December 2, 2009, 11:29 AM
You know Murphy's Law. If something can go wrong, it will go wrong.
Well, that's the way things were in Ireland over the past week. It seemed like everything and everybody -- man, nature and God -- was conspiring against us.
Man -- Irishmen -- has already ruined the Irish economy. Our prosperity is gone, unemployment is soaring and next week we face into the toughest budget in living memory to get the state finances under control, a budget which is going to lower our standard of living sharply and be extremely painful for everyone.
Last week nature added to our misery when the worst floods in a century hit places all over Ireland after weeks of heavy rainfall. Then when everyone was knee deep in freezing, filthy water, a huge storm with icy temperatures and gale force winds hit the country over the weekend to compound the suffering.
Even God -- represented by the Catholic Church -- seemed to be against us. The report of the judicial investigation into child sexual abuse by priests in the Dublin diocese was finally published last week and revealed that a succession of bishops over many decades had known what was going on but covered it up. This allowed even more children to be abused.
Some of the best-known bishops in the country over the past 50 years were implicated. It was shameful and deeply shocking.
It was indeed a black week in Ireland. All the news was bad. The despair and depression in the air were almost tangible.
The TV cameras followed Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Brian Cowen as he trudged through flooded streets in midland towns wearing his rubber boots and his raincoat, urging people not to be too downcast and miserable. The words pot, kettle and black came to mind.
Let's face it. There is no reason to smile at the moment. We're used to a drop of rain in Ireland, but this was rain on a Biblical scale. If Noah's Ark had come floating down the Shannon last week no one would have been surprised.
Of course, the widespread flooding could not all be blamed on Mother Nature. Yes, most of it was due to the very heavy rainfall that caused rivers to burst their banks and flood vast areas of farmland, particularly in the midlands and the west on both sides of the Shannon.
Parts of Cork City were awash, and low-lying areas in towns all over the country were swamped. Pictures of boats being rowed down streets and people being rescued from their houses filled the TV news and the papers.
But there was another factor at work that had made the bad situation even worse. During the construction boom of the Celtic Tiger years houses were built everywhere here, on river banks, in boggy fields, even on lands that were known to be flood plains close to lakes and rivers.
The more concrete was poured and the more roads were built, the less the surrounding ground was able to cope with heavy rainfall. And last week we paid the price for that greedy madness.
We also seem to have forgotten some uncomfortable facts. Like the fact that most towns and cities in Ireland are built on rivers, and most of them have some streets that are low-lying and therefore prone to flooding.
Usually this only happens every 20 or 30 years. The number of buildings swamped is usually small, people mop up and in between the floods people forget.
But what happened last week was on a different scale, as the spectacular TV pictures of the center of Cork City under water demonstrated. With global warming, we now have to accept that more severe and frequent flooding is going to be a part life here in the future.
There's no point in blaming the government, as many people here tried to do last week, saying flood defenses were inadequate and the government should have been better prepared to deal with flooding on a big scale. People were demanding that the government give millions to those affected by the floods and spend more millions to improve flood defenses.
But the reality is that people need to start taking responsibility themselves for where they live. There is also the fact that the widespread flooding of farmland in the midlands, on both sides of the Shannon, is nothing new, even if the scale this time was greater than normal.
Ireland is shaped like a big saucer that slopes very gently towards the center, through which the Shannon flows. When rainfall across the center of Ireland is heavy that's where the water goes, and the only place it can get out to the sea is through the mouth of the Shannon. The land around much of the Shannon is almost flat, so flooding is normal rather than highly unusual.
Local politicians have for decades been building political careers on promises to have the Shannon drained. More drainage works would probably help, but the truth is that a better drained center channel last week would have led to a faster flow downstream and caused even worse flooding in areas in the lower Shannon.
The answer to all this, of course, is proper planning and an end to the system that allowed people with political influence to build in unsuitable areas. That and an acceptance that in future some low lying streets may have to be turned into public parks, and some areas around the Shannon may have to be treated as summer grazing rather than all year farmland.
While all this was going on last week, the judicial report into clerical child abuse in the Dublin diocese was published. It made grim reading.
The number of priests involved over the years was extraordinary, completely demolishing the frequently heard defense that the priesthood did not have a higher proportion of pedophiles than the general population.
Even more grim were the revelations about how four archbishops of Dublin, beginning with the famous John McQuaid, and some of their auxiliary bishops, had all known and done nothing to protect children. Instead they moved the priests from one parish to another as complaints were made, or assigned them to other duties.
In one case these other duties even included acting as chaplain to a children's hospital, and in other cases little attempt was made to keep them away from children.
What is clear is that the priority of the bishops all the time was to protect the reputation and the assets of the church, even if it meant that the priests involved remained free to abuse again. And they did abuse again, in some cases dozens of other children and in at least one case over 100 other children.
This investigation in the Dublin diocese headed by a judge is the second in Ireland, and was prompted by revelations at the first inquiry in the Wexford area some years ago. Now there are calls to have similar judicial investigations in every diocese in the country on the reasonable assumption that the same thing was happening everywhere here.
Will this be the final nail in the coffin of the Catholic Church in Ireland? Perhaps. Certainly the reputation of the church here is in tatters, even among the faithful.
Meanwhile, everyone here is nervously anticipating the budget next week, not least the state workers who know that the state payroll has to be cut. Already state workers had a one-day strike last week and another one is planned for this Thursday. But they blew whatever public support there was for them last week when it emerged that a lot of them had used the strike day to go north to shop.
The five-mile tail back on the motorway into Newry that day can't have been a coincidence. The word traitors was used in some of the commentary on what had happened.
Schools were shut, hospitals were dealing only with emergencies and other state services were badly hit. People here were furious with the teachers, medical staff and the other workers involved across the public service.
The fact is they are among the best paid state workers in Europe and have guaranteed pensions of 50% of their final salary, something that very few private sector workers have these days. Ireland can't afford this anymore. But our vast army of state paid workers doesn’t want to accept the inevitable.
A serious division is now opening up here between the state workers and the private industry workers and it could get very nasty.
Last week was bad. But believe me, there's worse to come.
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