Let us not be under any illusion that religiously-driven opposition to the marriage equality amendment has anything to do with marriage, or with children. Let us not delude ourselves that it has anything to do with concern for society. Let’s not pretend it has any relation to ethics, morals or the greater good of society.
Let’s not even imagine that it’s motivated by religious conviction, because it is not.
The opposition to marriage equality is all about power. This is all about an ancient privileged class using religion as a flag of convenience. It’s about a profoundly undemocratic tendency staking out its territory, reacting with fury as the formerly-compliant Irish peasantry yet again dare to make their own mind up without waiting to be told what to think.
Though its spokesemen and spokeswomen might be unaware of it, they form part of an unbroken chain of privilege that goes all the way back to medieval times, even though individually they might not all have grown up in privileged circumstances, but that’s how privilege works. Some have it, others compete for it and some are destined always to be ground under foot.
The likes of the Iona Institute, while undeniably at the shabby end of the yearning curve, are also the most vocal, since that’s what aspiring aristocrats are like when they’re still mere squires hoping for better. Opus Dei, on the other hand, is an altogether more Patrician brand of ideology, deeper and broader than the shrill salesmen of Iona, but still part of the same continuum, longing for the return of a time when they ruled benevolently over a peaceful and compliant Irish people.
And there’s the problem.
The Irish in recent years haven’t been doing what they were told. They voted for divorce. They legalised contraception. They decriminalised homosexuality. They closed the Magdalene laundries. They abolished the industrial schools. They stopped condemning single mothers.
Such impertinence was never a problem in the days when princes of the Church, men like Cardinal Paul Cullen and Archbishop John Charles McQuaid, bestrode Ireland in their colossal hubris, and yet the likes of McQuaid and Cullen were anathema to the covert power structure that gave rise to Opus Dei and its latter-day bargain-basement half-sibling, the Iona Institute.
The last thing such tendencies needed or wanted was an ostentatious display of influence. These are movements that operate in the shadows, emerging perforce only in the form of obviously proletarian spokesmen like David Quinn and slightly-less proletarian demagogues like Breda O’Brien as the need arises.
Now, I know full well that this is beginning to sound like a demented version of a Dan Brown novel, but that’s the territory you find yourself in whenever you contemplate silly constructs like Iona and Opus Dei. The madness is contagious, but still it exists, and therefore, to reiterate, there are people who would always prefer to remain in the shadows. People David and Breda will never meet.
The men with their hands through the hole in David Quinn’s back will never emerge from the half-light because these are not the sort who benefit from the full glare of the sun. These are the sort who prosper in the penumbra, pulling the strings of hopeful dancing puppets like Quinn, even though he will never be fully welcome at their table. The tragedy is that he knows it, yet he can’t hide it any more than he manages to hide the accent he grew up with, though he tries, embarrassingly.
That perhaps is the most telling thing about a man such as Quinn, and at the same time the thing we most cringe at, on his behalf. Not one of Quinn’s puppet-masters tries to disguise the accent of his birth, and why would he? After all, that accent speaks of centuries of privilege.
Does anyone seriously think the likes of Clongowes Wood sprang spontaneously out of the native rock when the English left this island? Does any Irish person seriously believe that this is not a society riven by class based on catholic privilege?
It’s true that the aristocracy existed in Ireland before the arrival of the Normans, but it is also true that a parallel class retained privilege based not on Irishness but on adherence to power and later on allegiance to Rome, and that class continued to hold privilege for the same 800 years that the Wolfe Tones banjoed on about. I never heard those musical freedom fighters resisting the power of the other colonial class.
It suited the covert privileged Rome-based class to promote the Catholic persecution narrative and it still suits them, because that story writes them out of history, which is fine. As always, in every story where poor people seek freedom, the most convenient story to tell them is the one that suits you most, and in the case of Ireland, the best tale was the one about Catholic oppression.
It’s still the best tale, even though, ironically, when the Brits left in 1922, a new oppressor emerged in the form of the Rome-based conservative ideologues who immediately set about getting rid of every civil liberty imposed on us by the jackboot of British imperialism. They eliminated divorce. They got rid of contraception. They ramped up the industrial schools. They introduced the crudest form of literary censorship anywhere outside of Albania.
These people, who were always in power, seamlessly took over control of the medical profession and the law where their descendants remain to this day.
