Author Archives: Dan Boyle

From top: Stephen Fry on the ‘Meaning of Life ‘with Gay Byrne; Dan Boyle

‘Christ you know it ain’t easy
You know how hard it can be
The way things are going
They’re going to crucify me. ‘

The Ballad of John and Yoko – The Beatles

Among my guilty pleasures is a predilection for table quizzes. At a recent quiz the question was asked as to what was the last song The Beatles recorded as a single only release. Mentally leafing through my record collection (vinyl records), I worked out it must have been ‘The Ballad of John and Yoko’.

Technically only John and Paul were involved in its recording. George and Ringo must have been recording the B-side (the other side of the record!), George’s ‘Old Brown Shoe‘, a better tune as it happens.

A number of years earlier Lennon had got himself and the group into hot water, with his claim that The Beatles had become ‘Bigger than Jesus’. This led to bonfires of Beatles records in the US, and with that an increase in record sales in order to add more fuel to the fires. Lennon never said that The Beatles were better than Jesus, despite Jesus never having cut it as a recording artist.

The reaction to the ‘Ballad of John and Yoko’ was far more muted. Some US radio stations refused to play the song, due the use of Christ as an exasperation and the allusions to crucifixion, which were felt to be gratuitous. Formal bans seemed to have escaped the song. In Ireland it reached number one.

Ten years later, the Monty Python film ‘The Life of Brian‘ (largely financed by George Harrison) was banned from being shown in Ireland. The Irish film censor was Frank Hall. He was best known for his RTE television series ‘Hall’s Pictorial Weekly’, Ireland’s version of surreal comedy.

Earlier in his career, as an RTÉ reporter, he had interviewed The Beatles while they were in Dublin, striking quite the condescending tone. After his death it was revealed he had had a long running affair with Ireland’s favourite agony aunt, Frankie Byrne.

I include these details to support an argument that any prohibition on what people should say, hear or see, in relation to matters religious, is at best right wing virtue signalling, but at all times is an attack on basic freedoms.

In government the then Minister for Justice, Dermot Ahern, re-introduced a Defamation Bill that had originally had been introduced in 2006. His predecessor, Brian Lenihan, had withdrawn the bill to allow for further consideration. At that stage the bill was solely concerned with libel.

When re-introduced Ahern (at the behest of the Attorney General), brought in a new section on Blasphemy. The argument of the Attorney General was that the law surrounding blasphemy had been left in limbo since a 1965 court case, and needed to be legislated for.

The ‘offence’ would be covered by a number of caveats, making any prosecutions improbable under this provision. I despised this ‘Irish solution to an Irish problem’ approach. I spoke against the provision in my contribution to the Seanad debate, citing the ‘Jehovah‘ scene from ‘The Life of Brian’.

And yet I voted for the bill, feeling obliged to do so. The nature of being in government throws up many such compromises.

Did I like it? No. I squared my conscience by knowing that the law passed was unworkable, and that no prosecutions would ever follow. I was also given an assurance that a referendum on the constitutional provision on Blasphemy would soon follow.

I find the liberal angst heaped on Defamation Act to be largely irrelevant. The issue remains the constitutional provision. Get rid of that and we all can talk more freely.

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator. His column appears here every Thursdyay. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle

Top pic: RTÉ


From top: St Vincent’s Hospital; Dan Boyle

Redress goes both ways.

Dan Boyle writes:

The construct of religious control and management of social services in Ireland was a British one. After Catholic Emancipation, church authorities were happy and willing to be the administrative arm of the British government, in seeking to provide key social services.

The model fit well with the dominant political philosophy of the time, that charitable and voluntary provision helped to minimise State involvement.

With the arrival of the new aristocracy of the Irish Free State, seeking to develop a new State on scant resources, there was instant acceptance to continue this arrangement.

For the church authorities, the tools of care and welfare soon began to be recognised by them as useful means of social control. Against that education and health care was being provided that otherwise would not have been.

