Murdochs survive, but the fallout is serious

Karen Kissane, London 

Prime Minister David Cameron can now afford to exhale. Rupert and James Murdoch — perhaps not quite so easily.

Mr Cameron now faces a difficult task to build consensus on how best to implement the Leveson principles, given that his deputy, the Opposition and a fair proportion of his own back-bench support the idea of a new press watchdog that is underpinned by law.

Mr Cameron, on the other hand, warns that laws to regulate the press are a danger to freedom of speech. He told the Commons, “In this House, which has been a bulwark of democracy for centuries, we should be very, very careful before crossing that line.”

Whatever political process follows next will be messy and divisive, but Mr Cameron is likely to be relieved that is the worst he has to handle. The Leveson report does not seem to represent a major nightmare for his government (although its 10 kilos and 2000 pages could be consumed in a day only by a wunderkind, so it may contain small landmines that have yet to be discovered).

Here is the good news for Mr Cameron.

Justice Leveson did not savagely criticise former Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt and his handling of the Murdoch bid for satellite broadcaster BSkyB. He merely rapped Mr Hunt over the knuckles for the unwisdom of appointing garrulous adviser Adam Smith, whose over-friendly communications with News International during the Sky bid process sparked headlines earlier this year.

Justice Leveson did not condemn relationships with red-headed media executives, or loans of horses, or in fact any particular encounter between Mr Cameron and a News International chief. Nor did the judge find that any specific policy by Mr Cameron’s government had been unduly influenced by connections with, or fear of, the Murdoch empire.

His condemnation of the undue closeness of politicians with the press was carefully couched in general terms, along the lines of “a pox on all your houses”.

The British police got a relatively clean bill of health, with a finding that there was no evidence of widespread corruption in their dealings with the media.

And several key players in the phone-hacking scandal got only the most glancing of mentions. This will be due to the law of inverse proportion that follows any arrest: the deeper the legal doo-doo in which a person stands, the less likely a judge such as Leveson would be to examine his or her conduct in any detail, for fear of imperilling future trials.

The fallout for Rupert and James Murdoch and their empire might be more serious.

The phone-hacking scandal and the inquiry it sparked have left them personas-non-grata in British politics. From figures all sought to win over — some saw them as makers and breakers of British governments —  they are now men with whom English politicians cannot afford to be publicly associated. In April, Mr Cameron told Commons, “I think we all, on both sides of this house, did a bit too much cosying up to Mr Murdoch.”

The loss of political influence in Britain has been mirrored across the Atlantic by challenges to the family hold on News Corporation in the United States, where institutional investors have been trying to oust Rupert as chairman and his sons James and Lachlan from the board. The rebels have used the phone-hacking scandal, its costs to the company (around $US 244 million) and related inquiries by US authorities to bolster their case.

The criticisms of the Murdochs by Leveson are carefully-phrased attacks on their corporate competence and, in James’s case, on the accuracy of his evidence to the inquiry. They will add fuel to the fire of already-angry institutional investors.

In the wake of the phone-hacking scandal and the Leveson inquiry, Rupert Murdoch has resigned a few roles; his son has moved on from News International; and Rupert’s beloved newspapers are being split into a separate entity, so as not to sully cleaner and more profitable areas of his empire.

But in the end, does any of that that really matter to a man worth an estimated $US9.4 billion?

 First published on

‘What the hell was going on?’: Leveson questions Murdoch’s credibility

The Murdoch-owned company News International seriously failed in corporate governance over phone-hacking and James Murdoch’s account of a key event was less credible than that of an executive who told a different story, the Leveson inquiry has found.

In a 2000-page report on press ethics released overnight, Lord Justice Leveson also said that:

• Rupert Murdoch exercised power over politicians without having to ask for favours directly;

• An independent watchdog should be established by law to regulate newspapers because they had often behaved outrageously and wreaked havoc in innocent lives; and

• Police made poor decisions in not pursuing phone-hacking but were not driven by fear of, or relationships with, News International executives.

Justice Leveson found that News International and its parent company News Corp had failed to investigate evidence that phone-hacking was widespread among journalists at the News of the World.

“There was serious failure of governance within the News of the World. Given criminal investigation and what are now the impending prosecutions, it is simply not possible to go further at this stage,” he said.

