How can the concept of a social contract aid in the appraisal of disaster response? A case study of Ballinasloe

January 9, 2012

[This is part six of nine guest blog posts written by our 3rd yr Single Hons / Major students. Please feel free to add constructive comments!]

The west of Ireland underwent a large-scale inundation during November 2009, and although I was not directly affected by these events, I was affected by the total devastation to people’s lives due to the floods. For weeks after, media reports highlighted stories of families displaced and businesses destroyed from Co. Cork to Co. Galway. Furthermore, what was also clear was the level of public discontent with the emergency services attributed with prevention and protection during such events. As the story unfolded the complicated nature of disaster response within our borders became evident. I feel we should use these events to educate ourselves on the failings of disaster response in Ireland.

It was with this information in mind that I set out to formulate a thesis topic that would encompass human, physical and environmental issues and integrate as many branches of geographical knowledge as possible. I felt it was also important to look at a current topic that involved local issues. Furthermore future climate change projections by the ICARUS department in NUI Maynooth have highlighted the possibility of an increase in the frequency of flood events of similar magnitude to 2009.

In order to link environmental issues to the social world I used the concept of a social contract as a framing point for the evaluation of flood response. The concept of a social contract dates back 300 years and involves the dynamic that exists between a state and its citizens. In short, to live in a society, citizens behave in an appropriate manner: we pay taxes and abide by laws that allow us to function in a rational manner, in return the state is expected to provide protection of our property and general well-being whether from conflict or disasters.

My thesis aims to illuminate whether people affected by disasters feel that this contract has been compromised. To do this I plan to use the town of Ballinasloe, Co Galway as a case study. This will involve ciphering through various governmental policies dealing with flood events such as the Framework for Major Emergency Response (2006). I also intend to conduct a quantitative study, by way of a questionnaire to grasp the general feeling around the town towards the emergency response. My final research method will consist of two interviews, the first with a member of the public that has been affected by the floods and secondly with an elected representative who held office during the floods. Finally I will assemble the information gained through the research and critically answer the thesis research question.

Mark Mitchell


How is emigration affecting the GAA? A case study of south Dublin clubs

January 3, 2012

[Note: This is the third of nine guest blog posts written by our 3rd yr Single Hons / Major students. Please feel free to comment!]

The issue of emigration has been ever present in the media since the downturn of the Irish economy. Documentaries such as ‘Departure day’ and ‘Arrivals’ on RTÉ have presented the viewer with the harsh reality of emigration. There are many side-effects to emigration such as an economy losing its most educated and most talented people, but it also has to be said that many organisations lose members and struggle to cope with the deficit.

Saint Finians GAA club of Newcastle Co Dublin have a proud tradition of producing strong and talented GAA teams in various age levels. Although the club has a small population of members, the club has had championship success in the past. As a club member it pains me to see the friends who I have grown up with and players who I admired in the club when I was young, emigrating to find work in other destinations in the world. When you see your own team struggling to find players and pulling out of games and even championships, it leaves you with a feeling of disgust and wondering what is the future of the GAA but more importantly what is the future of your own club?

The issue of emigration is affecting the GAA at both club and county level. When you see stars of the game, leaving the country to find employment elsewhere when they have so much to offer in the game, it is depressing. Take the example of the Louth GAA: they had great success in 2010 with reaching the Leinster final, the first time in 50 years, only to be robbed of victory by Meath. However, despite the loss, being in the championship nearing the end of July was an achievement in itself for a team like Louth. Just like GAA clubs throughout Ireland, the Louth GAA team suffered at the hands of emigration with key players such as John O’Brien and Brian White. This makes it harder for Louth to repeat the success they had in 2010.

Having observed the process of emigration and reading up on the issue I have decided to study the effects emigration is having on other GAA clubs in my area. Emigration has greatly affected the rural and the peripheral regions in Ireland. I would like to see if the process of emigration is a big issue in urban areas such as south Dublin. Through case studies of randomly-selected clubs I hope to find this information through interviews of emigrating players and their managers. I hope to find that although emigration is happening, there is light at the end of the tunnel with figures declining.

Ciaran Murphy


Scarred Landscapes

December 29, 2011

The topic which I have chosen to do my thesis on is about the future of bogs in Ireland. My research will be based around resource utilisation conflicts and it will involve the social and environmental changes in Ireland’s peatlands at present and in the future. One of the main reasons for this is because there have been some recent publicity on the debates about the rights to cutting turf on bogs. The Turf Cutters and Contractors Association (TCCA) which can be found here are “a voluntary group based in the west of Ireland which is opposed to a European Union (EU) directive to outlaw turf cutting on family bogs”. They argue that “turf cutting & conservation can co-exist”. A copy of the TCCA submission to the Interdepartmental Committee on the Cessation of Turf Cutting can be found here.

The future of turf cutting in Ireland looks bleak as numerous bogs are being shut down every year and what was once a way of life in Ireland, is now rapidly becoming obsolete. Generations of turf cutters are fighting a losing battle not just because of governmental control but because this is becoming an issue with the European Union. The Habitats Directive “forms the cornerstone of Europe’s nature conservation policy” see here. This directive protects over 200 “habitat types” (e.g. special types of forests, meadows, wetlands, etc.), which are of European importance” and this includes a portion of Ireland’s bog lands.

The Irish Peatlands Conservation Council (IPCC) was set up in 1982 and have done a vast amount of work in trying to conserve Irish peatlands see here. They run the Bog of Allen Nature Centre, Lullymore, Rathangan, Co. Kildare where the public can go and see the work that they have done. The semi-state company Bord na Móna are also part of the discussions because of their huge involvement in the Irish peatlands since the mid-1900s. You can read all about it here.