The State, since 1922, doesn’t seem to have been in any hurry to secularise our social services. A demonised Church sometimes has been a useful means of deflecting blame from the political system.

An example of this would the Mother and Child controversy of 1951, where the role of Archbishop John McQuaid (an undoubted charlatan) was exaggerated to obscure the real villains of the piece, the Irish Medical Association with its campaign designed to protect the private practices of its members.

There is a bill that has to be paid for the use, management, and provision of facilities/services, from the State to these religious groupings for the period since 1922. Set against this should be the ownership of any building or facility built solely with use of taxpayers’ money.

This won’t be straightforward, as many of these facilities have been developed with resources other than State funding. Any settlement will also have to take this into account.

Redress is something that we’ve gone a long way towards addressing, even if a considerable journey still remains. The ultimate responsibility for abuse remains with the perpetrators. Religious organisations who shielded the abusers need penalising, with the full implementation of such penalties.

However in terms of the costs of redress, the State continues to bear a huge responsibility, as it has been the State that created the risk for abuse victims, through farming out their care to third parties.

To secularise our social services requires a lead in time. Management of schools and hospitals will have to be changed. For the sake of continuity the State should be appoint some religious representatives to these management structures, to make use of their acquired experience.

The sum to achieve full secularisation is not just weighing unpaid redress against the cost of new facilities. Religious groups, who have provided social services since before the inception of the State, should be paid for having done so.

Is that a price we are willing to pay?

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator. His column appears here every Thursday. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle


From top: French Presidential hopeful Emmanuelle Macron, with his wife Brigitte; Dan Boyle

Who is Emmanuelle Macron and what does he want?

Dan Boyle writes:

Growing up, the French name Emmanuelle, in its feminine form, was synonymous with what, euphemistically, were described as ‘art house’ movies. Along with enthusiastic co-conspirators, we would seek optimal back row positions at our local cineplex. There were occasional glances at the flickering screen, but most of the time we engaged in whispered, intensive, discussions on all matters French.

These days it is a male Emmanuel who seeking to seduce the French electorate. Most media attention has been directed towards his unusual significant relationship. Given the sad, superficial nature of most global political analysis, these days, this should be the least important thing about him.

It’s as if politics anywhere has ceased to be a battle of ideas, being reduced instead to being a battle of narratives.

Little seems to be known about Monsieur Macron, other than the fact that he isn’t Lucifer herself. If that all that he represents is being the ‘business as usual’ candidate, then the ‘it can’t be any worse’ brigade will further strengthen in France and elsewhere.

And that is to presume he will be elected, which too many of us are presuming. I worry that too many of his opponents have moved immediately to endorse him. As have many EU leaders, including our own Prince of Depth, An Taoiseach.

Regarding this second category, there should be considerable disquiet in France. It represents an intolerable intrusion into a political process, which remains only half complete.

The reluctance of the Left candidate, Melenchon, to join the Macron chorus, could be more beneficial to his eventual election, than any number of premature, and often unwelcome, endorsements. It introduces a note of uncertainty into the second round of voting, that can help maintain turnout.

Given the similarities of their respective platforms, other than on immigration, and their appeal to similar parts of the electorate, it shouldn’t be a surprise if many Melenchon supporters decide to vote for Le Pen in the second round.

The onus is on Macron to define what type of reform he is interested in bringing about. If it is only about a ‘deeper’ Europe, then he need not bother.

If the European Union wants to secure its future, it needs to freeze any thought of deepening the European project, devoting its energies instead towards addressing inequality.

After Brexit and Trump, sanity seems to be making a coming back, with the far right failing to achieve in Austria and The Netherlands. However the very definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

The only way of bringing about change is to do things differently. Such change has to be the right change, for the right reasons. Never change towards and for the far right.