These people were never persecuted or oppressed, though they would like you to accept otherwise. These people would like you to believe that somehow they represent a traditional version of Irish society when in fact they represent an ancient tyrannical tendency that we thought we had thrown off, but which in reality we still fight against.
Organisations such as the ridiculous self-styled Iona Institute, contain people who are also members of the equestrian orders that invaded the Holy Land as crusaders. This is not Monty Python humour. This is fact.
The marriage equality referendum means nothing to the mindset of this movement. It has nothing to do with religion or principle, but it has everything to do with power and pragmatism.
If they lose, they lose and they’ll move on to the next fight. If they win, they’ll plan to repeal some other advance of the tolerant society. It might be divorce. It might be contraception. Who can tell?
We can understand the mind of the ideologue, but who can grasp the intentions of ancient power-hunger?
Lawyers for Yes is a new group, much as Mothers and Fathers Matter is a new group, but with one major difference.
While Mothers and Fathers Matter is a front for Opus Dei, and is utterly unconcerned with facts or truth despite its religious motivation, Lawyers for Yes is composed of people who actually know something.
They don’t have “legal advisors”. They are actual legal experts. Senior Counsel. Experienced solicitors. People who understand the law and who are in a position to say precisely what the implications of the proposed Marriage Equality amendment are.
And they have produced a guide that blows every last lie of the Iona Institute and MAFM out of the water.
Here are some of the points they make.
The potential to have children is not a defining characteristic of marriage. The courts have consistently emphasised that a married couple without children is a ‘family’.
This is one of the most pernicious lies put out by Opus Iona. The constitution emphatically does not define family in terms of children.
As the document points out
The State does not require opposite-sex couples, whom it permits to marry, to be fertile, to be of child-bearing age, or to make a commitment to procreate. It is the commitment of the marriage partners to one another, not the having of children, that is the sine qua non of civil marriage.
It continues as follows.
The view that marriage must be open to the procreation of children is demeaning to couples who are incapable of procreating. It is likewise demeaning to couples who begin such a relationship when they no longer have the capacity to conceive. It is demeaning to adoptive parents to suggest that their family is any less a family and any less entitled to respect and concern than a family with procreated children. It is also demeaning to couples who voluntarily decide not to have children.
On the fallacy that civil partnership is the equivalent of marriage for same-sex couples, the lawyers explain clearly that the key difference which continues to exist between civil partnership and marriage is the fact that civil partnerships do not have constitutional protection or recognition.
The State is not obliged to guard with special care and protect from attack the institution of civil partnership. Civil partnerships are not constitutionally recognised families and, therefore, are not considered to be a fundamental group in society.
A crucial consequence of this is that the legislation providing for civil partnership could be amended or repealed.
Children deprived of their mothers
The Iona / Opus Dei alliance is promoting the nonsense that same-sex marriage will somehow deprive children of their parents, a position that the lawyers have little time for, dismissing it with mild contempt.
The argument that “a child has a right to a father and a mother” presupposes that marriage equality will deprive them of a father and a mother. The overwhelming majority of children in Ireland are born to co-habiting or married heterosexual parents. Not one of these children will be deprived of their mother or their father by marriage equality.
Mum and Dad do best
By the same token, they have scant regard for the desperate claim that children raised by a man and a woman do better than those raised by two people of the same sex. Neither the Psychology Society of Ireland (PSI) nor the American Psychological Association agree with this claim, and the APA has explicitly dismissed the claims of the Alliance for the Defence of the Family and Marriage, quoted by Iona / Opus Dei, as outdated and contrary to the position of professional psychological bodies.
To quote the APA, which is actually qualified to pronounce on psychological matters, in distinct contrast to both Iona and Opus Dei,
On the basis of a remarkably consistent body of research on lesbian and gay parents and their children, the APA and other health professional and scientific organisations have concluded that there is no scientific evidence that parenting effectiveness is related to parental sexual orientation. That is, lesbian and gay parents are as likely as heterosexual parents to provide supportive and healthy environments for their children.
That seems fairly clear, but the president of the PSI has something to add.
Empirical studies have failed to find reliable differences between the children of same-sex and heterosexual couples with regard to their gender identity, gender role behaviour, sexual orientation, mental health, or psychological and social adjustment.
Next time a spokesperson from Iona/Opus Dei appears on the radio or TV, can we hope that a journalist will confront them with these statements?
Same sex marriage will not give people the right to adopt a child. Nobody has that right now and nobody will have it in the future, even if same-sex marriage becomes legal. Adoption is about the suitability of a person or a couple to adopt, and same-sex couples already have the right to apply for adoption. This right will not be affected by the referendum, since adoption does not require people to be married.
