Archive for March, 2010


A journalist turns her attention from defending her favourite billionaire:

Public service reform needed now as we’ve paid for it – The Irish Times – Wed, Mar 31, 2010

Still, whether their motives are base or not, the end of the campaign is good news for those depending on public services and for public sector workers who need saving from themselves. They were starting to compete with bankers in the unpopularity stakes.

The unions insist this is because their members are victims of “an orchestrated campaign” against them. It grates every time I hear the accusation.

Campaigns are by their nature organised, so the tautology is annoying. Worse, if there is a campaign, no one’s invited me to any of the meetings. Conspiring over a power lunch would be great fun, but not a smidgeon of orchestration comes my way. Either they’re taking me for granted, or there is no campaign. I can’t imagine they’d be silly enough to risk the former, so it must be the latter. There is no campaign.

If there is no “orchestrated campaign”, it is for this simple reason: there is no need for one.

The government and the plundering plutocracy it serves are well aware that it can rely on media organs such as the Irish Times to do what is required to ensure that their will be done without need for overt direction. They know that for the most part, the project of destroying organised labour and collective solidarity -with the aid of a burgeoning reserve army of the unemployed- is fervently supported by a critical mass of lackeys in prominent media positions. If there is one positive thing that can be observed about Ireland’s media lapdogs, it is the fact that they that well trained. Why hold power lunches when a Bonio every now and again will do?

Each of them look at public sector workers in possession of that priceless commodity – certainty – and wonder how they have the nerve to complain. No one needs to organise the communal sense of disbelief that rather than protesting, someone with a permanent job doesn’t get down on their knees at night and give thanks for their good fortune and that gold standard pension which will be determined on their pre-cut salary.

So: we shall mobilise the reserve army of the unemployed and bring you to your knees. Did I mention Denis O’Brien is a lovely chap: very much maligned and misunderstood?


The Society of The Spectacle:

55. STRUGGLES BETWEEN FORCES, all of which have been established for the purpose of running the same socioeconomic system, are thus officially passed off as real antagonisms. In actuality these struggles partake of a real unity, and this on the world stage as well as within each nation.

Rescue plan a decisive move to solve crisis, says Lenihan – The Irish Times – Wed, Mar 31, 2010

Mr Lenihan and Mr Cowen both defended the decision in September 2008 to extend the guarantee to all Irish financial institutions, including Anglo Irish Bank. Mr Lenihan also rejected Fine Gael’s argument that Anglo should be wound down, asserting that such a move could expose the exchequer to up to €70 billion in commitments.

And while saying that recapitalisation issues were for the Financial Regulator, he indicated that his view was that the State would not have to take a majority stake in Bank of Ireland.

In response to questions about the bank guarantee, Mr Lenihan said that a guarantee had been the first response of the Swedish authorities when confronted with a similar crisis a decade ago.

He also said that calls to nationalise all the banks were not realistic. “If we were nationalise the system en bloc, we would not have been able to differentiate between the institutions. We would have said that all the banks have the same level of reckless lending when that is clearly not the case. Nama has allowed us to go in and see the exposure.”

Responding to criticism by Fine Gael deputy leader Richard Bruton that Anglo’s burden on the State had surpassed €40 billion, Mr Lenihan said that winding the bank down would cost more. “We heard in the [Dáil] that there are other options for Anglo. I am afraid to say, there are not,” he said.

The Society of The Spectacle:

THIS IS NOT TO SAY that the spectacle’s sham battles between competing versions of alienated power are not also real; they do express the system’s uneven and conflict-ridden development, as well as the relatively contradictory interests of those classes or fractions of classes that recognize the system and strive in this way to carve out a role for themselves in it. Just as the development of the most advanced economies involves clashes between different agendas, so totalitarian economic management by a state bureaucracy and the condition of those countries living under colonialism or semi-colonialism are likewise highly differentiated with respect to modes of production and power. By pointing up these great differences, while appealing to criteria of quite a different order, the spectacle is able to portray them as markers of radically distinct social systems. But from the standpoint of their actual reality as mere sectors, it is clear that the specificity of each is subsumed under a universal system as functions of a single tendency that has taken the planet for its field of operations. That tendency is capitalism.

David McWilliams: Like war in the trenches, NAMA plan is pure folly – Analysis, Opinion –

The alternative is the old fashioned rules of capitalism, which reward success and punish failure.

Blessed Be The Fruit Flies

The other day I was thinking about altar boys and priests. I was one of the former for a while, and it shaped the way I view the latter.

