As the country grapples with the harrowing details of this week’s report into Mother and Baby Homes, Gavin reflects on what it says about an Ireland of decades ago, and the Ireland of today.
In presenting Wednesday’s programme, which dealt comprehensively with the report by the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes, I was acutely aware that its work had shone a light on the stories of many listeners for whom this is a personal tale.
There are thousands upon thousands of people among us who were born in, or had been sent to these wretched institutions for reasons that seem scarcely fathomable in modern Ireland. Some of those people got in touch with us, and left comments, all anonymously. That’s fine. Not everyone wants to talk about their past, particularly when it harbours some painful memories.
I was struck too, during the show, by the range of views we received on the matter. Some blamed the families or partners of women for sending them away, when others insisted that the wider public had no idea what was going on behind closed doors and high stone walls. I’m not qualified to pass judgement – both opinions are likely to be true to a varying extent in different cases, I imagine. But to me it’s clear that the over-riding feeling that gave rise to Mother and Baby homes was shame. A misplaced shame in the ‘scandalous’ scenario that could see an unmarried mother, or a woman whose relationship broke down, or a girl who was raped, with a child but not a husband. That shame drove individuals, institutions and – to an extent at least – society as a whole, to allow unspeakable acts be inflicted upon women and children, on their fellow citizens and their family members. There was an appalling lack of care that saw thousands of children die unnecessarily.
I hope that this week’s report, and the apology from the State, brings some relief to those affected but the words of Joan Burton and Anna Corrigan and Maree Ryan O’Brien on the show this week leave me in no doubt but that more than words and apologies are needed. I hope this comes, without the usual bureaucracy that often seems designed to frustrate those that systems are supposedly designed to help.
While it is an important moment that the State acknowledges the shames of our past, it doesn’t need to come to this. We don’t have to wait until the future to right the wrongs of today. It is in no way appropriate that there are dozens of people living in direct provision centres for over seven years. It is shameful that families in this county have spent any amount of time, let alone two or more Christmas Days, living in Emergency Accommodation or that so many people bed down on cold streets each night. It is a disgrace that thousands of people have to endure long waits on trollies in our hospitals, or for appointments.
I’m not trying to equate any of those issues with what happened in Mother and Baby Home or with each other, to be clear. But I believe most, if not all of us, can agree that we as a nation can and should and MUST to better in these areas, and more.
The Taoieach said, during his State apology this week, that the Ireland of the time of Mother and Baby Homes was “cold and harsh.” Are we any different now?
We shouldn’t need the report of a Commission to take action and to do better but perhaps this week can be a motivation for our governments, politicians, institutions and, yes, our society as a whole. Let them and us do more so that the 21st Century is not also looked back on as a time in which people in this land had to endure disgraceful and needlessly cruel treatment.