Ireland’s shameless cardinal

Claudy bombings cover-up shows sorry is the hardest word for the Catholic hierarchy — yet again.

Revelations that the Catholic Church and the British government covered up the involvement of Fr James Chesney in the 1972 Claudy bombings in Northern Ireland are shocking enough. (The police concluded at the time that Chesney was an IRA leader, while the then Irish primate, Cardinal Conway, agreed that he was "a very bad man".)

Worse is that the Catholic hierarchy then allowed Chesney to continue as a cleric, transferring him from Derry to Donegal, in the Republic of Ireland.

The current primate, Cardinal Sean Brady, and the Bishop of Derry, Seamus Hegarty, have issued a statement saying it is "shocking that a priest should be suspected of involvement in such violence".

But Brady, in particular, has appeared to be more concerned about protecting what remains of the Church's tattered reputation in Ireland. "The Catholic Church did not engage in a cover up," he said yesterday. "The Church was approached by the secretary of state, investigated and reported back. I don't see that as a cover-up."

Really? As the Irish Examiner put it:

Mary Hamilton, who ran a hotel in Claudy and was in the town that day, said: "I would like to see the Catholic Church coming forward and telling us why they felt Fr Chesney's life was more important than nine people in the village."

I saw Brady on Sky News, facing some admittedly tough questioning about the ombudsman's report. The interviewer, Colin Brazier, began by asking him just how many Catholic priests were also terrorists in the 1970s. But after a while Brazier began to look puzzled. All Brady needed to do was state unequivocally that it was utterly wrong for a suspected terrorist to carry on ministering to the faithful as a Catholic priest. This, it seemed, he could not bring himself to do.

Instead, the impression was of yet more weasel words from Brady, who faced calls to resign earlier this year over his -- admittedly minor -- role in a process that left a notorious paedophile priest free to attack other children.

Evasive, inarticulate, he came across as living proof that, as the Augustinian priest Father Iggy O'Donovan said only days ago, "in recent decades the ranks of the Irish episcopate has been manned with second-raters, rather than men of vision and imagination".

On what happened -- or rather, didn't happen -- to Fr Chesney, Brady bleats: "The Church was put in an impossible situation. From this distance, I cannot judge whether it was right or wrong."

If he genuinely can't make that call, he should go right now. The Catholic Church can never recover respect, still less its former moral authority, while led by such pathetic, cowardly men. To call them second-raters is a compliment they don't deserve.

Sholto Byrnes is a Contributing Editor to the New Statesman
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Donald Trump wants to terminate the Environmental Protection Agency - can he?

"Epa, Epa, Eeeepaaaaa" – Grampa Simpson.


There have been countless jokes about US President Donald Trump’s aversion to academic work, with many comparing him to an infant. The Daily Show created a browser extension aptly named “Make Trump Tweets Eight Again” that converts the font of Potus’ tweets to crayon scrawlings. Indeed, it is absurd that – even without the childish font – one particular bill that was introduced within the first month of Trump taking office looked just as puerile. Proposed by Matt Gaetz, a Republican who had been in Congress for barely a month, “H.R. 861” was only one sentence long:

“The Environmental Protection Agency shall terminate on December 31, 2018”.

If this seems like a stunt, that is because Gaetz is unlikely to actually achieve his stated aim. Drafting such a short bill without any co-sponsors – and leaving it to a novice Congressman to present – is hardly the best strategy to ensure a bill will pass. 

Still, Republicans' distrust for environmental protections is well-known - long-running cartoon show The Simpsons even did a send up of the Epa where the agency had its own private army. So what else makes H.R. 861 implausible?

Well, the 10-word-long statement neglects to address the fact that many federal environmental laws assume the existence of or defer to the Epa. In the event that the Epa was abolished, all of these laws – from the 1946 Atomic Energy Act to the 2016 Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act – would need to be amended. Preferably, a way of doing this would be included in the bill itself.

Additionally, for the bill to be accepted in the Senate there would have to be eight Democratic senators who agreed with its premise. This is an awkward demand when not even all Republicans back Trump. The man Trum appointed to the helm of the Epa, Scott Pruitt, is particularly divisive because of his long opposition to the agency. Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine said that she was hostile to the appointment of a man who was “so manifestly opposed to the mission of the agency” that he had sued the Epa 14 times. Polls from 2016 and 2017 suggests that most Americans would be also be opposed to the agency’s termination.

But if Trump is incapable of entirely eliminating the Epa, he has other ways of rendering it futile. In January, Potus banned the Epa and National Park Services from “providing updates on social media or to reporters”, and this Friday, Trump plans to “switch off” the government’s largest citizen-linked data site – the Epa’s Open Data Web Service. This is vital not just for storing and displaying information on climate change, but also as an accessible way of civilians viewing details of local environmental changes – such as chemical spills. Given the administration’s recent announcement of his intention to repeal existing safeguards, such as those to stabilise the climate and protect the environment, defunding this public data tool is possibly an attempt to decrease awareness of Trump’s forthcoming actions.

There was also a recent update to the webpage of the Epa's Office of Science and Technology, which saw all references to “science-based” work removed, in favour of an emphasis on “national economically and technologically achievable standards”. 

Trump’s reshuffle of the Epa's priorities puts the onus on economic activity at the expense of public health and environmental safety. Pruitt, who is also eager to #MakeAmericaGreatAgain, spoke in an interview of his desire to “exit” the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. He was led to this conclusion because of his belief that the agreement means “contracting our economy to serve and really satisfy Europe, and China, and India”.


Rather than outright closure of the Epa, its influence and funding are being leached away. H.R. 861 might be a subtle version of one of Potus’ Twitter taunts – empty and outrageous – but it is by no means the only way to drastically alter the Epa’s landscape. With Pruitt as Epa Administrator, the organisation may become a caricature of itself – as in The Simpsons Movie. Let us hope that the #resistance movements started by “Rogue” Epa and National Parks social media accounts are able to stave off the vultures until there is “Hope” once more.


Anjuli R. K. Shere is a 2016/17 Wellcome Scholar and science intern at the New Statesman

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