After a month’s holidays, I spent a long August getting up every morning at half six to get on my BMX and go in to serve mass in the local chapel. August is high point in the fruit fly season. On my first day back, when it came to the point in the mass when I’d have to get up and walk six yards to carry the cruets three yards to the priest, I discovered a pair of fruit flies had drunk themselves to death overnight in the wine. It was not the done thing for altar boys to speak to the priest unless they had been spoken to, and for a moment I considered bringing this to the priest’s attention, but then figured I might bring an undignified interruption to the sanctity of the mass, and I was conscious of taking too long, so I brought him the cruets untouched. He didn’t notice the flies, poured the wine into the chalice, and I made my way down to the foot of the altar to get ready to ring the bell for consecration.

My second ring of the bell announced the fact of two drunken fruit flies transubstantiated into the blood of Jesus Christ. I looked up in horror as I saw the priest gulp them down in one.

That night my dream was a scene from a David Cronenburg-Ken Russell collaboration, with Jesus speaking to me from within the body of a fly.

The following morning I raised the matter with the sacristan. I asked him what to do if the wine had flies in it: “Take them out, for God’s sake”. In the following days and weeks, there would be a white gauze placed over the cruets, but this was not always enough to deter the fruit flies, and I found myself regularly lifting these fatally inebriated specimens out between finger and thumb, and then bringing the priest his raw materials.

If I think about it purely in terms of my own experience, all these stories about priests abusing children seem impossible on the surface. Rather than the inappropriate closeness one might be inclined to imagine, it was very rare for the priests to acknowledge the presence of the altar boys at all. We’d be standing in formation, wearing the tunic and surplice on, for a good five minutes before the priests would even arrive in the sacristy, and when they did, changing to their gear in a thrice, we’d be out onto the altar doing the bowing routine after no more than a curt ‘good morning’ at best. For the most part, the attitude of the priests to the altar boys was one of sublime oblivion. When you were out on the altar doing your thing, it was a remarkable event for the priest to whisper a word of thanks.

As far as I can see, the function of altar boys -only boys were allowed, of course- was to lend priests symbolic power for their appearances in front of the congregation. Ten year old boys are a good foot shorter than your average priest, the spectacle served to reinforce the standing of the priest as an imposing, senior pastoral figure. The tasks altar boys had to carry out were perfunctory. Apart from the aforementioned cruet-carrying, the other thing was carrying a paten, holding it under the mouth or hands of people receiving communion, depending on whether they were old school communicants or not. The objective was to prevent the host falling to the floor, in order to spare the tortured and crucified Christ from further indignity. I was 100% successful in meeting this objective, not least because I never saw a single host in freefall, due no doubt to the effective stewardship of the priests.

After the mass was finished, there were no high fives or pep-talks from the priest on how to serve better mass. The altar boys had to go straight through the sacristy to their own changing room, which doubled up as a broom cupboard. There was to be no hanging around outside the sacristy looking for autographs, and no hanging around the broom cupboard either, since the Legion of Mary would be arriving in a matter of minutes for their poker night or whatever.

The dominant attitude of priests and their acolytes in the church toward altar boys was that they were little better than chattels. Their function was little more than the glorification of the church’s socio-symbolic order, with the priests enjoying the beatifying gaze of the congregation as they towered above their little helpers.

So while I might have kept my distance from priests, and they kept their distance from me, I can see how a child who had been approached by a priest for special attention would have been easy prey: priests were powerful public figures, and children were deemed to be their obedient servants. It’s hard to imagine, under those circumstances, any child abused by a priest thinking that their story would be believed over that of a priest. It’s equally hard to imagine that a child’s story would be taken seriously by church authorities. So whether we’re talking about why paedophiles become priests, or why priests become paedophiles, we need to refer to the prevailing authoritarian culture of the church, and the broader treatment of children by the church: not simply the libidinous excesses of particular individuals and how these might be policed.

Which leads me to the matter of Sean Brady and his role in the Brendan Smyth affair. His first declaration on having failed to report Smyth to state authorities was described accurately as the Nuremburg defence: only obeying orders. The subsequent homily on St. Patrick’s Day, full of apologies, was greeted by a round of applause from the assembled congregation. I found it hard to stomach the accounts I read of the latter. With their applause, the congregation was exonerating someone who maintained a role in the perpetuation of child abuse. People do not generally deserve a round of applause for examining their conscience, not least in grievous matters such as these, and it is testimony to the moral perversity of the typical Catholic Church congregation that these people saw fit to clap Brady. It demonstrated how much children really matter in their scheme of things. For these people, the child abuse cases are like troublesome fruit flies in the communion wine: just get rid of them, so we can all get things back to the way they ought to be, with our holy men in charge and our first communion dresses and our confirmations for children at 12 and our gender-segregated schools and our elite schools and then some day someone will strike a gong and it will all be over. But it won’t.

