Martyn Turner, the Irish Times and #CharlieHebdo

 

 

Charia

“Charia” Hebdo: 100 lashes if you’re not dying of laughter!

“Charlie Hebdo would not survive too long in a Dublin newsagent without being hauled before the beak for blasphemy, indecency and anything else they could think of.”

So writes Martyn Turner in the Irish Times, offering his reaction to the atrocity in Paris, as yet again religious fanatics commit the ultimate blasphemy, murdering out of fear that their all-powerful god might not actually be able to defend his or her self.

That attack saw Islamist gunmen storm the offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and murder twelve people for the crime of offending them. Or their god. Whichever was the more touchy.

Martyn Turner is my favourite Irish cartoonist by a country mile and he has been for as long as I can remember. Although it’s more than two decades ago now since the X Case, I can recall in vivid detail sitting in a restaurant in Cork, feeling sickened to my stomach, looking again and again at this cartoon on the front of the Irish Times and realising how perfectly Turner had encapsulated what I knew even then would be a defining moment in Irish history.

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Turner has an unerring ability to see to the heart of a story and to capture its essence in gorgeous lines of pen and ink. He has nailed successive Taoisigh to the drawing board and skewered politicians of every stripe without fear or favour.

Haughey Turner

Turner's Taoisigh

 

Turner Irish Water

Jarry Bear

To my eye, Martyn Turner’s work shows a clear influence from the great Irish-American cartoonist Walt Kelly.

Ah Pogo

In 1941, Kelly created the comic strip “Pogo” and, using beautiful illustrations of funny animals, spent the rest of his life delivering sharp and biting social and political commentary in an America that was a cold climate for his liberal and humanist opinions. “Calling a man a pig is just plain rude,” Kelly said of cartooning. “Draw him as a pig. That’s how you really hurt the sonuvabitch.”

Malarkey

Kelly was among the very first to take on another Irish-American figure, Senator Joseph McCarthy – lampooning him as “Simple J Malarkey” – at a time when to do so was to risk more than just career.

Martyn Turner is spot-on to highlight Ireland’s ludicrous blasphemy laws – which date back not to Victorian times but to Dermot Ahern’s head-rush of 1999. Actually, whatever happened to all that lovely Sharia banking Dermot said he’d get us in return for introducing the EU’s most regressive blasphemy laws?

The Minister of State for Justice, the Labour Party’s Aodhán Ó Ríordán, has promised a referendum on blasphemy “in the second half of the year”. Which strikes me as a tad optimistic, given that we might not even have a Labour Party in the second half of the year.

I could be wrong, but I thought I detected something left unsaid in Turner’s comments about cartooning and freedom of speech.

Last April, the Irish Times carried a cartoon by Turner. (The context of the cartoon was a resurgence of Ireland’s seemingly-unkillable love of singing priests.) I liked the cartoon and I tried to find it on the Irish Times website but it was not there. Not to worry. I’m one of that dying breed of weirdo who buys a newspaper or two every day. So I took a bad photo and tweeted it. To my surprise, my tweet soon became (it seemed) the only available online copy of the cartoon.

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.A day later, the Irish Times issued what could only be called a grovelling apology, saying  Turner’s cartoon “took an unfortunate and unjustified side-swipe at all priests, suggesting that none of them can be trusted with children”.

That weekend, the Iona Institute’s Breda O’Brien wrote a car-crash of an Irish Times column defending singing priests. (She didn’t mention that most famous of singing priests, the Elvis impersonator Fr Tony Walsh. As I write this, Fr Tony is serving 123 years’ worth of concurrent sentences for child abuse. Read more here but be warned that you don’t want Fr Tony in your head for too long.)

Given that the Catholic Church in Ireland has had a very obvious and deadly-dangerous problem with mandatory reporting of allegations of sex abuse up to at least as recently as the events covered in the Cloyne Report of 2011, I honestly see nothing controversial at all in Turner’s cartoon. But, despite claiming that the work of columnists and contributors is “largely sacrosanct”, the Irish Times apologised for the “considerable offence… (and) the hurt caused by the cartoon whose use in that form, we acknowledge, reflected a regretable [sic] editorial lapse.”

God forbid that the easily-offended might get offended.

You’d wonder though, wouldn’t you? If the Irish Times can cave so easily to prissy Flanderses like the Iona Institute, what might happen if the likes of ISIS ever came a-calling?

