‘In the doghouse” is the opening phrase in the editorial of the Spring edition of Studies’. In this podcast the editor discusses how ‘leadership’ is viewed in Ireland in these times.

[display_podcast] This podcast made available by RNN.ie

Recent events in the Catholic Church have resulted in less than favourable headlines about both Church and clergy – and caused all concerned to be in the doghouse”. In his editorial Fr. Fergus O’Donoghue SJ points out that the same doghouse is getting quite crowded at present .


source – www.studiesreview.ie

Editorial – Studies Vol. 98, Issue 389

Fergus O’Donoghue, SJ

The doghouse no longer feels lonely; in fact, it is becoming rather crowded. Catholic clergy have been in it for ages, but now we have been joined by bankers, builders, property developers and government leaders who, like us, used to be the toast of the nation, but are now some our most execrated citizens.

Irish Catholicism has long been described, by its critics, as toxic’, but even that word seems insufficient to describe our banking culture in the sour aftermath of our love affair with property and banking, which, only recently, had replaced our belief in faith and motherland. We had fooled ourselves into thinking that the free market form of capitalism was near-perfect and we overlooked our decline in social capital, not least in civility, because we no longer had time’: time for family, for friends, for church. Many of us worshipped American models of living and working, but forgot that the United States is marked by its strong respect for religion.

We are experiencing something akin to being hit by a truck. A few of us heard it coming and gave warnings, but they were ignored, or, in an infamous remark by one very senior politician, advised to consider suicide. Being of people of extremes, we now make the mistake of tarring all bankers, developers and politicians, because of the actions of a minority of their colleagues, just as we did with the Catholic clergy.

Do we expect too much from our government leaders in Ireland? Are we being unfair to expect creative and inspired leadership from dynastic politicians? Many of them have, after all, inherited their parliamentary seats; some of them are the third generation in occupancy. Most of them have a strong sense of entitlement (not least to large salaries), so they are both angry and upset when their judgement and experience are questioned. Our government is trying to cope with the local effects of an unprecedented international financial crisis, which demands harshness with the leading bankers, builders and property developers who have been its close friends for more than a decade.

We may, unfairly, expect too much from our leaders, in the way some fans expected musical innovation in U2’s latest album. U2 has done nothing musically new for about twenty years, but continues to make vast amounts of money: each new release sells in huge quantities and also boosts sales of the back catalogue. Our government thought that it, too, had hit on a winning formula and promised us endless prosperity; its only problem would be directing the flow of revenue. Important visitors were told all about our wonderful economy and were cued to praise it, exactly as an adult gives the expected warm response to a child’s accomplishments.

The past, in this way of thinking, has nothing to teach us, as was illustrated, last year, by a newspaper columnist, who contrasted the “headscarf-wearing, Mass-going” Irish grandmothers of yesterday with the “tanned, gym-going” grandmothers of today. The disparaging contrast is not that far removed from truth, but overlooks the extreme reluctance of the headscarfed grandmothers to live beyond their means and their realisation that hard times were part of the life cycle. Hard times, according to our leaders, were gone for good: the present was wonderful and the future could only be better. The small country that had been bottom of the pile had come to the top of the heap, and was going to stay there.

National discourse today has degenerated into recrimination, so we overlook the many positive legacies of the Celtic Tiger years: an educated and experienced workforce, a more cosmopolitan country, towns that look smart rather than shabby. Our return to the default setting of “most distressful country” prevents us from seeing what has been accomplished and what is attainable.

It is taken for granted that our political system is corrupt. Such cynicism is dangerously corrosive. We need a healthy democracy, abandoning clientist models of central and local governance. In our over-centralised republic, we need to recover the autonomy of local government. We should realign our political groupings and realise that the nudge, wink and slap on the back’ tradition has expired.

We have many talented public servants, entrepreneurs and politicians. They will be allowed to use their talents to the full only if we resolve to involve ordinary citizens in governance, to end clientism and to regard membership of public bodies as a way of serving the nation rather than benefiting from patronage.

Being stuck in anger, as we are now, can only be a transitional stage. For the health of our democracy, we must move beyond it. It would be helpful if our government, which did a lot to create the present crisis, ceased its hectoring and, in its own mea culpa, apologised for its mistakes.


Published quarterly by the Irish Jesuits, Studies examines Irish social, political, cultural and economic issues in the light of Christian values and explores the Irish dimension in literature, history, philosophy and religion.

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