Thursday, February 28, 2013


On the day that the Pope announced his retirement to the shock and awe of the Catholic world I had some fun on Twitter, suggesting that I should put myself forward as a possible contender for the vacancy in the Vatican.  I do rather fancy the jewel coloured robes... very flattering to the fuller figure and as for hand-made shoes... I bet they are so comfortable.   I also fancy living in a fully staffed palace in Rome which is one of my favourite cities.  Yep, the idea of being Pope is one that appeals to me greatly.

So with my Twitter buddy Carole Whelan (@carolewhelan) lined up as my personal assistant (or GlamAss as she prefers to be called)  it seemed that I was all set to begin electioneering.  But I needed a manifesto.  So I got to thinking about what I could achieve on my first day as Pope – with the help of all the staff I would have at my disposal.  So here it is.   My first day as Pope.

In the morning I would dress in the most colourful bejewelled robes available.  I would slip my feet into the famous papal slippers.  I may not bother with the mitre... I reckon I don't need to the extra height.  Suitably attired I would begin my first day's work.

The very first thing I would do would be to announce the conversion of the Vatican from a palace into a holiday resort to provide respite and a break for carers from all over the world.  My Vatican would be a place of rest and recuperation for those who spend endless hours caring for a loved one.  Those who volunteer and make our communities a better place to live would also be welcome to stay for a break in my Vatican.

Next job would be to instruct that all crucifixes (images of torture) be removed from churches and replaced with images and statues of angels.

I would then sit down and write two letters.  The first letter would be to all children in catholic schools telling them that Jesus message was one of love..... pure and simple.  I would tell them that he didn’t qualify that love.  So we may take it that all love is equally precious and beautiful... including gay love.

My second letter would go to every convent, parish and monastery asking them to comb the streets of their local town or city at sunset in search of the homeless.  I would ask that they offer every person they find sleeping rough a hot meal, bed, shower and breakfast.  I insist that they do this every evening at sunset.

Then I would have lunch.  One fabulous lunch served to me in the opulent surroundings of the Pope’s apartments. 

After lunch I would head into the Sistine Chapel where I would ordain the first women and marry the first priests.

Ceremonies over I then would instruct the conversion of Castel Gandalpho into an animal rescue centre where all manner of four legged friends would find a place of safety and love.

Another letter would be written dismissing all the hierarchy and instructing that all bishops’ palaces be given to their local community for use as centres for artistic expression.  The gardens of these palaces would have to be used as animal sanctuaries.

Over coffee and some fabulous Italian pastries I would call on my papal staff to help organise an auction of all the papal fine robes and handmade shoes which could take place the following day.  The money from their sale would be used to provide education for girls in countries where they are denied this basic right.  If necessary the girls would be brought to Rome if education in their own country was not possible.

I would then organise a second auction of other works of art etc (other than what I would consider belongs to the people of Italy – such as the Pieta etc).  The money from this auction would be used to form a foundation to work on the elimination of child poverty around the world.  I might ask Bob Geldof to head this up!

Over a splendid dinner I would dictate a Press Release to be issued the following day announcing the end of the Papacy.
I would then pen an article which I would publish here on my blog suggesting that local churches elect a committee of men and women committed to following the way of Jesus as opposed to the teachings of Peter.  These committees would be the new priests.  

In my article I would also ask the faithful to begin to re-imagine God, not as a judgemental father but as a loving, forgiving, endlessly patient embodiment of Mother and Father.

That done, I would don some fabulous papal PJs,  pour myself a big glass of some very exclusive papal red wine and put my feet up and watch Tonight with Vincent Browne via the 3Player.  But not before booking my ticket back to Dublin with Aer Lingus for the following morning.

What do you think?  

Wednesday, February 6, 2013


24 hours after the Magdalene Report was delivered to cabinet and I am still engulfed in a deep feeling of unease about the whole thing.

This unease began as I listened to Taoiseach Enda Kenny in the Dail yesterday, telling us he was sorry for various things but unable to say sorry to the women who were incarcerated in these labour camps.  As an Irish citizen I am deeply offended that the leader of our country couldn’t or wouldn’t do that on our behalf. 

