The Winnowing of the Wheat from the Chaff

The following article was published in Church and State magazine, First Quarter, 2010.

The Fall of the Irish Catholic Church: Part 2 by Julianne Herlihy

The notion of race was even more to the fore in the thought of the eugenicists, an influential current of opinion in the birth control movement of the 1920’s, as also, in child welfare. Under the optic of ‘race hygiene’, the poor were mental and moral defectives, a hereditary selection of the unfit—the ‘sub-normal types’ who fascinated the imagination of inter-war social investigators—and whose compulsory sterilisation a Parliamentary Commission in 1933 was solemnly pondering“.
(Patriotism: The Making And Unmaking Of British National Identity. Vol. 11: Minorities and Outsiders. Ed. by Raphael Samuel. Routledge. London & New York.1989.)

For us—for the Catholic Church—there is a feeling of deep-seated hatred—a feeling that lies as deep as the gravel bottom over which London stands. It seems it is an English feeling—hatred of Catholicity… This bitter dislike… shows itself everywhere… and it burns with a malignant, sulphurous flame … a Catholic Priest is like the prowling wolf or the crafty fox, and a show of millions of hands would be uplifted at any hour to banish us out of the country, if the thing were possible.
(The Great Link. Canon Bernard Bogan. London. 2nd Edition. 1958.)

Reading the newspapers over the last few weeks in Ireland and listening to the commentariat howling outrage at the Church was rather like the experiences encapsulated in the above quotations.

From the media to the Dail, there was no attempt at objectivity; only the most toxic quotient fell upon our ears. When the good and elderly Bishop Willie Walshe of Killaloe referred to a “public trial of Bishop Donal Murray of Limerick” (79 years old) on an RTE Radio programme, he was immediately called to book by The Irish Times. Next day they revealed “that in a sometimes emotional interview… he accepted that he now realised “my interview caused a lot of offence and maybe I used words which weren’t appropriate but it’s not in my nature to make a judgement on anyone. I am too well aware of my own frailties. I accept the fact that I may not have put the case well”…”.

During the year, we had the international scandal of the Swiss seizing the great film Director Roman Polanski on an outstanding warrant that the United States had out on him since he fled from their jurisdiction some thirty years ago. He was up on charges which were admitted— that he had drugged and raped a 13 year old girl. He fled to a very forgiving Europe before the trial started and has remained mainly in France since with
his second family. Now the Swiss have him tagged in his multi-million chalet after releasing him from custody but awaiting execution of the warrant. All of liberal America is horrified at the Swiss burgers. Whoopie Goldberg, an Oscar-winning actress said: “It wasn’t rape, rape.” From the 1 in 4 and other campaigning children’s right’s groups here, as well as the all powerful Rape Crisis Centre—there has been not a peep.

When we had the Cathal O Searcaigh scandal here—an Irish poet who lured young men in Nepal into sexual relationships as documented in the RTE documentary ‘Fairytale of Kathmandu’ by filmmaker Neasa Ni Chianain, we had a lot of the arty lot crying foul at the filmmaker— including the widow of Conor Cruise O’Brien, Maire Mac Entee —and standing up for the name of the poet—O Searcaigh. Another man, the writer Desmond Hogan, received a two-year suspended sentence after pleading guilty to sexually assaulting a 15 year old boy. He had the good fortune of having a court character reference from the writer Colm Toibin read out in court. Dr. Niall Muldoon, of the sexual abuse victims agency CARI, criticised the leniency of the sentence and claimed the reference had “a strong influence” coming from a leading Irish writer. When this was put to Toibin by Muldoon, the criticism was dismissed: it had been just a “standard character reference“. Can you imagine any TD or priest getting away with that? And no newspaper—especially not The Irish Times—has as yet called on Toibin to explain why he was trying to interfere in a case before an Irish Court of Law?

But with regard to the Irish Catholic Church, well—the hunt was now well and truly on—and what is striking is the lack of any voices calling for calm and a period of some reflection.