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator. His column appears here every Thursdyay. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle

 Top pic: AP



From top: media question NBRU General Secretary Dermot O’Leary on his way to Bus Eireann talks; Dan Boyle

It is not sufficiently understood  the difference between someone who holds cards close to their chest and someone who slips cards into their pocket.

Dan Boyle writes:

Ten years ago I was being interviewed during the prime slot on RTÉ Radio One’s Morning Ireland – a twelve minute segment. Later that day Green Party members would be deciding on whether the party should be participating in government.

I was happy to talk about the process involved in making a decision, but I didn’t think I was in a position to reveal any content. I suspect it didn’t make for riveting radio. I felt my duty of care was to first inform those who would be making the decision.

On finishing the interview a party member rang me immediately, to tell me how pleased he was that I had said nothing. I had said something, it was that I had chosen not to reveal anything, but I knew what he meant.

The distinction I would make is the difference between concealing something and choosing the how and when of when something should be revealed. The Peace Process on this island could only exist because of such discipline (that of others not mine!).

Last year I was in a more uncomfortable position. A possible voting pact in Wales was being discussed, although only on the basis that if it were made public it would be denied. I had to make a report to the National Council of the Wales Green Party, my employers. Without breaching confidences I went on to talk about the talks without saying who was being talked to, or what was being talked about.

I didn’t inspire faith in the project, even though it was necessary to progress talks to the next level. This got to a meeting of party leaders before one of the parties got cold feet. I would still justify this approach. While I continue to believe that truth is absolute, openness isn’t necessarily.

There is no process that can be advanced through starting, then continuing, with the assertion of absolute positions. Seclusion, silence and shadow are often needed to identify nuance.

Why do I make this distinction? It’s certainly a personal bugbear. I don’t feel it is sufficiently understood the difference between someone who holds cards close to their chest, and someone who slips cards into their pocket.

Not saying something, especially when not feeling able to say anything, is often thought as much a crime against the truth as seeking to distort truth itself. The subtle distinction between avoidance and evasion is rarely understood.

Friends of mine (I do have some) tell me that in most areas in my life I am far too open; that I reveal far too much; that often I am emotionally incontinent. All this is probably true. Despite these obvious flaws in my character, I have always realised the importance of when to stay schtum.

When I do it is not to avoid being self incriminated. I do so to allow others the space to think differently and decide accordingly. We all could benefit from such space.

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator. His column appears here every Thursdyay. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle




From top: Save Cork activists demonstrate the visual impact of the OPW’s flood relief scheme for Cork; Dan Boyle

Do not raise the walls. Do not replace the walls. Do not replace the historic rods and bollards that allow for maximum interaction with the river. Do not robs us of the character of those places where we have sported and played.

Dan Boyle writes:

I’ve written dozens submissions to State bodies down through the years. These have tended to be technical in nature, sent with no real faith that they would ever be taken seriously. When the OPW recently sought submissions on its proposals to curb flooding in Cork, I thought it might be novel to tell them what I really thought.

As part of the ongoing public consultation on this issue, I would like to add my concerns to what is being proposed. In the first instance, I feel the scope of what is being examined is insufficent. A flood plan needs to be constructed for the River Lee in its entirety.

The main elements of such a plan should be maximise the use of the natural features that help counter flooding risks. Chief among these would be immediate identification of whatever flood plains, along the route of the river, have not been built upon, insisting that no development can occur in these locations. Large scale planting of trees alongside, or as close as possible to river banks, offers a low tech response to reducing water levels.

These measures should be put in place before any engineering approach is considered. It is this emphasis on engineering, over engineering, that makes what is being proposed for this relief scheme so unacceptable.

There is almost a soullessness in these proposals. What is being suggested is insensitive to the character of Cork City. It ignores the special position of the river in the history and culture of the city. Famed in song and story as it were.

