Of allegations and revelations
As the fallout from the dreadful RTÉ defamation of Fr Kevin Reynolds continues, senior politicians from the Taoiseach down have been lining up to express their shock and dismay at both the libel and the State broadcaster’s haphazard and somewhat grudging reaction.
One politician, however, who has been noticeably silent is Minister for Justice and Defence, Alan Shatter TD. Mr Shatter’s silence now is in marked contrast with his reaction in the immediate aftermath of the Prime Time Investigates special ‘Mission To Prey’ when it was first aired after the main evening news on May 23 last.
As we know, the programme made serious allegations against both living and deceased priests and religious. Fr Kevin Reynolds is the only living person in the programme against whom allegations were made for the first time.
Mr Shatter’s reaction at the time was swift. The following morning — in fact, before 9am — a communiqué from the Department of Justice noted that the minister ”had watched last night’s Prime Time Investigates programme on clerical sexual abuse in Africa with a sense of revulsion at the unspeakable catalogue of abuse against children it revealed”.
The statement went on to quote Mr Shatter as saying that he shared the ”widespread public concern and disgust at the revelations which the programme contained”.
As the Fr Reynolds defamation scandal proves, one ought to be very careful with the use of language.
Mr Shatter, in his statement, takes ‘allegations’ and transforms them into ‘revelations’. Now, to some that might sound like splitting hairs, but, it is an important distinction both legally and morally.
To describe something as a revelation is to assert that what is being ‘revealed’ is true rather than just an allegation.
A spokesman for Mr Shatter this week conceded that Mr Shatter no longer stands by his original statement.
However, despite that apparent U-turn, at the time of going to press, the offending statement remains on the Department of Justice website referring to the ‘revelations’ in the programme.
Mr Shatter’s spokeswoman this week said the original statement was based on an assumption that the matters detailed on the Prime Time Investigates programme had been ”fully researched and corroborated in accordance with proper journalistic and ethical standards”.
”It is now known, of course, that with regard to Fr Reynolds, not only did he deny the allegations made but he also offered through his solicitor to engage in DNA testing and, despite said offer being made, the programme was broadcast,” the spokesman continued.
So why does the statement remain on the Department of Justice website?
Why too was the minister, who, after all, is a trained solicitor and regarded as a competent legalist, so quick to jump from ‘allegations’ to ‘revelations’ when he surely knew the full legal implication of what he was saying?
Too often, the fact that previous allegations of abuse were later proven to be true has led to the creeping acceptance that there is a semblance of truth in all allegations when they are aired.
This neither serves those victims who have genuinely suffered abuse or natural justice when someone is falsely accused.
As well as the need for the media to be more careful in the use of language, politicians — including ministers — ought to weigh very carefully their public pronouncements on such public matters.
Shared future in the North
‘Shared future’ is becoming somewhat of a buzz-phrase in the North, not unlike such convoluted phrases as ‘parity of esteem’ during the negotiations of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
‘Shared future’ was again invoked by the DUP leader Peter Robinson at his weekend party conference to launch an attack on Catholic education.
Of course, Mr Robinson has given the impression of leading his hardline party away from some of the more extreme anti-Catholic rhetoric of the past so his comments were suitably nuanced. It is not right, he asserted, that children are educated in separate schools. It’s a softening of his earlier line enunciated just a few months ago that Catholic parents ought to be forced to send their children to one-size-fits-all state-controlled schools by the Executive removing funding from the Catholic sector, and effectively signalling the end of Catholic parents’ right to choose a faith-based education for their children.
Mr Robinson seems to believe that the existence of faith-based schools leads naturally to sectarianism. There is no evidence whatsoever for this. Catholic schoolteachers and parishes where tolerance and diversity have been preached and taught at the height of the civil conflict in the North must surely find it hard to take lectures from Mr Robinson’s party who were so diametrically opposed to agreement and compromise for so long.
Integrated schools should, of course, be available for those parents who choose them just as Catholic schools ought to be available for those parents who choose a faith-based education. Characterising Catholic schools as divisive is unfair and untrue. The fact that the school system in the former Yugoslavia was integrated didn’t stop the communities slaughtering each other when ethnic conflict broke out there.