The Commission of Investigation: Report into the Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin July 2009 is in 2 parts with separate Appendices. The Chairperson was Judge Yvonne Murphy, who sat with two members Ms Ita Mangan, Mr. Hugh O’Neill. What is most interesting about the Appendices is ‘Appendix 1 Timeline of Events of Significance to the Works of the Commission’:

“1940 John Charles McQuaid was appointed Archbishop of Dublin”.
“1950 The Mother and Child Scheme was introduced to provide mothers with free maternity treatment and their children with free medical care up to the age of 16.”
“1951 The Mother and Child Scheme was dropped by the government following opposition from the Catholic Church and the medical profession. Dr. Noel Browne resigned as Minister for Health.” Etc.

This timeline “of events of significance“, according to the Commission, takes us up to 2009 and the issue of what came to be known as the Ryan Report. Throughout this dated timeline there is a heavy prejudice against the Catholic Church, showing the author’s inclination to believe that the latter was in need of ‘regime change’. So in 2006 when this Commission was established, it can never be in any doubt that such a layout represented a chance to ‘get the church’. And in this article, I hope to prove that to be the case beyond any doubt. But first we have to go and look at the author herself and find out how she came to this position.

The Judge

Judge Yvonne Murphy came to this writer’s attention when she and her husband Supreme Court Judge Adrian Hardiman caused upset and bad feeling at Portnoo, County Donegal in 2007, when the local priest, Father Philip Daly wanted to build his retirement home in the parish he had faithfully served. But Murphy and Hardiman objected stating that if “it went ahead it would interfere with their scenic views“. The clout of the new elite, as in Fintan O’Toole’s case and Neil Jordan’s, won the day, as if there was ever any doubt. Both Murphy and Hardiman had rapid career trajectories, especially the latter. Yvonne Murphy was schooled as a boarder in a convent in Kiltimagh, Co. Mayo and, after her Leaving Certificate; she went into the public sector as an executive officer for the estate duty office of the Revenue Commissioners while studying law in UCD part-time.

According to the profile by Kieron Wood in the Sunday Business Post, 29th September, 2009, while in UCD, she met her husband-to-be history student Adrian Hardiman and they both went on to the King’s Inns where Murphy was called to the bar in 1971, three years before her husband. She then took a job as an Aer Lingus hostess for two years. After marrying Hardiman in 1974—their best man was former Justice Minister Michael McDowell, who set up this Commission in 2006 and got his good friend to Chair it. And another link to Murphy/Hardiman was their son Hugh who was McDowell’s personal assistant while he was Minister for Justice.

Hardiman himself, who had joined Fianna Fail at UCD, became one of the founding members of the Progressive Democrats but left the party when he was plucked from the Law Library and “appointed directly to the Supreme Court bench“.

Meanwhile Murphy herself joined the National Union of Journalists during her six years at the National Social Service Board and she joined RTE in 1979 where she worked in the newsroom for three years. From RTE, she was appointed Special Advisor to An Tánaiste, Labour Party TD Michael O’Leary, and when he lost his seat, she worked variously at the Employment Appeals Tribunal and the Employment Equality Agency. She also qualified for the English Bar in 1988 and the Northern Ireland Bar in 1993. She later sat in the Circuit Criminal Court and in 2003 was appointed to the Special Criminal Court of which her
husband was presiding Judge. She was also founding co-editor of the Irish Times Law Reports and wrote two books, one in media law, and another on insider dealing with her first-cousin Michael Ashe QC, who is also a canon lawyer.

The family used to live in a large house in the affluent Palmerston Road but the couple have now moved to a penthouse apartment in the Portobello area of Dublin. Their two other sons are in medicine and law respectively. (Many thanks to Kieron Wood for the use of his article for this background work.)


