Afflicting the Comfortable

by Kieran Healy on September 7, 2004

A number of journalists have gotten upset this week over the fact that my uncle Seán was invited to address the parliamentary meeting of Fianna Fáil, the main coalition partner in the Irish government. Together with a small group of like-minded people, Seán’s been responsible for building an organization devoted to social policy analysis in Ireland. He started twenty-odd years ago, when the country’s financial management was on the verge of being handed over to the IMF, unemployment was running at about fifteen percent and pretty much no-one outside the civil service was doing much in the way of policy analysis. By the mid-1990s, many of CORI’s ideas about social partnership and basic income had moved to the center of arguments about social policy and, particularly in the former case, become incorporated into collective bargaining institutions. So it gladdens my heart to see the likes of Ireland’s Sunday Business Post pulling out the stops to discredit him this week:

By any standards, it’s a harsh penance … to invite Fr Sean Healy … to address the parliamentary party in Inchydoney in west Cork tomorrow … Healy has been a constant, vocal and extremely irritating thorn in the side of the government … “I know backbenchers who would burn him,’’ said one … Healy is revered … by the left generally, and particularly by left-wing commentators … he’s good value in media terms – the controlled bluster … the quick soundbites … He has been described as “the only real opposition in the state’’ … he operated a back channel of influence through secretary to the government Dermot McCarthy, and through the Taoiseach himself …. “We thought that he was completely off the wall,’’ said a former official in Merrion Street. “He was the author of various mad harebrained schemes – that basic income scheme was totally mad’’ … not popular with the conservative wing of the Catholic Church, many of whom see in Healy the socially radical impulses of liberation theology … Healy’s reluctance to wear clerical garb … and the infrequency of his references to God, prayer and the spiritual dimension of man’s life are further irritations … His late father was a member of Fianna Fail (his brother[1] is a former national chairman of the Progressive Democrats) … Some who have dealt with him consider him prickly … “He has no influence on policy. Sure, he has a great media profile and all that …” … He is perhaps aware that his views are open to caricature.

Open to caricature is right. So now you know Seán is a raving loon who is nevertheless a controlled debater and good with the soundbites on TV; he’s the author of various harebrained Marxist schemes who somehow has a secret backchannel of influence to the highest-ranking civil servants and the Prime Minister himself; and he’s a radical priest evangelizing liberation theology except he doesn’t wear a clerical collar or talk enough about the spiritual dimension of life in public. A classic incoherent hatchet job. And to top it off he has the cheek to be related to members of more right-leaning parties. Clearly he must be doing something right.

You can learn more about CORI’s role in Irish Social Policy, and their positions on poverty, taxation, the Irish housing boom (or crisis) and other issues at their website.

fn1. That’d be my father.

{ 12 comments }

1

Mrs Tilton 09.07.04 at 9:03 am

I’m not here to criticise your uncle personally. And your loyalty to him is understandable and commendable (and, yes, those were pretty inarticulately laid charges).

From a broader perspective, though, surely one is entitled to recognise something rich in the pretense that the Roman Catholic church in Ireland has a prophetic mission to ‘afflict the comfortable’. That’s half right; ‘the comfortable, afflicting’ would be nearer the mark. CORI’s pious scoldings that the citizenry are too little burdened with taxes is especially charming. They might have a point, though, given that taxpayers, in addition to their usual task of funding the state’s operations, will now also be picking up most of the bill for decades of institutionalised child-rape by clergymen.

When the religious orders from which CORI draws its membership transfer their assets to a secularly-administered trust for the poor, I might be inclined to pay some attention to what they say. Until then, I’d be gratified if they’d mind their own business (and muck out their own stall before complaining about the filth in others’).

2

na 09.07.04 at 11:16 am

The ellipsis completely distorts the meaning of the article. Readers should look at the full text, which is a sensible critique of the redistributionist nonsense peddled by CORI and others.

