Politicians could not resist the Brady bandwagon


It has been a tough week for the hierarchies of Fianna Fáil and the Irish Catholic Church, writes NOEL WHELAN

THIS WEEK saw two of Ireland’s once dominant national institutions continue to struggle with their depleted circumstances. Both the Fianna Fáil hierarchy and the Irish Catholic Church hierarchy are facing crises, although of a different order.

The latest twist in the crisis facing the Catholic Church hierarchy arises from the resurfacing of the controversies surrounding Cardinal Seán Brady’s role in a secret church inquiry into allegations of abuse by

Fr Brendan Smyth in the mid-1970s.

The stage for comment on this controversy is best left in my view, at least at this point, to Smyth’s victims and to those – on this page and elsewhere – who are best placed to comment on Catholic Church affairs. If anything there has been too much political comment on the Cardinal Brady story this week.

It was ironic to watch a parade of politicians rush to microphones last Thursday – most of them firm advocates of the need for separation between church and State but all of whom felt it necessary and appropriate to give their own tuppence worth on whether Cardinal Brady should remain in situ as the leader of Irish Catholics. Politicians just cannot resist being part of a bandwagon.

When the cardinal’s predicament was raised in Dáil Éireann, Eamon Gilmore, giving a “personal view” of the controversy, said that “anybody who did not deal with the scale of the abuse we have seen in this case should not hold a position of authority”.

Not to be outdone Enda Kenny later asserted his role as commentator-in-chief, saying he was speaking as “Taoiseach and also as a practising Catholic and father of a young family”.

Ruairí Quinn, otherwise a champion of the need for a separation between secular and religious power, rowed in with the view that the Catholic Church should consider the appropriateness of having at its head someone who had “failed spectacularly to protect children”.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin spoke of how the issue was “a matter, obviously, for the church”, before going on to add “from my own perspective” that the cardinal’s authority had very fundamentally been undermined.

On Thursday night’s news we were told that “speaking in his personal capacity” Northern Ireland’s highest-placed Catholic politician, the Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, had offered the view that the cardinal should reflect on the wisdom of remaining on as the leader of Irish Catholics.

The politicians may have been at pains to claim they were speaking in a personal rather than political capacity but in reality this political punditry on the status of the church leadership was motivated primarily by affection for the media attention they attracted as politicians for offering their views on the topic of the week.

They should just have told the media pestering them for comment that since no current issues of child protection arose, they had no view on the cardinal’s position.

There is enough momentum behind the campaign for Cardinal Brady to go. His position is untenable, the outcome is inevitable and there is no need for politicians to get involved.

Micheál Martin chose to speak of Cardinal Brady’s circumstances despite the fact that, with referendum campaigning and Éamon Ó Cuív, he already had enough to deal with.

It is nine weeks since the Fianna Fáil Ardfheis. In the days before that gathering

Ó Cuív was removed from his position as deputy leader and then embarked on a marathon of media appearances espousing a position on the fiscal treaty dramatically divergent from that adopted by a majority of the parliamentary party.

That Saturday I commented on how the nature and timing of Ó Cuív’s actions suggested a deliberate strategy on his part to provoke Martin, and that he seemed set on a further showdown. In radio interviews that Saturday Martin dismissed such suggestions, arguing that the issue of Ó Cuív’s stance on the treaty had been dealt with and he had been relegated to the backbenches.

Now it is clear that Ó Cuív is not letting the issue lie. As the referendum campaign intensified a new twist in the Martin-Ó Cuív saga was inevitable. The only surprise is that it came so early in the campaign.

Ó Cuív, it seems, is intent on actively campaigning against the treaty, although it seems at this stage only in the media and not on an actual canvass.

Referendum campaigns are now fought almost exclusively in the media so this is a distinction without a difference.

The Fianna Fáil leader may be trying to ignore this troublesome backbencher but that will prove increasingly difficult to do. Just as Martin was garnering recognition for his performance on the Yes side in a TV3 debate on the treaty, Ó Cuív and a coterie of Connemara councillors broke ranks in a clearly co-ordinated way to call for a No vote.

Ó Cuív’s posturing again on the treaty comes less than a week after his media comments calling for Fianna Fáil to align itself with Sinn Féin. Just when Martin and his party is seeking to withstand the rise of Sinn Féin, and emphasising the differences between the parties on economic and European policy in particular, Ó Cuív has called for them to cosy up.

Ó Cuív gives off an air at times of being a somewhat erratic and eccentric politician. When asked what he is up to he gives a bemused shrug and claims all he is doing is making a different argument.

In reality he is a cunning and calculating political strategist in the family mould. His real agenda is to lead Fianna Fáil and, if that is not possible, then to provide leadership, or at least moral leadership, to that portion of Fianna Fáil prepared to follow him.

A break between Ó Cuív and Fianna Fáil seems increasingly likely.

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