When talking about the death and disposal of 800 children in a septic tank in Tuam, our Taoiseach Enda Kenny said that it was ‘yet another element of our country’s past’. Since the story broke at the end of May, more and more ‘elements of our country’s past‘ have been shared by those who experienced the horrors of the industrial systems in Ireland first hand. These institutions, euphemistically referred to as ‘homes’ or ‘laundries’ were set up to ‘deal with’ the women and children who didn’t fit into our society’s moralistic and traditional view of what consituted legitimate family. The Minister for Children, Charlie Flanagan has said that the revelations in Tuam have ‘shown up a really tragic period in Irish life and society’ and has announced that there will be a statutory Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes across the state. It’s important he says, that a light be shone on ‘these dark periods’.
Both men seek to place these atrocities firmly in the past, in a ‘dark time’ that has now, presumably passed.
People in Ireland, and perhaps in particular – those who identify as Catholic – have been appalled in recent decades by revelations of the atrocities committed by members of religious orders working in schools or institutions supported by the Irish State. The collusion of both the Church hierarchy and the State itself in covering up these crimes has left many wondering what kind of justice there can be for the countless children who died through neglect (and worse) and the women who were imprisoned for becoming pregnant outside of marriage.
The implication from the Taoiseach and the Minister for Children that the Ireland we live in today is vastly different from the Ireland that sowed it’s land with dead children is either wilfully misleading, or naive. While we may as individuals have known little or nothing about what went on, the information about these abuses has been available to the state since it’s foundation. It was a matter of public record. This story first broke decades ago. The complicity goes further than just the Church and the State though – many communities were silent. Many families would have known where their daughters and grandchildren were. People remained silent for fear of bringing shame on themselves, their families and their communities. Fear reinforced by the institutions of both the Church and State.
Shaming women for being sexually active outside of marriage still happens everyday in Ireland. The desire of the church and the state to punish and control women who become unexpectedly pregnant is evident in Ireland’s laws and in the silence that still surrounds abortion. Given that the last Magdalen laundry was still open in 1996, is it any wonder women are hesitant to tell their stories about abortion or even contemplate breaking the rigid set of rules and mores?
Religious spokesmen, having learned of Catherine Corless’ evidence say they’re ‘greatly shocked‘ to learn ‘of the extent of the numbers of children buried’ at Tuam. Our Taoiseach believes modern Ireland isn’t capable of repeating the sins of the past. The country’s population is still reeling as more horrors come to light. Our Government ministers actively engage in policies that make it more difficult to be a single mother, and still we send those who chose abortion away in secrecy, in silence and full of shame. If public opinion and the times have changed – why won’t those in authority acknowledge it and act accordingly? Their responses in the media are unsurprising. The silence and denial that has accompanied the current ‘scandal’ is the same denial and the same silence that has the church and state acting as though abortion isn’t a necessary reality in any society where women can become pregnant.
The Abortion Rights Campaign, would like to encourage it’s members to attend a march organised by ‘Justice for the Tuam Babies‘ which takes place today (June 11th) assembling at the Department of Children (Mespil Rd, Dublin 4) and marching to the Dáil. Activists from Galway Pro-Choice have organised a Vigil for the Tuam Babies in Eyre Square at 7pm.