The thorn in Fianna Fail’s side

05/09/04 00:00

Fr Sean Healy profileBy Pat Leahy
By any standards, it’s a harsh penance. But there could hardly be a greater indication of Fianna Fail’s desire to atone for the sins of McCreevyism than for the party to invite Fr Sean Healy, joint head of Cori’s Justice Commission, to address the parliamentary party in Inchydoney in west Cork tomorrow.

Since the formation of the Fianna Fail-Progressive Democrats coalition in 1997 Healy has been a constant, vocal and extremely irritating thorn in the side of the government, criticising government policy in tones that vary from the reasoned to the downright abusive.

It’s a bit like the Republican Party asking Michael Moore to address their convention in New York. “Is he going to deliver a sermon or to hear confessions?” asked one source in the smaller government party mischievously.

This is the new, cuddly, caring image that Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has apparently decided is the appropriate response to the disastrous local and European election results. But to many in Fianna Fail, it will be an exercise in self-flagellation.

One senior member of the party was utterly disbelieving when he was told the news of Healy’s planned appearance at Inchydoney. His response when convinced of the veracity of the invitation was impolite, to say the least.

It’s a view of Healy that is echoed at all levels of the organisation. “I know backbenchers who would burn him,” said one government operative. Charlie McCreevy famously dismissed Healy and his ilk as “the poverty industry”.

In fairness, the antipathy certainly isn’t all one way; there are those who say it shows Healy is doing something right. He described McCreevy’s first budget in 1997 as “a triumph of greed over need” and he has not deviated from the line since.

In 1999, he described the budget as “anti-family . . .anti-woman . . . anti-social-inclusion”.

Other McCreevy budgets have been described by Healy as “a charter for the rich”, “anti-poor”, “deeply divisive”, “a failure to tackle unemployment” and “double-crossing the poor”. He can certainly dish it out.

But if he is enthusiastically loathed in government, Healy is revered by some critics of the economic policies pursued by Ahern’s administration, by the left generally, and particularly by left-wing commentators.

He appears frequently on RTE, and is quoted approvingly in Dail debates and by Irish Times columnists.

It’s easy to see why; he’s good value in media terms – the controlled bluster (as one profiler put it), the quick soundbites.

In fact, over the last ten years, he has become the principal voice in opposition to successive government’s economic policies. He has been described as “the only real opposition in the state”.

Cori – the Council of Religious of Ireland – is a social partner, but its influence in national debate goes well beyond the Dublin Castle gabfests.

Aside from education (where one government insider says Cori’s real clout is felt), much of its influence is centred on the person of Healy, but not just on his media profile and briefing documents.

Sources close to the partnership process said he operated a back channel of influence through secretary to the government Dermot McCarthy, and through the Taoiseach himself.

“Because Dermot has an old-fashioned natural deference to priests, and to a lesser extent, so does Bertie,” said an informed source.

So Healy is the voice of opposition. But what does the voice say?

The Cori Justice Commission produces a steady stream of policy documents, budget briefings, pre-budget submissions and pre-election documents, all urging greater action on poverty, principally by means of greater social welfare payments and other social provision.

Poverty, says Healy, has actually increased during the period of the Celtic Tiger, despite the massive reduction in unemployment and the surge in incomes. In other words, there were fewer poor people in 1994 than there are now, and those that were poor were better off.

If this is true, it is an astonishing state of affairs. It would amount to an organisation of national affairs akin to pre-revolutionary France, or Russia before the emancipation of the serfs.

The trick is in the confusion between `relative income poverty’ and `consistent poverty’.

Measuring the concept of poverty is not one on which there is universal agreement, but there is broad consensus that there is a difference between the two measures.

Relative income poverty is a measure – as the term suggests – of people’s poverty by reference to incomes around them.

It draws a `poverty line’ at a specified level of income, and declares that everyone below it is poor – hence the description of people as `living below the poverty line’. In other words, if you are a billionaire and I am a millionaire, I am relatively poor. But am I poor?

The poverty line is generally drawn at 60 per cent of national median income, or 50 per cent of mean (average) income.