The main reason why I want to delve into this area is because these issues affect my own family as I come from a generation of turf cutters. By making this my thesis topic, I can really explore every aspect of Ireland’s bog lands starting from the beginning of turf cutting to the point where we are now and beyond into the future.

I am going to do this by holding interviews with some of the key players to find out what their plans are to solve these issues. In relation to Bord na Móna I want to know what they plan to do with the peatlands when they have finished with them. I will also use a questionnaire about turf cutting in Ireland and distribute it to people who are use turf as fuel to get a general sense of how they feel about the Habitats Directive and ban on turf cutting. I want to find out where Ireland sits in relation to other countries in similar situations and if we are in a better position or not and what policies do these countries have in place fro their natural landscapes.

Claire Redmond


Power and Fairtrade in Ireland

December 27, 2011

[Note: This is the first of a few 500-word guest posts written by some of the dept's 3rd yr Single Hons / Major students - - they were invited to write about their thesis topic, in the hope that they might receive some helpful comments. If you have anything constructive to say, please feel free to comment!]

The 17th of September was a day of personal as well as national significance. That Saturday Ireland defeated Australia in the rugby world cup. While watching this momentous event an idea for a thesis finally came to me. I flicked through notes on old readings searching for inspiration while I kept one eye on the game. An article by Munro (2003) on Foucault and feminism caught my eye. What if I could apply Foucault’s ideas on power to a particular situation, to see if those theories worked in practice? However, I needed something relevant on which to examine his theories. Global injustices have been of interest to me ever since I took part in GY124 People and Places in first year. People and Places had forced us to confront the fact that this world is organised to benefit the few at the expense of others. This interest continued into second year with Geographies of Globalization where my understanding of global issues was developed. Based on such interests, I have decided to apply the theories of Foucault to Fairtrade in Ireland.

My research question is: Do the power structures that Fairtrade engage with resemble those of Foucault? Michel Foucault was one of the leading theorists on power. He elaborated on simplistic understandings of the concept, for example power as the means by which actor A can force actor B to do something which he would not otherwise do. Foucault said that if power only worked in this overt manner it would be extremely fragile. Power operates in numerous ways. It persuades, seduces and even claims common sense as its own so that subordination seems natural. Other theorists have critiqued and elaborated on this. I want to complement this rich body of work with theorists such as Harvey, Gramsci and Lefebvre. The objective will be to develop a nuanced conceptualization of power.

I will then apply this conceptualization as a framework to study the politics of trade justice in Ireland. To do this I will focus on Fairtrade. Their pursuit of global trade equality is fraught with difficulty. Fairtrade have to compete with larger and more powerful multinational corporations. The current economic and financial crisis has not helped, with the Kantar Worldpanel report on Irish consumerism this year showing that shoppers are often favouring cheaper ‘own brand’ products.

To answer my research question I’m hoping to carry out a series of interviews with people who are involved in different ways with Fairtrade. This organisation instigates strategies and initiatives to challenge dominant modes of consumerism in Ireland. An example of such an initiative is Fairtrade Towns. Cities and towns can claim this status if they meet certain criteria, for instance a certain amount of the shops in the town offering Fairtrade certified products. I would like to interview volunteer committee members from some of these towns to gain an insight into Fairtrade’s challenges, strategies and tactics. Interviews with some of the organisation’s professional staff could provide insight into the general strategies and challenges that are faced in Ireland.

Steven Lucas


The geographical imagination of Luka Bloom

September 26, 2011

There are very many geographical themes and metaphors in the songs of Luka Bloom. (1) If we take Geography as being concerned with, to paraphrase Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859), the study of the Earth as our home and if we follow the common practice of identifying Space, Place, and Environment as the fundamental building blocks of geographical theory, then, Luka Bloom’s art is profoundly geographical.

Let me begin with environment or nature. About half the songs written by Luka Bloom have nature as a direct concern or a central metaphor. Antinuclear politics are evident in several songs including, ‘Rainbow Warrior’, a celebration of the Greenpeace campaign to end French nuclear testing in the Pacific Ocean. There is also a surprising commentary upon the environmental damage wrought by consumerism expressed in a song of respect for a homeless man whose ‘CO2 emissions are pretty much zero […] a model urban citizen’ unlike the singer for ‘if everyone lived like me, we’d need about four planets just to keep it all going’ (‘Homeless’). Metaphors drawn from nature are ubiquitous from the contemplation of endless change in ‘Here and Now’, to the comparison of the fever of love to the rush of a rain in ‘Love is a Monsoon’. There are dozens more and certain motifs return. For a child of the Midlands, Bloom has a perhaps surprising love of the sea. ‘Moonslide’ treats the plunge of commitment as akin to swimming while ‘Salt Water’ treats swimming in the sea as perhaps an activity out of time that releases someone, at least for a time, from the claims of history. There is something pagan and pantheistic about the reverence for nature in these songs. It is ‘[o]utside the churchyard walls’ that one Sunday, the singer offers the sacrament of song, for ‘[e]very note is sacred | Every word’s a little prayer | As the blackbird’s call | Or the last leaf’s fall’ (‘Sunday’). In ‘The shape of love to come,’ the singer remarks that ‘[p]eople are leaving God’s houses | Looking for footprints in the sand’ and goes on to anticipate a love of nature celebrated in the open air of a circle rather than the cloistered space of a church.