“What can be said is that there was a failure on the part of the management at the News of the World to drill down into the facts to answer the myriad of questions that could have been asked and which could be encompassed by the all-embracing question … ‘What the hell was going on?’”

The way the company clung to the line that hacking had been confined to “one rogue reporter”, in the face of outside investigations and doubts by its own senior executives, was “extraordinary” and said a great deal about the paper’s approach to ethics, the report said.

Justice Leveson found that evidence was unclear as to what NI’s then-executive chairman, James Murdoch, knew of hacking allegations.

Mr Murdoch had been sent an email chain in which a hacking victim alleged that illegal practices were “rife within the organisation”. Mr Murdoch told the inquiry he had not read all the email chain and was unaware of this claim.

Justice Leveson concluded: “James Murdoch replied to the email within two minutes of receiving it. The speed and content of his reply appear to support his claim not to have focused on the key allegation.”

Mr Murdoch had also said he was never shown or told the significance of a different email, headed “for Neville”, that was also evidence that hacking was more widespread. In contrast, News International’s then-legal chief, Tom Crone, told the inquiry the significance of this email had been made clear to James Murdoch at a meeting on June 10, 2008.

Justice Leveson said he concluded “that Mr Crone’s version of events … should be preferred to that of Mr Murdoch. There are aspects of the account of Mr Murdoch that cause me some concern: in particular, it is surprising if the gist [of a lawyer’s opinion that there was evidence hacking was widespread] was not communicated to him. Furthermore, [editor Colin] Myler and Mr Crone had no reason or motive to conceal relevant facts, as borne out by [Mr Myler] sending James Murdoch the [earlier] chain of emails containing the ‘bad news’.”

Rupert Murdoch had told the inquiry that senior management at News International covered up the truth: “[We were] all misinformed and shielded from anything that was going on there … there’s no question in my mind that maybe even the editor, but certainly beyond that, someone took charge of a cover-up that we were victim to.”

Justice Leveson said if there had been such a cover-up, “then the accountability and governance systems at News International would have to be considered to have broken down in an extremely serious respect. If James Murdoch was not the victim of an internal cover-up, then the same criticism can be made of him as of Mr Myler and Mr Crone in respect of the failure to take action”.

Justice Leveson also criticised Rupert Murdoch and News International’s parent company, News Corporation: “Although there is no evidence from which I could safely infer that Rupert Murdoch was aware of a wider problem, it does not appear that he followed up (or arranged for his son to follow up) on the brief [he said he had given] Mr Myler ‘to find out what the hell was going on’…

“If News Corporation management, and in particular Rupert Murdoch, were aware of these allegations, it is obvious that action should have been taken to investigate them. If News Corporation were not aware of the allegations, which … have cost the corporation many hundreds of millions of pounds, then there would appear to have been a significant failure in corporate governance.”

The report also criticised politicians’ close relationships with publishers including Rupert Murdoch. It said his denials that he had ever made express deals with any prime minister “were not the end of the story”.

It concluded that politicians, just like Mr Murdoch’s editors, tacitly understood “the basic ground-rules” of dealing with him: “Politicians knew that the prize was personal and political support in his mass-circulation newspapers …. [They] were well aware that ‘taking on’ Mr Murdoch would be likely to lead to a rupture in support, a metaphorical declaration of war on his titles, with the inevitable backlash that would follow.”

But the report said Mr Murdoch’s influence was more about what did not happen than about what did. Examination of policies did not reveal any that showed politicians compromised to favour Mr Murdoch’s interests directly, “but no government addressed the issue of press regulation, nor of concentration of ownership”.

Justice Leveson found that politicians had spent too much time cultivating relationships with the press and had failed to be transparent and accountable to the public over it. While he did not suggest any “deals” contrary to the public interest had been made, he said,  “potential threats and promises hang in the air”.

He also found that two generations of failure to deal with press misconduct was due to “the press and the politicians [having] formed too close a relationship”.

Prime Minister David Cameron rejected the report’s central recommendation for legislation to set up an independent body to regulate the press. He warned this would result in undue limits on freedom of speech.

