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From Senna to Joyce

Exile from hypocrisy, lack of standards, formalism, begrudgery and betrayal

by David Langwallner


The legendary Formula 1 driver Ayrton Senna was famous for flamboyant risk taking. His great rival Alain Prost would complain about his dangerous overtaking and bumper-to-bumper manoeuvrings. Senna was, without doubt, the greatest Formula 1 driver of all time both in terms of style and indeed achievements, even if Prost had a better win record. But of course people can become addicted to risk and risking everything all of the time is likely to prove counterproductive. As I have found to my cost, occasionally consolidation is often the wise course.

Senna was also a decent and religious person, dedicated to a series of charitable causes. In the days before he died in the fatal crash in the Monaco Grand Prix he was very concerned about the state of the track in Imola. He had for years been vociferous about the need for greater safety checks in his sport. Ironically, many were introduced as a result of his death. Indeed Senna may have had a premonition of his own death.

I have a similar attitude to Ireland which, as I have written previously, does not as a state conform to the rule of law.

The reason for the rapid decline is crucial. The word that is truly missing in Ireland in this country is ‘standards’. We do not have any.

First, our legal and medical professions are in disarray, unethical and controlled by a narrow privileged elite drawn from established Dublin families recalling what Aneurin Bevin said of Anthony Eden: “Beneath the sophistication of his appearance and manner he has all the unplumable stupidities and unawareness of his class and type”.

Further, our police force and social workers – led by Tusla – are utterly unfit for purpose. I have written extensively about the police. They are trained to assume guilt, they bend and manufacture evidence to achieve outcomes, many of them though not all are criminal either by intent or negligence and the cancer of course, as recent events have demonstrated, comes from the top down. I also see the work of Catholic action groups and religious zealots over our family structures and in places our legal profession. In fact to ascend beyond Inspector or Barristerial ‘Devil’ level it is a help to be privy to the corruption.

In a dissenting judgment in 2015 in DPP v JC, the late Supreme Court Justice Adrian Hardiman stated: “[T]here have been two Tribunals of Inquiry, each presided over by an eminent member of the judiciary, which have each reported in a profoundly disturbing manner, The first report of the Morris Tribunal, published in 2004… related to bogus explosive finds by gardaí in County Donegal.

The report observed that Garda culture: “generally militates against open and transparent cooperation with investigations both internal and external and manifests itself in a policy of ‘don’t hang your own’”.

Then there is the relationship between the police and the child-protection agencies, evoking on occasion a deeply unsettling nexus of collusion, with the enlistment of lawyers to manufacture cases and to target people they want to denigrate or destroy. I have known for several years that the Garda have used Tusla to frame innocent people for sex abuse, and indeed other things. Sergeant Maurice McCabe is only one of many who have been smeared by the textbook play of false sex allegations coming from the highest level down. I have seen this myself, personally.

I now feel a growing sense of apprehension visiting Dublin, evoking Indonesia or Chile in the 1970s. I have in recent months given papers in Queen’s and also in Waterford to the Irish Association of Law Teachers, and concluded a Coroners Court case but I feel a sense of dread and foreboding when I visit Dublin similar I think to what Senna felt before Imola. It is an unsafe track. The safety standards are not there.

But what do standards mean? More to the point what are they confused with?

In Ireland standards are confused with other things, reflecting a fetish for appearance over reality: respectability, obsequious etiquette, formal politeness, vested reassurance, sexual abstinence (for the religiously compliant), accurate footnoting (by academics), unwise balance, cowardice and bullshit.

These are Irish specialities, over-compensation for the want of seriousness, the want of standards, that have drained my patience as I left these shores for the moment at least.

Form over substance, appearance over reality, the sneer on lips of ill-disguised begrudgery.

An egregious example of the formalism that weighs down this country is the conservative mindset of our judges, driven by a furious imperative to uphold the state at all costs. Symptoms include their tendency to exclude evidence based on claims of ‘privilege’ or ‘locus standi’, the contrivance of constraints based on pleadings rather than the underlying substance of complaints, a systemic resolution to avoid dealing with the constitution. And the latest vogue: deference to the ‘separation of powers’ as an excuse for licensing executive overbearance. If you are presiding over a Tribunal or Inquiry take refuge in the fact the politicians will have made sure the terms of reference are skewed. Never look at the substance of an iniquitous system if you can divert those who seek justice – down a parallel procedure track. Play the man rather than the ball – after all that is what you learnt in the ‘rock.

Most of this derives from our educational system at primary, secondary and college level particularly the regimes in the values-light powerhouse technical schools of UCD. Across the range, our education makes no effort to ‘draw out’ the spirit or ethic of its victims. There is little focus on structural thinking, logic, ethics or vision. Philosophy is a foreign land; values a naïve unattainable luxury. Instead we get rote learning to please the lecturer with a limited and predictable sectoral agenda, tested by pre-signalled exam questions: technocratic skills learned for material and financial ends.

James Joyce’s ‘A Portrait of the Artist of a Young Man’, ironically set more than anywhere else in the precursor of UCD, was first published in English, in 1917, a hundred years ago, as Joyce was pouring himself into the first chapters of his greatest masterpiece Ulysses, which recreated an Ireland, or at least a Dublin, of the imagination. A Portrait framed Joyce’s manifesto: “I will tell you what I will do and what I will not do. I will not serve that in which I no longer believe, whether it calls itself my home, my fatherland, or my church: and I will try to express myself in some mode of life or art as freely as I can and as wholly as I can, using for my defense the only arms I allow myself to use – silence, exile, and cunning”.

I have exercised a choice recently: rather than preaching to the unconvertible and the hypocritical, I have cunningly chosen exile, in Prague.


David Langwallner, formerly dean of the law department in Griffith College Dublin, is Professor of Law at the Anglo American University, Prague