If place is a sort of effect produced by people being in each other’s presence, then, as we know, this can produce a strong sense of rootedness although that is certainly not the only form of place that matters. Luka Bloom was born in Newbridge, Kildare. The region features in several of his songs. I just described as a broadly pagan account of the worship of nature, ‘The shape of love to come,’ yet the song also recalls Brigid with her ‘cell of oak’ and Luka Bloom has shown a particular reverence for the memory of the patron saint of Kildare. In 1995 he was involved with a music festival associated with St Brigid’s feastday, ‘singing The Curragh of Kildare to accompany the lighting of St Brigid’s flame on the Hill of Allen’ although in talking of this event he made a fairly secular pitch for tourism: ‘[t]he fire has been lit and there’s no going back […]. From now on we have to make sure that Kildare is seen as a place to come to rather than to come through.’ (2) More recently, in praise of Maura ‘Soshin’ O’Halloran (1955-82), a young Irish-American woman who trained as a Buddhist monk in Japan but who then died in a coach crash while on her way back to Ireland to set up a Zen centre, Luka Bloom offered that ‘She could have become a 20th Century Brigid.’ (3) The Brigid that he cherishes in ‘Don’t be afraid of the light that shines within you’ has more to do with nature and the seasons than with any specifically Christian witness and it is perhaps the goddess Brigid who rather presides over his prayer: ‘[o]ut of the cold, dark winter space | We come together, looking for Brigid’s grace | We dip our open hands deep into the well.’

Kildare as a place is championed in the very funny, ‘I’m a bogman,’ a song which challenges what the singer feels as the condescension of so many towards the Midlands, a place with ‘[n]othing to do for the body | Nothing to do for head.’ For Luka Bloom, though, the bog promises ‘[t]urf smell’ that ‘warms hearts | ’Til the huggin’ and kissin’ starts | Bog love surrounds you | A beautiful place to come to.’ He even called one of his albums, ‘Turf’ (1994).

There is an achingly beautiful evocation of place in another song that relates place to memory, to death, and to continuity. In ‘Sanctuary’, Luka Bloom contrasts the ‘calm’ of the Kildare fields with the ‘shock’ of time passing, as registered in the ‘loss’ of someone very dear to the singer. But he can ‘leave daffodils where you lie’ and be warmed by a memory that is as ‘[a]n easy voice making everything all right | Sanctuary.’ A sense of rootedness is produced by the association of one’s co-presence with someone very dear in that place, and then of one leaving that person’s body into the soil of that place. Yet, not all is dead and interred with their bones. In another arresting elegy, ‘The man is a alive’, he sings of being ‘brought up near the riverside | In a quiet Irish town | An eighteen-month-old baby |the night they laid my daddy down.’ This did indeed happen (4) but in the song Luka Bloom finds that his father is yet alive, ‘[a]live and breathing | The man is alive in me.’ If the son brings the father with him, so will home, place and people also travel. In ‘Tribe’, Luka Bloom asserts that ‘[h]ome’s a place inside, I take it with me | I meet my tribe wherever I may be.’ This conclusion was wrested from the strict schoolmaster of the open road and it recalls directly the central chapter in James Joyce’s Ulysses where another Bloom, Leopold, the Irish-Jewish man, is baited with the question, ‘But do you know what a nation means?’ (5) In the song, Luka Bloom is dissatisfied with those who ‘stand saluting, saying this is who I am | A piece of cloth, a field, an island’ and recalling that ‘Joyce lies in Zurich, Beckett lies in France’ asks ‘[w]hat anthem has the tune to their dance’ before posing the rhetorical question, ‘[w]ho is my tribe, is it only green | Or is it the rainbow of my dreams.’

Those dreams were, in large part, ‘Dreams in America.’ The wisdom of ‘Tribe’ comes from travel, diversity of experience, and the different lessons to be learned from the various ways of living of different people in different places. Recalling among other things perhaps, W. B. Yeats criticism of the fanatic that ‘[h]earts with one purpose alone | Through summer and winter seem | Enchanted to a stone,’ (6) an early song about leaving Ireland used the image of the ‘Treaty Stone’, to represent Ireland. (7) Although the Treaty Stone recalls the conquest of 1691, the notion of an Ireland ossified by an inglorious treaty could as easily apply to the state of politics in the Republic at the time that the song was published (1978) with the contending parties of national politics claiming to distinguish themselves from each other on the basis of their attitude towards the Treaty that created the Irish Free State in 1921. In the song, he promises soon to ‘leave the treaty | Say goodbye to the stone’ admitting only that he is ‘sometimes sad to go.’ In another early song, ‘Mother, father, son’, a son tells his parents that he has no wish to go back to their home, ‘[n]o I won’t go back there | Not this time’ for ‘[c]hasing wealth and discipline | Have been your only goals’ and he can no long live with the injunction to ‘[h]ide your feelings.’ In his mid twenties he spent time in Holland but in his early thirties, he left Ireland for the United States and Barry Moore now became Luka Bloom, after the affecting Suzanne Vega song about child abuse, ‘My name is Luka,’ and the pacifist hero of James Joyce’s Ulysses, Leopold Bloom.

