Historians have practically ignored the role of Pat Rabbitte in the fall of the Fianna Government of Albert Reynolds in November 1994. Yet it was the first time in the history of the State that a Government fell because of mindless hysteria. It was also the first Government to fall as a result of religious bigotry - involving a false claim that the head of the Catholic Church in Ireland had conspired with a Catholic Attorney General to block the extradition of a paedophile priest. Is this why historians don't like to deal with the issue?
Oddly enough you can get more useful information from journalistic fluff like Gene Kerrigan's satirical opus "This Great little Nation" (1999) and lately Shane Coleman's book on famous Irish political gaffes "Foot in Mouth" (Sept. 2006). It's not that these gentlemen are sticking their necks out and risking the wrath of their liberal colleagues. The books are aimed at the mass market of people who like silly stories. This defuses the effect of the scandals related but it also gets around the ideological blinkers worn by more "serious" writers.
ROCKING THE FOUNDATIONS - PAT RABBITTE
Shane Coleman sets the scene as follows:
"It was the 16 November 1994 and the Dail [Parliament] was experiencing one of its most dramatic days since the Arms Trial almost a quarter of a century before. The Fianna Fail-Labour Government had been under strain for some weeks over Taoiseach [Prime Minister] Albert Reynolds move to appoint his Attorney General (AG) Harry Whelehan as President of the High Court, despite opposition from Labour. Now the Government was on the verge of collapse over the handling of the Father Brendan Smyth extradition case. there had been a delay of seven months in processing the extradition warrant in the office of the AG. Wild and unsubstantiated rumours swept through Leinster House as to the reasons behind that long delay. One of the unfounded rumours was that the AG's office had received a letter from a senior figure in the Catholic Church which contributed to the delay in the Smyth case.
"Pat Rabbitte, then a member of the Democratic Left Party, got up to speak in the Dail during a procedural discussion on the Order of Business. He asked: "Will the Taoiseach and the Tanaiste [Deputy PM] say if. in respect of the recent discovery of documents in the Attorney General's office, there is another document that ought to be before this house that will rock the foundations of this society to its very roots?" Rabbitte added: "If there is such a document its contents should be before this House before Deputy [John] Bruton moves his motion [of no confidence in the government] and we should know now whether the Labour Party has rowed in behind the Taoiseach following the discovery of this document".
"The effect on what was already a highly charged atmosphere was sensational. Rabbitte's dramatic use of vocabulary and the suggestion that the very foundations of society would be rocked, suggested scandal at an unprecedented level.
"Rabbitte's party leader Proinsias de Rossa also waded in. "It seems that we are dealing with one of the most sleazy events in Irish parliamentary history. Is it true that a memorandum has been found in the Attorney General's Office which indicates that there was outside interference in the decision by the Attorney General not to proceed with extradition for seven months?
"THE PROBLEM FOR RABBITTE AND DEMOCRATIC LEFT WAS THAT IT QUICKLY BECAME APPARENT THAT THERE WAS NO EVIDENCE THAT ANY SUCH LETTER OR DOCUMENT EXISTED OR HAD EVER EXISTED. [my emphasis].
I"n his immediate response to Rabbitte in the Dail, Taoiseach Albert Reynolds said his efforts to get to the root of complaints about "documents that are supposed to exist in the Attorney General's office" had drawn a blank. " I understand that one of the stories doing the rounds - this is what I was told when I made inquiries- is that there is supposed to be in existence a certain letter which cannot be traced. I requested my office to contact Deputy Rabbitte to see if he could assist us in accelerating our inquiries and he was not in a position to give us much help......All the staff in the Attorney General's office available in the country have been interviewed about this matter and each and every one of them have said that they have no knowledge whatsoever in this regard...No member of the staff who have been interviewed can assist in this regard. They say they have no knowledge of any such letter."
"Such was the level of speculation sweeping Leinster House that day, that the Catholic Primate, Cardinal Daly, was moved to dismiss as "utterly absurd, untrue and a total fabrication" the rumours that he had made representations to the AGs office on behalf of Fr Smyth. "I can't speak for everyone but I am quite certain that nothing is known to me about any approach whatsoever to anyone connected with this case", he said adding: "IT IS INCOMPREHENSIBLE TO ME HOW ANYONE COULD HAVE INVENTED SUCH A STORY" [my emphasis].
"The strength of Cardinal Daly's comments left little room for doubt and history has shown them to be entirely accurate....."
Shane Coleman goes on to describe the collapse of the Reynold's government and concludes his article as follows:
"While Rabbitte unquestionably gaffed by going over the top in his comments, it did nothing to stop his rise in Irish politics. Within five years of his party merging with Labour, Rabbitte had become leader of the new party - his robust and colourful debating style [!!] was clearly a factor in his victory."
