O Lord, give us a fresh election but not just yet #GE16Part2

54 days since the election, it seems clear that, for some, the real focus is on the next election, writes Donal O’Keeffe  

You’d want to be brave to comment on the ongoing discussions to form a government, seeing as the story twists and turns on a daily basis, but 54 days – and counting – since the election, one thing at least is clear: for some in Dáil Éireann, the last election isn’t half as important as the next.

It looks – at the time of writing – like the talking will go on well past the (presumably) scheduled next failure to elect a Taoiseach. With the Labour Party suddenly talking about talking about going back into coalition – and whither the Greens and SocDems? – it looks like this uncertainty could stretch out for weeks more.

Latest polling suggests an immediate election would only yield another hung Dáil (and cost €40 million we don’t have). The Independents might well suffer if the electorate thinks again about electing a hodge-podge of sole traders, what’s left of Labour can’t be too confident either and Sinn Fein and Fianna Fáil would rather wait. O Lord give us a fresh election, seems the prevailing opinion in political circles, but not just yet.

Please read on…

My #GE16 opinion column: For the want of a vote, the election was lost

The game of “what if” is as old as humanity and we all know from an early age how the smallest of things can have the most profound of effects.

“For the want of a nail, the kingdom was lost” goes the old proverb, “For want of a shoe the horse was lost; For want of a horse the battle was lost; For the failure of battle the kingdom was lost – All for the want of a horse-shoe nail.”

As we close in on what politicians like to call “the only poll that counts”, we are beset on all sides by opinion polls and they all seem to point in broadly the same direction. Micheál Martin is having a good campaign – shame he doesn’t have a party; Enda is defying the lowest expectations in the history of politics – just about; Gerry Adams is proving he has a foot of clay on either side of the border; support for the independents is up and Labour is facing extinction.

If the polls are right, we can expect a hung Dáil. We could be looking at Fine Gael propped up by a hodge-podge of independents, or Enda Kenny’s nightmare scenario of a Fianna Fáil/Sinn Fein coalition or even a grand coalition of the two civil war parties – Fianna Gael.

At the time of writing – just before the final TV debate – it’s impossible to predict a game-changer in such a tight campaign.

Perhaps Joan Burton will find her voice and remind Labour’s critics that they did some good in office, too. Perhaps those who were never prouder of their country than they were on the day we voted for marriage equality will remember that it wouldn’t have happened without the Labour Party.

In the first TV debate of this campaign, Micheál Martin goaded Gerry Adams to such a degree that Adams snapped “Would you ever fff… go away and catch yourself on.” Perhaps Micheál will irritate him the rest of the way and this time Gerry won’t go with the second phrase to pop into his head.

Perhaps Enda will manage to actually top the astonishingly smug smile he gave on Sunday when he was asked if he stood over calling some of his own constituents “All Ireland champion whingers”. He did stand over it, he said. Some of them wouldn’t know sunshine on a sunny day. By the next morning, he said he had meant people from Fianna Fáil.

Sometimes, in the age of opinion polls, it seems there’s hardly even a point to voting. It’s important to remember, though, that opinion polls are only snapshots and in politics – as in every walk of life – the smallest thing can change everything.

It’s also worth remembering that at the start of the week of the 2011 presidential campaign, all of the opinion polls suggested only one likely outcome: President Sean Gallagher. Then, in the heat of a live television debate, Pat Kenny read out what appeared to be a tweet from Sinn Fein, claiming to be about to produce a smoking gun on donations to Gallagher. Rattled, Gallagher stumbled badly.

At the time, Ken Curtin (nowadays a candidate for the Social Democrats) tweeted it was an ambush worthy of General Tom Barry himself.

Next morning, Gallagher went on RTÉ Radio 1, flailing all around him, and got into a row with businesswoman Glenna Lynch (coincidentally, also a Social Democrat candidate these days). Things went from bad to worse for Gallagher and, by the end of the week, Michael D. Higgins was given the largest mandate in the history of the State and elected the 9th President of Ireland.

In the game of “what if”, perhaps there’s a world where an RTÉ researcher paused for a second and thought twice about passing the so-called “fake tweet” to Pat Kenny. For the want of a tweet in that world, perhaps President Sean Gallagher is doing a perfectly good job in the Áras (even if some of us did raise an eyebrow at his pre-election “pro-business” intervention).

No matter what the polls say, a day is a long time in politics and it would be a fool who would rule out what Harold Macmillan called “Events, dear boy”.

The smallest of things can change everything. For the want of a nail, the kingdom was lost. For the want of a vote, the election could be lost.

That vote is still in your hands.

Donal O’Keeffe

Cherishing all the children, one unmarked grave at a time

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Irish Mail on Sunday, 25th of May 2014

“Cherish all the children equally” is a defining Irish shibboleth, enshrined in Ireland’s Proclamation of Independence. It is one of our highest aspirations and, like most of the things we Irish hold dearest, it is build on a solid foundation of utter hypocrisy.

