Ian O'Doherty

Wednesday 23 July 2014

But they're small and can't hit back. I like those odds!

Ian O'Doherty

Published 10/02/2014|02:30

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It happened a few years ago but every time the debate about smacking children comes up, the image returns immediately – I was in the supermarket beside Indo Towers and saw a young woman struggling to control her son, who looked to be about five or six.

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The kid was roaring his head off and the mother, who wasn't long out of her teens, had obviously had enough: "If you don't shut up, I'm going to burst you."

Now, anybody who has ever had an Irish mother – and I'm going to take a wild guess and suggest that's most of the readers – knows that they can conjure threats that would chill the blood, but they seldom carry them out.

So, it was rather disconcerting to see the young woman draw back her arm and lamp the kid in the side of the face.

A few fellow shoppers stopped in their tracks when they heard the noise of the slap (someone really should write a book about something like that, and maybe make a TV series as well), which was followed by the understandable bellowing of the child, a kid who seemed to be genuinely hurt.

The whole affair ended in tawdry ignominy as she was ushered out the door as she hurled every ethnic and racial slur she could think of towards the security guard.

I wonder how much attention this future Mother Of The Year will have paid to last week's controversial survey that says that 57pc of Irish people want a complete ban on the smacking of children. Not much, I'd warrant.

Conducted by the ISPCC and the Children's Rights Alliance, it declares that the majority of Irish parents would like to see a full legal ban on smacking, while at the same time many of them admitted to having smacked their own kids. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is a perfect snapshot of the mindset of so many Irish people on personal issues – they do it themselves, but, oh, if only the Government would tell them it was wrong!

The idea that you need the Government, any government, to inform your own morality is as absurd as using a 2,000-year-old desert screed and just as corrosive. But leaving aside that typically bovine attitude of some of those who were interviewed, there is one statistic that seems to have been largely ignored and it's one that should be noted.

After all, if 57pc of Irish people believe that striking a child should be banned, that leaves the not insignificant figure of 43pc of Irish people who think it's none of the State's business how they raise their children, thank you very much.

Normally, I'd be firmly in the 43pc camp – for the reasons I listed above. I have a deep and abiding fear of the State, or any other apparatus, having any impact on how individuals choose to live their lives as long as they aren't harming anybody else.

But, by its very definition, smacking a child is designed to hurt whether emotionally or physically. One person's short, sharp sock of chastisement is another's brutal assault.

Because the great irony of this debate is the fact that despite all the children's charities, and all the advocates and Ombudsmen and blather about the 'rights of the child', one simple fact remains – they are the most woefully unprotected and vulnerable members of our society. Those parents who still occasionally slap their child will be understandably quick to say that the woman in the shop was a random example. They will stress that they would never visit such violence upon their own child. And that is fair enough. After all, just because some parents still employ physical measures doesn't mean they're weird sadists.

But if the mother in the supermarket had punched a dog that way, there would have been more outrage. I firmly include myself in this camp of hypocrisy – if I had indeed seen the woman thump her pet, I would have intervened. Yet, I just looked on in mute, uncomfortable silence as the whole dispiriting display unfolded.

Forget about dogs as an example – if that woman had publicly hit her partner across the face, she would have faced arrest. Yet she was allowed to do that to her kid and only had to suffer the indignity of being barred from a local shop. And I bet that's not an unusual occurrence for her.

So as instinctively loathe as many of us may be to introduce more laws giving the State a greater foothold into family life, we still live in a country where a child has less protection from assault than a pet or an adult. And that needs to be redressed.

That's the theory, anyway.

The reality? Well, good luck prosecuting a mother because someone saw her smack her son when he tried to run into traffic.

Some laws sound nice and appeal to our better natures, rather than looking at consequences.

Which is exactly why so many of them become bad law.

OF COURSE! IT ALL MAKES SENSE NOW!

If an artist wants to cause controversy these days, they know that all they have to do is take a religious icon and defile it. To be more precise, they pick on Christianity, because to mock other faiths would be racist, intolerant or simply a little too real.

Cork artist Michelle O'Shea is the latest one to walk into that mire with her piece Now Look Again, which is a statue of a faceless Virgin Mary in a cage. This is part of an exhibition celebrating Irish and Chinese culture so a defaced – literally – Catholic icon was an obvious choice. Dismissing the complaints of locals, she argues that: "Her faceless features allow one to see the diverse perspectives contained within social, religious, political and historical influences, dominated by judgment, fear and control."

And there were those gombeen locals who just thought it was just a vandalised statue.

The peasants.

WELL, WHERE WAS SHE?

In the wake of the William Roache verdict, people have been poring over every tiny detail of which cast members showed up at the trial and who stayed away.

His on- screen wife was there, as was his onscreen son, but his onscreen stepdaughter, Tracy, was nowhere to be seen.

"Well," said one acquaintance of this column, "if the jury sees Tracy Barlow standing there giving him support that will work against him. Everyone knows she's a lying bitch."

Some people really need to lay off the soaps for a while...

Although given some juries, there may have been a point...

Irish Independent

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