Even as ‘solutions’ these engineering approaches have hardly inspired. Reduced to its most simple essense, the OPW seems to be saying to the people of Cork City (and the business owners within the city centre), that the quay walls need to be raised to deal with the immediate risk of flooding, but such raising would only be an intermediate step, with flexibility being sought to raise these walls even further to counter medium and longer term risks.

This is band aid risk management. This is a problem which requires a more serious approach than that.

Imprisoning the river is not a solution. Technology has developed to identify more effective, less intrusive methods of dealing with the threat of flooding.

The continual opposition of the OPW towards constructing a barrage in the lower harbour, has been baffling.

Throwing out top of the head/back of an envelope figures suggesting that a barrage would cost between €500million to €1billion to construct, has been entirely dishonest. It is insulting to claim that degree of variance exists for a single piece of public infrastructure. It is obviously just a figure thrown out there to discourage its serious consideration.

There is an onus to provide an honest costing. There is also a responsibilty to provide an independent cost benefit analysis. Part of such an honest analysis would be to place the potential a barrage could play in the generation of renewable energy.

By all means strengthen the quay walls. Their maintenance has been neglected for far too long. Do not raise the walls. Do not replace the walls. Do not replace the historic rods and bollards that allow for maximum interaction with the river. Do not robs us of the character of those places where we have sported and played.

There are dozens of other technical and environmental arguments that can, and I know are being made. This is a personal overview. I am hoping that this is a real consultation, where concerns are listened to, and then get acted upon. That will result in a new plan.

A publicly acceptable plan, an environmentally sensitive plan, a plan that truly cherishes a river that is so much a part of us.

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator. His column appears here every Thursdyay. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle

2/2/2017 . Stephen Donnelly Joins Fianna Fail. Pictured (LTOR) Stephen Donnelly (Glasses) with Fianna Fail party leader Micheal Martin TD talking to the media outside Leinster House this afternoon after Stephen announced today he was joining Fianna Fail. He has been appointed the partys Front Spokeperson on Brexit. Photo: Sam Boal/


From top: Stephen Donnelly (left) and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin; Noël Browne: Dan Boyle

Stephen Donnelly is discovering, like Noël Browne before him, that a big house offers little comfort.

Dan Boyle writes:

I’m beginning to despise my laptop. Far too much of my day is being spent tapping on on this accursed machine with its flickering screen. However a deadline is approaching, and my publisher has a realistic expectation that it will be met.

I’m writing an electoral history of others in Irish politics. I am aware that the literary world isn’t agog in awaiting this tome, but I’m hoping that it might tickle a particular interest.

I’m about 40% in, although I’m only at 1954. I’m expecting the writing will quicken once I enter my own lifespan, where I’m hoping I can mine more readily from personal experience.

When I tear myself away from the laptop, to check in with the real world (or at least that part that co-incides with Irish politics), I begin to understand why the loop theory of history has become prevalent.

The radio playing in the background accentuates the voice of Stephen Donnelly, the Fianna Fáil spokesperson on Brexit. He is being asked to square several circles at once.The question making him most uncomfortable is whether he would welcome Bertie Ahern’s return as a member of Fianna Fáil. He fights a tremor of horror entering his voice.

As he speaks I am writing of a previous Fianna Fáil coup in 1953. While in government, the party had managed to persuade three independent TDs (each of whom had been associated with other political parties) to become members of its parliamentary party.

The biggest catch was that of the mercurial Noël Browne, late of Clann na Poblachta, and still bruised by his Mother and Child Scheme experience. With him he brought his former Clann colleague, Michael ffrench O’Carroll. The third inductee was the one time Deputy Leader of Clann na Talmhan, Patrick Cogan.

Listening to Stephen Donnelly I think of how much he fits the Noel Browne mould of political capriciousness. Could others follow the path he has embarked upon?

On thinking this, I read of a web rumour that Fianna Fáil is attempting to persuade Social Democrat Gary Gannon to contest the next general election, on its behalf. Gannon came close to winning the final seat in Dublin Central, the closest the Social Democrats had come to winning a new seat in the 2016 elections.

