It is not often your uncle Turlough is left speechless; there are very few times when I cannot muster up a retort of some kind but last week ‘she who must be obeyed’ put me in my place and all I could do is look on in silence.
A little background to this once in a lifetime event:
My wife was born in Argentina but lived a large part of her life in the United States. She also knows that I have one major gripe with the Catholic Church which causes me no small amount of bother: this is the fact that for all our saints in this Isle of Saints and Scholars, we do not have a Doctor of the Church.
A Doctor of the Church is a kind of ‘super saint’ in that to be made a doctor, a saint has to have taught us something new about God or his love that we never knew before. There are only thirty three doctors in the whole history of the Church, but wait for it, England has two!
Imagine, England has two Doctors of the Church and Ireland has none. We have saints in almost every parish and townland but none of them were deemed smart enough to be made a doctor. The two English doctors are the Venerable Bede and St Anselm of Canterbury, although Anselm was actually born in France, but that is neither here nor there.
So here we are in the Quinn household bright and early on the 6th of November, about to do our morning prayers when I look at the calendar and see that November 6th is the feast of All the Saints of Ireland.
“This is a lovely feast,” says I, “We shall do the prayers of the feast day in remembrance of all the Irish saints.”
“How many saints are there in Ireland,” says Mrs Q.
“Thousands,” was my proud reply, “too many to count!”
“Aye, but you have no Doctors of the Church,” said Mrs Q, aiming below the belt.
“What are you on about, sure your lot don’t even have a saint!” I was getting my revenge.
“No, but we have a pope,” and I had to look at the most smug smile you ever saw.
There is no justice!
Speaking of justice, I listened to an interesting programmes last week on radio 4 as I drove home from somewhere. It must have been far enough away for I heard the whole half hour programme. It was called Analysis and was presented by a woman called Margaret Heffernan.
The theme of the programme was ‘why do big companies make mistakes?’ and she went on to propose an answer to the question in that businesses should adopt the policy that is current in the airline industry of a ‘just culture.’
The first thing that struck me was that here was this internationally famous businesswoman presenting the idea of justice in business as if it was something new. Three thousand years ago the writer of Ecclesiasticus spoke about honesty in our affairs, keeping proper records and not being afraid to account for your deeds to the proper authorities.
Heffernan began by reminding us of the Enron criminal enquiry and the concept of ‘wilful blindness.’
Wilful blindness is when someone in an organization who should know something does not know it, whether by accident or design. It basically says that a manager should know everything about a company and if he does not he is responsible anyway.
Using another couple of examples Mrs Heffernan showed why the Securities and Exchange Commission refused to investigate Bernie Madoff, the man who stole billions of dollars in what anyone with their eyes open could see was a scam.
What has all this to do with us in Northern Ireland?
A lot, because we are suffering greatly from the effects of the two things that Mrs Heffernan was complaining about; wilful blindness and a lack of justice.
Let us look first at wilful blindness.
We are a province of 1.75 million people. The city of Birmingham has just over one million people and Manchester has 2.55 million. We are nothing more than a decent sized borough in the United Kingdom.
In our land we produce nothing, our economy is almost totally dependent on government hand outs and our politics is infantile, to say the least.
Yet we are strutting about as if the whole world owed us a living and that somehow we are entitled to a high standard of living without producing anything or contributing anything to the country to which we belong, whether we like being part of that country or not.
This is a communal wilful blindness which our leaders have a duty to face and to make us aware of as a country.
Anyone who is attending the hospital or in receipt of ongoing medical care will know first-hand the cutbacks that are going on in our health service, how waiting times are getting longer and how stressed and under pressure the staff in our hospitals are feeling.
Again, rather than face the harsh realities we are going on as if nothing is happening and pretending that everything is well.
Thankfully we are beginning to see some reaction in our politicians to the financial realities of Northern Ireland.
“Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness has said the draft Northern Ireland budget is the best deal possible in the circumstances.
“Anybody that tells you different is living in a fantasy world,” said Mr McGuiness. "The reality is that our block grant has been stripped of vital resources by this British government in London each year for the last four years. Peter Robinson and I intend to raise this in the context of the talks that we are presently involved in.”
Further on in this BBC article we read this stark fact: ‘The block grant to Northern Ireland has been reduced by 1.6%, a cut of about £160m.’
Bankruptcy can often be a good thing for a person in the same way that an alcoholic or drug addict has to hit rock bottom before they are forced to look at the reality of their lives. In the same way perhaps the realization that Northern Ireland is a basket case is finally beginning to get through to our leaders.
Often in a family it is not until the cheques begin to bounce that the couple sit down and take a real look at their finances. Wilful blindness can only go on for so long, then eventually the deliberate flight from reality runs into a dose of hard hitting truth that no one can deny.
Back to the Analysis programme: Margaret Heffernan went on to propose a solution to the problem of wilful blindness and the solution she proposed was that we build a ‘just culture’ in our large companies.
But wait a minute: is justice not meant to be the basis of all mature western democracies. What does it say about us when a commentator has to bring up the subject of justice as if it is something new?
