Absence of politicians at Connell funeral raises questions

Cardinal’s funeral amounted to ‘small’ affair for a former major figure in Irish life

 A woman pays respects to Cardinal Connell at his funeral in the Pro-Cathedral, Dublin. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

A woman pays respects to Cardinal Connell at his funeral in the Pro-Cathedral, Dublin. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

A remarkable feature of Cardinal Desmond Connell’s funeral last week was the scarcity of public representatives. It was such a “small” affair for someone who had been a major figure in Irish life. He was also Dublin’s first cardinal since the death of Cardinal Edward McCabe in 1885.

It is true that Cardinal Connell, who would have been 91 on March 24th, had been out of office as archbishop of Dublin for almost 13 years. Such a spell out of sight hardly explains why his departure from this life last week was so out of mind where many in our public life were concerned when it came to observance of the ordinary decencies surrounding his funeral. It is usually something at which Irish people are very good. Not least our politicians.

By any assessment Cardinal Connell was a towering figure in what remains far and away the largest church on this island. As such he was also a significant figure in the civic life of Ireland. It is also true that he erred grievously in his handling of clerical child sexual abuse allegations, but that hardly sums up his long life or his contribution to Irish affairs.

No Minister, no Opposition leader, no party leader, no TD attended either his removal or his funeral Mass. The President and Taoiseach, who expressed short statements of sympathy on his death, did not attend the removal, and were represented by aides-de-camp at his funeral Mass. No representatives of Dublin’s Lord Mayor or city council attended.

So different

It was all so different from former Catholic primate Cardinal Cahal Daly’s funeral in Armagh seven years ago in January 2010. He was 92, and had also been out of office 13 years when he died.

His funeral was attended by then president Mary McAleese, then taoiseach Brian Cowen, Northern Ireland secretary Shaun Woodward, Sinn Féin deputy first minister Martin McGuinness, Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams, the UUP’s Lady Sylvia Hermon, Alliance Party leader David Forde, and SDLP leader Mark Durkan.

The DUP’s Sammy Wilson and Arlene Foster visited Cardinal Daly’s successor, Cardinal Séan Brady, before the funeral Mass to convey sympathies.

Also there were former taoisigh Albert Reynolds and John Bruton, secretary to the taoiseach Dermot McCarthy, and then Fine Gael TD Frank Feehan representing party leader Enda Kenny.

Of all those still living from then only McCarthy attended Cardinal Connell’s funeral Mass last Friday.

Former taoisigh

Cardinal Connell’s predecessor as archbishop of Dublin, Kevin McNamara, died almost 30 years ago. His funeral Mass in April 1987 was attended by then taoiseach Charles Haughey and “virtually all the Cabinet”, according to this newspaper. The then president, Patrick Hillery, was abroad, but was represented by his aide-de-camp.

There also were former taoisigh Jack Lynch and Liam Cosgrave, then ceann comhairle Seán Treacy, Fine Gael leader Alan Dukes, PD leader Des O’Malley. Barry Desmond represented the Labour Party.

Also there was then lord mayor of Dublin (and minister for labour) Bertie Ahern with fellow city councillors, all in their civic robes.

Almost three years ago, on March 11th, 2014, abuse survivor Christine Buckley died. Her documentary Dear Daughter, broadcast by RTÉ in 1996, began the exposure of ill-treatment of children like herself in institutions run by religious congregations. She campaigned hard for an investigation and redress for such children, as did others.

It contributed greatly to bringing about then taoiseach Bertie Ahern’s 1999 Dáil apology, on behalf of the State, to all who had been in such institutions as children; to his setting up of what became the Laffoy-Ryan commission: and to his setting up a redress board which paid compensation to 15,500 people.

Moral strength

After attending her funeral Mass in the Church of St Therese on Dublin’s Mount Merrion, President Michael D Higgins described Buckley as a “a woman of extraordinary courage”. It was, he said, “appropriate to pay tribute to a figure of such moral strength and purpose”.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny described her as “a person of immense courage who was responsible as a pioneer in bringing to public awareness the question of institutional abuse”, and was represented at her funeral Mass by Comdt Kieran Carey. Then minister for health James Reilly represented the government.

Then tánaiste and Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore said Buckley’s “courage and dignity in speaking out has made Ireland a better place”, while Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said “her unwavering courage and her singular determination to uncover institutional abuse was a catalyst in my decision to establish the Laffoy-Ryan commission”.

Neither Martin or current Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin made any public comment following Cardinal Connell’s death. Nor did Sinn Féin, the Greens, the Social Democrats, Independents AAA-PBP or anyone in the Dáil.

Surely something is amiss here. Is it now the case in Ireland that we too have abandoned basic respect for the dignity of a person with whom we may disagree, even profoundly, and which is the very lubricant of a peaceful society?

Are we ourselves now behaving with that same adolescent volatility we associate with those countries we like to dismiss as infantile or, at best, immature?

Patsy McGarry is Religious Affairs Correspondent

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