Breda O’Brien in The Irish Times of Saturday, February 20, seeks to minimize the blame which should attach to those who did not rise to protect children. She reckons that they are being too strenuously tested, that few of us would pass what she calls the “challenge-the-culture test”. How depressing! She is very wrong to set such low standards.
Excusing inaction on – or even participation in – wrongdoing on the basis of a dishonest understanding of “culture” has become a familiar evasion in Ireland and one that seeks to give a lick of dignity to a life or a career that is in truth unworthy of a citizen – or indeed unworthy of any kind of right thinking person. It is shameful and slavish to claim that as long as misconduct is so common as to attract the term “culture”, one can avoid blame for letting it happen. It is alarming that so many people seem to think that the holder of a post is not required to take some sort of stand against wrongdoing or stupidity.
It is certain that many of our scandals rest on past acceptance of this contemptible nonsense. Now it needs to be up-rooted to ensure the appointment of people of better character.
Very few of us will get through life without being asked at times to make some kind of stand and it could be argued that such tests are necessary to a full life. In extreme cases the risks will be too great. Standing up might result in death, imprisonment, exile or loss of a job. Faced with such risks, no one could be blamed for keeping quiet and surviving. However, when the risks are merely to one’s popularity, one’s quiet life or one’s chances of promotion, failure to take a stand should be condemned.
It is certain that in the case of extensive child abuse removing the “culture” fig leaf should cause many to fall from respectability. The excuse is, however, more widely used. For example, employment in the banking industry during the damaging years asked questions about courage and integrity. Now only those who spoke out should remain in anything but junior positions.
In short, whining about “the culture of the time” or “the culture of the industry” etc. is not an excuse for complicity.