Survivors, their families and campaigners feel angry and bitterly disappointed at the findings of the enquiry into the Mother and Baby homes released last week. The survivors, most now elderly, gave their evidence in good faith, with some traveling long distances to do so. They wanted to be heard and most of all, they wanted to be believed. However, they have once again been utterly failed by the State and the Church.
The conclusions of the report contradict the facts within the report itself and most of all the evidence given by witnesses. The report gives little or no weight to the testimony of the survivors and focuses on official evidence available. The religious organisations who are being investigated are the ones with the official evidence, much of it hidden or no longer existing. The survivors are the people with the truth. Many survivors who gave evidence have found they are not featured in the report or their evidence is not reported correctly.
On the very first page of the report’s Executive Summary it becomes perfectly clear how much of a whitewash this report is when it states:
“Women who gave birth outside marriage were subject to particularly harsh treatment. Responsibility for that harsh treatment rests mainly with the fathers of their children and their own immediate families. It was supported by, contributed to and condoned by the institutions of the state and the churches. However, it must be acknowledged that the institutions under investigation provided a refuge – a harsh refuge in some cases when the families provided no refuge at all.“
And while Michael Martin made an apology on behalf of the State, when introducing the report, he shifted the blame from the Church, who carried out the abuse, and the State who allowed it to happen, with Fianna Fail in power for the majority of the time covered, onto society in general:
“One hard truth in all of this is that all of society was complicit in it,” Mr Martin said. “We are going to need to confront and come to terms with this as a people.” “We did this to ourselves”
The enquiry finds that the fathers and families were to blame with the Church and State playing a secondary role. Incredibly the Government states we are all, as a ‘Nation’, to blame!
The report goes on : There is no evidence that women were forced to enter Mother and Baby homes by the Church or the State authorities. Most women had no alternative.
No choice is not a choice. The questions that need to be answered are why were women left with no alternative but to hide their pregnancy, have their child in secrecy and then have their baby adopted. 97% of babies born to unmarried women in 1967 were adopted.
More than 40% of babies born in the homes in some years in the 1930s and 40s died before they reached their first birthday. In the Bessborough home, in 1943, 75% of the children died before their first birthday. Ireland had the highest number of women give birth in mother and baby homes in the world. Incredibly the report refers to these homes as “a refuge – a harsh refuge in some cases.” Women who fled to England were returned to Ireland to a Mother and Baby home usually accompanied by a priest or nun. Women in this situation were often disparagingly referred to as “PFI – Pregnant from Ireland”. Witness account after witness account from the confidential session shows the role of the priest in organising for the women, and some children as young as 12, to be put into the homes; yet the report finds no evidence. The evidence is there but not taken into account.
This report and the many gone before it, are an indictment of the capitalist system in Ireland and how it treats the most vulnerable in society. Due to their weakness the Irish capitalist class were unable to complete one of the tasks of the capitalist revolution; to separate the Church from the State during the period 1916-23.
With the collusion of the capitalist establishment, the Church was given free rein to create a misogynistic Catholic state with the Church used to control the population. De Valera brought the draft 1937 constitution of the state to the Bishops in Maynooth for their approval. The notorious Archbishop of Dublin, John Charles McQuaid, was heavily involved in writing the sections of the constitution that covered women, the family and children.
The Irish Free State from 1923 allowed the Catholic church and religious orders to be the often only providers of social and public services. In the early 1950s the Catholic hierarchy mobilised to destroy the ‘Mother and Child’ scheme, which would have provided public health for free to women and children. To this day the Church retains a powerful position in both education and health. More than 90% of primary schools are Catholic with a Bishop as the patron and an explicitly Catholic ethos.
Ireland has become a more open multi-cultural society; some socially progressive laws have been passed on foot of big movements: marriage equality and the repeal of the 8th amendment. However, the church still very significantly wields power and exercises influence within the Irish capitalist state.
The horrific experiences of the survivors and the families of those affected are a crushing indictment of the capitalist system and those institutions like the Church that perpetuate oppression, especially on women. Militant Left fights to eradicate this oppression for good by ending the class system it is based on. Socialism would not only separate Church and State, it would also end the profit system that has rampant exploitation and inequality sewn into its DNA.
Militant Left demands:
A genuine democratic inquiry into the scandal of Mother and Baby Homes with a committee of survivors, the families and campaigners.
- Total separation of Church and State has always been a key demand of the socialist movement. It is a demand that Militant Left raises now.
- Survivors of the homes must be compensated now.
- All records should be open to survivors.
- Religious orders as well as the state should be held accountable.