But he also said the status quo was unacceptable and that the British press would have a limited amount of time to set up an appropriate watchdog.

Opposition Leader Ed Miliband backed the Leveson proposals for new laws and so did deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.

Justice Leveson also recommended legal protection for freedom of the press; increased damages for people who win media cases over wrongs such as libel or invasion of privacy; a system to protect media plurality; and rules to encourage politicians to reveal meetings with editors and publishers.

First published on

UK coalition divided over tougher press regulation

LONDON: The British Prime Minister, David Cameron, faces a potential breach in the ruling coalition over the findings of the Leveson inquiry, with all three main parties split over any recommendations for press regulation.

Mr Cameron’s office received six advance copies of the “hefty” report on Wednesday and was due to convene a coalition meeting on Thursday morning to try to thrash out a joint response with his Liberal Democrat Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg.

But Mr Clegg also approached the Speaker of the House of Commons to ask that he be permitted to make a statement separate to Mr Cameron’s.

Politicians of all parties are divided over whether freedom of the press should prevail over the need to constrain the worst excesses of Britain’s rabid tabloids, such as the phone-hacking scandal that led to the Leveson inquiry 16 months ago. The public overwhelmingly wants laws to keep papers in line, with a poll on Tuesday reporting that 79 per cent wanted an independent press regulator established by law.

Only 9 per cent supported the idea of newspapers setting up their own body to deal with complaints and decide sanctions if journalists broke agreed codes of conduct.

The associate director of the lobby group Hacked Off, Evan Harris, said of the poll: “The results hardly vary whether voters read The Guardian or The Daily Mail, and are held as strongly by Conservative swing voters as by Labour voters.”

But that same day, 86 MPs, including 76 Tories, wrote to The Guardian opposing statutory regulation, warning that “state licensing is inimical to any idea of press freedom”. That contrasted with a letter earlier this month from 44 different Conservative MPs, who demanded statutory regulation.

Mr Cameron was believed to be considering a free vote in Parliament, given the widely differing views.

The actor and phone-hacking target Hugh Grant said victims did not want statutory regulation but independent regulation “underpinned by statute, which is a very different beast”.

“What people are campaigning for is an end to newspapers being able to regulate themselves, marking their own homework,” Grant said.

The London mayor, Boris Johnson, said any kind of state regulation was “preposterous”.

“The British media is one of the glories of our country. They keep politicians’ feet very firmly held to the fire, which is absolutely right,” he said.

Tom Mockridge, the chief executive of News International, the Murdoch-owned company whose paper News of the World was killed off as a result of its phone-hacking, said he backed tougher press regulation but warned the government not to “cross the Rubicon”.

“The people who argue for state regulation are saying they are going to trust the politicians in this country for another 300 years not to exploit that. That’s a trust too far,” Mr Mockridge said.

Lord Justice Brian Leveson was asked to look at the ethics, culture and practices of the press, and its relationships with the public, police and politicians. This followed newspaper revelations of widespread phone-hacking, including the hacking of the voicemail of a murdered schoolgirl, Milly Dowler, and questions as to why police repeatedly failed to investigate the practice.

The 184 witnesses included the former culture secretary Jeremy Hunt, Rupert Murdoch and his son James, and the former News International executive Rebekah Brooks.

First published in The Age.

Bye, bye, baby, bye, bye

THE BABY started school yesterday. She didn’t want to, particularly, and the good-morning snuggle in our bed lingered on and on. It made her father laugh. It reminded him of how he had felt when I was expecting our first child and my waters broke in the middle of the night. He had dived under the Doona in dismay and said, “Just give me a minute.” Anything to hold off this momentous change.

Frightened to let them come, frightened to let them go. We had all worked hard on getting used to the idea of school. She had paraded around in her blue-checked uniform and sensible black shoes over the holidays, carefully packed and unpacked all the mysterious contents of the schoolbag, and played “school” every day for a fortnight.

It got to the point where even I was becoming confident that this quiet, shy little girl was going to be fine. Then came the time I couldn’t play teacher – there were potatoes to be peeled – and her big brother offered to stand in. “Hang on,” he said. “I’ll just get the strap and the ruler.” Her eyes widened.