Speaking of the easily-offended, one of Ireland’s leading Muslim clerics was straight out of the traps a day after the Charlie Hebdo murders to threaten legal action should anyone in the Irish media publish a cartoon depicting the Prophet Mohammed. Dr Ali Selim, of the Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland, later appeared on RTÉ’s Prime Time, doing a credible impression of a racist taxi-driver. “Blasphemy is not Irish,” he said. “Why do we import problems that are not Irish?”

Likening freedom of speech to water, Dr Selim made the bizarre point: “If you drink too much, you will end up in hospital.” With such tone-deafness, he may as well just apply for Iona membership altogether.

In Paris we saw champions of free speech pay the ultimate price. They died because they offended the easily-offended. The cowards who slaughtered twelve people are violent and damaged men willing to place their own deranged imaginings of the divine above the lives of others.

In their rage, they reject the most basic principles of civilisation. Civilisation’s only response can be more civilisation.

If a society believes in freedom of speech then that freedom applies to all, most especially to those we find offensive. Freedom’s only weapon can be more freedom.

“Against the assault of laughter, nothing can stand,” said Mark Twain. But if you believe in an all-powerful god, then for God’s sake have a little faith. He or she should be big enough to take a joke.

“I’d rather die on my feet than live on my knees.” – Stephane “Charb” Charbonnier (1967 – 2015), publisher, Charlie Hebdo.

Donal O’Keeffe

To Ireland’s “pro-life” Catholiban, all rights end at rape

Helen Lovejoy Syndrome” is what Alan Flanagan calls it. That’s when people who are more moral than everyone else attempt to win every argument by screeching “Oh won’t someone PLEASE think of the children?” Divorce? Children. Gays? Children. Abortion? Now you’re talking.

Generally speaking, these children tend not to be real children. They are usually theoretical, hypothetical hit-me-now-with-the-child-in-me-arms children. Real children tend to be complicated and unpredictable. From their hold-the-line-at-any-cost approach on “Tonight with Vincent Browne”, you’d be forgiven for thinking that some our more dead-eyed moral bullies would be appalled at the sight of an actual, real child.

Well, they have a real child this time, Ireland’s Helen Lovejoys, a tiny baby in an incubator. That baby’s mother, barely more than a child herself, says she was raped in her home country and, when she found herself pregnant in the middle of Ireland’s barbaric Direct Provision system, she became the central figure in Ireland’s latest horror story

Three decades after Catholic fundamentalists got their hands on Ireland’s Constitution and planted their 8th Amendment as a bulwark against the oncoming tide of liberalism, a young rape victim can be denied an abortion and can be forced to stay pregnant against her will until such time as the pregnancy is (barely) on the cusp of viability outside of the womb and then she can be carved open by C-section.  

Bad enough that we have to listen, in the interests of “balance”, to fanatics who opposed at every opportunity the free availability of both sex education and contraception and who consider the Morning After Pill as monstrous as a late-term abortion, but now we have to listen too as they crow on social media and on the airwaves at what they see as a victory.

What has driven me up the wall this past week (blocking out for a second that this poor woman’s wishes were ignored and the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act was interpreted in the most brutal way imaginable) is the vicious, pathetic and downright evil suggestion by the crawthumpers in the “pro-life” movement that those of us who believe a woman’s body is her own would wish dead the baby currently struggling for its life.

Having a mindset founded on a default setting of absolute certainty and the burning belief that God has a Holy Plan (and that it’s a baby as soon as Daddy gives Mammy a knowing look after their second glass of shandy) means that in the warped minds of the Catholiban everyone else is as capable of abandoning a child’s rights once it is born as they are.

It is hard to avoid the suspicion that what is at the heart of fundamentalist Catholic “pro-life” thinking is not really so much angels dancing around the head of a zygote but rather what is now known as slut-shaming. Maybe it’s not so much caring about babies, whether they are born or not, but rather about the warped desire to ensure that any woman having sex pays for her sin. Perhaps that’s why it’s a baby and it’s always a baby. Rape? Incest? Non-viable pregnancy? Just watch those dead eyes.

I desperately hope that baby lives. I hope she or he enjoys robust good health and, more importantly, outrageous happiness. I hope that baby knows love and joy and better again silliness. I hope that baby has a life as big as the sky.