But if the average income shoots upwards, as it has done in Ireland since 1994, the poverty line moves up with similar rapidity, drawing more people into its statistical net. Between 1994 and 2001,median income levels doubled.

According to academics such as Dr Philip Nolan of the ESRI, who has written recently on the subject in the Irish Banking Review, measuring relative income poverty alone produces misleading results, overstating the levels of actual poverty.

The EU describes people who live below 50 per cent of mean income as “at risk of poverty”. In fact, to judge poverty only by strictly relative standards can clearly lead to absurd results.

For instance, there could well be the same number of people in Ballsbridge living below the average income of that neighbourhood as there are in Neilstown living below the average Neilstown income. But no one would suggest that Ballsbridge suffers from the same levels of deprivation as Neilstown.

Yet this is exactly what Healy does when he says that poverty has increased in Ireland in the last ten years.

Instead, most social scientists and economists judge `consistent poverty’ by looking at relative income poverty, but also counting a series of `deprivation measures’ such as diet and access to housing, clothing, and so forth.

Healy would argue that the people in consistent poverty are only a subset of thewider group of poor people in society.

Healy also differs greatly from the prevailing economic wisdom in government when he emphasises increases in social welfare payments as a means of lifting people out of poverty.

McCreevy’s mantra has been that a job is the best way out of poverty, and government policy has concentrated above all on that priority.

On taxation, too, there is a gulf between government policy and the Cori platform. Healy has argued for an increase in the tax take, through increases in corporation tax and capital gains tax, the elimination of tax incentive schemes and the introduction of various taxes on wealth.

“They’re like the 1990s never happened,” said a source in government circles, who is highly critical of Healy. “Cori made zero contribution to sorting out the economic basket case that Ireland was, and they are following an agenda that would return Ireland to that state.

“They reject everything to do with the economic model that has created the resources that they want to hand out. This `we were better off in the 1980s’ stuff is just mad.”

Not surprisingly, Healy is not held in high esteem in the Department of Finance, either.

“We thought that he was completely off the wall,” said a former official in Merrion Street. “He was the author of various mad harebrained schemes – that basic income scheme was totally mad.”

The source refers to a scheme proposed by Cori that would have instituted a guaranteed basic income for all, to which any earnings from employment would be added.

In 1994, a Cori document claimed that everyone should be paid a basic income of £67.50 a week, the minimum required for a decent life.

The Central Statistics Office translates this figure into €115.01 for this year, adjusted in line with the consumer price index. But Cori now says €180 is the minimum figure, so clearly the bar has gone up substantially.

“In the early 1990s his view was there would never be full employment, so the work would have to be shared out, and everyone would have to be guaranteed an income,” said the former Department of Finance official. “Of course, it didn’t quite work out that way, did it?”

“In all likelihood,” wrote one commentator, “if we’d heeded [Healy’s] advice then, we’d still have high unemployment.”

But for many, Healy is something of a secular saint, even if he would blush at the description himself.

Former President Mary Robinson is among his fans, and she singled him out for a special mention in her address to the 2004 joint assembly of the conference of American Catholic orders in Texas a fortnight ago.

Healy featured among a select list of clerics admired by Robinson, including Enda McDonagh and Hans Kung.

In the course of an attack on `Christian fundamentalism’, she said: “On poverty and inequality in Ireland, I found it helpful in my non-executive role to be able to endorse the analysis of economic issues in Ireland by the Conference of Religious of Ireland, and to invite my friends Sean Healy and Brigid Reynolds to visit me in my official residence so that I could commend them for their work.

“It was a subtle way of getting a message across! Many of these became allies again during my five-year term as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.”

Healy also has his fans within the church. Fr Gerry Moloney, editor of the Redemptorist magazine Reality, said last year: “There are the countless church bodies, organisations and individuals that continue to be committed to the poor and to social justice, both at home and overseas.