No, no, I protested, they don’t hit children at school these days. It’s one of your brother’s stories, like the one about how you would grow antennas if you were bitten by a dragonfly. And remember how he fibbed that the dentist would saw your head off and screw it back on? That wasn’t true, was it? She nodded doubtfully. But I was reassured; it reminded me that her schooldays would be dramatically different from mine.

Yesterday she dressed herself except for the final tie of the shoelaces and tried the loaded bag on for size. “It’s too heavy,” she protested over her new harness. She lurched between over-exuberance and vulnerability, clowning about the room and then throwing herself into my arms and clinging.I rocked her and sang what I had always sung for them when they were feeling small and frightened, that old ’60s classic, “Be my, Be my baby . . . My one and only baby, Be my darlin’.”

The moment, when it came, was an anti-climax. Kids hate goodbyes, hate having to face that you are leaving them. They leave you instead. One minute she was holding my hand outside the classroom, the next the teacher appeared smiling at the door and our preppie slipped into the room without a backward glance.

Her dad and I stood, bereft, watching through the glass. It was like the scene in the film Father of the Bride, where Steve Martin, after organising the wedding from hell, realises that his daughter has left without so much as a kiss goodbye.

I’d been longing for milestones ever since the first child came. You long for their first word, their first step, their first night sleeping through, that first tinkle in the potty. And then comes the day you realise you’ve wished their lives away.

First published in The Age.

Whose problem is it? It’s all of ours

THE death of Brian Yao while his mother, Jie Yu, played poker machines followed a series of reported incidents involving Asian-Australians leaving their children in cars while they gambled.

It is unclear whether Asians have a greater problem with gambling than other ethnic groups. A small study done as part of research commissioned by the Victorian Casino and Gaming Authority found that Chinese-Australians were seven times more likely to gamble heavily than the wider community.

But this does not necessarily equate to gambling problems, says researcher Rick Yamine, because many Chinese have a high discretionary income and can afford their gambling. And usually, he says, they do not play the pokies, preferring traditional games such as pai gow and sic bo and lucky-number games such as roulette. He says Jie Yu’s case was not typical.

But Asians do make up a higher-than-expected proportion of families over whom there are gambling-related neglect notifications, according to Jenny McAuley, Victoria’s Assistant Director of Child Protection. “Our figures would reflect that the Asian community does struggle with gambling. Certainly this is reflected in the profile of people that are notified to our services … The Asian community is generally very aware of this problem, and is responding to it (by) supporting community members.”

But McAuley believes the problem of gambling-related neglect is probably under-reported, which means that the families who do enter the child-protection system might not be representative of what is happening in the wider community.

Ainslie Hannan, who contributed to the Playing for Time report, is concerned that Jie Yu and other Asians can be made scapegoats in the media for problems she believes are caused by state gaming policy and the availability of poker machines. (There are five pokies venues within a five-kilometre radius of Yu’s Ferntree Gully home).

Hannan says, “There’s a theory called the theory of exceptionality. It says that if there is a structure in the state that doesn’t work, like gaming policy, you get a marginalised group and say it’s about them, rather than saying it’s about the broader community and the amount of gaming … Who puts the state on trial?”

Julie Nelson, of Gamblers Help, says that viewing such a tragedy as a minority group’s problem helps ward off the anxiety a death such as Brian’s arouses in the community. “Part of that is about society saying, `It can’t happen to us; we are all normal. This couldn’t happen to me or anybody I know.”‘

Also see: Ending The Affair and Gambling With Life.

First published in The Age.

Church gives women bishops the thumbs down – again


The Church of England has again voted down the introduction of women bishops, after a long and divisive debate including over 100 speeches.The Church of England has again voted down the introduction of women bishops, after a long and divisive debate including over 100 speeches.

The measure had majority support but did not win the two-thirds majority in all three houses of the General Synod that was needed for it to pass. It was lost in the House of Laity by just six votes.

The result will embitter and embarrass supporters of modernisation, with many tweeting that they were “ashamed” of the church’s decision.

Among existing bishops, 44 voted for women to join their ranks, three voted against and two abstained. Among priests, 148 were in favour and 45 against. Of the laity, 132 were in favour and 74 were against. Forty-two of the church’s 42 dioceses have previously backed women as bishops.