This in no way affects my prayer that a terribly young woman, (I understand she has barely turned 18,) monstrously abused not once but over again, and more than one of those times by the Irish State, will in time be able to reclaim a sense of her own self, a sense of her own body and a sense of her own life. I hope against hope she can again define herself as herself.

Not being as morally-stunted in our thinking as those who can no longer remember whether they claim that God thinks for them or that they think for God means that some of us can care about the baby while still believing the mother should not have been raped and should not either have been forced against her will to remain pregnant.

Breda O’Brien of the right-wing, Catholic fundamentalist cabal the Iona “Institute” (quote-marks my own because words should actually mean something) says in her Irish Times column of the 23rd of August “the right to choose ends long before the right to end someone else’s life”. That clears that up then.

Because the “pro-life” believe it’s a full human life at the moment of conception, then it’s a baby at the moment the rapist fulfils God’s Holy Plan. So what Breda is actually saying is the right to choose ends at rape.

Here’s my question. If forcing a rape victim to remain pregnant is in the end a good thing because, look, a baby, then might it be morally wrong to interrupt a rape? After all, if you’re not “pro-life”, then who are you to know the intricacies of God’s Holy Plan?

I’m going to Hell for asking that, I’d imagine. Mark Twain was right: “Go to Heaven for the climate, Hell for the company”.

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

Breda O’Brien and the Singing Priests

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Breda O’Brien, with characteristic tone-deafness, seems very upset that more people are not upset at Martyn Turner’s “singing priests” cartoon. She bemoans “the satire of ‘singing priests’, given the best-known singing priests are humble men who raise phenomenal amounts of money for charity.”

Really? Without in any way questioning the good faith of “singing priests” as a whole, I would like to point out to Ms O’Brien that for people who follow the news and who might worry more about the safety of children and less about the reputation of their religion, by far the best-known “singing priest” is the Elvis impersonator Father Tony Walsh.

In December 2010, Father Walsh was sentenced to a total of 123 years in prison for child abuse. In reality, he is serving those sentences concurrently and could be out in ten years’ time. Following Walsh’s sentencing, the previously-withheld Chapter 19 of the Murphy Report was published. Its introduction read: “Fr Tony Walsh is probably the most notorious child sexual abuser to have come to the attention of the Commission… His pattern of behaviour is such that it is likely that he has abused hundreds of children.”

A psychiatrist who treated Walsh in 1988 warned “Tony Walsh is extremely compulsive – there have been an awful lot of children involved. He is a very disturbed man. He is always going to be dangerous. He could not be let near schools, children, Confession without a grille…”

In 2012, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin apologised to the victims of the “singing priest”. “The Archdiocese of Dublin failed these children,” he said. “It was too slow in recognising that Tony Walsh was a predatory paedophile.

“I can only unreservedly apologise to the victims of this man for what they endured and for the way in which the diocese failed them.”

On the issue of the seal of the Confessional, Ms O’Brien goes on to say that “The Samaritans have a similar commitment to never revealing anything their callers talk about, but no one pillories them.”

I’m open to correction on this, but I’m pretty sure that the Samaritans never covered up or facilitated wholesale child abuse by members of the Samaritans.

Donal O’Keeffe

Homophobia, and why I want to see the Iona Institute on RTÉ. All. The. Time.

I have one thing in common with the Iona Institute. I too keep forgetting that those creepy, sex-obsessed reactionaries only speak for about 2% of Ireland’s Catholics.

Every practising Catholic I know considers them to be embarrassing extremists and I have heard some Catholics close to me rage that “those fanatics must, surely be to God, have something on RTÉ to say that they’re on the television and the radio night and day”.

By now, you will probably have heard about Rory O’Neill‘s appearance on “The Saturday Night Show” and the subsequent storm which led to John Waters, Breda O’Brien and the Iona Institute getting an apology and an undisclosed chunk of taxpayers’ money from RTÉ. O’Neill, the alter ego of Panti, the drag queen, told Brendan O’Connor that homophobia is not accepted in a modern Ireland where gay people are visible and (by the vast majority of us) valued members of Irish society.

“It’s very hard to hold prejudices against people when you actually know those people,” he said. He went on to say that the only place “it’s okay to be horrible and really mean to gays is on the internet – in the comments – and, you know, people who make a living writing opinion pieces for the newspapers.”