There is a logic in Fianna Fáil making this approach. It would help with its internal machinations, by keeping the pro Bertie faction in Dublin Central at bay. The fly in the ointment would be Gannon himself. Is he welcoming this approach? Fianna Fáil logic would argue why not. After all Stephen Donnelly has already been persuaded.

That Fianna Fáil logic is also to try to do these things in threes. Its formula in 1953 was to assemble two Clann na Poblachta recruits to one Clann na Talmhan acceptee. Could a 2017 formula be two Social Democrats to one Renua refugee?

Having been elected a Fianna Fáil councillor, Patrick McKee, was convinced to become a Renua by election candidate in Carlow/Kilkenny, where he performed quite creditably. He did less well in the 2016 general election. By the end of the year he had left Renua to become an independent. Surely a reconciliation with Fianna Fáil is in order.

It would be in keeping with the pinch of left, pinch of right stirring of the stew in its proverbial slow cooker, Fianna Fáil has always adopted.

What of our intrepid trio from 1953? All stood as Fianna Fáil candidates in the 1954 general election. None were elected.Patrick Cogan (who like Stephen Donnelly represented Wicklow) would serve one further term as a Senator. Noel Browne would come back to serve another quarter of a century (under three different labels) in Irish public life. Forsaking politics all together, Michael ffrench O’Carroll moved to Cork, where he became intrinsic to the development of addiction services there.

There are two lessons here. One is that the bigger house does not necessarily offer greater comfort. The second is that, in the real world, the labels we are given rarely define us.

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator. His column appears here every Thursdyay. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle



From top: Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan arriving at Leinster House this morning for an appearance at the Justice and Equality Committee in the Dail; Dan Boyle

The real errors lie in the appointment of the current commissioner, rather than her subsequent performance. Having been part of the problem, why was it ever thought she could be a solution?

Dan Boyle writes:

I suspect I’ve had a more than average number of interactions with the Garda Siochána. As a politician paths cross on numerous occasions – when trying to deal with anti social behaviour; the policing of public events; or the odd protest march. For the most part these interactions have been overwhelmingly positive.

At other times I have transgressed. I’ve failed to drive my motor vehicle in a tardy fashion. I have been too attentive to my mobile phone. These brushes with our legal custodians were, on the whole, pretty judicious. These were fair cops, I thought.

I can only remember two incidents when I crossed swords negatively with members of the force, who I thought were acting with an attitude.

The first occasion was on Arranmore Island. I was breathalysed at two thirty in the afternoon, having just arrived on the island. When I commented that it was a futile, box ticking exercise I was told ‘you seem tired, sir’ before being threatened with prosecution under section this of that act. And no, there was no alcohol in my system.

The second event was when I had beeped my horn at a car that had cut across me. A nearby motorcycle Garda, who had heard my beep but hadn’t seen the cutting across, pulled me over to accuse me of road rage. He asked to see my licence.

On seeing my (non Irish) place of birth he proceeded to tell me, that had I come from here (Ireland) I would know how to drive properly. Imagine that being said to a person with a different skin tone. Community policing it wasn’t.

In the scheme of things these were two fairly trifling events. The attitude exposed was the confusion of judging with policing. I have found that those who are judgemental, tend to be less tolerant of being judged themselves.

It is a tough job. We live in a better society because they are there. I don’t expect them, nor the force they are part of, to be pristine. All State institutions reflect the society they are meant to represent.

Irish society remains too tolerant of a cutting corners approach in our institutions. What we should expect is that they enforce standards that are, at least, better than average.

The management of the Garda Siochana, is typical of the management of many of our State institutions. They seem to follow a deflect, deny, dump on approach to difficulties that arise in their organisation.

Confusing judging with policing is at the heart of the ongoing problems being experienced by the Garda Siochána. Problems that should be owned by this Garda Commissioner.