The church will not vote on the issue again for at least five years. But there has been speculation that women priests might turn to civil law for redress, asking that the church be stripped of its exemption to obey equal-employment laws.

Before the vote, Sally Muggeridge of Canterbury asked who would go to see the Queen, a woman, and “tell her that we’ve failed her?”

Canon Jane Charman of Salisbury described the debate as “one of the most inward looking? I can remember”, saying a spin doctor did not exist who could make excluding women sound like good news to the outside world: “Synod, we need to pass this legislation.”

But speakers opposing the measure cited scripture as the basis for their refusal of “female headship”.

The synod was voting on a compromise measure that would have allowed women bishops but left wriggle room for conservative evangelicals, with women bishops able to “delegate” authority to a male bishop if their parish requested it. The incoming Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said the compromise was “as good as we can get”.

But Edward Armitstead of Bath said the measure was unsatisfactory and that opponents of female bishops had not really been listened to: “The measure as it stands is discriminatory and does not offer reassurance to the almost a third of members who cannot accept female headship.”

Bishop Peter Forster of Chester said he was uncomfortable with the ordination of women as bishops even though he gladly ordained female priests. The proposed change would allow parishes to choose their own bishops and would mean bishops “will not be in Eucharistic communion with one another”.

Women spoke against the measure too. Rosemary Lyon said she was not a misogynist but “we need to stick with scripture.”

“Please vote against this. There is a better way,” she said.

Canon Rebecca Swyer of Chichester said she felt the church did not have the authority to make this decision.

Rod Thomas of Exeter said the compromise would still mean recognising the authority of female bishops, something he believed was not accepted in scripture.

But Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams asked how long the church could sustain a system in which some priests are blocked from being bishops. He said he wanted the church to “liberate itself” from the issue so that no more time and energy would be spent on it.

First published in The Age.

Ireland’s moment of truth

IT IS said that the best way to get a bad law overturned is to enforce it. When people see its consequences, the truism goes, they will be so appalled that public support for change will build up an unstoppable head of steam. The death of Savita Halappanavar might do just that for the women of Ireland.

Savita, 31, was 17 weeks pregnant when she went to University Hospital Galway in pain. Doctors told her that her cervix had opened and amniotic fluid was leaking. Her pregnancy was ending and there was no hope for the child. Over the next three days, in agonising pain, Savita repeatedly begged for an abortion to get the miscarriage over quickly.

Could doctors not induce the labour so she could give birth sooner? According to her husband, Praveen, the consultant told them this was not possible because there was still a foetal heartbeat, and ”this is a Catholic country”. That heartbeat finally stopped after four days, and only then was Savita taken to theatre to have the contents of her womb removed. She developed septicaemia, or blood poisoning, and was dead three days later.

Savita’s homeland of India is aghast, and there have been diplomatic flurries of concern.

Meanwhile, three separate inquiries have begun, and no doubt there will be findings as to whether medical negligence was a factor.

That was a straw clutched by some defenders of the Irish Catholic Church after the scalding rage that erupted over Savita’s case. ”It has nothing to do with the church,” one deeply Catholic woman assured me. ”It sounds like medical negligence.” She was channelling Pontius Pilate washing blood from his hands.

In Ireland, politics is deeply intertwined with Catholic doctrine and the institutional power of the church, and the church’s tough stance against abortion has protected a near-total ban on the procedure. Ireland still has on its books 1861 legislation that makes it a crime to procure a miscarriage. A 1983 amendment to the constitution acknowledges the right to life of the unborn child but is also meant to give equal right to the life of the mother. In 1992, Ireland’s Supreme Court was forced to interpret that during the case of X, a suicidal 14-year-old rape victim. The government was trying to stop her going to England to abort the pregnancy that had resulted from the rape.

”The state was going to force a child to bear a child for her rapist,” said one commentator. The court ruled that if there was a substantial risk to the mother’s life – her life, but not her health – it would be lawful to terminate.

Irish governments have prevented that judgment from coming into effect by failing to pass laws that would affirm and clarify it.

Ireland has a grand history of locking away evidence of sexual shame. Ask the ”wayward” young women imprisoned and abused as slaves in the Magdalene laundries, or the illegitimate children raped in orphanages by nuns and brothers charged with keeping them from contaminating the rest of Irish society.