Using the relations between how life is lived at different locations to think about proper conduct is certainly to invoke the geographical framework of space. One of the songs on his first album as Luka Bloom concerned a Chilean exile, ‘Rodrigo’, living in the United States but who is drawn home by fond memories. But he arrives to find the place turned into a charnel house by the vicious military and ‘[o]ne young Chilean soldier smiles to his friends |And douses Rodrigo’s body in gasoline.’ Nostalgia is a treacherous siren. Safe in New York, Luka Bloom took pleasure in being ‘An Irishman in Chinatown’: ‘[s]he says “I come from China” | I says “I’m from Ireland” | And “Isn’t this a fine small world.”’ A ‘fine small world’, indeed, and several songs from this period give a sense of comparisons being made. In ‘100,000’, he explains why illegal Irish workers want to stay in the United States since back home in Ireland is no place for ‘a young lad | there is only bitching and begrudging and there’s no jobs.’ In ‘Colourblind’, he sings of ‘[a] rainbow of faces’ that ‘walks alongside me, right beside me.’ The melting pot of New York promises a chance to ‘let go of all the pain I left behind,’ to ‘leave my Irishness at home,’ to ‘leave all sense of race behind | To be among you colourblind.’ But four years in the United States was enough and he sang in ‘This is your country’ of feeling a ‘tug […] | Inside your heart’ which recalls the happy days of youth ‘[b]efore the age of the cruel and the unkind’ and which ‘is your country waiting for you | Come back home.’

But a mind enriched by life in Europe, in the United States, and soon nourished also by extended stays in Australia, would not confront Ireland in quite the same way as before. Local engagements could now be nourished with foreign experience.

Rosa Parks, 1956

Thus in ‘Freedom Song’, the attempted eviction of a Dublin traveler community is resisted by one woman who stood her ground to assert her dignity and her dream that her children should be ‘loved | As Irish brothers and sisters by and by’ and in the song Nan Joyce is inspired directly by the example of Rosa Parks with her comparable fight for fair treatment on behalf of African-Americans through the bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama: ‘[s]he lit the flame and the fire is still burning | Inside every heart that’s longing to be free.’ (8)

Nan Joyce and her family, 1971

In ‘Gypsy music,’ he turns the comparison around and uses the freedom and mobility of the traveler lifestyle as a new paradigm for the post-1989 Europe where ‘[a]ll the old walls are tumbling down | Bringing us freedom for moving around.’ The mobility of movement in space is a very important imaginative resource in Luka Bloom’s songs. In ‘Change’, he enjoys ‘the moment of change […] when the road is clear.’ Just as he celebrates freedom as movement, so that means he accepts the immigrant as readily as he does the emigrant. With the brilliant phrase, ‘No matter where you go, there you are,’ Luka Bloom knits together space and place. In this marvelous song, a young Muslim forced out of his country by his refusal to go to war, finds a new home in the sound of the Irish music he first hears in Paris and that he follows to Galway, ‘[f]or the music in his spirit, is his shelter and his home | Mohammed’s fir ignited with the ancient jigs and reels.’

These connections and comparisons between here and there might be thought of as a sort of spatial moral imagination. With ‘I am not at war with anyone,’ Luka Bloom insists that he doesn’t ‘need to be friends with everyone |But I’d like to live in peace with everyone | This rush to war is wrong | And so I sing this song | I am not at war with anyone.’ In ‘Listen to the hoofbeat,’ Luka Bloom sings of a Native American ‘medicine man’ who brings the tribes together, calling for ‘[s]haking off ancient pains’, ‘a wiping of tears’ and thereby ‘mending the sacred hoop.’ The relevance to Ireland was only implicit in that song but has been explicit in some of Luka Bloom’s newer songs about Irish history. He invites people to set past hurts aside for there is little to be gained in ‘[c]ounting our sins on the path to forgiveness | Hoping we’re heard by a merciful witness.’ Far better, as in the title of the song, to engage with ‘Right here, right now.’ Making peace with the past is the only way to engage fully with the present and in ‘Forgiveness’ he sings of the ‘[o]ne word’ which ‘[b]rings freedom home at last’: ‘Forgiveness … | For the ancient wounds still hurting | For the wrongs I’ve never known | For all the children left to die | Near fields where corn was grown.’ In ‘The miracle cure,’ he promises ‘[n]o losers, no winners | In forgiveness | Together we’re free.’

It may be that only someone who spent time away from Ireland could put forgiveness and the famine in the same song, only the imagination of space and not just place could recognize that much hurt is indeed for wrongs that the present generation has never truly known. This fierce adherence to nonviolence has been nurtured by the travels of Luka Bloom. It has been fed by his appreciation in the United States of the achievements of the civil rights movement there, and has also been watered by Buddhist teaching. Luka Bloom has great respect for the Dalai Lama and has not only written a song about him, ‘As I waved goodbye,’ but also has performed the song as the curtain raiser for the monk’s Australian concerts. In ‘Primavera’ Luka Bloom continues with his reflections upon the need to cultivate an ethic of nonviolence as the only salve for ‘this cold, dogmatic world | Where the righteous are on song | They talk God on every side | And all humility is gone.’ Cultivating humility through experience is part of this troubadour’s métier and while ‘Background Noise’ dramatizes doubt – ‘[w]hat the hell do I know– | Crying out for love,’ it also gives the reassurance of lofty ambition – ‘[w]e all need a new speech– | The words of love.’ There is true grandeur in the geographical imagination of Luka Bloom.

Gerry Kearns

(1)  I have given a listing of Luka Bloom songs on our Department website. I also give there links to the lyrics for most of the songs, and to live or radio performances of many of them (from Youtube).

(2)  Katie Donovan, ‘Kildare festival remembers St Brigid,’ Irish Times (3 February 1995) 2.

(3)  Quentin Fottrell, ‘Reviews, cues and predictions,’ Irish Times (3 January 2009) B16. Luka Bloom has himself written a song in her honour, ‘Soshin.’