The real errors lay in the appointment of the current commissioner, rather than her subsequent performance. Institutional malaise is rarely, if ever, cured by those oblivious to the symptoms that have brought about the illness. Having been part of the problem, why was it ever thought she could be a solution?

It is those who made that decision who now need to come forward, take responsibility, and own that why.

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator. His column appears here every Thursdyay. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle



From top: Martin McGuinness in Downing Street; Dan Boyle

As a young man his sense of anger seems palpable. In older pictures there is a sense of a man who had learned the value of hope.

Dan Boyle writes:

Willy Lomax, the lead character in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, cuts a sad and pathetic figure. In writing about Martin McGuinness, I make no attempt to compare their respective characters. I merely borrow the play’s title to consider the role of politicians as salesmen, a role I believe McGuinness performed very effectively.

At least it is a role that politicians need to play, even though too many take a ‘whatever you’re having yourself’ approach to life.

The selling of ideas, concepts, ultimate destinations, but most obviously possibilities, should be a central part of the role of a politician. That so many take a ‘where are my people so I can follow them’ approach, is a tragedy and failure of politics.

The ability to identify key audiences; to measure and manage expectation; to use language to be understood and where possible inspire – these are the tools of that rare breed, the successful politician.

I once had a relatively private meeting with Martin McGuinness. The then evolution of politics on this island saw David Trimble and Seamus Mallon as the nexus of the Northern Ireland executive. It would be a number of years until McGuinness became the heart of that executive. At this meeting he was part of a Sinn Féin delegation meeting with the Green Party, seeking support for the early release of IRA prisoners.

The Green response was not as enthusiastic as the Sinn Féin team had hoped. Mr. McGuinness was most forthright is expressing his disappointment. I found him intimidating. Perhaps that feeling was as much informed by a preconception I held of Martin McGuinness and his reputation. Perhaps it was the hypersensitivity we Greens suffer.

In that brief meeting, through that flash of anger, I caught a sense of the Martin McGuinness for whom the bomb and the bullet had been his preferred methods of persuasion.

Or he could have been having a bad day. Making character assessments on the basis of one off meetings is always unwise. An even more superficial approach would be to look at photographs of the younger and older McGuinness. As a young man his sense of anger seems palpable. In older pictures there is a sense of a man who had learned the value of hope.

Nor should we be unaware of the realities of those who had lived in an apartheid statelet, where the hatred foisted on them created a violent response.

The identification of that violence as being self defeating must have been a difficult obstacle for him to overcome. To go from there to work with, work within and to seek to make work a system that had consistently undermined his community, must have required huge reserves of self evaluation.

That he managed to do that while mastering the timing of when to push, when to leap, when to take the risk, makes his an extraordinary achievement.

He did so more openly, more honestly, more effectively than anyone else in the republican movement. They will miss him. So will we.

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator. His column appears here every Thursdyay. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle



From top: the old Irish passport, 1978; Dan Boyle

We are far from being the welcoming, inclusive Irish, we often pretend to be.

It’s a question of degrees.

Dan Boyle writes:

The proposal to allow Irish citizens, not residing here, to vote for our Head of State, is not the most pressing constitutional issue needing attention. It probably is being suggested to deflect from many more serious issues.

Nonetheless it should be considered as bringing about a necessary change, to allow for standards that are in practice in many other countries.

What I find worrying is the making of the proposal has brought out a reaction, that seems to go beyond an understandable disdain towards political cynicism.

It seems to reveal an attitude that a pecking order of Irishness exists; a pecking order defined as much by the how and where a person chooses to live, than by any genetic privileges earned.

At the top of this pyramid are those who live in this country, and have always lived in this country. Let’s call them The Famine Survivors. These are the people who have the right to say ‘My country right or wrong’. That they usually choose wrong, remains only their privilege.

Below them are The Returnees. Emigrants, with their children, who have come back to the ‘auld sod’. They were Irish there, but they are not thought fully Irish here, because of a disconnect they are made feel they have made.

