Liam Fay: Turning the other cheek? No, Vatican embassy U-turn is just opportunism
Published 26/01/2014 | 02:30
Born Again Christians call it The Rapture, that moment of ecstasy during the end-times when the Righteous will be assumed into Heaven. Throughout the darkest depths of the economic crisis, the Irish people were assured by government that an earthly version of this rapturous bliss would eventually be theirs. One day, we were told, the weeping and gnashing of teeth would cease and the faithful would be rewarded for their sacrifices. Last week, that day finally dawned and the beleaguered inhabitants of this valley of tears were bestowed with a gift that makes it all worthwhile: a new embassy in the Vatican.
The Coalition's rush to re-establish a diplomatic mission to the Holy See – barely two years after the previous embassy was closed – sends out a confusing message, and ministers have struggled to find a coherent explanation for the U-turn. "This is not a U-turn," said Eamon Gilmore, always the most deadpan of the cabinet's comedic performers.
Other government spokespeople sought to clothe the climb-down in high-minded virtue. Pope Francis was repeatedly name-checked, and there has been lofty talk about Ireland's support for the Vatican's opposition to war, hunger and pestilence. Together, it seems, we are on the side of the angels.
The most intriguing justification for the about-face was mounted by Fine Gael's Pat Breen, chairman of the Oireachtas foreign affairs committee. Speaking on RTÉ's Prime Time, Breen presented the restoration of fraternal links with the Vatican as an economic dividend, alerting the world that Ireland is back in business. The Government reluctantly closed the embassy when the country was broke, he insisted, but always intended to re-open it when our finances improved. By doing so now, we are reaping the benefits of recovery. Rejoice!
"What would Jesus do?" is a popular motto among those who claim to live by Christian principles. Thus far, however, even the most zealous church apologists have not attempted to argue that reopening a Vatican embassy would be the first thing Jesus would do if He were a newly flush Irish government minister.
Enormous hardship has been inflicted on the poorest and weakest members of our society by the austerity dogma so it isn't difficult to envisage a few more socially beneficial uses of exchequer funds.
Moreover, it should go without saying (but apparently doesn't) that Jesus would have no truck with much of what goes on at the Vatican and everything this corrupt and belligerent institution has come to represent. If nothing else, the Holy See's systematic obstruction of Irish state investigations into clerical abuse is just cause for a prolonged freeze in diplomatic relations.
Anyone who doubts the innate wickedness of the Vatican should acquaint themselves with a speech on the subject by Enda Kenny. In July 2011, Kenny ended his first term as Taoiseach with a bang that was heard around the world. Sickened by the Cloyne Report, the latest in a litany of reports detailing priestly depravity and ecclesiastical cover-up, he eloquently denounced the Vatican as a ferment of elitism, dysfunction and narcissism.
Kenny's speech sounded heartfelt but, in truth, it was just a speech. There was no concrete follow-up, no action on his assertion that the relationship between the Irish Republic and the Holy See would never be the same again.
In fact, the November 2011 decision to close the Vatican embassy was the only discernible evidence that the administration was remotely serious. While announced as part of a package of cost-saving measures, the move was interpreted – not least in the Vatican – as a calculated snub to the church's leadership. Many, if not most, Irish people were fine with that.
By backtracking so quickly, however, Kenny and his government have once again raised questions about the sincerity of their rhetorical pronouncements. The conflicting variety of explanations proffered for the U-turn lends credence to the view that it's essentially an effort at currying favour with what's left of the traditionalist Catholic vote.
Against this apparent backdrop of opportunism and claptrap, the Government's attempt to align itself with the perceived courage and idealism of Pope Francis is especially cynical. Politics and religion are a dangerous mix but piety and politicking are the most noxious cocktail of all.
Micheál's vision of new FF is more of same
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, pictured, says he's "fed up" with journalists asking him about the discredited party bigwigs from the Haughey/Ahern/Cowen eras who are eagerly preparing to resume their political careers. Like all the other bad news associated with Fianna Fáil's past, it seems, these gung-ho grandees have nothing to do with him.
Martin's petulance is telling. He evidently regards the media's fascination with the antics of the old guard as a gratuitous distraction from his earnest efforts to transform what's left of the mercenaries of destiny into a new model army of high-minded professionals.
He fails to understand that the imminent return of the old guard provides an eloquent critique of his abject failure: none of these reprobates would be on the comeback trail if they didn't see 'New' Fianna Fáil as a convivial and appropriate home for their, uh, talents.
The past few years have been extremely difficult for these people – not because of guilt about the calamities that befell the country on their watch but rather because of the pain involved in losing their seats. Having rested their heads and licked their wounds, easing their psychic aches with the soothing balm of their bountiful pensions, they are now ready to take up where they were before they were so rudely interrupted.
Martin's apparent belief that the party has atoned for its sins is risible; in truth, the organisation hasn't even started to examine its conscience. If he's fed up, he should imagine how the rest of the country feels.
Something fishy going on
Fish 'n' chips are the new wonder food, but diners still have good reason to wonder what the hell they're eating. According to scientific research, almost half the fish sold in Dublin's chip shops is mislabelled, and most of what passes for cod is actually cheap whitefish of assorted species. Rather than inquiring about the catch of the day, consumers would be better off asking 'what's the catch?'.
The folly of the takeaway trade is boundless. Fast food has already been demonised to a ridiculous degree. Much of the 'health conscious' antagonism to fatty and fried dishes is misguided; snobbery rather than science. Meanwhile, many of the products marketed as wholesome options are laced with hidden sugar, the deadliest snag in the food chain.
By forging the identity of their fishy fare, however, chippers play straight into the hands of the scaremongers. A pig in a poke insults the intelligence as well as the digestion.