Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Take the oath and in the soup

There are fools, damn fools, and people who should never be allowed near an edged tool.

Such as this one, using the tell-tale pseudonym of Battle of the Bogside:

I wonder how Mark ‘I’m a Republican’ Durkan feels about his party leader taking the soup?

Oh that’s right, he took the soup as well!

That is prompted by the SDLP's Leader Margaret Ritchie, the elected MP for South Down, taking her Westminster seat. And thereby causing great distress, and dampened underwear, among the adolescent protagonists of Sinn Féin's abstentionist policy.

The best, and least partisan explanation of the Oath taken by MPs is in a House of Commons Research Paper 00/17. It even, helpfully, includes a long section. starting at page 29, which addresses the issue of:

Sinn Féin and the Oath
One thing we find there (citing an Irish Times article of 5 December 1997) is that, contrary to most supposition, it is not the Oath which is the issue:
Mr Adams said the question of the oath was “a bit of a distraction”. While a change
might be good for British democracy, it would not alter Sinn Fein’s position. Asked
if he could see himself sitting in the Commons following a change to the oath, Mr
Adams said: “No, because the issue for us is the claim of that parliament to
jurisdiction in Ireland.”
One might reasonably have thought the weather has changed in these dozen intervening years. By various kinds of prestidigitation, all sides have made it possible for Sinn Féin not only to sit in the Northern Ireland Assembly, at Stormont, under the shadow of Brookeborough and Andrews. They even take positions which are, in any objective sense, “offices of profit under the Crown”. Moreover, Sinn Féin are quite happily taking parliamentary expenses for their non-parliamentary duties:
The party's two best-known figures, Gerry Adams, the party leader, and Martin McGuinness, Northern Ireland's deputy first minister, jointly claimed expenses of £3,600 a month to rent a shared two-bedroom flat in north London. A local estate agent, who knows the properties, said a fair monthly rent for the flat would be £1,400.

he three other Sinn Fein MPs together claimed £5,400 a month to rent a shared, modern town house, which the estate agent said would rent on the open market for around £1,800 a month. At other times some of the MPs have stayed in a third property, another two-bedroom flat.
As the Research Document puts it, oh so neatly:
Mr Adams and Mr McGuinness had both announced before the election that although they would not take the oath if elected they would adopt a new policy of “active abstentionism”. Thus they would attend the Palace of Westminster in order to avail themselves of “the normal facilities afforded to MPs, namely office accommodation, staff allowances, research facilities, travel allowances, broadcasting services and access to restricted areas for the purpose of making informal contact with other MPs".
In other words, the Sinn Féin definition of an abstentionist MP is to take all the benefits, but not to do the work of the Chamber or Committees. So “active abstentionism” is qualitatively different from “abstentionism”. It’s at moment like this one seems to hear George Orwell’s sheep counting legs and their relative value.

There appears to be more to this story yet. In Hansard, HC Deb 4 Feb 2000 Vol 343 c 740W, we hear of correspondence between the Blair government and the SF MPs on the subject, which is kept confidential at the request of SF:
Mr. Field: To ask the Secretary of State for International Development how many letters she has received since 1 May 1997 on
(a) constituency matters
and (b) other matters of Government policy from each of those Members of the House who have not taken the Oath of Allegiance.

Clare Short: This information cannot be provided on the basis that correspondence between MPs and Departments is treated in confidence unless the originating MP chooses to make such issues public.
Now for the soup course
... out of Irish folk tradition there emerges, dear and burning, fierce hatred of official charity, given through Protestant stores, by degrading methods, sometimes only in return for abjuring Catholicism. Meal soup was offered on Fridays to starving Catholics by Protestant 'soupers'. Some Protestants would provide relief to Catholics only if they attended Protestant churches, schools or lectures, denied the main tenets of Catholicism. Or offered insults to statues of the Blessed Virgin. The association of food with proselytism burnt anti-Protestantism even deeper into Irish minds.
Thus Patrick O'Farrell, in Ireland's English Question: Anglo-Irish Relations, 1534-1970, in those less-questioning days, forty years ago.

This is one of the great untruths of Irish history. It doesn't withstand modern analytical criticism:
The myths of mass defection from the Catholic Church as a result of 'Protestant souperism' were unfounded. The 1861 Census showed no marked increase in the number of Protestants even in areas where proselytisation was most prevalent.
Where, then, did the story originate, except in some warped and guilty folk memory? A clue is the earliest sighting of the term, in the 11 November 1854 issue of The Tablet.

What is nearer the truth is that, in November 1846, the Dublin Quakers, in despair at the inadequacy of the Russell Government's policies, formed a Central Relief Committee. Over the winter some £20,000 of relief was raised and distributed, as food, bedding, seeds ... and through soup-kitchens. Catholic priests deplored the arrival of these do-gooders and urged their parishioners to have nothing to do with them. Quakers are not known for aggressive proselytising; but any Catholic seen consorting with them could quickly be damned as faithless and a "souper".

Catholic guilt?

During and after the Famine, the Catholic Church in Ireland was severely weakened, under criticism. While congregations starved and emigrated, there was still money for church-building (for one example, in 1845 Robert Peel donated £30,000 to Maynooth, and increased the annual subsidy from £9,000 to £26,000 a year). This continued and accelerated through the rest of the century. Only today, Peter Thompson does the Irish Times's Irishman's Diary to make pertinent points derived from:
a dissident Catholic of the past, Michael John Fitzgerald McCarthy, an Irish writer of the early 20th century who has been almost completely forgotten, but whose works are absolutely ripe for rediscovery.
Thompson suggests that McCarthy was an important influence in his time:
his most famous book, Priests and People in Ireland (1904), [was] a passionate denunciation of the domination of Irish life by the Roman Catholic Church which, read today, is truly shocking in its prescience of what was to happen in independent Ireland. Selling in its tens of thousands, it may have been read by, and influenced, James Joyce. Stanislaus Joyce, in My Brother’s Keeper (1958), records that he (Stanislaus) had a copy. Today, one could be forgiven for thinking that much of Priests and People came straight out of the Ferns, Murphy and Ryan reports.
It may not be directly relevant to the Famine, but what Thompson takes from McCarthy suggests a state-of-ecclesiastical mind that is unchanging:
In chapter after chapter, its author shows forensically, using census returns, how the Roman Catholic clergy grew in numbers between 1861 and 1901 so that by the latter year they represented a parallel economy to the actual one. In those 40 years, the population of Roman Catholics in Ireland fell by 27 per cent, but the numbers of clergy increased by 137 per cent!

McCarthy accused the Roman Catholic religious, in a phrase that has extraordinary resonance today, of being always “on the scent of money”, whether it be from industrial schools, laundries or from the solicitation, by means of wills and money for Masses, from wealthy Catholics of extraordinary sums.

He gives innumerable examples of this: after one garden party in the archdiocese of Armagh, for instance, Cardinal Logue came away with the (then) staggering sum of £30,000 for his new cathedral.
Cries of "Souper", then and now, seem little more than a defence mechanism and blame-shifting.
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1 comment:

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