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Archbishop McQuaid
The Irish Times - Wednesday, December 29, 1999

Sir, - "They both had a great passion for truth," Michael O'Brien of O'Brien Press tells us about his parents in his lengthy defence of John Cooney's book on Archbishop McQuaid (December 1st).

Strange then, surely, that he would publish and commend a book in which flimsy, third-hand and unsubstantiated allegations should be made against a deceased person?

These were described by Vincent Browne as the most flimsy allegations he encountered in his entire career. I have to say that I regard them as a total disgrace to the journalistic profession have practised for 17 years. –

Yours, etc.,

Sean O Domhnaill,
Na Forbacha,
An Spideal,
Co na Gaillimhe.

Archbishop McQuaid
The Irish Times - Wednesday, December 1, 1999

Sir, - The extraordinary controversy about the Archbishop McQuaid book is in my view mirrored by the issue of asylum-seekers coming to our country. A good deal of intolerance has been exposed - and also a very healthy, caring reaction from so many people. Congratulations to Liz O'Donnell for her courage.

Perhaps we are all learning at last? I note the statement from the Government in the Dail of November 24th which stressed: "the urgent need to promote tolerance and respect for diversity in our society".

What a pity successive governments did not put this aim into action for the past 50 years. Sadly, John Cooney's book clearly demonstrates that racial intolerance was encouraged during the McQuaid period. No wonder current generations are a bit confused.

As the book tells us, McQuaid delivered a speech, as a priest in Cavan on March 13th, 1932, saying there was a a perennial battle against Christ's church and good angels. "The struggle, he argued, was being fought in all parts of the globe - including Cavan - in the guise of a conspiracy led by Jews, Freemasons, Protestants and Communists . . . `I want you to remember the truth very clearly: by Satan we mean not only Lucifer and the fallen Angels, but also those men, Jews or others, who by deliberate revolt against Our Divine Lord have chosen Satan for their head.' "

While I appreciated Renagh Holohan's report of the launch of the McQuaid book, (Weekend, November 20th), a small but important error appeared in a reference to my speech. I am quoted me as saying that "the late Archbishop's campaign against Jews contributed to the difficulty father had in getting a job." What I actually said was: "as a socialist activist in the 40s it was almost impossible for him [my father] to get a regular job - he started a frantic range of freelance activity to keep his young children thriving."

The central point of my speech was that in my childhood I experienced the results of the negative effects of McQuaid's Ireland. My father was born into a Catholic family and my mother was Jewish. I also related how my father and mother suffered from this to a much greater degree. As a compromise my parents sent me to a Church of Ireland school. I was lucky.

Both my parents were idealists. My father was a poet who volunteered for the International Brigade in Spain. On his return he helped found the New Theatre Group, a left-wing theatre based in the Peacock. He met my mother there. Her parents were Jewish refugees from Russia (yes, they were asylum-seekers). They both had a great passion for truth, for the written word in all its forms, for theatre and the arts and most of all for freedom of expression.

In my view, it is hugely important for the people of Ireland, North and South to understand what was really going on behind the scenes in McQuaid's day. The lessons to be learnt are huge. We will never be a true democracy unless we understand what happened in this very recent period and take measures to ensure that our democracy is open and honest and looks after the real interest of all our people.

And what are the lessons for Ireland from this book? Clearly McQuaid had a huge impact in preventing a United Ireland. Strong legislation and constitutional changes are needed to honour diversity and protect minorities and, as in the US, we should have a complete separation of State and Church. –

Yours, etc.,

Michael O'Brien,
The O'Brien Press Ltd,
Victoria Road,
Dublin 6.