COMMENT: After the next election, this country is likely to have as Tanaiste [Deputy Prime Minister], a man who uses false allegations concerning child abuse in order to gain political power.
This was the real beginning of the Child Abuse Witch-hunt in Ireland. It became clear, first that you could slander the head of the Catholic Church in Ireland with impunity and second that you could profit mightily from so doing. Pat Rabbitte has often claimed that the Catholic Church has not paid enough into the compensation scheme for "victims" of child abuse. For him nothing would be enough. He has helped to create a Compensation Culture that is fueled by a heady mixture of greed, anti-clerical bigotry and blind hatred. It is not only the Church that is suffering from this mania and it will long outlast Pat Rabbitte and his political ambitions.
(2) OPUS DEI AND THE FALL OF THE REYNOLDS GOVERNMENT (1994)
Opus Dei: a victim of the conspiracy theorists
Extract from an article in the Irish Independent on 22 January 2005 by David Quinn
[A member of Opus Dei, Ruth Kelly, was appointed to the British Cabinet in December 2004. This created a furore among those who believe in the "Conspiracy Theory of History". David Quinn points out that the conspiracy theorists are not uneducated idiots but the kind of liberal, progressive, socialist types who created the climate of hysteria that destroyed the government of Albert Reynolds in 1994]
Even before these rumours about Kelly began to circulate, however, the name of Opus Dei was already in the ether, thanks mostly to the phenomenally successful bestseller, The Da Vinci Code. This book has sold something in the region of 17 million copies, a truly staggering number. Its central villain is a member of Opus Dei, namely the albino 'monk' Silas, who wears a spiked chain around his thigh so as to 'mortify the flesh' and engages in a little self-flagellation on the side.
And, oh yes, for good measure Silas is an assassin who will stop at nothing for the Kingdom of God... or is that the Kingdom of Opus Dei?
The Da Vinci Code is one giant conspiracy theory but many of its readers actually think it could be correct. Educated types know better. They know that conspiracy theories are the province of overly fertile imaginations.
Or do they? After all, some of the best-educated people in Britain really do believe that Opus Dei is a deeply sinister organisation, a sort of Catholic Illuminati, and a threat to British democracy. Going right back to Henry VIII the plotting, scheming Catholic in thrall to Rome and bent upon restoring the Catholic Church to its rightful place has been part of the British imagination. It looks as if it still is.
In Ireland, too, conspiracy theories can take hold in the very highest reaches of power. Have we forgotten why the Albert Reynolds government fell in 1994? The straw that broke that particular camel's back was the delay in the Attorney Generals Office in processing the papers to extradite the convicted paedophile, Fr Brendan Smyth, from the North.
Immediately rumours began to fly that there was interference from the Catholic Church. Pat Rabbitte, then of Democratic Left, famously said that he had information which would rock the State to its foundations. A member of the Attorney Generals staff was supposed to be in Opus Dei. There was talk that members of Opus Dei had infiltrated some of the most important offices in the land.
Albert Reynolds asked Harry Whelehan's successor as Attorney General whether he was a member of Opus Dei.
An Oireachtas Committee was set up in enquire into the circumstances surrounding the delay in extraditing Fr Smyth. They never discovered anything that remotely smacked of the Catholic conspiracy of rumour. They were chasing shadows.
The Brendan Smyth case made waves in Britain. The British Attorney General at the time was asked whether or not he would employ members of Opus Dei in his Department. He had a quite different attitude from that of Albert Reynolds. He responded: "There is no specific policy in relation to the secondment of Opus Dei members to my Department. The Civil Service does not discriminate on grounds of religion." ..........
At bottom, Opus Dei offers a particular kind of spiritual life to its members based on daily Mass, praying in the morning and evening, reading the writings of St Escrows, and reading the Bible. They are supposed to bring an awareness of God with them wherever they go, including into the workplace and to be aware of their responsibility to spread the Gospel. .........
The conspiracy theorists still insist, of course, that behind the scenes within Opus Dei there must be an eminence grise directing all its members and therefore any organisation run by an Opus Dei member is run by Opus Dei itself, and the Opus Dei member is basically an automaton.
Those who are trying to discredit Ruth Kelly by saying she is in Opus Dei are really trying to discredit her presumably because she is an orthodox Catholic. They are hoping to do to her what a majority of European Parliamentarians did last year to Rocco Buttliglione, the Italian nominee to the European Commission. They succeeded in blocking his nomination to the Commission because of his orthodox Catholic beliefs.
The campaign against Kelly seems, at bottom, to be aimed at barring orthodox Catholics from sensitive positions, and her apparent Opus Dei membership is a convenient stick with which to beat her. So far, Blair is having none of it.
COMMENT: Why do I keep harping on about the fall of the Fianna Fail government of Albert Reynolds 12 years ago?
30 December 2006