We have become used to scandals in Ireland. In particular we have become used to scandals about our past. Thankfully, we can usually shift the blame. We didn’t know. It was different back then. Let’s just move on. The Tuam babies scandal was just another in a long line. Yet there was something about this that I found deeply upsetting.
First of all there is the fact that Church run institutions could ever have thought such practices were ok. Even a cursory read of actual catholic beliefs and Christianity would have shown that this was anything but what the god people believed in espoused. Christ himself was neither a child nor a man of means. He would have been shocked by the strict rules and punishments dealt out to people in his name.
One rarely hears a litany of wealthy names attached to such institutions. That’s the problem. Who is a voice for the people who have none? Who cares? Why not just blame them? After all that will ease our conscience. It wasn’t just the Church of course. Society liked the idea of punishing young women and illegitimate children. They were to be shunned. If a politician wanted to be elected then they rowed in behind such ideals with gusto. Society voted time and time again to keep such institutions open and agreed with the harshest of sentiments that were expressed.
Even in the last 20 years what changed? The Tuam babies grave, such as it was, was discovered in 1975. We are only getting around to finding it newsworthy now. You can blame the media but the truth is we didn’t care too much for the story anyway. Who gave voice over all these years?
Today we like to think we are different. We aren’t ruled by church authority anymore. Is that enough? Does that change everything? The problem is we still like to categorise people. Those on welfare are spongers. Welfare fraud is our biggest problem. Unmarried mothers are living it up on the children’s allowance. Why would you work when you can have several babies and the state pays for everything? The strange thing is that the very person you will hear utter those words is the same person who would not in a million years live in a council flat. They would not ever want to cope with raising kids on their own. They value their job and their income highly. They would never swap. The great comfort they have is the ability to convince themselves that they are genetically different. They want to work, they are not lazy and they have too much pride. A likely story.
We are today living through the scandals of tomorrow. Every year asylum seekers come to this country and we find some reason to say they are not deserving. They are only coming for the welfare. They are getting free cars or free haircuts or a hundred other myths. We like to tell ourselves that these people must be controlled or they will go wild, just like unmarried mothers had to be controlled in the days of old. Hundreds of children have gone missing from Irish state care and nobody knows where. They are probably ok, they probably went to another country, to another family. Is ‘probably’ good enough? Next time you see a few hundred children leaving your local school just imagine all those faces disappearing. Would ‘probably’ be a good enough response?
We herd people into direct provision in Ireland. We treat them like cattle. We take away their rights to live as a family and raise their children. We prevent them from working. 3,000 asylum seekers have been living in Direct provision for more than 2 years, 1,600 for more than five years. The living space is confined with little privacy. There are reports of malnourishment. There are no play areas for children. They are often exposed to violent and sexual behaviour. This is not good enough. It reads like something from our dark past that we would rather forget. But it’s not. It’s happening today. We can make excuses and argue over points but the reality is that one day our grandchildren will look at us and ask ‘How could you? what were you thinking?’
The fact is that it continues to happen to people with no voice. It continues to happen because not enough people care. Problems can affect anyone. Any woman can get pregnant. Any family can be forced to flee persecution. Anybody can end up on a street. We are all just human but this is the price of being human when you are poor enough to pay.