Ye Olde Hip Hop

There are lots of references in hip-hop I don’t get. For instance, when I first heard the line ‘You’re the type of guy that likes to drink Olde English’ I thought he was saying his adversary was fond of cheap cider, which struck me as incongruous: I had no idea that people in America drank the stuff. Turns out that Olde English is a sort of malt liquour.

Anyway, I love this song.

Who’s Been Blacklisting MY Book?

Thomas Frank: Don’t Mess With the Texas Board of Ed –

The state’s board of education, by contrast, feels entitled to enforce its homemade party line with a rigidity that no comp-lit pinko would dare to dream of. Back in January, for instance, it struck the author of “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?” from a list of people for third-graders to study because it got him confused with the similarly named author of “Ethical Marxism,” a book that, according to board member Pat Hardy, makes “very strong critiques of capitalism and the American system.” And, as we all know, those who criticize capitalism deserve to have no place in public life, especially in this age of affluence and financial probity. (The board later discovered its error and reinstated the “Brown Bear” author.)

I love Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?

As did my one-and-a-half year old. But unfortunately he’s nearly two and a half now, and demanding that I sing him songs about Ethical Marxism. I try to point out that this stands in striking contrast to his demands for Goldilocks and The Three Bears (with its private property fetish) and The Little Red Hen (exaltation of the division of labour and the fruits of rugged individualism). Via ladypoverty.

Goin’ Down In A Slab of Glory

Most will be familiar by now with the story of the rich Irish donors who contributed to keeping the Vatican spick and span for the day when Jesus comes again in glory to judge the living and the dead. But there is a weird detail in the background to this story. I came across the following, from the Vatican Museums Report Winter 2009.

Now I have no idea whether this is a computer-generated image intended to look like an engraved slab, or whether it’s a photographic image of a real engraved slab. One notes that jetsetter Johnny Ronan is just plain John to the man upstairs.

Halfway round the world before the clowns have got their shoes on

Although it was rejected by the Your Country Your Call mandarins, my proposal for Mandatory Clown Suits for Social Welfare Recipients was picked up down under.

Clown suits for dole bludgers – could it work here? | Article | The Punch

But could it work in Australia?

Trade minister Simon Crean has challenged marketers to come up with a way to capture Australia’s strengths as a place to invest. “The lucky country” doesn’t quite translate across cultures. The country is basically a huge desert with some quarries in it on the end of the Earth, full of things that can kill you. So you can see why people ask precisely what it is Australians consider themselves lucky about.

But “the happy country” would surely translate seamlessly across cultures. It’s so happy, people would say, there are clowns everywhere.

It’s easy to remember, travels well, rings true, is portable and lends itself to great imagery so has the elements of a great marketing slogan. The first day it went into effect it would make television headlines around the world as CNN and others flocked to our cities to film the clowns getting their suits.

Centrelink offices could be decked out with circus regalia, making them much cheerier places to visit.

Hugh Green, the blogger who first proposed the idea on the Your Country, Your Call website set up by the Irish President’s husband, suggested it could be sponsored by captains of industry.

So business leaders like Gerry Harvey could pick up some clowns each morning and have them working on the front line, keeping them trained and connected to the workforce and also entertaining children while the parents go spending money and further stimulating the economy.

That blog post elicited the following response:

What’s all that about? – Pure Poison

Was there a point to the article? Again, the original post seemed a pretty clear dig at the idea of government soliciting policy ideas from the public. In a comment on his post, the author even noted that “I’ve been reading the proposals in more detail this morning and I have to say that it renders my stab at something satirical entirely redundant.” Colgan seems to kick off with a little stab at Tony Abbott’s “thought bubbles”, but after his “clown suits for dole bludgers” proposal he just seems to throw it open to other zany ideas rather than driving home a solid point.

It seems like maybe this was an attempt at end-of-week satire that fell a bit flat, but I do wonder about the undertone of meanness that crept into it. The comments on Colgan’s piece seem to have gone in a lot of different directions – some treating it seriously, whether approving or disapproving of the idea, and others running with new satirical policy ideas. I’d be interested in what others thought of it – was there a point I was missing? Was it satire that missed the mark? Did you find it funnier than I did? And was the digging at those on social welfare a bit much?

