This post discusses intensely distressing topics, among them violence against women, violence against children, child abuse, and infant and child death.
Ireland, we all need to have a good talk. You know the way we all buy into this idea that there’s a massive overarching image of ourselves presented to the world and that somehow it matches up to the reality? That we’re the friendliest country to visit in the world, and other common or garden varieties of horseshit along these lines. We’re so invested in this portrayal that to question it is nearly tantamount to treason, and other tourism destinations found to ALSO be friendly in media polls is almost cause for the mass donning of sackcloth and ashes. Well, there’s one aspect of it in particular we really need to stop hawking and face up to it just Not Being True.
We need to stop pretending to ourselves and the rest of the world that we’re a country that loves children.
It’s a longstanding lie, and one we’ve told ourselves repeatedly throughout the years. It was even the primary basis for pushing through the horrendous 8th amendment, and all the toxic fallout of that that has been inflicted on women and children, of whom Miss X, aged 14, was one, in the 32 years since 1983. It should go without saying that if we loved children, we would allow those of them who needed and wanted to access abortions to do so, rather than force those children, some of whom have been abused and raped, as Miss X was, through the rigours, hardships, and dangers of unwanted pregnancy and unwanted birth.
If we truly loved children, we wouldn’t let the most vulnerable of them suffer as we do and as we have done consistently throughout the history of our nation. Look at the Mother and Baby homes and the Magdalen Laundries, the incarcerations and starvation and deaths and beatings and shame and forced adoptions and forced family breakups that went on in those institutions for decades, with the full support of the Irish state as well as the church.
If we truly loved children, we wouldn’t still refuse to investigate properly what went on in those homes, with local historian Catherine Corless having to bang the drum alone for the nearly 800 babies and children and 5 women the Sisters of Bon Secour, funded and supported by the Irish state, left lying in unmarked graves in Tuam as though they had never mattered at all. And of course to the church and to the Irish republic, they didn’t. After first attempting to paint Catherine Corless as an incompetent amateur attempting a gross exaggeration for some malevolent entertainment of her own, the government finally, grudgingly established a body to look into this. This body, The Commission of Investigation, is a year on still dragging its heels, not even bothering to reply to Catherine Corless when she provided them with her most recent research which indicates that there are 5 mothers buried on the grounds of the Tuam Mother and Baby home along with the hundreds of tiny children’s bodies also lying in the ground there. There have been no indicators of any progress being made in a paid and funded group of over a year’s work, despite having had another person’s extensive unpaid, unfunded research handed to them on a plate. No answers, no recognition of those children’s tiny lives and appalling deaths. No acknowledgement that those babies, those children, weren’t loved by us at all.
If we truly loved children, we wouldn’t ignore the truths of the stories that the Magdalen survivors tell us, many of whom were children when they were first incarcerated in those institutions, and many of whom had children stolen from them and sold with no regard to their best interests or their need for their mothers; how we patted ourselves smugly on the backs when the McAleese report came out, trumpeting that now justice had been done, they had been heard, never bothering to ask the women themselves how they felt about it. How they felt about it for very many was abandoned, betrayed, shamed and lied about all over again by the Irish state. The report spoke over, ignored and attempted to make liars out of the survivors of the laundries, the women whose needs it should have most urgently sought to meet and whose voices it should have been required to amplify. The women whose forgiveness the Irish state should be begging on bended knees every day for as long as they live. Justice for Magdalenes – co-founded by Claire McGettrick, who tweeted on this this week – published detailed research on the serious issues with the report. A key phrase from that research is “Most concerning was the Report’s contention that a very small level of physical abuse took place in the laundries” , a contention that is in direct contradiction of the evidence of the survivors of the laundries. It’s a key pointer to how little value and worth the authors of the report put on the testimony and accounts of survivors that their words weren’t considered ‘evidence’. The Irish state cares so little about these women, their stolen children, and their feelings and needs, and yet so much about its precious reputation abroad that it will even seek to prevent the media of other countries from broadcasting the truth of the McAleese Report.
If we truly loved children, we wouldn’t stand idly and quietly by as the Minister for Social Protection – what a heinous joke of a title – inflicted savage financial cuts on children living in lone parent families who are dependent on social welfare for their income, children who are already amongst the most marginalised and at risk of poverty in the country. Joan Burton had promised to only implement these cuts to the financial supports of children over 7 if a “Scandinavian style system of childcare” was implemented – which was also in her remit to do – thus proving she was more than well aware that depriving children of 7 and older of the care of their parents by rendering it financially impossible for their mother (87% of lone parent families are headed by women) to either stay at home with them or afford to access childcare is barbaric. Yet she implemented them anyway, with no support net for these children and no apparent interest in what happens to them. If we loved children, as a country, we would never allow this to happen. It is an outrage. It is beyond a disgrace.
If we truly loved children, as we love to claim, we would see instantly that Frances Fitzgerald telling the media that Ireland’s doing ‘more than its fair share’ in taking the absolutely paltry amount of refugees in that we are, and then forcing them into the horrors of direct provision indefinitely is nothing short of repugnant. Hundreds, thousands of people are drowning in the Mediterranean in an attempt to escape from suffering and misery while Labour and Fine Gael are intent on shoring up the walls of Fortress Europe. If we cared about children at all, we would be welcoming them and their families with open arms, cheering them on in their escape, not penning and corralling those who manage to survive against the odds like animals on the border points of Europe. Not forcing them to live for years with their family in one room of a run-down, miserable ‘hotel’ with no ability to cook their own food, or enough money to even buy it, or access public transport to go anywhere – if indeed public transport is accessible from the direct provision centre we’ve incarcerated them in.
There is no such thing as a ‘fair share’ of the work to be done when the drowned bodies of babies and toddlers continue to wash up on European beaches. The fact that anyone could speak of it so is something we should all find beyond comprehension.
If we truly loved children we would collectively remember when once it was the people living in Ireland who had to put their children on coffin ships in their hundreds of thousands, on water that was safer than the land on which they were starving, and cast themselves upon the cold mercy of an uncaring world. We would seek, urgently and desperately, to do everything within our power to prevent those horrors being inflicted on these other suffering and starving and drowning children of today. We would support this direct action group travelling with an aid convoy from Cork to the refugee camps in Calais, to alleviate the suffering and misery of those children and families and people who did survive but who are now trapped, without hope, in a Europe they hoped would be their promised land. We would campaign, furiously and energetically, arm in arm with the refugees living here to end direct provision in our own country and stop shutting our ears and eyes and mouths to the reality that incarceration of innocent suffering children is not a thing of yesteryear in today’s Ireland.
Until then, we have no right whatsoever to the claim.