“We are familiar with the wonderful work of people like Sr Stanislaus Kennedy, Fr Peter McVerry, Sr Consilio, Frs Sean Cassin and Gerry Rafferty of the Merchant Quay project, and Fr Sean Healy of Cori’s Justice desk . . .

“And they are doing it, not because they are do-gooders, or because they have a particular political agenda, but simply because for them that is what it means to be Church.”

However, he is not popular with the conservative wing of the Catholic Church, many of whom see in Healy the socially radical impulses of liberation theology that the Pope has been so eager to crack down on among his flock.

“Look, the doctrine of the Catholic Church is not collective material redemption,” said one informed layman.

Healy’s reluctance to wear clerical garb (as preferred by the Pope) and the infrequency of his references to God, prayer and the spiritual dimension of man’s life are further irritations to those said to be on the right of the Church.

He once described his Roman collar as “more a barrier than a badge”.

The eldest of eight children, Healy was born and reared in Blackrock in Cork. His late father was a member of Fianna Fail (his brother is a former national chairman of the Progressive Democrats); his mother still lives in Cork.

After schooling with the Christian Brothers, his vocation steered him to the SMA Fathers, the African missionaries who were strong in west Africa. After the seminary he spent ten years in Nigeria, breaking his time there by travelling to Fordham University in New York and taking a master’s degree.

He was to return in the early 1980s to Fordham and complete a PhD. Fordham is a Jesuit university, the order at the centre of the development of liberation theology.

An enthusiastic marathon runner (although he has not run one for a few years), he once completed the course in two hours 15 minutes – one of the top 20 Irish marathon times ever, he said.

Despite being accustomed to media ways, Healy is cautious of the media, and he clearly remembers slights. Some who have dealt with him consider him prickly.

Healy joined the Cori Justice Commission in the early 1980s, and along with his co-director, Sister Brigid Reynolds, he has been fearless in making his case for the poor since.

Tomorrow’s Fianna Fail meeting will be among the less likely audiences for his views. Many there consider him a turbulent priest, which he might be entitled to take as a compliment.

“Look, he’s not a turbulent priest,” said one government insider. “He has no influence on policy. Sure, he has a great media profile and all that, but could you seriously imagine if Labour and Fine Gael were in government that they would implement one tenth of Cori policy? Not a chance. He’s not influential, he’s just annoying.”

He is perhaps aware that his views are open to caricature.

“People say I want an Ireland where everyone gets the same. That’s not true,” he said. “I want an Ireland where everyone has enough to live life with dignity.”

3

dsquared 09.07.04 at 1:32 pm

The full version is actually even more hilarious; I particularly like “An enthusiastic marathon runner (although he has not run one for some years)”, as if to say “you can’t even trust the bastard to run a marathon”.

Btw, this is pretty shonky:

But if the average income shoots upwards, as it has done in Ireland since 1994, the poverty line moves up with similar rapidity, drawing more people into its statistical net

No it doesn’t, if the economic growth is distributed equally.

4

digamma 09.07.04 at 2:19 pm

Right dsquared, but it’s still entirely possible to be better off this year than you were last year and go INTO “poverty”.

5

maria 09.07.04 at 2:49 pm

I think you’re being rather unfair Mrs Tilton. The Catholic Church is not a uniform institution with a single point of view – whatever the hierarchy and Ratzinger’s Inquisition might think. There is a long and strong tradition within the church of dissent, particularly of the left wing kind. And CORI is very important, as it’s one of the only organisations speaking out consistently about the damage to Irish society of a widening wealth gap.

Some of the religious mentioned in the article have been working very hard for a very long time to sell off church property, and not only to compensate the victims of child abuse. Should we stop listening to them because they haven’t yet succeeded?

Come on, Mrs. Tilton, your ad hominem attack is just weak! It’s hard enough for these guys being the left wing conscience of a profoundly conservative organization in a pretty conservative country. Would you rather they shut up altogether?