Then we have Our Northern Brethren. De Valera’s constitutional conceit that there is the State and there is the Nation, has created a particularly Irish Limbo in Northern Ireland. We like to romantically believe them to be our compatriots, but we are reluctant to make any economic changes of ourselves to fulfil that romance.

To be fair to De Valera, the idea of lost countrymen in other territories wasn’t uniquely his. It was quite a popular idea in the 1930s.

A more recent category would be that of The Wilder Geese. These are our more recent emigrants. Economic reasons may have informed their leaving, although some have left out of choice! The temerity of seeking better lives outside of the motherland.

We have The Honorary Irish. The children of emigrant Irish, who however much soaked in their adopted culture, gain honourary status by being successful in their fields, usually in the entertainment industry. We are happy for them to be Irish out there. Less so here.

The same could be said for their parents, and of those who left in other eras, The Lost Generations. We mock their wistfulness as being twee. We condemn their vision of an Ireland that if it ever existed, certainly doesn’t exist now.

Last, and sadly for many least, we have The New Irish. A moniker born out of political correctness that has assumed Orwellian proportions. As in The New Irish are not considered Irish at all.

We fear their different ways. We fear their differentness. We are wary they will dilute our cultural purity. The thoughts of a samba infused nine hand reel blows our minds.

Maybe I am deflecting here. We are though far from being the welcoming, inclusive Irish, we often pretend to be.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day.

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator. His column appears here every Thursdyay. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle



From top: Greenmount Industrial School, Cork run by the Christian Brothers; Dan Boyle

These were children apart, not thought suitable for polite, moral society.

Dan Boyle writes:

Once upon a time in I undertook a course in child care. I was hoping it could improve my opportunities in my chosen area of youth work.

Others on the course were involved in residential care centres. Most of these centres continued to be managed by religious communities. In describing their work conditions they shared their frustration, that the spiritual needs of the children they cared for, were considered more important than any physical or emotional needs they may have had.

One course participant told of a practice that had happened at her centre, up to a few years previously. Each Sunday the children of this care home were marched down to their local church. They walked in file, all dressed in a drab, grey uniform, to be sat in allocated seats. These were children apart, not thought suitable for polite, moral society.

Earlier my schooling had been provided by the Presentation Brothers. Ours was the GAA rather than the Rugby playing school. Class context being important.

Other than the then still legal practice of corporal punishment, which lay teachers practiced with as much enthusiasm as their religious counterparts, my education was relatively benign.

A generation earlier the Brothers had also been responsible for the management of the nearby Greenmount Industrial School. In my parents’ generation their good behaviour was sometimes encouraged with the threat of their being sent there, if they didn’t behave appropriately.

The implication being clear. This was a place where children suffered. Where society insisted they suffer.

A number of years later, when I had been elected a city councillor, I learned of the existence of an unmarked mass grave at a local cemetery. In this grave were interred the remains of thirty eight boys who had died while confined at the industrial school.

I campaigned to have a headstone erected to acknowledge these shamefully long forgotten boys. I did receive co-operation from the Presentation Brothers, even though the co-operation given they preferred wouldn’t be seen as being so public.

A parallel campaign, I hadn’t been involved with, convinced the Good Shepherd Sisters to similarly acknowledge children who had died under their ironic care.

As a councillor I once was officiating, on behalf of the Lord Mayor of Cork, at an event at Bessboro, a now infamous Mother and Baby Home. I mentioned that someone important in my life had been born there.

It seems I misspoke. Implying pride on any person associated with a Mother and Baby Home was not to be encouraged it seemed.

None of these events can be compared to the horror of Tuam, or to the scale or intensity of what happened there. What they do speak to is the extent to which Irish society colluded with a definition of children being tainted, solely on the basis of the circumstances of their births.

A definition defined through a hateful religious dogma.

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator. His column appears here every Thursdyay. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle