‘They are spreading the blame – so it sticks thinly’. This is how one survivor described Michael Martin’s disgraceful apology to survivors of the Mother and Babies homes.
The political establishment have honed a tried and tested method for dealing with scandals. They set up a Commission of Inquiry but insist that any evidence gathered cannot be used for criminal prosecutions. Then they do an apology claiming that ‘we’ in Irish society – were to blame, knowing that mere words change nothing. In the last twenty years, almost every Irish Taoiseach has done their set piece apology.
What is truly shocking is the sheer length of time the current scandal has been brewing and level of obstruction deployed by the state.
While many women were silenced for decades, the train of events that led to this Commission of Inquiry date back to 1975.
In that year, two children found the bones of skeletal remains near a council estate in Tuam. The local Gardai immediately put out a statement that the remains were those who perished in the famine of 1847. A priest was called in to bless the site and it was rapidly sealed.
The discovery, however, prompted a local historian Catherine Corless to do research. She noted that a staggering number of children had died at the Mother and Babies home run by the Bons Secours nuns in the town. Yet she could find no death certificates for the 796 children.
We now know that these babies died because of systematic malnutrition. Catholic fundamentalists had decreed that they were ‘born out of sin’ and both they and their mothers had to be punished. The mothers paid for their ‘sins’ by painful births and then, after they had bonded with their babies for a few weeks, would see them forcibly removed for adoption.
The religious orders profited from this shaming by collecting money for the adoptions and receiving regular contributions afterwards from the new, grateful parents.
Yet despite Catherine Corless’ painstaking research, it has taken the Irish state nine years to even publish their report. It was drafted by two conservative academics and a former circuit judge who had been married to a founder of the Progressive Democrats, Ireland’s first openly neoliberal party.
They were never going to draw a connection between Ireland’s dark fundamentalist past and its current skin-deep progressive image. But the connections are there for all who want to look.
They are evident in the fact that the records of survivors are still sealed. A deal was done with the Catholic hierarchy that in return for access to records, a veil of secrecy would be drawn over the affair.
The link between the past and the present are still in evidence in the notorious Woods deal. This was an indemnity deal agreed by a Fianna Fail Minister, Michael Woods, in 2002 whereby the state took on the cost of redress for victims of residential institutions. It has cost the Irish taxpayer over €1 billion. This is the real meaning of Martin’s statement that ‘we’ are all to blame.
And what of the Bons Secours? They have moved on from the burial of babies in a sewerage pit in Tuam to now running one of the largest private hospital networks in the country.
In the past, they served the wealthy by shaming women to frighten people into submission before priest and politician. Today, they still serve their health needs -for a fee.
It is time we ended this charade. Instead of apologies we want action. This is why People Before Profit are calling for:
- Open criminal investigations into the religious orders that caused death and suffering.
- Take their assets and give full redress to the victims.
- Scrap the Woods deal and make the church pay for its crimes.