Cherish all the children? By all available evidence, we Irish don’t even like children. I’ve written about this before and I’m sure I will again. Ireland really is no country for small children.

The Irish Mail on Sunday reports that up to eight hundred children may be buried in an unmarked mass grave in Tuam, Co Galway, on the former grounds of an institution known locally as “The Home”. (Local knowledge says that there is no “may” about this.) Run by the Bon Secours nuns, “The Home”, which had previously been a workhouse, operated between 1926 and 1961 and over the years housed thousands of unmarried mothers and their “illegitimate” children.

Alison O’Reilly reports in the Mail that the causes of death for “as many as 796 children” included “malnutrition, measles, convulsions, tuberculosis, gastroenteritis and pneumonia”. The children, some as small as babies, were interred, without the benefit of a coffin, in what is described as “a concrete tank” and “a water tank”. It would only be marginally more disrespectful to those poor kids if their bodies had been dumped in what I first suspected it was, namely a septic tank.

In 2014, a housing estate covers the land. There are real homes there now, proper homes where families live and children play. I hope it’s a happy place.

Expect to see the usual contortionist contextualising from the Irish Catholic and the Iona “Institute” as the Defenders of the Faith trot out their well-practised “few bad apples” lines. “The vast majority of Catholic institutions did great good for Irish children,” they’ll tell us if this ever makes it to Prime Time. They’ll wring their hands and drip sweet insincerity that times were different then and nobody knew how bad it was, as they are again “silenced” in their weekly columns in the Irish Times and the Irish Independent but the simple truth is they’ll be lying.

We knew. We just didn’t care.

In 1946 the internationally-acclaimed hero of “Boys Town”, Roscommon-born Father Edward Flanagan, visited the land of his birth. Flanagan, who had become a reluctant celebrity since the 1938 smash hit film starring Spencer Tracey immortalised him, had founded Boys Town in 1917 as a centre of education and shelter for poor and neglected boys in Omaha, Nebraska. His philosophy was built around a simple and powerful belief: “There is no such thing as a bad boy”.

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Father Edward Flanagan with some of the boys of Boys Town

There were no fences around Boys Town because Father Flanagan said “This is a home. You do not wall in members of your own family.” Flanagan treated the boys in his care with compassion and respect and his kindness showed such success that he became known as “the world’s foremost expert on boys’ training and youth care.”

Father Flanagan was horrified by what he saw here, denouncing Ireland’s treatment of children in Church and State care as “a scandal, un-Christlike, and wrong”.

Flanagan told a public gathering in Cork’s Savoy Cinema: “You are the people who permit your children and the children of your communities to go into these institutions of punishment. You can do something about it.” Calling Ireland’s penal institutions “a disgrace to the nation,” he said “I do not believe that a child can be reformed by lock and key and bars, or that fear can ever develop a child’s character.”

Nobody listened. The then Minister for Justice, Gerald Boland, dismissed in the Dáil Father Flanagan’s reports of children beaten with “the cat o’ nine tails, the rod, and the fist”.

“I was not disposed to take any notice of what Monsignor Flanagan said while he was in this country,” Boland told the House, “because his statements were so exaggerated that I did not think people would attach any importance to them.”

Nobody listened.

But we’ve changed now, seventy years later, of course. We’ve learned from the mistakes of the past and we really do cherish all the children now, don’t we?

Well, we’ve just had the European and Local Elections and turnout was high, by our standards, as 57% of the electorate went to the polls to administer to the Government a well-earned kick in the arse. Compare that to the turnout for the Children’s Rights Referendum of 2012. For all our guff about cherishing children and for all our crocodile tears, when we were offered the chance to enshrine in the Constitution the rights of children, only 33.5% of us could be bothered to vote.

That says it all.

Back home in the US, Father Flanagan addressed his Irish countrymen and women:

“What you need over there is to have someone shake you loose from your smugness and satisfaction and set an example by punishing those who are guilty of cruelty, ignorance and neglect of their duties in high places . . . I wonder what God’s judgment will be with reference to those who hold the deposit of faith and who fail in their God-given stewardship of little children.”

Donal O’Keeffe.

Postscript. The Journal has picked up on the story. I was wrong. It was a septic tank. The Bon Secours nuns, the brides of Christ, dumped the bodies of 800 children, who died in their so-called care, in a septic tank.

Wednesday 28th of May 2014: Many thanks to Philip Boucher-Hayes, who featured the story of the Tuam babies on Liveline. Listen here.

A clear picture emerges. Mothers incarcerated until they signed over their babies, healthy children sold to wealthy Americans and disabled infants abandoned in “Dying Rooms”, their bodies dumped in a septic tank.

To quote Bob Dylan, “Even Jesus would never forgive what you do”.

Saturday 31st May 2014: My column in thejournal.ie: “Mass grave ‘filled to the brim with tiny bones and skulls’ shows how we cherish children