As Lawyers for Yes point out
The Children and Family Relationships Act, 2015 allows adoption by same-sex couples. A same-sex couple, who are civil partners, and who live together, may apply jointly for an adoption order, in the same way that a married couple can.
as they are civil partners and not a married couple, they will not have the constitutional protection that a married couple, who have adopted a child, have. If the referendum passes, then those couples may marry and their adopted children will have the same Constitutional protection as adopted children of opposite-sex married couples.
This is what Iona /Opus Dei don’t want to happen. They do not want the adopted children of same-sex couples to have the same constitutional protections as all other children, which seems rather strange, since they present themselves as defenders of children.
Iona/ Opus Dei have opposed assisted reproduction for heterosexual couples since the procedure became available. As the document points out, this is the primary way in which infertile couples become parents, whether they happen to be man and woman or whether they are of the same sex. It has nothing to do with same-sex marriage.
Donor-assisted Human Reproduction
The Children and Family Relationships Act 2015 sets out a comprehensive scheme for the attribution of parenthood in assisted reproduction. The Act provides that the legally recognised mother of any child is the woman that gives birth to him or her. Provided that adequate consent is obtained from all parties, the Act allows for the woman’s spouse, civil partner, or cohabitant to be recognised as the second legal parent of the child. The Act deals with opposite-sex and same-sex couples in precisely the same way, hence, donor assisted reproduction raises the same issues for all parents, regardless of their orientation.
In other words, this has nothing to do with same-sex marriage.
Surrogacy can only be addressed through careful regulation. But these issues apply equally to surrogacy arrangements entered into by opposite-sex and same-sex couples alike. Again, very many of the couples availing of surrogacy are heterosexual. Surrogacy is availed of by couples in Ireland without regulation at the present time. This usually involves the couple travelling abroad to a country where commercial surrogacy is available. The passing or otherwise of the Marriage Equality Referendum will not affect this. The only change will be when legislation is introduced to regulate surrogacy.
Again, in other words, surrogacy has nothing to do with same-sex marriage.
Boiled down to its simplest terms, the No side has only one argument: same-sex couples should not raise children.
Since we know from the testimony of experts that same-sex couples raise children just as well as all the single parents in the country, who comprise 30% of our society, and all the heterosexual couples, this is not just plain nonsense but a deliberate, cynical lie.
The only other alternative is that these people simply have a profound distaste for the very notion of same-sex relationships, and there’s only one word for that.
The Iona Institute promotes the place of marriage and religion in society. We defend the continued existence of publicly-funded denominational schools. We also promote freedom of conscience and religion.
You might have noticed in recent years that our national broadcaster, RTÉ, very often invites a speaker for the self-styled Iona Institute on chat shows, whenever the topic is something that the Catholic church might have a view on. Frequently, a member of the Iona Institute is invited to comment on current topics, such as the recent RTÉ documentary on abuse in creches. Indeed, not too long ago, on a morning radio show, RTÉ had two members of the Iona Institute out of the four participants.
It’s not clear why a private lobby group is given so much access to the publicly-funded airwaves, but it seems that there are those in RTÉ management who believe such a facility should be afforded, for reasons best known to themselves.
Titles count for a lot in Ireland, a country where bluff and bluster can go a long way, and the Iona Institute is a most impressive-sounding name, carrying overtones of saintliness combined with the suggestion of profound learning.
The word Institute evokes a place where world-renowned scholars convene to debate the great issues in a spirit of open-mindedness and to conduct world-standard research, but if you thought that about the Iona Institute, you’d be wrong.
This being Ireland, we have no controls over what words people use to describe the companies they set up, by contrast with, for instance, the UK, where they’re very fussy indeed about who can and cannot describe themselves as an Institute. The guidance page at Companies House defines sensitive words and expressions as those which could, among other things, suggest business pre-eminence, a particular status, or a specific function.
They even publish a list of sensitive words, including Institute. Institutes, they say, are organisations that typically undertake research at the highest level or are professional bodies of the highest standing.
Since Iona isn’t a professional body, the only other criterion it might possibly meet would be research at the highest level, but after its disastrously misconceived submission to the Constitutional Convention, I think we can safely discount that too.
Iona is simply a pressure group funded from sources undisclosed.
