Saturday Essays

Here are my latest Saturday Essays published in the Irish Daily Mail in which I write in depth about topical issues.

July 1, 2017

A dark day for democracy

IN a democracy, trial by jury is an essential guarantor of true freedom. It is a right not enjoyed around the world; it is a right for which, over the years, many have fought – and some have even died. It is a cornerstone both of our judicial process and of our deeper belief that, ultimately, it is the people of this country who are the pillars on which the State was built. And therefore, when a jury of 11 men and women handed down not guilty verdicts on Thursday to six men accused of falsely imprisoning the former tánaiste and her assistant in 2014, I saluted them. They had done their job: they had weighed the evidence presented to them, they had considered the arguments put before them, and they had arrived – unanimously – at an emphatic verdict. The Jobstown Six, as they have styled themselves (doubtless trying to suggest themselves, laughable as it is, as a latter-day Birmingham Six), were found not guilty of the charges they had faced. The system had done precisely what our forebears had intended it to do. Paul Murphy and his acolytes were free to go, without a stain on their  characters. But being innocent of this particular crime does not, however, mean they had done nothing wrong…

June 10, 2017

Why do we let this evil flourish here?

I was in a neighbour’s house when my phone rang. It was February 2005 and my wife was heavily pregnant with our first child. I took the call presuming it had something to do with her pregnancy. From the outset, the caller – who had a Middle eastern accent – was aggressive and hostile. He demanded to know if I was the ‘Mark Dooley who wrote about Islam in last Sunday’s paper’. When I confirmed that I was, he launched a ferocious tirade. ‘You must be an agent of the Jews!’ he roared, before saying: ‘If your article brings any police attention on us, I will hold you personally responsible’. His sinister threat left me cold because I knew from his tone that he meant every word of it. The following Friday I was scheduled to debate British journalist Robert Fisk on The late late Show…

May 27, 2017

This nauseating double standard about terrorism

They are a happy bunch, this group of people out enjoying themselves. They are without cares or worries, laughing and chatting as people do when relaxed – but looking forward to a very special day out. The atmosphere is full of levity as old and young enjoy their time together. Suddenly, the calm is shattered by a shocking sound. It only lasts an instant and causes terrible confusion. To those who are still conscious, it is obvious that a bomb has just exploded. Now there is only silence – that awful silence which immediately follows an explosion. No more laughing, no more peace or joy. There is only silence, smoke, devastation and death. The silence is slowly broken by groans of agony. Limbs are scattered everywhere. An old man lies motionless. His legs have been blown off. Two teenagers are also lying dead, their young lives sacrificed in a split second. They were obviously in the immediate vicinity of the blast and now they are gone. Beside them is an old woman – a grandmother of one of the victims. Barely breathing, it is clear that she will soon follow her grandson…

March 25, 2017

What if he’d chosen to wage peace, not war?

ON the evening of January 30, 1948, a Hindu nationalist, Nathuram Godse, shot Mahatma Gandhi three times at point-blank range. Revered as the ‘Father of the Nation’, Gandhi was preparing to address a prayer meeting when Godse ended his extraordinary life. Having liberated India from the British empire without a single act of violence, the Mahatma, or ‘Great Soul’, was dispatched from this world by the very method he had spent his life denouncing. Gandhi was greatly influenced by Leo Tolstoy, whose ardent belief in the power of non-violent resistance touched him deeply. Indeed, Tolstoy’s last letter before he died in 1910, was to the Mahatma. Another of Gandhi’s correspondents was Albert Einstein who, following the murder of the Great Soul, wrote: ‘Gandhi had demonstrated that a powerful human following can be assembled…through the cogent example of a morally superior conduct of life.’ On the evening of April 4, 1968, Reverend Martin Luther King Jr was fatally shot by James Earl Ray, on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. King, whose non-violent civil rights movement was profoundly influenced by Gandhi, often referred to the Mahatma as ‘that little brown saint’. ‘Christ gave us the goals,’ he said, ‘and Mahatma Gandhi gave us the tactics’. Following Dr King’s assassination, President Lyndon Johnson declared seven days of national mourning. In 1983, President Ronald Reagan signed into law a federal holiday in his honour. All that because King had a dream that, one day, ‘little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls and walk together as brothers and sisters’. What he said of Gandhi could be equally said of King himself: ‘He struggled only with the weapons of truth, soul force, noninjury and courage.’ On the morning of March 21, 2017, Ireland awoke to the news that former IRA commander turned peacemaker, Martin McGuinness, had died of a rare heart condition…

March 18, 2017

The slaughter of their innocence

It is a moment that every parent dreads – the moment when your child is stripped of his innocence. One of our sons was friends with a boy who, unbeknownst to us, had already left his childhood behind. The boy was invariably pleasant, polite and came from an extremely good home. And yet, somewhere along the line, that poor child had been
exposed to pornography. One day, our son revealed that this boy had shown his friends some graphic images on a phone. Naturally, as parents who have tirelessly sought to protect their children from this virus, we were alarmed and shocked. The fact that another child could, quite casually, undermine our son’s innocence was nothing short of a nightmare. What we learned that day was that no matter how many safeguards you put in place at home, children have no such protections in public. Instinctively, our son knew this was wrong and walked away. Thankfully, it neither fuelled his curiosity nor compromised his innocence. However, through no fault of his own, our precious child had seen something to which he should never have been exposed. In that terrible instant, we realised that responsible parents must not only fight to protect their children at home. If we are to have any chance of keeping them safe, we must confront the threats which await them beyond the hall door. In our digital world, all it takes is one click and their innate innocence is gone for good…

November 26, 2016

Who wants to live forever?