The report into the Magdalene Laundries was commissioned by Government to investigate if there was state involvement in the running of these facilities.  The report states categorically that the state was most certainly involved – on various levels.  It states this unambiguously.

The state referred girls and women to these institutions via the courts system, the health system and informally via the gardai.  The state paid subventions to these institutions for various categories of women incarcerated there.  The state inspected these facilities regularly and various state departments were clients of the Magdalene laundries. 

This is the core truth of the McAleese investigation.  Therefore it is crystal clear that the state first and foremost owes these women a sincere and heartfelt apology for their appalling treatment even if it was in “an uncompromising Ireland”, to quote the Taoiseach.    

But according to Kenny and Minister Kathleen Lynch (speaking on last night’s Primetime) before an apology can be issued, the Government needs to be study the detail of the report.  The other details are largely irrelevant and are being used as a smoke screen to hide behind while an assessment is made on the cost of retribution. 

However, there is one assertion made in the report which I find incredible.  Apparently having studied the accounts of the charitable orders that ran these facilities, McAleese says they didn’t make a profit. They were being run on a barely break even basis. 

I am not an accountant and my mathematical ability can be very ropey at times but I fail to understand how a business that was being run with a completely free workforce and some clearly very large contracts couldn’t make a profit.  The laundries were being run by orders of nuns who presumably didn’t individually earn large salaries either.  Where did the money go?  I find it incredulous that the Magdalene Laundries didn't make a profit.

Is this part of the smoke screen?  We know from previous reports into institutions run by religious orders that they like to hang onto their money... but it is outrageous that they are not held accountable financially to these women now. 

So while many of us are incensed by the absence of an apology, are horrified at hearing the testimony of many courageous women, some of whom were children when they were placed in the care of these factories, our elected representatives and our religious orders are concerned about the money. 

I wonder what it is about the Magdalene Laundries and the story of these women that has been so problematic for repeated governments to deal with. 

The abuse and torture of children in other religious institutions was met head on with a formal apology to the victims in 1999, a statutory inquiry (resulting in the Ryan Report), and the setting up of the redress board to handle compensation to the many thousands of claimants.

But the issue of the laundries was ruled out of this enquiry and it has taken until now for it to be looked at seriously, after governments repeatedly claimed that Magdalene Laundries were privately run and nothing to do with the state.  It is also worth noting that the number of surviving women who are entitled to payment and pension contributions is relatively small – probably no more than 1,000.  And let us remember they have earned this payment.

So why is the case of the Magdalene Laundries so different from the other abuse scandals?  The most obvious difference is that the victims are exclusively women.  And there is of course the link to ‘fallen women’, ‘unmarried mothers’ or Magdalenes as the nuns rechristened them on entry. 

The reaction of government to the outcome of the McAleese report shouldn’t really surprise me.  The continuing stigmatisation of single parents, particularly women in this country lies just below the surface, just below the veneer of political correctness.

It can be very subtle but it is as insulting as Enda Kenny’s assertion that at least the Magdalene women didn’t suffer sexual abuse.  And invariably it is justified by concerns over the cost to the state of these single mothers. 

I was recently chatting to a well educated, business man in his late 50s when a young girl in school uniform walked past.  She was heavily pregnant.  Without missing a beat he commented “another one who will be living off yours and my tax for years”. 

Some months ago I was on a panel discussion on radio outlining the bizarre situation I had experienced as a former single mother having to adopt my own daughter when I later got married.  Having heard my story a fellow panellist was asked for his reaction.  He immediately commented "well I think Barbara should have gone after the 'natural' father for maintenance".  At no point had I made any reference to money at all.  But clearly this man (again well educated professional man) thought that until I married I had been a 'burden to the state'... which was not the case.. but equally is not the point.  It is the mindset that disturbs me.

The Magdalene Laundries flourished in a deeply patriarchal society that ceded power to an equally misogynistic church.  Whereas we seem to have broken the power of the still misogynistic church, this country has a way to go to rid itself of patriarchy.  Why else have we not legislated for the X case which seeks to safeguard a pregnant woman’s health?  Why else have we had at least two budgets that have seemed to target women unfairly in carrying the burden of austerity?

Is it any wonder I feel such deep unease in my own country?