All of which was fine until Brendan O’Connor did something really, really stupid. “Who are they?” he asked.

Now, how many times do we hear superior interviewers like, say, Joe Duffy, on live air, warn interviewees not to name names? Not so Shrek. That Rory O’Neill named names and left RTÉ open to (I still think entirely spurious) claims of defamation reflects on the interviewer rather than the interviewee. Despite RTÉ removing the clip from the RTÉ Player and Youtube, you can watch the interview here.

Owent on to make this wonderful and, I think, entirely reasonable point about what constitutes homophobia: “What it boils down to is if you’re going to argue that gay people need to be treated in any way differently than everybody else or should be in anyway less, or their relationships should be in anyway less then I’m sorry, yes you are a homophobe and the good thing to do is to sit, step back, recognise that you have some homophobic tendencies and work on that.”

Sadly, that wasn’t enough to galvanise RTÉ or indeed its man Brendan O’Connor, the genius who had encouraged Rory to name names. One craven apology coming right up. (Philip O’Connor has written about that, far better than I ever could, here.)

It is, though, important to remember that there are a lot of very decent people working in RTÉ and some of them are sick to the stomach at this development. Here, for no reason other than my own need to be cheered up, is something really beautiful from RTÉ.

With a referendum on marriage equality very likely within the next two years, we can expect to hear a lot more from the Iona Institute and Company Limited. We can look forward to a lot of shrieking about “The Children”, what Alan Flanagan calls “The Helen Lovejoy Syndrome“.

But here’s the thing: I am no fan of John Waters or the Iona Institute. I have written about Breda O’Brien before and one of Iona’s most Smithers-like apologists had a go at me in the last few days for mocking Poor John Waters. An attack which made me, as Father Jessup might say, “sooooooooooooooo sad”.

But.

But I saw some friends from the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community propose in the immediate aftermath of RTÉ’s miserable apology and settlement that, henceforth, no LGBT people should agree to appear on panel discussions with Iona Institute personnel.

Folks, have you lost your minds?

Personally, I hope Iona’s litigiousness doesn’t have the unintended consequence of lessening their media ubiquity. It would, of course, be a terrible mistake to allow the bigots to go unchallenged but it would also be very unfortunate if broadcasters decided they had no choice, without the balancing voices of LGBT commentators, but to exclude the Iona Institute from discussion.

The Iona Institute is an accidental force for, and please hear me out, compassion and inclusivity. Every time members of that wretched outfit go on the air looking like homophobes and bullies is surely a victory for those of us who start from a principle of equality. “Equality must take second place to the common good” says Breda O’Brien of the Iona Institute. John Waters calls marriage equality “a kind of satire on marriage which is being conducted by the gay lobby”. God love them.

To the Iona Institute and their fellow travellers, they represent the reasonable argument against equality. They only look like religious fundamentalist maniacs because there is no reasonable argument against equality and they lack the self-awareness to realise it.

I want Iona and their fellow travellers on the air all the time. (I don’t, really. I can’t afford to throw any more televisions or radios out the window, but bear with me.) I want them arguing against equality and looking wild-eyed and hysterical because those watching will see the opponents of the I-Onans as decent and rational people and the type of person you’d want for a family member or a neighbour or a friend.

I think the Iona Institute is pumping out a message of intolerance and, yes, hatred, one which has nothing Christian about it. But then, as my Granny used to say, them that’s closest to the altar is often furthest from God. Let them spew. The more people see and hear of them, the more people will know them for what they are.

By the way, if you’re angry about RTÉ’s spineless behaviour (and if you have an interest in freedom of speech you should be) please do something about it. Write to complaints@rte.ie (Before you write, I recommend you take a look at Brian Barrington’s powerful letter here.)

Before I go, here’s something else from RTÉ (and BBC). Mrs Brown on marriage equality. Brendan O’Carroll gets a free pass from me for this.

“Could you show me in any Bible, anywhere, where Jesus Christ refused to sanctify love?”

Donal O’Keeffe

Post Script: On Wednesday the 29th of January, Audrey Carville asked her guests on The Late Debate, Breda O’Brien and Colm O’Gorman, to comment on RTÉ’s apology and settlement to Ms O’Brien, John Waters and the Iona Institute. The resulting discussion made for riveting radio. Listen here.