6

Kieran Healy 09.07.04 at 3:18 pm

OK Mrs T, I like and admire your writing as you know. However, on the topic of pious scoldings there is something of the plank in your own eye:

CORI’s pious scoldings that the citizenry are too little burdened with taxes is especially charming …

First, CORI do not piously scold anyone, and the effort to tar them as a bunch of pie-eyed do-gooders or pious poverty-industrialists has been the standard knee-jerk reaction to people’s discomfort with the idea that someone might produce competent economic analysis with its moral foundations in Catholic teaching.

When the religious orders from which CORI draws its membership transfer their assets to a secularly-administered trust for the poor, I might be inclined to pay some attention to what they say.

Second, I don’t believe in collective responsibility and I’m surprised you seem to. My uncle and his organization have worked very effectively for the last twenty years to do what they can to improve the lot of the poor in Ireland. From your blog, I gather that you work as a lawyer and take photos of spiders, so your moral authority to spit on him on this point doesn’t seem all that strong to me.

Until then, I’d be gratified if they’d mind their own business …

Third, what, exactly, do you think the Church’s business is? CORI “have a view about it”:http://www.cori.ie/justice/about/role_policy.htm.

We start from the belief that Ireland is not the kind of society envisage in the Gospels. We do not accept the divisions we see. Like many we wish to work for a society where “the hungry are filled with good things” (Lk. 1:53). Taking inspiration from the Beatitudes we work with Jesus for the coming of the Kingdom where the poor will be happy because they have sufficiency, where those who hunger and thirst for what is right will see their vision concretised in the structures of society, where the gentle (or ‘or the lowly’) will be guaranteed their right to a part of the earth’s resources (“They shall have the earth for their heritage” Mt. 5:4). With St Paul we are conscious that the “entire creation is groaning in one great act of giving birth”. (Rom. 8:22). We want to play a positive role in this great act of giving birth to a future society.

I can think of worse ways to spend my time, and better ways to criticize people who believe in and act on it than yours. Maria’s right: no-one in Irish public life gave a toss about these questions before CORI came along and forced them to through a combination of moral argument and nuts-and-bolts proposals for reform. I’m not going to lay the institutional problems of the entire church at their feet, and neither should you.

7

Mrs Tilton 09.07.04 at 3:42 pm

Maria, one reason I am so hard on CORI and its like is that I think them so very wrong in their prescriptions. But that says nothing about their intentions, which could be the best in the world.

But my dislike for their message goes beyond that. As it happens I agree with the assessment of the RC hierarchy and the Ratzinger Inquisition (albeit from a perspective radically different to theirs): the RC church is what they determine it to be. That’s the point of having a pope and a hierarchy and a Ratzinger, after all. (The RC church is not the flexible and decentralised thing that Islam is, you know.) That being the case, I view CORI etc., their undoubted good intentions notwithstanding, less as a ‘left-wing conscience’ than as a mere salve for the conscience. To those catholics who do not like what their church is under Ratzinger etc., I would say, well then: Come out of her, my people. As for the Ratzingers etc., I could wish they would have the honesty to show dissenters the door and be content with a flock that had thoroughly internalised the message: much diminished in number, of course, but gratifyingly docile. The Ratzingers etc. won’t do that, though, not least for financial reasons.

But there’s no need to get overly ideological. There’s also the fact that CORI represent bodies guilty of the most appalling crimes. Those bodies have managed to offload much of the cost they should bear for their acts onto the taxpayer — the taxpayer that CORI think far too lightly burdened. So, yes, there’s a bit of irritation at their sheer brass neck at play here as well.

8

Mrs Tilton 09.07.04 at 4:16 pm

Kieran,

I have no desire whatever to spit on your uncle. But if he and his organisation have very effectively improved the lot of Ireland’s poor over the past 20 years, it will have been in providing them with meals, clothing, shelter etc., not in sermonising. For all I know the members of CORI are out there personally manning soup kitchens etc. (and fair play to them if they are). What I notice most, though, is the sermonising. Doubtless it is the moral leprosy that comes of working as a lawyer and photographing spiders that makes me think so, but I believe that if all their sermons were put into practice Ireland would have rather more poor people than it does. Doubtless if I had a more morally authoritative line of work and more morally authoritative photographic subjects I would be more appropriately impressed by CORI.