Last week, the world was stunned by the news that a 14-year-old British girl who, shortly before her death on October 17, won a legal case to have her remains cryogenically frozen in the United States. She had been suffering from a rare form of cancer and did not ‘want to be buried underground’. Rather, as she informed the judge hearing her case, ‘being cryo-preserved gives me a chance to be cured and woken up – even in hundreds of years’ time’. The case has aroused global interest, not least because it offers the prospect of extending life beyond its natural limits. If we can be frozen, rather than interred or cremated, there is always the possibility of being raised from the dead at some  future stage. There is always the hope we can enjoy immorality here on Earth…

October 22, 2016

The one little word that changed our lives forever

I think it was only when the consultant first used the word ‘cancer’ that I confronted the stark reality of our situation. Last year, my wife underwent a series of tests for a recurrent cough. Quite by chance, they found a malignant tumour on her thyroid. It was a blessing, for who knows where it might have ended had they not discovered it in time. That is how I saw it from the outset: we were extremely fortunate that this growth had been spotted and could now be removed. In my heart, I knew there was nothing to worry about, and yet I could not help feeling completely numb. My wife had not been diagnosed with life-threatening cancer. She would have surgery and, if all went to plan, that would be the end of it. Why, then, was I so inwardly shaken by the mere mention of the word?…

August 6, 2016

Maynooth Seminary Crisis

IN 2010, I was invited by this newspaper to write a piece on how the Irish Catholic Church could rebuild following the clerical sex abuse crisis. I had, since 2006, been lecturing in the Philosophy Department at NUI Maynooth (NUIM). among my students were seminarians from St Patrick’s College – the National Seminary – which shares a campus with NUIM…

June 4, 2016

We can’t ignore Islam

In 2005, I was approached by a group of concerned, moderate Muslims. Their worry was that radical elements had infiltrated their community and were recruiting vulnerable young Muslims. They also confirmed that certain people holding Irish passports had travelled to Iraq in order to wage jihad, or holy war, on Western troops – a fact that was subsequently confirmed by Garda sources here. They knew that, as a religious person,
I would not pursue the matter in a bigoted  manner. They also knew that, as a trained philosopher and theologian, I would…

 

April 30, 2016

Why isn’t the Church fighting to save itself?

In 2011, I published a book entitled Why Be A Catholic? Shortly afterward, I was interviewed by Matt Cooper on The Last Word radio show. Also on the panel was a man who had sought in vain to renounce his Catholic religion. According to the man, the Church would not permit him to do so because he had been baptised and, baptism being a sacrament, it cannot be undone by human hands. That man was representative of so many Irish people who have become disillusioned with their faith. They may not be able to undo the sacraments but they have chosen to stop attending church. While the census of 2011 showed that 84% of Irish people still regard themselves as Roman Catholic, many of them are Catholic in name only. It is anticipated that…

 

April 2, 2016

Autumn of discontent

My wife was an idealist when she joined the teaching profession in 1999. Having previously worked in public relations, it was a decision she made somewhat late in life. By trading the boardroom for the classroom, she followed what she believed was a noble vocation. My wife has never regretted that decision. As a second-level teacher of history and English, she sees her students as the future of this country. In giving them a passion for the past, she hopes they will come to understand who they are and how they might one day shape our moral destiny. Even now, after so many years, it is inspiring to hear her speak about her students. Nothing gives her more joy than to see them penetrate a particular period of history, thus enabling them to challenge the cosy consensus surrounding it. For her, this is nothing less than a work of love. And yet, …

 

March 19, 2016

Why the left is never right

Shortly after the fall of communism in 1989, I was lecturing a group of university students on the topic of ‘Marxism’. I intended to show why this so-called ‘philosophy’ was not only discredited but also deeply dangerous. The Berlin Wall had fallen and the grim reality of what lay behind the Iron Curtain was obvious for all to see. After the lecture, my students asked why on earth we were studying something that had led to so much genocide and untold misery. The fact that Karl Marx exerted such influence on recent history was irrelevant. A system, after all, can only be judged by its consequences, and communism had been revealed as something monstrous. According to The Black Book Of Communism, published in 1997 by a future German president among others, communism was responsible for the deaths of …

 

