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Saturday, January 13, 2007

David Quinn and the Institute of the Pieties

David Quinn speaking at an ecumenical lecture on the topic "the Churches and the Media"

According to Wikipedia, David Quinn is one of Ireland's best known religious and social affairs commentators. For over six years he was editor of The Irish Catholic, Ireland's main Catholic weekly newspaper.

Quinn may well have written the foregoing hagiography himself, but there is no doubt that this cocktail of careerism, egotism and sense of mission to return Ireland to an idealistic sense of simplicity without the blatant hypocrisies of the past, must be challenged in a direct manner.

In the United States, the likes of Quinn are spearheading right-wing organizations allied to President George Bush's Republican Party.

Quinn, whose main source of income is as a columnist for the Irish Independent daily newspaper and the weekly The Irish Catholic, recently established the pompously named Iona Institute, with its allusion to the seventh century Irish monk St Colmcille, who may or not have been a whited sepulchre .

Iona says that society will not recognise the importance of marriage and religion unless a convincing, evidence-based case, is made for them. The Iona Institute is dedicated to making this case thereby adding an important voice to Irish public debate.

It aims to do so through the commissioning of relevant position papers by experts in their fields including social scientists, lawyers and psychiatrists, through the formulation of workable policies, especially in the area of marriage and the family, through sponsoring research and opinion polling, and through organising seminars on relevant topics.

The Director of the Iona Institute is David Quinn, who is one of Ireland's best known religious and social affairs commentators.

Among the patrons of Quinn's adventure is Breda O'Brien, a teacher who has a column in The Irish Times, published on a Saturday and James Sheehan, a founder of the Blackrock, Galway Clinics and Hermitage Clinics - "private medical facilities which operate according to a Catholic ethos."

Merriam-Webster defines "ethos" as the distinguishing character, sentiment, moral nature, or guiding beliefs of a person, group, or institution.

From my experience, it's a word that is generally used by pompous moralisers.

In the context of the Blackrock Clinic, which is a business that provides a good standard of service for those who can afford to buy it, I'm baffled as to where the issue of ethos is relevant compared with other health service facilities.

O'Brien comments in The Irish Times today on the role of marriage that "as the recent opinion poll commissioned by the Iona Institute shows, a majority of Irish people still support, and want the State to support, the two-parent family and marriage. Most people would support removing disincentives to marry from our tax and welfare code, for example."

What a surprise! The majority of adults marry and if Irish farmers were polled on the need for the Common Agricultural Policy, what would the result be!!

In Ireland, the in-your-face-approach of American counterparts of the Iona Institute wouldn't work but Quinn, like the American religious right, is seeking a political mouthpiece for his organisation.

This is what the US Family Research Council says about itself:

The Family Research Council (FRC) champions marriage and family as the foundation of civilization, the seedbed of virtue, and the wellspring of society. FRC shapes public debate and formulates public policy that values human life and upholds the institutions of marriage and the family. Believing that God is the author of life, liberty, and the family, FRC promotes the Judeo-Christian worldview as the basis for a just, free, and stable society.

Core Principles

  • God exists and is sovereign over all creation. He created human beings in His image. Human life is, therefore, sacred and the right to life is the most fundamental of political rights.
  • Life and love are inextricably linked and find their natural expression in the institutions of marriage and the family.
  • Government has a duty to promote and protect marriage and family in law and public policy.
  • The American system of law and justice was founded on the Judeo-Christian ethic.
  • American democracy depends upon a vibrant civil society composed of families, churches, schools, and voluntary associations.

In the Irish Independent on Friday, Quinn made a pitch for Fine Gael to return to its traditional role as conservative lapdog for the Catholic Church.

Quinn wrote that in the 1980s Garret (FitzGerald, former party leader and Taoiseach) began to rewrite the DNA of Fine Gael. He set out to transform it from a Christian Democrat party into a Social Democrat/liberal one.

Back in the 1980s, when the liberal agenda was still very much a live issue, that made a lot of electoral sense. There was a big liberal vote out there for the taking and it was going to go to either Fine Gael or Labour. Thanks to Garret it went to Fine Gael, but at a huge long-term cost. Once the liberal agenda was more or less delivered (and that happened with the divorce referendum of 1995), that vote began to evaporate.

Fine Gael began to boil down again to its core vote, only this had become smaller because Garret had managed to alienate many of the Christian Democrats who once voted for it.

Quinn is careful not to be specific about his Christian Democrat agenda. All we know is that in the past - it meant anti-divorce, anti-gay, anti-single parent, while turning a blind-eye to abuses by the powerful in society.

There were aspects to that agenda, which were the antithesis of values that Christianity claims to represent.

We may have to wait for the research from the Institute of the Pieties and no doubt, some of it will be funded by taxpayers' money.

Isn't debate great - middle class gasbags ladling each other with rich rhetoric - and new opportunities for the survey industry!

Just this week, we had an excellent example of actionless action from the Minister for Children Brian Lenihan. A proposed referendum on the constitutional rights of children has been dropped as rights to schooling and other issues could be quite a headache for politicians. So in a style befitting of the Yes Minister television series, why not spend €24 million on surveying thousands of children over a seven-year period to help policymakers??