(4)  Andrea Smith, ‘Brothers striking a chord: Christy Moore and Luka Bloom have inspired each other through lives filled with music,’ Sunday Independent (9 August 2009).

(5)  James Joyce, Ulysses (London: Bodley Head, 1986 [first edition, 1922]) ch.12, l. 1419.

(6)  W. B. Yeats, ‘Easter, 1916’ [1916], ll 41-3, in idem, The Poems (London: Everyman, 1990) 229.

(7)  The Treaty Stone is in Limerick and is reputedly the surface on which the treaty of 1691 was signed.

(8) Nan Joyce is a traveller woman who has collected songs and stories and whose life story has been published: Nan Joyce, Traveller: An autobiography (Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, 1985). There is a discussion of this book in Paul Delaney, ‘Sean Maher and Nan Joyce,’ Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review 93:372 (2004) 461-472. Rosa Parks (1913-2005) was a civil rights activist in the United States who began a boycott of local buses in Montgomery, Alabama, when, on 1 December 1955, she refused to move out of a seat in the whites-only (front) part of the bus when asked. You can watch an inspiring interview with her here. The photograph of Nan Joyce and her family is from the George Gmelch Collection, South Country Dublin Libraries, http://hdl.handle.net/10599/7594. The photograph of Rosa Parks is a United Press photo from the New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection, http://www.loc.gov/rr/print/list/083_afr.html#ParksR. It shows Ms Parks sitting at the front of the bus after the Supreme Court ruling of 1956 confirmed her right to do so.


Scalecraft and the Catholic Church

July 28, 2011

In a recent article, ‘The craft of scalar practices,’ our own Alistair Fraser introduces the idea of scalecraft to refer to the ‘skills, aptitudes, and experiences at issue in working with scale.’ In his paper, Alistair identifies the importance of scalecraft within colonial administration and in the economic practices of transnational corporations. He also offers an detailed example from the recent history of South Africa where white Afrikaner farmers continually reorganize space and redefine agrarian issues in defense of secure title to their land. I think this notion of ‘scalecraft’ is a very helpful one and throws light upon some important geographical dimensions of state, corporate and individual behaviour.

It is worth extending Alistair’s arguments to think about the scalar practices of the Catholic Church. There are at least three ways the Catholic Church engages in scalecraft: governance, imagination, and management. In terms of governance, we can think about how the Church creates, where it can, a hierarchical system of parish, diocese and archdiocese. In his book on Human Territoriality (Cambridge University Press, 1986), Robert Sack discusses the Catholic Church as a classic instance of an institution that uses control over space to supervise and direct the conduct of people. In some ways, we can think of the Reformation in Europe and the Penal Laws in Britain and Ireland as attempts to interrupt this hierarchy and thus to break the chain of command.  Catholic archdioceses were no longer to be sutured to state systems, were indeed banned, and kings and queens no longer had their divine right to rule consecrated by bishops or cardinals answerable to the Pope in Rome. Of course, the hierarchical order established as parish and diocese was never as complete or as tidy as it could be imagined. There are, for example, some religious orders of monks and nuns who did and do operate alongside this hierarchical system, answerable not to local parish-priest or regional bishop but instead to their home institution with its own spiritual leader and then directly to the Pope. One important dimension of this extra-episcopal system has been that it literally and metaphorically created spaces for female authority and female-centred reflection within an institution directed by, and often largely for, men – see, for example, Margaret Mac Curtain’s discussion of the struggle waged by religious women in Ireland to wrest from the male hierarchy the right to develop professional medical training for Irish nuns; ‘Late in the field: Catholic sisters in Twentieth-Century Ireland and the new religious history,’ Journal of Women’s History 6:4/7:1  (1995) 49-63. There are also charismatic and evangelizing movements within the Catholic Church comprising laity seeking spiritual guidance through missionary activity that likewise does not always submit to direct Episcopal control. Indeed, missionary activity within the Catholic Church has often had a sort of frontier spatial form, beyond existing diocesan systems and sometimes resisting their introduction even when the density of Catholic believers would seem to allow them. Many of the important schisms in the Catholic Church have taken the form of challenges to papal authority and the establishment instead of new orthodoxies detached from the contemporary papal direction of the Church.

Scalecraft is also very important to what, following Derek Gregory, we may perhaps term the geographical imagination of the Catholic Church. As Dáire Keogh describes in a fascinating article on ‘The Christian Brothers and the Second Reformation in Ireland,’ (Éire-Ireland 40:1-2 (2005) 42-59), in 1797, facing down the repressive Penal Laws, Thomas Hussey (founding president of Maynooth) wrote to the fellowship of his diocese of Waterford and Lismore, a pastoral letter in which he castigated the established Church of Ireland as a “small sect” and asserted that Catholics were part of a greater church which would “flourish until time shall be no more” and he enjoined his flock to be not “ashamed to belong to a religion [in] which so many kings and princes, so many of the most polished and learned nations of the world glory in profession.” Here we see Hussey connecting the local to the global in ways that interpellate Catholics as members of a global and magnificent community. With time the global vision of Irish Catholicism became, increasingly, a missionary one. With the Catholic Church so well established within the independent state of Ireland, Irish Catholics were invited to see themselves as the lucky and privileged few facing a wider world of unbelief. This missionary global imagination had at least two dimenions. First, with Ireland as beacon, it figured a civilisational geography in which advanced peoples brought Christian and scientific enlightenment to the backward, ignorant and heathen folk of the tropics. Second, with Ireland as island, it offered an anti-modernist vision in which fealty to the traditions of the apostles and saints offered protection against the atheistic corrosion of secularism and communism. This geographical imagination, then, shaped a selective engagement with the world outside Ireland, poor countries were to be evangleised, the rich to be resisted. This global mental map had also its special and devotional places, sacred spaces in Mircea Eliade’s term–as described in the first chapter of his 1957 book, The Sacred and the Profane. As James Donnelly shows in a fascinating article on ‘Opposing the modern world: the cult of the Virgin Mary in Ireland, 1965-85,’ (Éire-Ireland 40:1-2 (2005) 183-245), a devotional place such as Fatima could both inflect and amplify this missionary geographical imagination. The international organization that is the World Apostolate of Our Lady of Fatima (also known as the Blue Army and very popular in Ireland) cultivated an eschatological vision given, it believes, by the Virgin Mary to the girls at Fatima and by light of which it insisted upon the urgency of undoing the communist revolution in Russia and turning back the immoral forces of secularism so that an impending global cataclysm might be averted. And, as always with such global visions, they were also turned within and Irish devotees of the cult were promised that by making the devotion of the Five First Saturdays they would, as the Irish Catholic promised in 1971, not only be, “saving many souls from hell, and bringing peace to the world” but would also be addressing domestic issues, “the unrest in our country, artificial contraception, pornography, drugs, and so on” (quoted in Donnelly, 204).