Before I write about the actual Commission itself, I thought it necessary to look at Murphy’s assertion—one that is frequently made—that it was Dr. Noel Browne who initiated the Mother and Child Scheme in 1950. Edward Thornley, brother of Dr. David Thornley stated in a fine article, The Thornley Family And Noel Browne‘ (Unquiet Spirit, Essays in Memory of David Thornley. Ed. by Yseult Thornley. Liberties Press. 2008) that Browne was “not even the author of the scheme, having inherited it from the previous Fianna Fail government when he became Minister for Health in the 1948 coalition government“, having been elected for Clann na Poblachta in the so-called Inter-Party Government. The whole matter had been under discussion between the former Fianna Fail Government under Eamon de Valera as Taoiseach, the Catholic and Protestant Churches, and the medical establishment who were the real players in this field. The matter was actually progressing along quietly behind the scenes when in came the real nemesis of the scheme as it turned out—Dr. Noel Browne, whose—

“constitutional obduracy, meant he was incapable of negotiating on an equal footing with anybody in any matter whatsoever, brought down the government
and blew the whole affair which otherwise would have been dealt with behind closed doors, into the public domain.” (Edward Thornley).

And, while Minister for Health, Noel Browne was given access to the accumulated capital of the Irish Sweepstake fund to launch a campaign aimed at eradicating TB nationally. Even though he himself was tubercular, Browne threw himself wholeheartedly into the project. In 1951, Sean MacBride requested Browne to resign which he did as he had no other option. What was galling for all concerned was that he then went ahead and published private correspondence; some contended that it was highly selective so that it would enable him to look like the terribly wronged hero. Both John A. Costello and his Government (and de Valera afterwards) deplored Browne’s actions but the later myth of a martyr was born and in one of life’s ironies David Thornley was the actual author of this image. In the General Election that followed, Browne was returned to the Dail as an Independent. The Thornley family canvassed for him and were instrumental in his success.

In 1953 Noel Browne told his followers that he was joining Fianna Fail and a 15 year old David Thornley “reluctantly” followed him. “Initially things went well for Browne but in May 1954, he lost his seat in the general election but this did not appear to alter his standing in Fianna Fail. The real crisis was to come in 1956.” The Suez Crisis occurred when the British, French and Israeli invaded Egypt but were warned off by the United States and in Hungary, Imre Nagy’s rebellion was put down by the rolling in of Soviet tanks who quickly deposed of any opposition and executed those involved in the rising. In Ireland, Dr. Browne wrote a letter to the press arguing that too much attention was on Hungary and not enough on Suez. It was, as Edward Thornley wrote

“precisely the sort of letter that a communist fellow-traveller would write… One should remember that this was a situation where people were photographed lying down in the streets in an effort to stop the Russian tanks.”

Edward Thornley went on to write about challenging a “faithful acolyte of Browne“—the lawyer Noel Hartnett, a former Dev follower—if he had anything to do with the

“disgraceful letter about the reported aggression in Hungary? To my surprise, his face twisted with rage. ‘Edward, my boy, you have no idea what I have had to put up with from that man’. The immediate effect of this letter was not apparent, but the long-lasting effect was serious. It was probably the main reason Browne was refused a nomination by Fianna Fail in the General Election of the following year.”

In order to maximise damage to Browne, the party waited until just before nomination day to state that the latter was being refused a party nomination. Browne had no idea this was in the offing and arrived in the Thornley house in a “state of collapse“.

The Thornleys reacted with effect. They told a willing (but still whining) Noel that they would do all the work and in the process would “make a martyr of you; you won’t even have to appear“. And so it was, they marshalled the sympathetic vote and Browne was swept back into the Dail. Edward claimed that David did so much work that he collapsed with pleurisy. For a week, Browne was attentive to the young patient but then just didn’t bother to even telephone to inquire after his health. The Thornleys were the main contributors to Browne’s election expenses and their mother provided food for all the canvassers. Because the vote Browne got was seen by his followers as by definition anti-Fianna Fail, they also assumed that he would vote against de Valera as Taoiseach. “Instead, he decided to abstain—for which he received a hearty handshake from Lemass“. At a stormy hotel meeting afterwards with his people, there were “a number of walkouts, one of them by a prominent trade unionist“.

Browne then formed a new political party the ‘National Progressive Democratic
Party’ in 1958 and again against the Thornley’s advice decided that Noel Hartnett would run as a member, but he forfeited his deposit. Edward Thornley in his capacity as a practising accountant, auditor, and tax expert—with a master’s degree in economics from TCD for research in the field of taxation—often prepared questions for Browne who
squandered them, unlike Labour’s Joan Burton who was Spokesperson on Finance when Charlie McCreevy was the Minister there. Eventually the Thornleys begged David to rethink his position in relation to Browne, citing the case of the barrister Ernest Wood who joined Browne’s new party—the National Progressive Democrats (later Dessie O’Malley et al would borrow that name but leaving out the word ‘national’—no co-incidence that!) but a few days later Wood walked out, citing a point of principle.