It will truly provide great gas and fodder for radio and television chat shows in years to come, with the do-gooders from the Institute of the Pieties, the nanny-knows-best pop-psychologists and other spoofers.

Why Garret the Good was bad for Fine Gael

Friday January 12th 2007

WHEN Fianna Fail first entered coalition government in 1989, it was hailed as a huge step forward by all who claim to love and cherish democracy. Gone were the days when Fianna Fail could enter single-party government. Gone were the days of its pre-eminence. It was a sign of this once mighty party's perhaps terminal decline.

Or at least that's how it seemed 18 years ago when Fianna Fail entered power with the Progressive Democrats. But it isn't how things turned out. In fact, the day Fianna Fail, led by Charles Haughey, entered coalition government was not good for democracy, as some believed - it was very bad because it was now obscenely difficult to remove Fianna Fail from power. But if it was bad for democracy, it was an absolute calamity for Fine Gael.

Fine Gael might have imagined back in those halcyon days that the only way for it was up. Where would those lost Fianna Fail votes go? Surely some of them at least would go to Fine Gael.

No. Instead those lost Fianna Fail voters became floating voters.

But much worse for Fine Gael was the fact that by becoming a willing coalition partner, it became vastly easier than ever before for Fianna Fail to remain in power, and vastly more difficult for Fine Gael to get into power.

The hard, brutal reality is that since Fianna Fail first went into coalition government it has been out of power for just three years, and that wasn't because it lost an election - it was because Labour in mid-term swapped Fianna Fail for Fine Gael as its preferred coalition partner.

To put it another way, since the first Fianna Fail coalition government, Fine Gael hasn't been on the winning side in a single election, and it doesn't look as if that's going to change anytime soon.

It is bad enough for Fine Gael that Fianna Fail no longer insists on single-party government, but what compounds the problem is the fact that, aside from 1992, it can never seem to win enough seats to make it a viable coalition partner for Labour.

In other words, it has been hit by a double-whammy. The first is Fianna Fail's willingness to enter coalition government; the second is its inability to win enough votes for itself.

What's the cause of this second problem? One answer, the main answer, is a man by the name of Garret FitzGerald. In the 1980s Garret began to rewrite the DNA of Fine Gael. He set out to transform it from a Christian Democrat party into a Social Democrat/liberal one.

Back in the 1980s, when the liberal agenda was still very much a live issue, that made a lot of electoral sense. There was a big liberal vote out there for the taking and it was going to go to either Fine Gael or Labour. Thanks to Garret it went to Fine Gael, but at a huge long-term cost. Once the liberal agenda was more or less delivered (and that happened with the divorce referendum of 1995), that vote began to evaporate.

Fine Gael began to boil down again to its core vote, only this had become smaller because Garret had managed to alienate many of the Christian Democrats who once voted for it.

Gay Mitchell and Mairead McGuinness are probably in a broad sense the two best exemplars of that tradition within Fine Gael, but they aren't dominant enough in the party to change its DNA back to its original state.

The upshot is that Fine Gael is now a party lost in the wilderness. No one is entirely sure what it stands for, including itself. It doesn't know whether to appeal to the now mostly vanished followers of Garret, or to its old Christian Democrat base. Instead it offers voters a question mark, and, as a wise person once observed, people will be attracted to a decisive exclamation mark, but they will never be attracted to a doubtful question mark. Fine Gael! should not be Fine Gael?

So what will Fine Gael voters now do come the next general election? Many will stick loyally to their party despite the fact that it has so little chance of attaining power. But others might calculate that, since Fianna Fail is bound to be returned to government no matter what, it might be best to vote for one of its two most likely coalition partners - that is, either Labour or the PDs.

In that way they can produce a government that is either left-of-centre or right-of-centre and their vote will not be wasted. But if this is what Fine Gael voters are reduced to, it is bad for Fine Gael and it is also bad for democracy. We need a genuine choice at election time and Fine Gael's continuing identity crisis means we don't have it.

3 Comments:

  • "In the United States, the likes of Quinn are spearheading right-wing organizations allied to President George Bush's Republican Party."

    I find these kind of statements unethical.
    You imply he has some conection with the Republicans. He does not.

    Catholics in America typically vote democrat. However this is currently changing.

    By Anonymous IrishLibertarian, at May 19, 2009 6:52 PM  

  • We know that David Quinn is a Catholic ,but is he Irish -- or when did he become Irish? And was he ever a member of a religious order? There is no doubt but he faithfully represents whatever the Papal or Episcopal line is at any given time, but I have never been able to find anything to associate him with Ireland, that is, before he broke upon the scene as a 'reporter/journalist' for the religious. Where, indeed, was he educated as a journalist?

    Seamus Breathnach
    www.irish-criminology.com

    By Blogger Seamus Breathnach, at November 05, 2009 5:54 PM  

  • I think he a is very good writer and often raises points missed by other journalists.

    "Quinn is careful not to be specific about his Christian Democrat agenda.. while turning a blind-eye to abuses by the powerful in society."

    It is truly unreasonable to try to smear him by linking him to past abuse.

    By Anonymous Bob, at April 18, 2015 11:45 AM  

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