Finally, we may identify the importance of scalecraft for the management of the Catholic Church. If governance is about authority, its establishment and maintenance, then management is less about such strategies and more about the tactics of responding to opportunities and crises. The Catholic Church faces currently a serious crisis relating to the torture and abuse of children. Scalecraft has been integral to its response. The allegations have been made in many countries and have been leveled against priests, brothers and nuns. The particular intersections of country, diocese and community have allowed distinctive and varied responses. It is clear that child abuse occurs in homes, in schools, in reformatories and in many public and private places and it is also clear that the religious are in the company of relatives and strangers in thus preying upon and abusing children. Such abuse offends against universal human rights acknowledged as such in all states and enshrined in specific local laws in most. The question of violence and sexual assaults upon children by the religious has thus always had a broader context of commission and restraint. Nevertheless, the crimes of the religious have a particular context and response. In 2002, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops commissioned a report on the nature and scope of child abuse by clergy and other religious and this report by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice of the City University of New York was published earlier this year. Of 9,821 allegations for which records were available, there was evidence of investigation into 72%, and of those investigated 80% were held to be substantiated with 18% unsubstantiated and only 1.5% pronounced false. The Church was satisfied that 1,872 priests (the report seems to use this term interchangeably for priests serving parishes and for the men of religious orders subject to Episcopal control) were the subject of substantiated allegations of child abuse and these men were variously reprimanded (9.2%), referred for evaluation (49%), given administrative leave (37.3%), sent to spiritual retreat (6%), sent for treatment (53.3%), given medical leave (8.7%), suspended (45.5%), returned to their order with the Superior notified (4.7%), or no further action taken (2.6%). One can focus upon the many allegations not investigated or one can note the number of priests who resigned or retired (545) or one can be struck by the fact that about only one quarter (27%) of the priests subject to allegations ultimately had their religious ministry in any way restricted as a result. One might even be struck by the extent to which abusers were simply moved to another place where the reputation of abuse could perhaps be shaken off, unless and until it all began again, as Oliver O’Grady testifies in recounting his own career of abusing children as a parish priest in many places in Southern California in the 1970s and 1980s. No, the striking feature of this clerical response to child abuse is that crimes were committed and responsible authorities did not report them to the police, and this is where scalecraft comes in.

In 1996 after years of credible allegations both in Ireland and against Irish-trained priests currently ministering in the United States, the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Advisory Committee on Child Sexual Abuse by Priests and Religious produced Child Sexual Abuse: Framework for a Church Response. The Framework document acknowledged that the response of the Church “must accord with the legal framework in society for the investigation and prosecution of criminal offences and for ensuring the protection and welfare of children” (p.14) and thus whenever “it is known or suspected that a priest or religious has sexually abused a children, the matter should be reported to the civil authorities” (p.18) while under its own Code of Canon Law the Church continued to reserve its own “inherent right to constrain with penal sanctions its members, including priests and religious, who commit offences” (p. 15). This presented Canon Law as supplementary to and not as superseding state law and it thus placed upon the Church the legal requirement to report all cases to the police. At the Vatican the Congregation for the Clergy which among other things oversees the institutions and practices of pastoral ministry within the Catholic Church, responded anxiously that the requirement of “mandatory reporting” “appear[ed] contrary to canonical discipline,” that the Framework Document was “not an official document of the Episcopal Conference but merely a study document,” and that rather than adopt it  uncritically in cases of allegations against priests “the procedures established by the Code of Canon Law must be meticulously followed.”