Now abortion is concealed. More than 4000 Irish women go to England each year to end pregnancies, according to British statistics. An unknown number go to other European countries. ”Abortion tourism,” they call it.

Years ago, it could be argued the influence of church doctrine on the Irish government was democratic; the majority believed in Catholic teachings, so it was fair enough that they were reflected in Irish law, and that church leaders were consulted about planned legislation. But that is no longer the case.

An Irish Times poll found 77 per cent now believe abortion should be permitted in some circumstances. Other polls have found the hold of the church is weakening: 77 per cent of Irish now think there should be female priests, 90 per cent want married priests, and 70 per cent say the church’s teachings on sexuality are not relevant to them.

None of which is discouraging to Cardinal Sean Brady, the head of the Irish church, who announced in August that he would promote a lobbying campaign to oppose any change on abortion. Australia’s Cardinal George Pell has expressed concern the furore over child abuse has scapegoated the Catholic Church. The Irish pro-choice movement is not scapegoating the Catholic Church but holding it up to modern accountability.

The major religions are all guilty of some form of systematic abuse of women. Victims of rape have been executed in the name of Islam; Hinduism abandons widows to homelessness; orthodox Jews in Israel spit on women they deem immodest and try to force women to sit down the back of buses (Rosa Parks must be turning in her grave).

The fact that a religion invokes God, claims to be a path to transcendence and offers society many benefits does not exempt it from outside scrutiny of beliefs that cause harm. Catholic Ireland’s judge is likely to be the European Court of Human Rights, which criticised the government two years ago for not clarifying the Supreme Court ruling. The Irish government then set up an expert panel, and has said it will respond at the end of this month.

This will be a moment of truth for the Republic of Ireland. Many old-time Irish republicans believed the country could not come of age until it was united, with Ulster returning to the national fold. But perhaps a more important coming of age involves Ireland standing tall as a secular state where civil law can differ from, and override, canon law.

One person’s religious freedom must end where it hurts another’s right to health or happiness – or, as in Savita’s case, the right to life itself. As protesters outside the Irish Parliament last week pointed out, Savita had a heartbeat, too.

First published in The Age.

Breaking down the walls

The revelations of child abuse and cover-ups within the Irish Catholic Church have shocked the faithful, writes Karen Kissane from Dublin.