I’ve received a few comments and a couple of e-mails none too happy with the proposal, including this one:

I genuinely cannot wait until you lose YOUR job. Seriously, delicious anticipation of your utter humiliation and degradation as you languish pointlessly on the dole, unable to find any meaningful work whatsoever – it’s clear from this article you are ill suited to any form of living within society and once we’ve got your policies in place, you’ll be throw to the dogs. Have fun!

And there seems to be genuine confusion about what the original intention was. So I’d like to clear this up. I posted a response on the Crikey blog, which I reproduce here, with the usual corrections for typos and that.

Thanks for pointing out that the intent of the original post was satirical, a consideration lost on some of those who have contacted me about it. I’d like to emphasise that I originally wrote it in response to the outrageous suggestions that were getting made by some of the contributors to the Your Country Your Call website, which, as is the tendency in recession-era Ireland, had demonised people in receipt of social welfare payments. In so far as I had a point, it was to oppose the idea that individuals can blithely cook up happy-clappy solutions to devastating social problems, which seemed to me the basic principle of the YCYC initiative.

Reading the ‘dole bludgers’ headline to Mr Colgan’s piece, I find it hard to work out whose side he is on in this, but I think it highlights a deeper problem: what originally appears as an attempt as social critique can be taken up and transformed into something a bit more insidious. For instance, I’m sure most people are familiar with the film The Full Monty from the late 1990s, in which you have a group of unemployed Sheffield steelworkers who are forced to perform a striptease in order to regain a sense of self-worth after the humiliation of unemployment. Not a great film, but the message of that film was marketed and reproduced, stripped of any irony, as ‘being on the dole is fun! All you have to do is humiliate yourself!’ So I regret very much if my original proposal might have sparked something along these lines.

I didn’t know anything about The Punch website when I started getting hundreds of hits from it the other day, but having checked this morning after posting on the Crikey site, it looks like it’s owned by News Corporation. And so is Fox Searchlight pictures, which was the distributor of The Full Monty. That figures.

No Fear of Greeks Buying Gifts

I caught Doug Henwood’s Behind The News podcast from Saturday week ago this morning. He had an interview with Yanis Varoufakis, a Greek Economist. Varoufakis gave a very lucid account of the current pressures being brought to bear on Greece. Below is a rush transcript of an excerpt I thought was of particular interest to residents of a country whose government prides itself on its best-in-class ratings from European elites for its deflationary policies.

Varoufakis: Germany has been since the early 1950s up until 2008, let’s say, it has been enjoying the fact that it was the United States, as a hegemon, that was creating the demand for the German surplus. In 2008 that story ended. I do not think that the political elite of Germany, and this is the tragedy of Europe at the moment, the problem is not countries like Greece or Spain or Portugal, who are running a deficit. The problem of the Eurozone is Germany. Because they have not understood that in order to maintain their leading position and their capacity to accumulate capital and grow technologically and so on, they have to have demand for their goods. The United States knew this very well about Germany and supported German surplus creation for decades. As of 2008, that story has ended. Germany now thinks it can get away, it can get out of this crisis by pretending that there is no problem with regard to demand for its goods in places like Greece, and places like France and Italy and so on and so forth. And they’re hiding behind this neo-mercantilist mentality. I was talking to an officer of the ECB, the European Central Bank, who happened to be German, and of course the bank is in Frankfurt, it is nothing more than the extension of the German Bundesbank, the Central Bank of Germany. And I put exactly the point you raised to him, and I was astonished by the reaction. He said, “you know what? You’re right. What we’re doing is probably going to push countries like yours into recession. Into permanent recession”.

And I said, yes, but aren’t you worried that this is going to stop us from buying your goods, buying your exports? And in a twist of quasi-intelligence, he said, “well, we are pushing wage deflation towards you. We are forcing you effectively to reduce wages. But you know what? Wage earners in your country do not buy Mercedes Benzes. It is the elites of countries like yours who do. And we are going to look after them. We are going to ensure there are transfers of European money, effectively German money, to Greece, to build roads and metro stations and improved telecommunications, and the people who will benefit from that are the elites and perhaps the migrants: migrant labour. Greek wage labourers, we don’t care for, because in any case they buy Chinese or Korean. So they might as well reduce their demand for imports into the Eurozone”. I thought that was brilliant, but what I thought was terrifying was that it was so wrong, because if we have a negative growth for around 5-6% which is what I predict will happen next year, given the deflation that is being pushed down our throat at the moment, I think that the elites are going to find it very very hard to maintain demand for German products too. So my accusation for the Germans is not that they are being selfish, or misanthropic, but that they are being a bit idiotic.

