Belfast Telegraph

How a nation lost its way and nobody shouted stop

Alf McCreary

By Alf McCreary

Last Sunday the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Dairmuid Martin, prostrated himself at the altar in Dublin's Pro-Cathedral in an act of contrition for the victims of clerical sexual abuse.



With Boston's Cardinal Sean O'Malley, one of the senior clergy sent by the Vatican to Ireland to help clear up the Irish mess, he washed the feet of several victims.

Doubtless both men were sincere but they were accused by some of taking part in yet another 'stunt' by the Catholic Church. People were asking why an act of contrition should be carried out in front of the television cameras. Why not do so privately and tell the world about it afterwards?

Whatever the motives of Dr Martin, who has been an honourable Catholic figure during the prolonged clerical sexual scandal, his act of contrition was also symbolic of the economic mess in which the Irish nation finds itself.

As the election results become clearer, it is doubtful if any set of Irish politicians can deal effectively with the worst crisis to engulf that State since its formation.

The bizarre election campaign made fascinating viewing, and I was struck by the complexity of the economic arguments and by the way in which the Irish politicians quickly got stuck into one another.

It was reminiscent of the worst days of the Troubles when our own television encounters were ferocious and personal. At that time there was a degree of wonder in the Republic that Northerners could be so tribal but the election campaign across the border showed their politicians can be just as bloody-minded.

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The horrendous state of the Republic's economy is due mainly to the irresponsibility of the bankers and developers, aided by the cronyism of politicians, particularly Fianna Fail

There is also much evidence that many people in the Republic lost the run of themselves. They bought and sold property with a naïve belief that there would never be a day of reckoning, and a certain class lived as if the days of wine and roses would continue for ever.

Some also thought that irresponsibility was to be admired, even in some of their leading politicians, and that, if people could bend the rules without punishment, good luck to all concerned. They were cute operators but eventually they outsmarted themselves.

( There's a much better expression of this which has associations with "cute ladies of the night", but perhaps not the language for a family newspaper).

In the end the failure in the Republic was as much moral as financial but, in the many years when the Irish gravy-train was trundling along, the churches were largely silent.

They thundered rightly about the disease of sectarianism in the North but turned a blind eye to the cancer of financial greed in their own backyard.

There were some honourable exceptions to this, including Cardinal Sean Brady, before he was overtaken by the church's clerical child abuse crisis. He had been asking pertinent question about whether or not the nation was losing its way, and its historic identity, in the greed and callousness of the get-rich-quick society.

More recently, however, the Irish churches have rediscovered their conscience in this area, and there have been strong words from senior clergy about the ills of Irish society, which are not just financial, and also of the need to find a path to a more holistic society.

This moral compass will be needed in the days ahead and already some Irish voices have been campaigning to default on part of their debts - and none more so than Sinn Fein who, in moral terms, remain utterly blackened by the murderous violence of their Provisional IRA fellow-travellers.

However, we in the North should not gloat. There is still plenty wrong with our society, not least our ingrained ability to take almost everything, including our financial benefits, for granted. We have lived for so long on the back of subsidies that we would not begin to know how to go it alone.

Perhaps a few strong sermons up here about differentiating between 'God and Caesar' would not go amiss. If we did not have London, or someone other source, to blame for so many of our ills, what on earth would we do?

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