MARIE COLLINS was 13 and in Our Lady’s Hospital for Sick Children when she was abused. It was the hospital chaplain, a Catholic priest. He went to jail for it, many years later, like so many of his colleagues in Ireland, but only after decades of misery for Collins.
“I never connected his abuse with the church,” she says. “I thought it was somehow my fault and that I was a bad person who had brought it on myself. I had years of depression and agoraphobia that included nine admissions to psychiatric wards.”
As a young adult, anxious that other children not be hurt as she had, she told a priest in her parish. “He told me it was probably my fault, that I must have led the poor man on, but that I was forgiven and I could go away and forget about it.”
That priest’s sentence of guilt outweighed any promise of forgiveness. Collins did go away, into more years of silence and depression. The misery did not lift until after her attacker, Father Paul McGennis, was jailed in 1997 over offences involving her and another child he abused 18 years after Collins. He was later convicted of having raped a third girl, 24 years after he attacked Collins.
She has no doubt the validation given to her by those court cases, and the later findings of four major inquiries into child abuse, helped her to recover. She says of the opening up of Ireland’s cesspit of secrets: “I think it’s helped everybody, really, except the Catholic Church … It’s certainly worked for survivors. Even as late as the 1990s, it was difficult for any survivor to be heard or believed in any way. That’s not the case any more.”
Australia’s royal commission into child sex abuse, announced last week by the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, will look at the Catholic Church and other institutions. In Ireland, the church has been the focus of inquiries because its traditional reach there incorporated almost all schools, hospitals, orphanages, charities and welfare organisations.
And it is the church hierarchy that has time and again been found guilty of covering up scandals and protecting perpetrators in its ranks.
“The revelation that had the biggest impact was not that the church had abusers,” Collins says. “It was news of the systemic cover-ups that angered people.”
In her case, the bishop to whom she took her story told her the priest concerned had no complaints against him: “But they had known 30 years earlier he was an abuser. A few months after he abused me, the church found out he was doing it. He used to take indecent pictures of the children and he sent them to the UK for processing, and Kodak … picked out a roll and sent them to police here. The police commissioner did not investigate, but brought the pictures to the archbishop. They took him out of the hospital and put him in a parish.”
Ireland’s Prime Minister, Enda Kenny, a practising Catholic, was so outraged by stories such as this that following a damning report last year, he launched an attack on the Vatican that made world headlines.
The Cloyne inquiry found a 1997 letter from the Vatican criticising a new policy by the Irish church hierarchy of reporting all offenders to police. The Cloyne report documented, as had three other inquiries before it, patterns of clerical deceit.
Breaking with decades of subservience to the church by Irish politicians of all stripes, Kenny stood up in Ireland’s parliament and attacked Rome.
He said the report exposed an attempt “to frustrate an inquiry in a sovereign, democratic republic – as little as three years ago, not three decades ago. And in doing so, the report excavates the dysfunction, disconnection, elitism … the narcissism that dominate the culture of the Vatican. The rape and torture of children was downplayed or ‘managed’ to uphold, instead, the primacy of the institution, its power, standing and reputation”.
Rome removed its ambassador to Ireland, and Dublin closed its embassy to the Vatican. Ireland has since reinforced its determination to act on secular principles of child protection by making it mandatory to report sexual abuse.
Meanwhile, ordinary Catholics aghast at the scandals have voted with their feet. While national attendance at weekly mass is about 45 per cent, in Dublin the figure is less than 20 per cent – both a huge drop from the 90 per cent attendance of 30 years ago.
Dublin’s archbishop, Diarmuid Martin, said in February: “The fact thousands of children were abused within the church … is a scar the church will bear for generations. There is no way in which what happened can be consigned out of the way into the archives.”
Of the Murphy report into the misdeeds of the Dublin archdiocese before his time, he said: “I offer to each and every survivor my apology, my sorrow and my shame for what happened to them … the Archdiocese of Dublin failed to recognise the theft of childhood.”
The church has set up new structures to deal with abuse. Andrew Fagan, director of child safeguarding for the Dublin archdiocese, says the new system reports all complaints to police immediately: “Civil law and civil procedure takes precedence.”
Church volunteers are now trained to be abuse-aware and to develop practices that involve careful supervision of children “to ensure our churches are as safe as they can possibly be. And people are carrying that information into other situations – it is making our society safer”.
Despite the positive developments, Marie Collins feels she can no longer be part of the church. She still believes in God and has tried to regain her faith in the institution, but each time has found herself slamming into what she believes is a wall of resistance to change on child abuse.
In February, she went to Rome for a Vatican seminar on child abuse for bishops around the world. There she met a church official who gave her hope because he was passionate about the need to tackle the problem. Soon afterwards, he was demoted.

First published in The Sydney Sun-Herald.