As for what I believe the RC church’s business is, it is exactly that of any other religious denomination: conveying its teachings to its members, full stop.

9

Kieran Healy 09.07.04 at 4:57 pm

Mrs T,

it will have been in providing them with meals, clothing, shelter etc., … personally manning soup kitchens etc.

I wouldn’t have had you down for a 19th-century view on appropriate methods of attacking poverty. You complain above that CORI are a mere salves on the conscience of church members. You can volunteer at a local soup kitchen. And you can working toward reoroganizing a welfare state. Which is more likely to be used as a salve?

not in sermonising. … all their sermons …

Again, you’re just begging the question with the ‘sermonising’ stuff. They have a policy agenda and they’re happy to talk about it and argue the details. If the fact that they’re religious makes you come out in a rash then that’s your problem and not theirs. It’s not like they don’t work to not make that the focus — hence the lack of clerical collars when they’re on TV. But of course that just sets other people off in a different direction.

Doubtless it is the moral leprosy that comes of working as a lawyer and photographing spiders that makes me think so …

You’re the one making moral judgments about people’s right to talk about the poor given the broader organizations they belong to, and claiming that CORI’s work amounts to ‘pious scoldings’ and so on. Don’t start a holier-than-thou hare running and not expect it to apply all round. Should I dismiss your views by simply gesturing toward the many lawyers paid handsomely by Church officials to defend child abusers?

… the RC church’s business is, it is exactly that of any other religious denomination: conveying its teachings to its members, full stop.

It should just devolve itself into a blog and quarterly mailing list then. Probably make a lot of people happy if they did, but it’s not a very good theory of the institution, its beliefs or its politics.

10

Mrs Tilton 09.07.04 at 6:02 pm

You can volunteer at a local soup kitchen. And you can working toward reoroganizing a welfare state. Which is more likely to be used as a salve?

I’ve done both those things, as it happens. And, though I can speak only for myself, I’d say that activism for certain political and social goals is much more of a selfdirected feelgood salve than is getting a solid meal into a homeless woman.

For all that I may be projecting a bizarre take of my own onto others, then, I will always have a good deal more respect for virtuous people feeding the hungry, visiting the sick etc. than for virtuous people telling me how to live my life and order my society. Perhaps Hitchens is right that Mother Theresa is liable to justifiable criticism; and certainly I do not thank her for her antichoice efforts. But whatever else she might have done, she also provided some human dignity to those whom society had cast off like rubbish. That impresses me. But even those as unsubtle as lawyers may deny any necessary link between admiration for what she did for the sick and dying and acceptance of her prescriptions for society. That she did impressively good things for poor individuals does not mean I mustn’t be dismissive of her wish to ensure women have no access to abortion and contraception.

[The RC church] should just devolve itself into a blog and quarterly mailing list then

Flippantly put, perhaps, but that’s not too far off my view. Which is not to say that religious conviction cannot or should not motivate people to do what they can to make the world a better place. (Along with the lawyering and the spiders, you might even find a clue on my website about the sort of thing I am thinking about.) But that is action by individuals. And whatever claim those individuals have to be taken seriously arises from the results of their actions, not from their status as clergy or from their assertion that their views are rooted in religious belief.

Look, I’m certain your uncle and his colleagues are serious people who wish to do good. And for whatever good they do, I am grateful. But I am in no way morally bound to agree with, let alone be grateful for, their policy prescriptions. And their policy prescriptions in no way enjoy extra authority simply because they cite to scripture — even to a scripture that I myself accept.

11

maria 09.07.04 at 6:57 pm

Fair enough Mrs T, there’s nothing offside about disagreeing with CORI’s prescriptions per se. But I think you’ve hit on two interesting questions; where does the authority to speak on an issue come from? What can destroy that authority?