It has an address at 23 Merrion Square, Dublin 2, not far from a real Institute: the RIAI. It has a board of directors and it has two staff, although its most recently available details show only one staff member, and in recent times, none at all. It also has four people with the nebulous title of Patron, which I suspect was chosen for its pomposity rather than its accuracy, two of whom frequently appear on RTÉ chat shows where presenters are not scrupulous about explaining their association with the pressure group.
I thought it might be useful to explore the structure of the lobby group, perhaps with a view to provoking further discussion on the reasons why a privately-funded assortment of individuals might be so favoured by our publicly-funded broadcaster.
To start with, I thought it might be helpful to list the directors and staff, past and present, where information on them is available. My sources are principally Iona’s own website and Duedil which is an extremely useful tool for looking up details of companies registered in Ireland or the UK.
David Quinn is the public face of the lobby group. He has views on everything from same-sex marriage to childcare. For all we know, he might also have Catholic views on the weather, on ballistics and on the odd probity of tricycles, but in any case he seems to have unlimited access to RTÉ. Contrary to popular belief, though, he didn’t set up the lobby group. Indeed, he appears to be no more than a paid employee.
There’s also Tom O’Gorman, employed as a researcher. He’s described as a former journalist with The Voice Today, but I have no information on him or on that elusive organ. I’m sure he’s a thoroughly nice chap.
[Update: Tom O’Gorman died prematurely six months after publication of this article.]
The four “patrons” are as follows:
Patricia Casey, a psychiatrist.
Breda O’Brien, a teacher.
James Sheehan, a surgeon, and co-owner of several hugely-profitable private hospitals, including the Blackrock Clinic.
Vincent Twomey, a priest.
According to company records, Lolek Limited (trading as The Iona Institute) was founded in 2006 by Andrew O’Connell (29) and Susan Hegarty (30). O’Connell is the PR man for the Presentation Brothers and Hegarty lectures at the Catholic St Patrick’s College, Drumcondra, a training school for primary teachers. Lolek, incidentally, is the Polish diminutive of Karol, as in Karol Wojtyla, otherwise known as Pope John Paul II. It has had eleven directors since its foundation, three of whom are retired, including both its founders. Another two, for some reason, are not mentioned in the list of directors on the Iona website.
Other relevant directorships
The New Evangelisation Trust
Clonmacnois Publishing Limited
Described on Iona website as a stay-at-home mother
Lecturer at Mater Dei Institute, a religious college.
Principal of Rockbrook Park, a private school founded by Opus Dei members which retains close links to that organisation including an Opus Dei chaplain.
Not mentioned on Iona website
Maria Steen(previously known as Maria Davin)
Not mentioned on Iona website
PR man for the Presentation Brothers
Retired from directorship.
Retired from directorship.
Retired from directorship.
Stay-at-home mother Maeve Kelleher shares the boards of some companies with Garrett Kelleher, a property developer and owner of St Patrick’s Athletic football club. These are Baynall Properties Limited, Cawston Limited, Mancar Limited, Mandala Limited, Saffia Limited, Cwd Properties Limited, Shelbourne Development Limited and Shelbourne Properties Limited.
Garrett Kelleher is a former chairman of Legatus in Ireland. Legatus is an international association of Catholic businessmen set up by Irish-American Tom Monaghan, a prominent Opus Dei member and founder of Domino’s Pizza.
The only organization in the world designed exclusively for top-ranking Catholic business leaders and their spouses. [My emphasis]. In a dynamic way, Legatus brings together the three key areas of a Catholic business leader’s life – Faith, Family and Business – connecting two powerful realities, the challenge of top-tier business leadership and a religious tradition second to none.
Legatus, the Latin word for ambassador, exists to help you become an “ambassador for Christ” (2Cor 5:20) and help you meet the challenges of balancing the responsibilities of faith, family, business and community. Since 1987 Legatus has been bringing together Catholic business leaders and their spouses in a unique format that fosters spiritual growth, formation and commitment.
The organization offers a unique support network of like-minded Catholics who influence the world marketplace and have the ability to practice and infuse their faith in the daily lives and workplaces of their family, friends, colleagues and employees.
10 employees and $1M annual payroll
$10M Net Value
$100 Million (assets
Garrett Kelleher also sits on the board of regents of Ave Maria University in Florida (“Excellent. Affordable. Catholic”), founded by the ubiquitous pizza man, Tom Monaghan in a new town he called Ave Maria.