Responding to clear evidence that within the Archdiocese of Dublin allegations against priests were not being investigated adequately either by Church or State, the Irish government created in 2004 a Commission of Investigation under Judge Yvonne Murphy and the subsequent Murphy Report reported from a study of allegations against 46 priests (of 102 under the authority of the Dublin Diocese and against whom allegations had been made in the period 1975-2004) that by appeal to Canon Law or simply in the face of denial by the accused priests, successive archbishops had not adopted the state-imposed obligation of mandatory reporting. It was also clear that on many occasions the priests were not even held accountable within Canon Law itself suffering it would seem no more than a warning and receiving the benefit of clerical cover-up. The Commission described as “risible” (p.205) Archbishop McQuaid’s reponse to one early case that the photographs of the genitalia of ten-year old girls taken by one priest and sent over to England for processing reflected no more than the priest’s “wonderment” at the appearance of female genitals. Scalecraft here operated both to allow the Archbishop to use Canon Law and his responsibilities to the Pope as a screen shielding the priest for police investigation, an appeal to confidentiality between priests meant that incriminating testimony was not forwarded to the police, and somewhat ironically, worry about having an unflattering light shone from Rome upon the Irish Church may also have inhibited McQuaid leading him to abort systematic interrogation of claims even under the provisions of Canon Law. Since the publication of the report on Dublin a further report on the Diocese of Cloyne reached similar conclusions. The Cloyne report identified the 1997 advice from the Congregation for the Clergy as particularly troubling in setting Canon Law against the state-mandated obligation to report suspected cases of child abuse to the police and health authorities. The Report threw particular light upon the contrasting logics of Canon Law and state law. Claiming a pastoral role of care for both the abuser and the abused, the Church was not an adequate response to serious allegations because did not meet the abused individual’s need for validation of their complaint, it “does not provide for a genuine investigation of the complaint. It cannot provide for the protection of other children” (p.73).

Enda Kenny speaking about the Cloyne Report in the Dáil

Enda Kenny responded  in an angry speech that the Report ‘exposes an attempt by the Holy See, to frustrate an Inquiry in a sovereign, democratic republic’ and in doing so highlighted the “dysfunction, disconnection, elitism, … the narcissism … that dominate the culture of the Vatican to this day,” downplaying the “rape and torture of children […] to uphold instead, the primacy of the institution, its power, standing and ‘reputation.’” The Taoiseach insisted that Roman Clericalism had hardened the hearts of many in the hierarch of the Church and he asserted of Ireland that “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 thurible ruled the Irish Catholic world. 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.” It was a Republic, moreover, learning to put its children first, a Republic “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.” Kenny referred to statements made by the current Pope while yet still a Cardinal that “Standards of conduct appropriate to civil society or the workings of a democracy cannot be purely and simply applied to the Church,” before moving to his concluding warning that “As the Holy See prepares its considered response to the Cloyne Report, as Taoiseach, I am making it absolutely clear, that when it comes to the protection of the children of this State, the standards of conduct which the Church deems appropriate to itself, cannot and will not, be applied to the workings of democracy and civil society in this republic.”

The issue of scalecraft is explicit. In responding to the allegations of child abuse, some within the hierarchy of the Catholic Church reduce the matter to the small-scale confidentiality of the confessional and retain evidence at the local scale, while others appeal to the higher order authority of the Pope and manage the damage to Church, priest and victim through the charity of pastoral care without recourse to the secular investigation of public justice. Some of the Irish bishops of Cloyne and Dublin have been involved in both. However, the most widespread abuse has probably not been in institutions directly under the control of the Irish bishops but rather in state institutions farmed out to religious orders for management and direction, perhaps most extensively those run by the Christian Brothers. As Dáire Keogh describes, in his Edmund Rice and the first Christian Brothers (Four Courts Press, 2008), the Christian Brothers began under Episcopal direction as educators providing Catholic education as from the early nineteenth century, Ireland was progressively loosed from the constraints of the Penal Laws. In 1820 the Holy See gave the order formal recognition but brought them also under papal management. This scalar practice was not uncontested and some of the Irish members refused the charter from Rome continuing to place themselves directly under their local bishop as Presentation Christian Brothers. However, the majority of Christian Brothers were now directed from Rome. This has had significant implications for their response to the child abuse crisis.

In 2000 the Irish Government had set up a Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse. In order to encourage the cooperation of the religious orders, the government (2002) indemnified them against the costs of any damages that might be levied as a result of the findings of the inquiry in return for a transfer of property and other assets equivalent to about €128 million, subsequently raised by the offer of assets that the orders estimated as worth a further €348 million. By 2010, the Irish government’s own prediction was that the overall cost of claims and of the work of the commission itself would be €1.36 billion. After a lengthy law suit the Christian Brothers secured the right to anonymity for the Brothers accused in testimony. The Department of Education withheld files from the Commission and in 2003 this contributed to the resignation of the original chair Justice Mary Laffoy. Ultimately, as it noted in its substantial final report, known as the Ryan Report, after Judge Seán Ryan who replaced Laffoy, the Commission received over 700 complaints against the Christian Brothers, held 149 hearings about their conduct and conducted 220 interviews of  its own [sec 6.14]. The order had undertaken its own survey of Brothers and ex-Brothers in order to prepare itself against possible legal challenge and for long it refused to allow the Commission to review these materials suggesting that they were part of the legal preparation of defense in law and thus the privileged possession of the order as a likely defendant. In the 1960s, the operational headquarters of the Christian Brothers was moved from Dublin to Rome and a large part of the archives of the order went with it [sec 6.16]. These ‘Rome files’ contained evidence of the investigation of abuse by the Church authorities over several decades and involving at least 40 Brothers.