Death sparks anger at Ireland’s abortion laws


THE Irish government faces worldwide pressure to reform abortion law, with demonstrations planned for Irish embassies around the globe over the death of a young woman in a Galway hospital.
About 2000 demonstrators gathered outside the Irish parliament, the Dail, on Wednesday night to protest against the government’s inaction over abortion after news of the death of Savita Halappanavar, 31.
Mrs Halappanavar died after doctors refused to terminate her 17-week pregnancy, even though they knew her miscarriage was inevitable and there was no chance the foetus would survive.
They left Mrs Halappanavar to labour naturally, despite her pleas to be induced, as long as the foetal heartbeat continued.
Her husband said doctors told him this was because “this is a Catholic country”.
Mrs Halappanavar delivered a dead foetus after three days of agonising pain but later died of septicaemia.
Many distressed protesters outside the Dail held candles in her memory, and there were emotional scenes as speakers condemned the government for having rejected abortion-law reforms tabled by United Left Alliance MP Clare Daly.
“Had that legislation been in place, Savita’s life would have been saved because doctors at University Hospital in Galway would have had a very clear understanding of legal guidelines,” Choice spokeswoman Stephanie Lord later told Fairfax Media.
“People are very angry and upset that this woman had to die before anyone would take notice. There have been women who have been raped and suicidal or who have had horrendous medical conditions and now this young woman has died – why has it got to this stage?
“Savita had a heartbeat, too.”
Abortion is a bitterly divisive issue in Catholic-dominated Ireland, where an effective ban on the procedure results in thousands of women each year flying out of the country to get abortions overseas. More than 4000 go to the UK alone, according to British health statistics.
In 1983 Ireland’s constitution was amended to ban abortion completely.
In 1992, the country’s Supreme Court ruled that it was permitted when the mother’s life was at risk, including at risk of suicide. This related to a case in which the government used the courts to try to prevent a 14-year-old rape victim from leaving the country to have an abortion overseas.
The 1983 ban is effectively still in place because seven successive governments have refused to back the Supreme Court decision by enacting legislation.
In 2010, the European Court of Human Rights demanded that Ireland pass legislation to give effect to the court decision. The government then set up an expert panel to report to the Irish health minister.
Prime Minister Enda Kenny said the government was due to respond by the end of the month to the demand for reform by the Court of Human Rights.
“This is a tragic case where we have a woman who lost her life, her child is lost and her husband is bereaved,” he said.
Several weeks ago he had said that abortion-law reform was not a priority for his government.
Another abortion-rights demonstration ending in a march on the Dail is planned for the weekend.

First published in The Age.

Woman dies in Irish hospital after being denied abortion

Karen Kissane in Dublin

A YOUNG woman died of septicaemia in Ireland after Catholic doctors refused to terminate her miscarriage because abortion was against the country’s law and religious beliefs.A YOUNG woman died of septicaemia in Ireland after Catholic doctors refused to terminate her miscarriage because abortion was against the country’s law and religious beliefs.

Savita Halappanavar, 31, died last month in University Hospital Galway after three days of agony, the Irish Times reported on Wednesday.

Doctors told her she was losing her 17-week pregnancy, as her cervix had dilated and the amniotic sac had broken, and that the foetus would not survive.

Her husband told the newspaper she begged for birth to be induced but was told this was not possible because the foetal heartbeat was still present “and this is a Catholic country”.

Praveen Halappanavar said that his wife, a Hindu, said, “I am neither Irish nor Catholic,” but they said there was nothing they could do.”

Mr Halappanavar said his wife was left in extreme pain for another two-and-a-half days until the foetal heartbeat stopped. The dead foetus was then removed but Mrs Halappanavar was soon taken to intensive care where she died on October 28.

An autopsy determined she had developed septicaemia, or blood poisoning, the Irish Times reported.

The hospital and local health service confirmed they were investigating her death but said privacy issues prevented them from commenting on individual cases.

Abortion is a bitterly divisive issue in Catholic-dominated Ireland, where an effective ban on the procedure leaves thousands of women each year flying out of the country to get abortions overseas. More than 4000 go to the UK alone, according to British health statistics.

Stephanie Lord, a spokeswoman for Choice Ireland, said Mrs Halappanavar’s death was a tragedy that would never have happened if Ireland’s politicians had lived up to their responsibilities on the issue.

“There have been raped woman and suicidal woman [who have wanted abortions] and that has not been enough to make the government change the legislation regarding abortion in Ireland,” she told Fairfax Media.

“People would ask if it had to get to the situation where somebody died. It should never have gotten to this stage. [Mrs Halappanavar’s death] is an absolute tragedy, and it should have been prevented.”

In 1983 Ireland’s constitution was amended to ban abortion completely. In 1992, the country’s Supreme Court ruled that it was permitted in cases where the mother’s life was at risk, including at risk of suicide. This related to a case in which the government tried to prevent a 14-year-old rape victim from leaving the country to have an abortion overseas.

The 1983 ban is effectively still in place because successive governments have refused to back the Supreme Court decision with legislation.

In 2010, the European Court of Human Rights demanded that Ireland pass legislation to give effect to the court decision. The government then set up an expert panel to report to the Irish Health Minister, who is due to respond by the end of this month.

A poll for the British newspaper The Sunday Times earlier this year found that four out of five Irish voters would back legal changes to permit abortion in cases where a mother’s life was at risk.

First published on