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Kenny speech marks final break between Church and State

NOBODY saw it coming. No one. It was the second-last day of a long, hectic, relentless Dail year. Everyone in Leinster House was battle-weary from the helter-skelter months of turbulence and seismic change. Everyone had one eye on the blue holiday horizon.

Moreover, it was lunchtime in Leinster House and a break in the Dail business was scheduled before statements into the Cloyne Report would begin.

A lot of the denizens of the House were in the canteen or member's restaurant or were at their desks, casually monitoring the packed Dail schedule on the live television feed.

And so at 1.45pm when the Taoiseach entered the Dail chamber to open the Cloyne session with his own statement, there was mild surprise and a little annoyance at the inconvenient timing.

There were few people up in the visitors' gallery, hardly any reporters in the press gallery, and a total of 10 TDs in the chamber. Calmly and gravely, without fanfare or preamble, Enda began his speech. But this was no ordinary speech. It was nothing short of a declaration of war, a ringing, eloquent, mighty declaration of Nevermore.

With quiet authority, our Head of Government flung down a gauntlet right at the feet of the powerful Princes of the Church -- a gauntlet which proclaimed, here you may come, but no further.

His words had the crystalline clarity of pure rage.

There was no equivocation, no fudge, no timorous tugging of the forelock in obeisance to the iron fist of the church.

"The rape and torture of children were downplayed or 'managed' to uphold instead the primacy of the institution, its power, standing and 'reputation'," Enda stated.

"Far from listening to evidence of humiliation and betrayal with St Benedict's "ear of the heart", the Vatican's reaction was to parse and analyse it with the gimlet eye of a canon lawyer. This calculated, withering position being the polar opposite of the radicalism, humility and compassion upon which the Roman Church was founded," he continued.

It was extraordinary; unprecedented. And perhaps all the more extraordinary because these words fell not from the lips of a man of little religion or none, but from a practising Catholic, a man who has remained true to his faith, even as his church failed him, time and again every time another shameful litany of abuse came to light.

This was a carefully-crafted speech. But who wrote it?

The government spokesman insisted afterwards that "the Taoiseach is the chief architect of all his own speeches, with some input from his staff".

But Enda knew as he stood up in the heart of Irish democracy that it was in essence the official sundering of the intertwined branches of church and State. And in one evocative phrase, he invoked the extent to which the iron fist had closed around the freedom of the citizenry for so long.

"This is not Rome. Nor is it industrial-school or Magdalene Ireland, where the swish of a soutane smothered conscience and humanity and the swing of a thurible ruled the Irish-Catholic world," he said.

Nevermore, declared the Taoiseach.

"This is the Republic of Ireland 2011. A Republic of laws, of rights and responsibilities, of proper civic order, where the delinquency and arrogance of a particular version -- of a particular kind of 'morality' -- will no longer be tolerated or ignored."

No other Taoiseach has ever faced up to the Vatican with such defiance. It was a kind of bravery, really. Not of course in the same league as the huge courage shown by all the victims of clerical sex abuse who found the strength to dig deep and speak out and add their stories to Ryan, Ferns and now Cloyne but it took guts all the same.

But he was speaking for the disillusioned, for the swathes of middle Ireland who grew up in the shadow of a swinging thurible. "As a practising Catholic, I don't say any of this easily," he explained.

"Growing up, many of us in here learned we were part of a pilgrim church. Today, that church needs to be a penitent church. A church, truly and deeply penitent for the horrors it perpetrated, hid and denied."

And he drew a deep new line in the Irish sand -- church on one side and State on the other -- vowing to those who have suffered abuse that they now live in a nation.

"Where the law -- their law -- as citizens of this country, will always supersede canon laws that have neither legitimacy nor place in the affairs of this country."

The Taoiseach may have delivered this momentous speech to an almost-empty chamber, but his words rose up and echoed through the derelict industrial schools and abandoned Magdalen laundries and all the dark corners where the cries of hurt children went unheard.

And perhaps they soothed, even a little, the unquiet ghosts of generations of Irish souls who went to their graves tortured by memories of violence by evil men of the cloth who went unchecked, unchallenged and unpunished.

Irish Independent