This separation between Rome and Ireland may allow further scalecraft, what Jason Berry and Gerald Renner have discussed as Geographic Reach in their book, Vows of Silence: The abuse of power in the papacy of John Paul II (Simon and Schuster, 2010). In 1990, speaking to a meeting of a Canon Law Society in Columbus Ohio, Bishop A. James Quinn is on tape as noting that many bishops kept certain private files not locally but in Rome and thus with foresight bishops might anticipate that certain files they held might be subpoenaed in the case of child abuse allegations, in which case they could not thereafter be “tampered with, destroyed, removed: that constitutes obstruction of justice and contempt of court. Prior, however, thought and study ought to be given if you think it’s going to be necessary. If there’s something that you really don’t want people to see, you might send it off to the Apostolic Delegate, because they have immunity to protect something that is potentially dangerous” (Berry and Renner, p.69). Thus on one hand the scalecraft of management can use the diplomatic form of statehood to shield material in the Vatican from national courts elsewhere but on the other, the Christian Brothers can devolve back into national organizations to protect the assets of their communities worldwide from damages levied in national courts and thus the North American chapter of the Christian Brothers has filed in New York City for bankruptcy to limit its liability arising from court cases in Seattle.

The responses to the Taoiseach’s speech have made scalecraft all the more evident. Within hours, the Vatican had responded as might an aggrieved state by recalling for talks in Rome, the Papal Nuncio, Giuseppe Leanza. The Vatican press officer complained of “excessive reactions” to the Cloyne Report. In the last few minutes, I have heard (18.55, Thursday 28 July) that Archbishop Guiseppe Leanz has been transferred to the Czech Republic. International diplomacy will roll the dice again as the management of the child abuse crisis continues to threaten the authority and reputation of the Catholic Church.

Gerry Kearns


Ireland and Eurovision: Where Have All The Votes Gone?

May 21, 2010

Back in 1997, when Marc Roberts finished 2nd in the Point to Katrina and the Waves, Ireland were the undoubted kingpins of the Eurovision Song Contest (ESC) - having won the contest four times in the previous five years and holding the record for the most Eurovision wins of any country (7).  It seemed then as if it would be just a question of when, not if, Eurovision would be returning to Ireland. Since then however, Ireland’s Eurovision fortunes have fallen decidedly into decline. Read the rest of this entry »


Mapping feeder schools

November 27, 2009

The leafy campus of NUIM is Open. The 27th and 28th of November are NUIM’s annual open days, where secondary school students and their teachers visit the campus, get a feel for subjects and degrees, and experience what student life might be like. However, the openness of Open Days does not necessarily translate into student action. Figures released by the Irish Times show, on a school by school basis, the numbers and percentages of students who continue to third level education, and the third level institutions they attend. The 2009 figures make interesting reading, not least for the geographies they contain. Here at NUIM, we’ve mapped the intake of students in 2009, and some very interesting spatial patterns emerge. NUIM’s feeder schools are mostly in Kildare and neighbouring counties:  Dublin, Offaly, Westmeath and Meath. There are also relatively high percentages from Monaghan, Louth and Wexford. Clare is the only county from the Republic not represented at NUIM in the 2009 intake.

We’ve also mapped the intake in 2009 from Dublin schools. At this scale, there are some expected and less expected results. The main feeder schools for NUIM are in nearby Dublin 15, but also in North Dublin and, to a less extent South Dublin. Dublin 2 is perhaps unexpected, but not when you take the Institute of Education, located on Dublin 2′s Leeson Street, into consideration.

Like all good maps, though, these pose more questions than they answer. The maps suggest that proximity matters in the choice of university, as well as transport links such as the direct trains between Maynooth and Wexford. We can also speculate that students are increasingly commuters: running a car may well be more economical than student accommodation, particularly in an era of limited grants and even more limited loans. But if this is the case, why are some counties underrepresented at NUIM? How do gender and class affect these patterns? Is the NUIM experience different to, or replicating, that of other third level institutions? And, if these patterns persist, what might this say about the social mix of our third level institutions, and the relationship between those institutions, feeder schools and the communities where they are located.


(More) geographies of the crash

October 21, 2009

‘The places likely to suffer most from the crash…are the ones least associated with high finance’. So writes Richard Florida in the Atlantic Monthly. Florida suggests that New York, the financial centre of the US, and Washington DC, its administrative centre, are unlikely to be significantly damaged by the economic downturn. Instead, he argues that old manufacturing centres like Detroit, and sun-belt cities fuelled by property booms like Las Vegas, will suffer the most. Florida’s conclusion is that ‘Americans have been living beyond their means, using illusory housing wealth and huge slugs of foreign capital to consume far more than we’ve produced’. urban forms Substitute ‘Ireland’ for Americans, and he could equally be writing about this island. Florida’s conclusion might not be to everyone’s taste. He believes that the crisis should be used to ‘reinvent’ the US as happened in the past: Naomi Klein, in Shock Doctrine, has a much less benign view of the ways in which crises are used by capital. But Florida has one suggestion that could radically change  Irish society;  that of removing home ownership from its privileged place in the Irish economy. Imagine the very different geographies that would emerge in a society based on residence rather than ownership rights.


Appropriating public space

October 1, 2009

An interesting article on public photography in the Irish Times raises questions about public space in Ireland. The article’s focus is photography: can you take photos in public places, and what exactly is a public place? Despite giving the appearance of public space, with its streets and squaresDocklands and its free cultural events, the IFSC in Dublin is described as ‘private property’. According to its management company, you need a permit to take a photograph there, and you should inform the company if you are taking photographs in any other parts of the Docklands. This is despite the fact that the Dublin Docklands Development Authority, which controls the area, was set up by the Oireachtas and is under the control of the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government. The company that operates Luas also wants you to apply for a permit to take photographs on or of the Luas: this suggests that public transport is in fact not a public space. The existence and nature of public space is coming under increasing threat in contemporary Ireland. Out-of-town private shopping malls have replaced public town centres, rights of way are being closed, there are restrictions on activities in public space. Taking photographs in spaces that seem to be public is one way of testing the growing extent and territorial claims of private space.


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