Jackie Ascough, a Christian fundamentalist from Texas also known as Jaclyn Dodgin, is the wife of Tom Ascough, and although not acknowledged to be involved with Iona, is routinely invited to speak on RTÉ programmes about social matters, again for reasons that are not entirely clear. Why Irish broadcasters would consider the opinion of a foreign ideologue relevant has yet to be explained.
As somebody with a degree in Radio/TV/Film from the University of North Texas, Jackie doesn’t seem to be highly qualified to practise as a fertility care practitioner, though her degree is augmented by something from the St. Joseph Healthcare Natural Family Planning Teacher Education Centre in St Paul Minnesota, a religiously-motivated organisation.
According to the Human Life International website, Jackie lectures for the Nurture Institute (another institute!) on the topic of psychosexual development of children 0-18. However, the article omits to mention what qualifications she earned that equip her to do this important work. There’s no listing of a company with this name in the Irish database. The Nurture Institute, according to its website, is the “operational arm” of Education Resource Trust. It seems to be in urgent need of new blood, with its youngest director at 66, followed by 68, 72, 73, 80, 81 and 83. You’d have to wonder why people in this age range would be bothering themselves with the psychosexual development of anyone.
Jackie is deeply engaged with Human Life International and other worthy causes such as Pure in Heart, a group of young people answering the call of Our Lady of Medjugorje, with an address at, would you believe it, 23 Merrion Square.
Pure in heart is an International Catholic Movement of young adults who through prayer and friendship, strive together to learn, live and share the truth, beauty and meaning of human sexuality.
The institutes never end. Jackie also works with the Nazareth Family Institute, founded, according to its website, by the Community of Nazareth, describing itself as a lay, charismatic, covenant community in south Co Dublin. Its website suggests a connection with Spirit Radio. One of its directors, Adrian Buckley (45), is also a director of Silverstream Priory, along with Sean Ascough and Patrick Kenny.
Jackie, like her husband Tom, is a director of Spirit Radio, and also writes for Alive! magazine, a right-wing Catholic publication with, among other things, an anti-evolution stance. Poor old Spirit Radio isn’t doing too well, judging by this printout of their financials, and apparently their JNLR listership is even smaller than 4FM, but not to worry. God will provide.
Jackie also wrote for the obscure Voice Today, as did Tom O’Gorman, the researcher for Iona mentioned above.
Incidentally, another Ascough, Deirdre, is married to a descendant of the Bourbon royal house, not that being a member of an ancient European aristocracy from the Holy Roman Empire is necessarily a bad thing. It certainly reflected very well on Declan Ganley’s Libertas party, which was very fond of ancient aristocratic families. Did I mention that Deirdre, Damien and Tom were big fans of Ganley? I’m sure Damien Graf von Schönborn-Buchheim is a perfectly decent fellow, but if I happened to be in his position, I feel certain that I’d yearn for a return to the days when a Catholic aristocracy ruled over Europe, the wonderful days when Charlemagne, my ancestor, was still an all-powerful monarch.
Is that what the members of the Iona lobby group long for too? A time when when powerful Catholic monarchs imposed certainty on the troublesome rabble without the need for messy democracy?
I don’t know, but the question is worth asking as you enjoy your pizza and wonder if you’ve just made a small contribution to the Iona Institute.
On a more whimsical note, those with a smattering of Latin will recognise Domino as the first-person present indicative form of dominare. It means I dominate.
Alternatively, it might also be the ablative form of Dominus, therefore meaning, inter alia, from the Lord.
Just saying …
Anyway, enough levity. The Iona Institute is no laughing matter, so let’s see what we have.
We’re looking at a fundamentalist billionaire; an international cabal of wealthy businessmen; the oldest equestrian Papal order with origins in the Crusades; the secretive Opus Dei; an assortment of priests and minor academics; a highly vocal spin-doctor with almost unlimited access to the national broadcaster.
We’re looking at privileged people seeking to influence Irish law and seeking to impose their own personal religious views on people who do not share their beliefs, but as always in Ireland, the facts are murky. The board of directors of Lolek Limited are a fairly drab bunch, and one would have to wonder whether they are, in fact, not simply sock puppets providing a vanguard for more powerful forces acting internationally.
However, let’s not sink to the judgemental depths inhabited by the Iona people. They are fully entitled to yearn for a time when Europe was ruled by unelected Catholic despots. We live in a democracy, after all.
Click on this for a better look at the links between the religious pressure groups in Ireland