Who is the outrage directed at? Susan Lohan, co-founder of the Adoption Rights Alliance, commenting on Tonight with Vincent Browne, repeatedly refers to ‘these nuns’, as though the sole blame and responsibility falls on ‘these nuns’, despite repeatedly admitting having no information, though it seems (to her) ‘inconceivable that a child could die from malnutrition’, and ‘is a continuation of the general contempt Irish society had for the women and children … ultimately because Irish society agreed with ‘Church doctrine’…’. Lohan, like many, is happy to continue the narrative, without any evidence, that there was a crime of neglect, even ‘wilful neglect’. This reflects the story being propagated of the Magdalen laundries, despite the McAleese report. contrary to Martina Devlin who acknowledges ‘[i]t is convenient to blame the nuns in Tuam, and elsewhere, for what happened in such homes. Condemnation has been shrill. But at least the Bon Secours sisters put a roof over the heads of mothers and their children when they ran the home between 1926 and 1961.’ Lohan, and other attempt to counter this by claiming that the nuns tendered for the ‘business’, that they made a profit out of it, that a capitation grant per child was more than the average industrial wage provided to a man at the time. Rather than wasting time refuting in detail these contemptible slanders, it should be noted that hospitals of today can tender for state services and can be not-for-profit at the same time (St Vincent’s an example- and it is the non-profit element that can make them more efficient), and the cost of maintaining children in institutions today, or prisoners in correctional facilities, is far higher than the average industrial wage. Institutional care is not cheap, yet, it was for this very reason, in 1926, that the Sisters of Charity were asked- rather than tendered- to take over the running of the home. There is no story of how it must have felt to be a Sister in these homes being called upon by God and Society, to be the salve to society’s ills. Perhaps the pressure was too much. Possibly individual nuns were cruel and uncaring. Probably these untrained Sister’s failed to provide care to a level that is expected. Were they doing less or worse than the rest of society that said and did nothing? What is the yardstick by which they are being measured?

Notwithstanding the lack of facts that link the 796 deaths, the septic tank, wilful neglect, and the attitude of the Catholic Church, the clamour to associate this new-found horror with the Catholic Church and some inherent malevolence within it, is telling. Independent TD Catherine Murphy said if the discovery had been made anywhere else other than near a religious institution, it would have been described as a “crime scene”. This is incorrect. If the discovery (though there was no discovery), was made anywhere else, likelihood is that there would be a reasonable discussion and analysis of the facts at hand. A calm decision to carry out forensic analysis of whether the bones in the septic tank actually came from the era under question or whether they came from famine times, as is the current understanding of the Gardai, or from the era of the workhouse. Perhaps there would be a calm and balanced rebuttal of the suppositions disconnected to fact, rather than a panicked reaction resembling a child who had forgotten to do his homework and blaming the dog for eating it, from our elected representatives. It should be expected that they would seek to provide comment to the international media that presents some form of respect and understanding of our common heritage, rather than joining in the ill-founded condemnation before fact has been established. Commenting on the Bethany Home in the Dail in late 2013, Labour party TD and Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Kathleen Lynch said: "The number of children who died at Bethany Home is quite shocking. Unfortunately poverty and disease were commonplace in Ireland up to the 1950s and this was reflected in infant mortality rates. Infant mortality rates in the 1940s were at a level that are hard to comprehend today, about 20 times higher than now and that figure applies across the entire population. For those who were malnourished and subject to disease and a lack of hygiene the figures would have been higher still." None of our elected elite are making such statements in relation to Catholic institutes, that have provided the foil for Statal and societal responsibility in the distant past, and continue to do so today.

John Waters reminds us, on TV3, that the famine in Ireland was as recent at the median year of the Mother and Baby Home in Tuam, as that median year is for us now. Ireland was a country, not that long ago, where 25% of the population perished. Another 25% left the country. People lived in dirt. In squalor. Kathleen Lynch acknowledges that we cannot look at the past with the easy eyes of modern life. Many of us don’t even understand it yet we judge, rather than attempt to understand. Martina Devlin says remembering is a form of justice. Understanding is much more just, yet when it comes to certain institutions and certain groups, there is no room or interest in understanding. Do we put ourselves in the shoes of different people of that time, embroiled in the context, tied to community, to family, to relationships, to dependency, to expectation or do we remain standing in the wings, looking at the shoes as something we wouldn’t touch, never mind walk in?

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