Margaret Heffernan was talking about the business world but surely the attitudes of business people only reflect the attitudes of society in general.
Are there any glaring signs of injustice in our society? There are many and here is the most obvious.
Most unqualified and a lot of qualified people are now working for the minimum wage. Ask any shop worker in your local grocery store what they earn and you can be sure that 99% of then will say, ‘the minimum wage.’
From October 1st this year minimum wage was raised to £6.50. However, according to the Living Wage Foundation a person needs to earn £7.85 to achieve a basic standard of living. Now the living wage is not set for people to have a luxurious standard of living; it is the basic minimum for a person to have the bare necessities.
This means that at the heart of our society we have a government policy which is designed and aims to perpetuate an injustice: ‘an honest day’s work for less than an honest day’s pay.’
There are now more people receiving benefits who are in work than there are people receiving benefits who are out of work.
The effect of this is that companies pay people less than the minimum wage and we make up the difference in tax credits and other benefits: cash rich companies put the money in the bank and pay off stockholders.
What happened to the Christian idea of “An honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay,” or the idea of “The labourer deserves his wages?”
The Living Wage Foundation has run a campaign to encourage companies to pay the living wage as opposed to the minimum wage. So far in Northern Ireland, according to the Living Wage Foundation website on Sunday evening, only five companies in Northern Ireland had signed up: Ark Housing Association Limited Northern Ireland, Arroll ltd Northern Ireland, Belfast Cleaning Society Limited Northern Ireland, Business First Northern Ireland Northern Ireland and the Quaker Service Northern Ireland.
Now there are also companies in the UK which also do work here, retailers etc., who are on the Living Wage Foundation list, but these are the only NI companies. If you look up the Living Wage Foundation website you would be surprised by how many of our High Street retailers are not there.
When it comes to making crass laws and making a mockery out of such things as social justice and human rights it is hard to beat the United States. I read this story on CNN and I had to look at the calendar to make sure it was not April 1st.
“Arnold Abbott handed out four plates of food to homeless people in a South Florida park. Then police stopped the 90-year-old from serving up another bite.
"An officer said, 'Drop that plate right now -- like I had a weapon,'" Abbott said.
Abbott and two pastors in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, were charged for feeding the homeless in public on Sunday, the city's first crackdowns under a new ordinance banning public food sharing, CNN affiliate WPLG reported.
Abbott, who has been helping feed homeless people in the area through his Love Thy Neighbour non-profit since 1991, said authorities are targeting the city's most vulnerable residents.
"These are the poorest of the poor. They have nothing. They don't have a roof over their head," he said. "Who can turn them away?"”
It appears that the city is close to Orlando and hopes to have some of the economic spin off from the huge tourism industry there but thinks that homeless people eating in the parks would be a turn off.
If you read the article you shall see that there is a determination to enforce the Law. The law has become more important than people. That is what happens when you remove care and understanding from our society.
Going back again to your man who taught about an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay, he also said a lot about feeding the hungry. But the hungry, justice, social cohesion and all those other old fashioned ideas have gone out the window.
And our excuse for being able to ignore all these sacred principles: ‘It’s the Law.’ Hiding behind the Law has for centuries been the coward’s way of avoiding responsibility.
“It is the law that we only have to pay £6.50 per hour,” is another way of saying that I am not responsible if my workers have a living wage or not.
Look at the way that Ireland played open and free with the European laws to allow big international companies to come here and use the place as a tax haven.
Now we see that many of these same politicians stand accused of tax evasion. Read this from the Sunday Independent:
“The civil servant, who was heavily involved in the probe into the Ansbacher accounts, alleges a cover-up in relation to his claims. The whistle-blower’s key allegations are:
Declan Costello, a former Fine Gael TD, Attorney General and High Court judge and son of former Taoiseach John A Costello, who was appointed as a High Court inspector into Ansbacher, held an account with Guinness and Mahon bank, which was at the centre of the offshore tax evasion scandal.
Former Fianna Fail and Fine Gael ministers held Ansbacher accounts, which were not revealed by an investigation into the offshore tax evasion scheme.
The Moriarty Tribunal did not properly investigate Ansbacher - a state of affairs that undermines the integrity of the tribunal and the reliability of its findings.
The startling claims about a series of living and dead political figures are contained in a dossier sent to the Dail Public Accounts Committee (PAC).”
Over the next few months we shall again see the Free State elite move to protect their own. Margaret Heffernan spoke on her radio programme about justice as if it would be a new idea.
She is right: the practice of justice in society would be a novelty.
Pope Benedict knew this. Writing in his encyclical ‘Spe Salvi’ he said that the cry for justice to be done was as great a proof as any other for the existence of God.
What a shock we will get when we, the relatively well-off people see the injustice we perpetuated through our governments and our laws, on the poor of our society and the world.
What will we say to Jesus when we meet him? “It was the Law.” Somehow, I don’t think this answer will get me through the pearly gates.
The views expressed are not necessarily those of
the editor but are the views of the writer.
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