This is an interview I gave to Radio Kerry on August 8, 2011. Please excuse the gratutitous Arwen pics 🙂
I was in Croke Park in 2002 when DJ Carey scored that point. More precisely I was in the upper tier of The Hogan Stand, directly in line with DJ Carey, when he took that score. I remember my eight year old self crying like a baby when Seamus Darby scored that goal, which robbed Kerry of the unique 5-in-a-row. And I remember when my local club Lixnaw, won the Kerry Hurling Championship in ’83, for the first time in 29 years.
Those memories and many others are why I am filled with gratitude to and admiration for the GAA. Though I don’t love the GAA. It is conservative to its very core. I won’t condemn them for this, as their conservatism clearly works. They continue to thrive and maintain a presence in every parish and village in the country.
Every decision of note in the GAA has to win the support of at least two-thirds of the organisation. It is as close to consensus as is practical in the real world and arguably an insane level to fix on, in an organisation of the GAA’s scope and size. The results however speak for themselves.
I do not participate in its running because I would quickly go insane at the pace of change in that body, despite all the evidence pointing to its efficacy of this slow pace. I thought they would never allow Soccer and Rugby to be played in Croke Park and was angry that they maintained that stricture for so long. When however, they did change this rule, they did so while maintaining the unity of the GAA and more than this, they embraced that change with a professional enthusiasm that was inspirational.
There is one gripe that I have with the GAA however. When I attend a big game in Crole Park, there will be politicians there as Guests of the GAA. Nothing wrong with that. It’s a symbiotic relationship and open for all to see. What vexes is their requests for the spectators to stand in respect for these politicians. Standing for a mere politician? One stands for the President. She is the titular leader of our country. Of course one stands for her. One however does not stand for a Taoiseach. There is no logical or moral reason to stand for a servant.
We chose a parliamentary democracy so that we would not have to endure leaders. Soldiers and sheep need leaders, citizens need law makers and administrators. We did however retain the notion of a Head of State, a position of prestige and ceremony, but wholly stripped of any real significance beyond symbolism. It’s a bit nineteenth century, but most countries have them and it appears to work, so we may as well continue with it.
I must admit however, that my refusal to stand for politicians, was influenced by Bertie Ahern. I remember harboring dark thoughts about what I would do if he was ever elevated to the Aras. At best I could never go to any event he was due to attend and as the evidence of his infamy grew, I even contemplated emigrating.
Fortunately however, his reputation has been so marred by his time in office, that the risk of him ever becoming our ‘Leader‘ has all but disappeared. With that distraction removed then, I had to begin the process of deciding who I would dislike least, to stand up for. I quickly narrowed it down to two men, Senator David Norris and Pat Cox.
As the campaign developed, Pat Cox failed to get the Fine Gael nomination and I grew more enamoured with the idea of someone very much outside the usual world of politics, so I chose Senator Norris. And I was especially attracted tot he idea of a defeat for the conservatives. Then the controversies began.
He appeared to be somewhat ambiguous about the sexual mores of the majority of Irish Citizens. At the time I wrote a blog supporting his right to ask uncomfortable questions and my support for him became exclusive and clear. My only concern was that the antiquated and politician ridden system of gaining a nomination, would stop him standing. It was proving very much a close run thing. Fine Gael, the newly largest party in the country, was blocking him, but there were elected representatives who feared the process would lose all credibility if Senator Norris was kept out of the race.
Then a new controversy erupted. In 1997 Senator Norris wrote a letter, to an Israeli Court, pleading for clemency, for his former Partner Ezra Yizhak. Mister Yizhak had been convicted of the Statuary Rape of a 15 year old boy and Senator Norris sought to mitigate this crime and to help Mister Yizhak avoid a custodial sentence. The letter highlighted Senator Norris’ position as an elected representative in Ireland. When the letter was revealed, Senator Norris’ support crumbled and he withdrew from the race.
Was he wrong to write that letter, was it the correct decision for him to withdraw and would I have voted for him if he had somehow managed to still gain a nomination?
In his position, I would have written that letter. I say that without hesitation or demur, though I do not offer that as a justification. I merely wish to highlight that there is nothing I believe in so profoundly, that I would not betray to save a loved one. If Senator Norris had attempted to intervene in the case of a murderer, as one of his opponents had done, then perhaps he would still be in the race. He however tried to save a man who was guilty of rape, statutory rape, unlawful carnal knowledge, sexual misconduct. A man guilty of sexual abuse, pedophilia, pederasty, corruption of a minor, sodomising a boy, raping a child, inappropriate contact. The form of words we choose to describe what Mister Yizhak was convicted of, more accurately describes our opinion of what happened, rather than the reality.
In defending Senator Norris in the past, I argued for nuance in our attitudes to sex and sexuality. I hold to that plea. The age of consent in Israel is presently 16, it was 18 at the time of the conviction. Thus now when someone is 15 years and 364 days old they are not allowed to have sex, but add one day and they are somehow ready. That is patently illogical. Having sex however with a boy who is 15 years and 364 days old, consensual or otherwise, is wrong, especially if the person is an adult.