February 7, 2016

Why we must choose prudence over power

I still remember the intense pride I felt when, in 1977, my grand uncle Dr Martin = O’Donoghue was appointed Minister for Economic Planning and Development. Since 1970, he had served as economic adviser to Fianna Fail leader Jack Lynch, and it was he who wrote the 1977 election manifesto which swept that party to power with an overall majority. Lynch rewarded O’Donoghue with a new ministry on his first day in Dáil Éireann. A coalition government of Fine Gael and Labour had been in office since 1973, and was widely expected to retain power in 1977. Having redrawn constituency boundaries in favour of the coalition parties, outgoing Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave believed he had the election in the bag. However, when Dr O’Donoghue unveiled the Fianna Fail manifesto it soon became clear that Jack Lynch was destined for victory. O’Donoghue was a shrewd economist, but he knew that if Fianna Fail were to succeed they must offer something startling. And so the manifesto contained a pledge to abolish car tax and rates on domestic houses. The party also promised to take whatever measures were necessary to reduce the unemployment rate. I was only seven years of age at the time, yet I sensed that…

 

January 23, 2016

A terrible beauty travesty

I grew up listening to my grandfather tell stories of the 1916 Rising. He was a boy of nine when the rebellion broke out and he lived near the scene of the fighting in the centre of Dublin. Like most people of that generation, he was proud of what the rebels had achieved. He was by no means an ardent republican, but he was a proud and patriotic Irishman. He lived through the horrors of the War of Independence and the subsequent partitioning of this island in 1922. For him, the Ireland of Liam Cosgrave, Éamon de Valera and Seán Lemass was the true legacy of 1916. He often told me how his family feared to venture outside their little house off Clanbrassil Street as the fighting raged, and how he could clearly hear the artillery pound the rebel strongholds. This was living history and, as I listened to my grandfather, I had a sense of being part of it. Linked by the generations, I felt as though I had somehow been present at the birth of this State. There was, however, something else that I picked up from him, something that I hold firm to this very day. He detested Sinn Féin and the Provisional IRA. That was because…

 

December 26, 2015

Why today begins the pilgrimage to the homeland of the heart

Christmas Day is over but the real festivities have just begun.  For the next week, the country shall make merry, rest and be at peace.  In so many ways, the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day is the most wonderful of all. St Stephen’s Day is named after the first Christian martyr, a young man who was stoned to death for his faith.  It is strange that we should celebrate such a feast straight after Christmas.  That we do so is a reminder of the miracle of Christmas, of how it can raise people from the depths to the heights. Today, the true miracle of Christmas begins.  The frenzy is over, the streets are calm and life is now moving to a quiet rhythm.  No more rushing, no more panic buying and no more stress. For this one week of the year, people seem to take stock of life.  It is as though the world comes to a stop, that it somehow ceases to turn.  Everything is put on hold as we savour the things that truly matter…

 

October 3, 2015

Just why are voters worldwide rejecting politicians?

In 1999, when Bill Clinton was at the height of his political power, author and polemicist Christopher Hitchens published a book that was entitled No One Left To Lie To: The Values Of The Worst Family. Hitchens, who died in 2011, was not a conservative but a liberal atheist. That is why his book, which sought to expose the real Bill Clinton, was such a devastating critique. Hitchens’s thesis was simple: …

 

August 15, 2015

The Banality of Evil

Shortly before his arrest on suspicion of Elaine O’Hara’s murder in 2013, I met Graham Dwyer at a social gathering. This man, who would soon become notorious for his demonic desires and depraved lust for blood, stood before me with little to say. As I discussed the merits of teaching children how to tie their shoelaces, he made his one and only comment: ‘I just wear Velcro shoes. It saves all the bother.’ We looked down only to find that he was indeed wearing Velcro shoes. As the group burst into laughter, I noticed that Dwyer was also smiling. After that, he listened without contributing another word. On the morning of Dwyer’s arrest, I remember exclaiming: ‘That’s the guy with the Velcro shoes!’ Ordinary, inconspicuous, banal and unremarkable, Graham Dwyer concealed his dark secrets behind a mask of normality…

 

November 8, 2014

The Summit of achievements is no match for a child’s wonder

Last week, while walking through the airport, I noticed an all-too-familiar sight. In one of the many cafés, there was a family enjoying a coffee. They were gathered at a single table and yet not a word was exchanged. Parents and children were ‘plugged in’ to their phones, consoles and iPads. They were together, but each was in a solitary world of their own. Visit any café, restaurant or pub and you will see the same phenomenon: people sitting together, but rarely conversing. People sharing the same space, but indifferent to the existence of their neighbours. Ours is a …

 

July 19, 2014

SOS: Save Our Schools

It is difficult for my children to comprehend that I was routinely ‘leathered’ in school. My eldest, in particular, sits dumbfounded as I describe how certain teachers patrolled the schoolyard looking for someone to slap. That was a time when the leather was no less a part of a teacher’s paraphernalia than chalk or a duster. Removing the leather from Irish schools was not only a much-needed reform, but a moral necessity. For children of my generation …

 

May 3, 2014

Dismantling our tried and trusted education system risks condemning countless children to the prison house of ignorance

My wife is a secondary school teacher. She is not a member of ASTI, believing the union does not serve the best interests of second-level teachers. Yet, like so many in ASTI, she passionately opposes Ruairi Quinn’s vision for Irish education. I, too, am an educator, having taught at various universities for over two decades. For me, no government department matters more than Education. That is because …