On the one hand, CORI derives authority from its members’ day to day work with the poor. As with, for example, Oxfam, CORI members’ work with the poor gives them both some authority to speak to their interests and also, presumably, the desire to talk about policy solutions rather than band aid ones. CORI also draws on Catholic social teaching of the Vatican II kind, which is a pretty consistent approach to policy, whether or not one agrees with it. So, CORI combines hands on experience with a well thought through philosophy -by most reckonings, these are good credentials to comment and be listened to.

On the negative side, CORI is made up of active participants in the Catholic Church, an institution that is rich and greedy, has profoundly injured powerless people in its care, and whacked Irish tax payers with the bill. If I’m inferring correctly, Mrs T believes this means CORI’s authority to speak on social and economic issues is close to zero. If Fr. Healy et al want to disagree with the church, they should just leave it.

The stock argument against this is ‘you have to change from within’, which is maybe more of a functionalist approach to the behaviour of groups within groups. And also way too optimistic given the incremental pace of change. Let’s leave that one aside.

Another argument might be that the church isn’t at all homogeneous – Mrs T’s cynicism about Ratzinger’s ‘tolerance’ of dissent aside – and so it isn’t fair to blame one part or individual for what others do. This approach might require a calculation of the level of the individual’s dissent and their power in the institution before we could decide if he/she’d have more credibility outside the tent pissing in. In fairness, we all probably make this kind of calculation all the time, e.g. when thinking about dissenters in political parties, so it’s not as absurd as it sounds.

But I think the most important response is on the individual level. There is a high personal and political cost of remaining part of an institution you disagree with in many ways. Many deal with it by believing their minority vision of the institution is the true one and may at least partly prevail. Some will simply take the knock to their credibility/authority on the chin and mark it up as a price they’re willing to pay to enjoy the other benefits of belonging.

It seems to me that insisting people should leave organizations they don’t entirely believe in – or where their view is the minority one – makes individual authority an inherent value (the Ralph Nader view of the world), when it should simply be a means to the end of actually doing some good.

Authority is a constantly changing mix of institutional and personal credibility. Ultimately, one of the many things I admire about CORI is that they do stick at it, day in, day out, living under a yoke I couldn’t bear, and living with compromises and restrictions that make them easy to dismiss.

So, if I accept that CORI’s authority is in some way compromised by its Catholicism, then I also think the individuals in CORI are bigger and better than most of us.

(apols for loooooooong comment…)

12

eirepol 09.07.04 at 10:57 pm

Why does Healy want to lend credibility to Fianna Fail’s attempts to reposition itself as more caring and compassionate? Surely he doesn’t think either his exhotation or analysis will make the assembled parliamentarians undergo a transformation of consciousness? Then again, according to the Irish Times, Father Healy claimed that the priorities he outlined “met with a resonance from alot of the TDs and senators…” I suppose that as someone who represents an organisation fully locked into the process of social partnership, he could hardly refuse to take the opportunity to make his case directly to the ruling party.

Fianna Fáil has always rejected the “right-wing” tag, emphasising instead its role as a popular movement of all the people, not just a mere party or faction. This is an essential part of the ideological glue that keeps quite a socially diverse catch-all party together. Ethically grounded pleas for justice and fairness will always find a “resonance” in such a party. Its leaders have no problem with more social spending, providing that it is funded out of increased tax revenues consequent on continued economic growth.

The papers today also report on Fine Gael and the Labour Party moving ever closer to a pre-election pact. It seems certain that the electorate will be offered a distinct choice for government in the next election, at least in terms of what parties will compose the two opposing blocks. Every party will fight the next election sounding like CORI. It is less certain how this tranlates into policy alternatives.

I would be delighted if opposition parties, trade unions and other “left-wing” organisations had the media savy and the industry of CORI in their ablity to develope and disseminate a critique of Irish economic and social policy. Whatever happened to TASC and its much-vaunted Democracy Commission?

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