A nuanced approach says that some 15 year olds are ready for sex and some 18 year olds are not. On paper, that is a perfectly defensible position to take. Of course it immediately begs the question, how do we assess and police this wonderfully liberal attitude? It would be impossible. That is why an arbitrary age is picked and in some jurisdictions with a relatively young age of consent, there are provisos in place, to limit this sexual activity to peers. I wish I had made that point clear in my previous post on the subject, but at the time it was all theory.
So a crime was committed against a child/minor/boy and Senator Norris, in his letter was less then sympathetic to the victim/participant. At worst this was callous, at best it may have been an oversight inspired by concern for a loved one. Ultimately however he behaved in the tradition of Irish politicians i.e. abused his position plus he overlooked the possible consequences of Mister Yizhak’s actions on the youth/young man.
For that I would not have been able to vote for him in the Presidential election. For that my respect for him and the wonderful work he has done on Human Rights is diminished. For that I would no longer have been concerned if he had failed to get a nomination.
For that he would have made a worse than unsuitable President. After the election I face the prospect of having to stand for a man or a woman, who to say the least, leave me cold. Three of them I would disagree with on political and philosophical grounds and the fourth, I wouldn’t even recognise if introduced to me. If however I find myself in Croke Park with one of them, I will stand, though it may be with gritted teeth. And I will stand because of the good work that Senator Norris has done in the past. He was one of those campaigners that helped and cajoled this conservative country to a position of respecting the rights of minorities.
With his help, this conservative people is moving towards recognising the benefits of inclusiveness and plurality. The pace is maddening, the characters involved flawed and the fighting sometimes bitter, but to quote William Quill; “…I am glad that we are now in a cultural position where this is unlikely to have any serious effect on the debate for equality in marriage or elsewhere in law, as it might have done a decade ago…the progress in this regard should continue along strongly.”
I hope that Senator Norris recognises this and in choosing to leave the field, he accepts that forcing men and women, who he has grossly offended, to stand for him, would have been a bar to this progress.
The following is an edited version of my Cloyne Report post as it appears in the Letter section of The Kerryman
As appeared in Letters – Kerryman – 3 August, 2011 edition
On 13 July of this year, The Cloyne Report was published and, in essence the report shows that the Catholic Church failed to protect children from harm between the years 1996 and 2005. That the Catholic Church failed to protect children is not a surprise, the surprise is the dates involved, 1996 to 2005. Perhaps it is a still a little early to use the phrase ‘last century‘ to describe archaic ideas, but if some of us had given credence to the excuse of ignorance, which Catholic apologists had used to explain away their Church’s behaviour, then 2005 wholly demolishes this ugly attempt at misdirection.
There are no more excuses left for the Catholic Church. Any organisation that routinely interacts with children should have a child protection policy. Best practice would have these policies based almost wholly on Children First (1999 and 2010) guidelines. This policy provides front-line staff and management, of any organisation, with an easy to follow guide on how to protect children and how to report instances of suspected abuse. Put simply, if a member of staff has a suspicion, they pass this information to their supervisor, who is responsible for ensuring that the suspicion is reasonable, if the suspicion is reasonable, the HSE and/or gardai must then be informed.
What the Cloyne Report shows is that this policy was adopted by the Catholic Church and then it was turned on its head. Instead of Children First, it seems to have became a policy of Catholic Church First.
In response to this betrayal of trust by the Catholic Church, the Government is now keen to make reporting of suspected abuse mandatory. The discretion that organisations had will end, childcare professionals will have to endure investigations when subjected to malicious and nuisance accusations and careers will be unnecessarily harmed or even ended.
When I began my childcare career in 1994, I was taught that children never lie about sexual abuse. I left childcare in 2004, utterly exhausted by the measures required to protect oneself from false allegations.
I do not resent those requirements, because the best child protection practice, exactly mirrors that which is required of staff to protect themselves from false allegations. Allegations will of course still be made, but if everyone has followed the prescribed protocols, then that allegation can be quickly assessed as either credible or malicious.Thus a well run establishment provides a safe environment for both service users and staff.
Mistakes continue to be made, but today, when the State or organisations who operate under the auspices of the State get involved in a child’s life, that child is physically and emotionally safer than they have ever been in the past.
The problem in the case of Cloyne was not Catholic organisations, largely staffed with lay people, who see their service users as their prime responsibility, the problem is the Catholic Church itself interacting with children.
In my view, the prime motivation moving the Catholic Church is the Catholic Church. Since its inception it has put its needs first. It sees itself as God-touched. It has spilled blood on an epic scale and still maintains its visage of pious saintliness. That it would confuse the rape of a child with a PR problem is unfortunately a limitation in their morality they may never overcome. And so we must look at mandatory reporting.
Is there an alternative? I don’t think so. There is no democratic way of ending all interaction the Catholic Church has with children and if the Catholic Church is habitually untrustworthy, then child protection policy must be so stringent that even that institution is forced to put children first.
In the interim however, spare a thought for those thousands of social care workers, social workers, community workers, nurses, teachers and special needs assistants whose working environments are about to drastically deteriorate. And spare a thought for the coaches and volunteers and neighbours and foster parents and unfortunate parents who will have to face interventions in their lives that they wouldn’t ordinarily have to endure.
Bear in mind too that these hard working and dedicated people will have to tolerate the imposition of mandatory reporting for the simple reason that priests cannot be trusted to put the safety of children above the interests of the church.