Varoufakis also had some stark words about the prospects for successful resistance:

It’s a very mixed picture. On the one hand, it is true that the Greek public, especially the youth, are completely disenchanted with the system and are prepared to resist on the streets, very actively and very energetically as you know. At the same time, I have to say that history has taught us, not only in Greece but everywhere, that the period of recession, of savage recession, is not a good period for the organising of struggle. The midwar period proved that without a shadow of a doubt, the early 1980s in Britain proved that when unemployment is rising, you may have conflict, industrial conflict, even some good demonstrations, but that does not mean that society is resisting effectively. The other day we had a general strike here in Greece, and I marched with the unions, but I can testify that the general mood was one of resignation. It reminded me in a sad way of the demonstrations we had in 2003 just before the invasion of Iraq. You will recall that throughout Europe there were anti-war demonstrations before the war was launched in Iraq. I remember that we had 800,000 people in the centre of Athens and yet everybody believed that the invasion was going to take place and that we were not going to be able to prevent the massacre. That was the kind of feeling I got the other day: we resist, we demonstrate, but it was a bit tokenistic.

I think we’re entering a period of major recession, accelerating poverty, which is going to inflame the ultra-right and their attacks against migrants, and I very much fear for the migrant population of Greece which is about 10%, perhaps more, 10-15% of the total population here (inaudible) and during a recession the migrant community is always the one that bears the brunt of disorientated anger. I fear for the young people who are already experiencing a very high unemployment rate. It’s not looking good, but as you said before, this crisis, because I think it’s going to spread around Europe, it may, may bear smidgens of hope regarding the possibility of a pan-European reaction to the idiotic position that all you need to get out of a crisis is the stability of the currency and the elimiation of the deficits. The Herbert Hoover syndrome, as I call it.

Henwood: But when this crisis broke out, a lot of people, and I must say, I found this tempting myself, thought of it as the beginning of the end of neo-liberalism. Do you see anything like that happening in the coming years.

Varoufakis: I’m afraid not, and you can see that happening in your own country is that now we have bailout money used support candidates and lobbyists arguing against regulation. So the crisis by itself creates a window of opportunity. I do not believe it guarantees progressive change. Do you?

Henwood: No, certainly not, that’s not the way it’s turned out, but maybe we’re just in the early phases of all this.

Varoufakis: Yes. It’s a bleak time.

Bleak indeed.

Lost Boys And Girls

The Boys of St. Columb’s, shown the other night on BBC, was mostly a pleasant surprise, since I wasn’t expecting great things from it. It is not as if there is a shortage of cultural productions highlighting the individual achievements of well-known men.

Among the many problems with Northern Ireland is the fact that its representation in print and on film tends to rest in the hands of people who are relatively successful products of its education system, mostly those who have gone to grammar schools and university. How these people see and portray the world is inevitably grounded in their experiences of the school system that shaped them. I don’t think the documentary sought to address these problems: on the contrary, it relied solely on the account given by its subjects, who, for all their eloquence and acuteness of observation, and their biting critique of the institution that produced them, appeared as settled in the afterglow of past victories won.

The 1947 Education act, brought in by the British Labour government, which provided for free secondary education in Northern Ireland, had a seismic effect on Northern politics and society. Part of a generation of Catholics from deprived backgrounds gained access to grammar and third level education, through which they developed a radical perspective on the society of which they were a part, and the means to articulate a challenge to the workings of the Northern state.

If Seamus Heaney appears an accommodated establishment figure nowadays, some of his poetic inventions, threaded through the documentary, captured the conflict of forces impinging on that generation: the ‘guardian angel of passivity’ waiting to ‘sink a fang of menace in my shoulder’ was confronted by those whose intelligence, as ‘unmannerly as crowbars’ would ‘banish the conditional forever’.

But that was only part of the story. Most of the children of the generation portrayed here, as with today’s generation, didn’t pass the 11 plus to go on to grammar school and university. These were the other Boys and Girls of St. Columb’s, who were as much a product of the education system as any of the men featured. They also took part in civil rights activism and resistance to official discrimination, but there was no account of them given here, other than in the men’s awareness that they had been picked out as the ‘successes’.