Edward Thornley speculated that Browne never got over being ditched by Fianna Fail and had some kind of breakdown from which he never really recovered. In 1962, during the Cuban missile crisis in the Presidency of John F. Kennedy, Noel Browne picketed the United States embassy and was “photographed being savaged by police dogs”. In 1970, Browne “decided to nail his colours to the mast: he openly espoused what he called ‘the Marxist-based revolutionary socialism of James Connolly‘…”.

In December 1976, Browne was formally nominated as the Labour Party candidate but the party’s National Executive rejected him and he won as an Independent. He retained his seat in 1981 and voted for the Fine Gael-Labour budget, the one which famously led to the Government’s collapse. He took himself off to Connemara where he wrote his autobiography Against The Tide, which won him many plaudits from the media who always seemed to focus on his role as some kind of national saviour.

I remember reading a recent book from Cork academia about Ireland’s forgotten decade—the 50s—and thinking what a stupid theme even for Irish academia. So much happened in that era, as is evident from some of the work written about above and we were quite focused on world events. I also read Browne’s autobiography Against The Tide and being struck by his savage bitterness and his denigration of those people who genuinely had stood by him.

Edward Thornley wrote that it was a pity his brother David ever got stuck with Browne, who according to him was most definitely: “not a democrat, not an intellectual in the mould of those he is often associated with, like David, Justin Keating, and Conor Cruise O’Brien“. According to Edward, David’s career was harmed by the misfortune of running full-tilt into first that “crypto-communist Browne, and later into the crypto-unionist Conor Cruise O’Brien who eventually joined, for a time, one of the northern unionist parties“.

It may seem to my readers that I have spent an inordinate length of time on describing Noel Browne’s career but Judge Yvonne Murphy, Chairperson, gave it as the second point of reference in her “timeline“, with its focus on the Mother and Child Scheme. The Commission repeats a myth and a lie that the Mother and Child Scheme “was dropped by
the Government following opposition from the Catholic Church…” The facts were that Minister Browne attempted to introduce the Scheme in his department without Cabinet approval and he was dismissed by his party leader who was Sean MacBride. The Scheme was later agreed with the medical profession when Minister of Health Tom O’Higgins,
Fine Gael, successfully introduced it as a means-tested scheme in 1954.

But what was really inexcusable was the Commission’s total omission and negligence of another and more significant date in the judicial/political calendar and which has subsequently made me very suspicious of their whole agenda.

1968: The Kennedy Report

This eleven-member committee was set up by Fianna Fail’s innovative Minister of Education, Donogh O’Malley TD, to inspect Industrial Schools. For some time there had been growing disquiet about conditions in these reformatories where the buildings were Victorian and antiquated. Long before the present media furore over abuse, there were questions being asked in the Dail by amongst others —David Thornley TD, John O’ Connor TD, and others about the conditions for those incarcerated in what one Board of Works architect, Martin Reynolds, stated were dilapidated structures. The Departments involved were the Department of Health, Department of Justice and Department of Education and above all the Judiciary itself who were committing these children/teenagers to incarceration for various misdeeds.

Professor Mary Henry, a TCD Senator from 1992 to 2007 who now Chairs The Association and Trust of Trinity College, Dublin wrote an article on The Kennedy Report in honour of David Thornley for his daughter’s book, Unquiet Spirit (op cit). As I couldn’t get this Report from any of the Government Agencies—even from the Department of Education (where a very knowledgeable woman knew of its history) in time for this article I feel it is very necessary to study it and then write up its findings before I get onto the subject of the present Commission. This I intend to do in the next issue of Church & State. ©


Posted on November 24, 2010, in Irish Church-State Relations, Irish History, Media Archives, Mother and Child Scheme, Persecution, Ryan and Murphy Reports. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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