed. This was unusual, such a personal response to a big public event. Visiting them in Manchester from London, I talked to them about this and learned about the trial of the 24 labourers in Ennis in 1934.
My father had been one of 24 labourers in Ennis tried for a mass picket in 1934, as had his brother, Paddy, who was badly disabled in the Civil War at the beginning of the 1920s. The story I then heard for the first time as an adult and properly (I’d been politically at odds with my parents since I was 15) was, after 40 years, vague on detail. Both my father and my mother died within the year, and, living in London, I never got the chance to talk to them about it again.
Many years later I looked up what had happened in the files of the Clare Champion newspaper at the British library newspaper depot in Colindale. The events had taken place during the general upsurge that accompanied the establishment in 1932 and afterwards of the De Valera government, a government of those defeated in the Civil War nine years earlier.
Read the full story here