This is not to say that the men were not sensitive to the fact of being among the elite: on the contrary, it seemed to sit uncomfortably with them all. Seamus Heaney had a particularly striking, and no doubt typical, story of how the teacher in his country school had awarded him, in the presence of his classmates, with a half crown for being ‘smart’ enough to pass the 11 plus. John Hume was conscious of how education had transformed his life, and his feeling of obligation towards those who ‘had not succeeded’. Eamonn McCann spoke of a sense of representing the wider community, that being chosen for St. Columb’s was an opportunity not to be wasted. Edward Daly talked about how the system had produced people who were able to articulate grievances in a way that was understood both by people living in the area and in the media.

That last observation goes to the heart of my reservations about the documentary. While the account given by the men of the school that had assisted in forming them was trenchantly critical and full of sharp insight, there was no probing of the dual function fulfilled by the school, and by extension the entire education system, which continues mostly intact.

If, on the one hand, it had existed to cultivate leaders of the community, most commonly in the form of priests and teachers (Seamus Deane memorably referred to a teaching career back then as ‘a sort of crime rampage’), then on the other it created subjects deemed to be there simply to be administered to, represented and led. The scope of the documentary was too narrow, perhaps understandably enough, to probe this latter function, but nonetheless its importance in the history of Northern Ireland is habitually underplayed. A good starting point would be in the fact that the 1947 Education Act may have led to the formation of the SDLP, but it also led to its disdainful characterisation as the ‘Schoolteachers, Doctors and Lawyers Party’. What’s more, the grouping that eventually took its place in Northern nationalist politics, having waged a decades long war against the Northern state, was led in Derry by Martin McGuinness, who had failed the 11 plus. Nearly his first act as minister for Education was to try and initiate its abolition. I look forward to seeing a documentary that addresses the other side of the story, but I won’t be holding my breath.

Rend Unto Caesar

David Quinn: We’ll pay a heavy price for allowing same-sex unions – Analysis, Opinion –

This could go down as the week when the Catholic Church began to fight back. On Wednesday, two remarkable things happened. First, and despite the scandals, the bishops decided that they had to say something about the Civil Partnership Bill.

Second, Bishop Christopher Jones attacked the media for singling out the Church as though priests are responsible for the majority of child abuse in this country, when according to the one reputable study done in this area (Sexual Abuse and Violence in Ireland report, 2002) they are responsible for 3pc.

That is 3pc too much, of course, but given the preponderance of coverage given by the media to clerical sex abuse you would think the ratios were reversed, and that priests were responsible for 97pc of abuse while the rest of society was responsible for the remaining 3pc.

Suppose it hadn’t been the Catholic Church, but some other corporate entity. Like Tesco’s. And Tesco’s were responsible for 3pc of sex abuse (how on earth these things are calculated I have no idea. At any rate, sex abuse from a figure in a position of power can be much worse for the victim in many ways, not that there’s a ‘better’ form of sex abuse). What would you think about a loyal Tesco customer writing an opinion piece about how Tesco’s was responsible for only 3pc of sex abuse? The sense of entitlement on display here, by both Quinn and the Bishop, flows directly from the stranglehold the Catholic Church had on the people of this country for decades.

And then Quinn goes on to laud the ‘bravery’ of the bishops in opposing the Civil Partnership Bill, as though state recognition of equal rights for people who have the same sexual preferences as many Catholic priests and bishops were such a bad thing.

I reckon, without a shred of evidence, of course, that religious organisations passionately pursue state regulation of sexual associations because when it isn’t a transgression any more, it isn’t fun any more. So Saving Ulster From Sodomy, for instance, may have involved a substantial chunk of Saving Sodomy For Us.


The bishops describe the Bill as “an extraordinary and far-reaching attack on freedom of conscience and the free practice of religion which is guaranteed to every citizen”.

How does it do this? Here’s how. For one thing, a parish will be required by law to rent out its hall to a same-sex couple if they want to use it to hold their reception there following a civil-union ceremony.

I wasn’t aware that parochial halls were still rented out for holding receptions, but I assume they are. Does the objection to a same-sex couple derive from the fact that the union does not recognise the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman? Because if it does, then neither does a civil-union ceremony between a man and a woman, since the vows are not made before God, and therefore it is not a proper marriage. Therefore if the parochial hall refused to allow same-sex civil-union celebrations but allowed different-sex civil-union celebrations, it would be engaging in blatantly hypocritical discrimination that has nothing to do with religious practice. And as such, the law would provide the Catholic Church with freedom from bad conscience. Perhaps I am missing something here, since I’m unfamiliar with what the bill enables and what it does not enable, so would welcome corrective commentary.

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March 2010