How Northern Protestants in the Dáil would have questioned power of Catholic Church
· Irish Independent
· Martina Devlin
VARIOUS threads have begun to unravel in Irish life as one shameful episode after another is highlighted: from concerns about conditions in mother and baby homes run by nuns, to an intellectually challenged woman’s 20 years of abuse in her foster home, with warning flags persistently ignored.
A pattern can be traced in these unwinding strands – deferral to authority, a tendency to look away from disconcerting truths and reluctance to challenge Catholic institutions.
With the glow still warm from last year’s centenary celebrations, it is increasingly clear that the fledgling Republic made a catastrophic mistake in outsourcing health and education to the Catholic Church – meanwhile neglecting its inspection duties.
Embedded in the new Irish State, the Catholic Church grew ever more authoritarian, extending its reach to exert political and social control. Some of its work was beneficial, especially in a country as poor as Ireland, but the unfettered power was problematic.
Ireland’s institutional history, from the industrial schools to the Magdalene laundries to the mother and baby homes, is a source of dismay. But self-flagellation serves less purpose here than action. We must become serious about separation of Church and State.
Education is a key example of ongoing, inappropriate Church influence. Almost 97pc of state primary schools are under Church control. Allowing the continuation of a baptism barrier in admissions’ policy cannot continue.
It is indefensible that State-funded schools can show bias, with the freedom to cherrypick pupils baptised as Catholics on the grounds of protecting their religious ethos. Do they also apply religious ethos requirements to teachers employed there (using our money)? If so, do the State’s laws have anything to say?
Clearly, current admissions’ policy is discriminatory – a child’s religion ought not to be a factor. Even if a school building is owned by a religious institution, for decades it has been maintained, renovated and extended by the State, while teachers’ salaries and pensions are paid by the Exchequer.
And while we’re in a reforming mood, the inclusion of religious instruction during school hours, also promoting the Catholic ethos, is highly questionable. Civics should be studied, instead of prioritising one religion above another in the national curriculum.
How did Ireland find itself in a position where Catholicism held undue sway in areas far beyond its remit? For that, we must look back to the foundation of the State – to partition.
The creation of two states on either side of the Border, run along repressive and ultraconservative religious grounds, has caused misery and hardship on this island. Imagine how Ireland might have flourished if it had developed without the drawbacks of partition.
In the North, Orangeism would have been restricted. As for the Irish State, Protestants were a loss, where a sizeable minority in the Dáil would have challenged Catholic Church power accrual.
Protestants also had the urge to practise social control, of course, and did just that in Northern Ireland. But they would have opposed the land and power build-up engaged in by the Catholic hierarchy.
I’m not suggesting no Tuams would have happened – Northern Presbyterians are far from progressive on women’s rights – but they would have objected to handing over education and health to Catholicism.
Consider WB Yeats’s Seanad speech in 1925 against the Free State’s proposed divorce ban – perhaps his most eloquent parliamentary contribution. Church-led proposals to outlaw divorce were “grossly oppressive”, according to the poet, arguing on both moral and political grounds. However, he lacked support in a Catholic-heavy jurisdiction.
“If you show that this country, Southern Ireland, is going to be governed by Catholic ideas and by Catholic ideas alone, you will never get the North,” he warned. “You will create an impassable barrier between South and North, and you will pass more and more Catholic laws, while the North will, gradually, assimilate its divorce and other laws to those of England. You will put a wedge into the midst of this nation.” Yeats also said “men and women who are held together against their will and reason soon cease to recognise any duty to one another”.
He also spoke out against strict censorship laws introduced in 1929, driven by ultraconservative Catholicism averse to “unwholesome” foreign influences and immorality. That damaging legislation could be interpreted as one more example of the harm caused by partition.
It is tempting to criticise a sheep-like population of earlier years for paying insufficient attention to scandals flourishing in their midst. But that ignores the historical context – the poverty, lack of education and the way the Catholic Church’s institutional authority was backed up by the State.
Plus, sexuality was tightly controlled. A social revolution has happened since the 1990s. At university in Dublin, I remember being asked to buy condoms for fellow students when I went home to the North for the weekend. It was 1985 before they could be bought without a prescription. That sounds like the Dark Ages to young people today.
Attitudes to contraception have shifted, but abortion remains a thorny and divisive subject. On Wednesday, International Women’s Day, thousands of pro-choice supporters marched in Dublin for a referendum to reform Ireland’s highly restrictive abortion regime.
We are in our comfort zones complaining about abuses suffered half-a-century ago. But people are reluctant to make the link that civil rights continue to be denied to women today, with autonomy over their bodies withheld from them.
Enda Kenny made a fine speech in 2011 expressing Ireland’s horror at institutional abuse, and lambasting the Vatican for attempting to frustrate inquiries into “the rape and torture of children”.
He tackled similar ground this week, referencing the “social and cultural sepulchre” uncovered by the Tuam babies’ scandal, but this time the Taoiseach said society was also to blame.
FAMILIES could have resisted and kept their pregnant daughters, and some did. A sense of shame was instilled by an autocratic Church which dominated every pillar of society, especially the family, but not everyone accepted that.
In the late 1970s, a family at the bottom of my street kept their pregnant schoolgirl daughter, and her baby. None of them was treated as a pariah; on the contrary, the community admired that family’s solidarity. So, who is society? It’s all of us.
Finally, amid the recrimination, we must remember there were decent and committed members of religious congregations – Father Peter McVerry’s work for the homeless is inspirational, for example. And by the way, the Loreto nuns visited that schoolgirl with a gift of baby clothes.
Accounts reveal massive sums paid to order
· Irish Independent
· Shane Phelan
THE religious order at the centre of the Tuam babies burial scandal has been paid €43.5m over the past 10 years by the private hospital group it runs.
Accounts for Bon Secours Health System Ltd reveal the payments were made to Bon Secours Sisters Ireland in respect of the leasing of buildings and interest on loans advanced by the order. The payments mean that, unlike many other religious orders in Ireland, the Bon Secours Sisters are in rude financial health.
However, the order has refused to say what it does with the money paid to it by the hospital group.
Its finances have come under sharp focus in recent days, with calls made in the Dáil and the Seanad for the order’s resources to be made available to survivors of the Tuam home and relatives of those who died.
The order operated a mother and baby home in the Co Galway town between 1925 and 1961. Historian Catherine Corless believes the remains of almost 800 children may have been buried in underground chambers at the property. Bon Secours Health System Ltd has private hospitals in Dublin, Cork, Galway, Limerick and Tralee, as well as a private clinic in Cavan and a care village in Cork. Its most recent set of accounts, for 2015, showed a payment of just under €4m was made to the order that year in respect of the leasing of buildings and interest on loans.
The accounts also revealed the hospital group generated a profit of €2.3m.
THE MEDICAL MILLIONAIRES OF MARY !
THE MEDICAL MILLIONAIRES OF MARY !
The order refused to discuss its finances when questions on the issue were posed by the Irish Independent. “The Bon Secours have no comment to make on the financial questions,” it said in a statement.
The refusal to comment means it remains unclear whether the order would consider making a financial contribution to survivors of the Tuam home or their relatives.
It is also unclear if the order will consider assisting financially with anticipated efforts to identify the remains discovered by the Mother and Baby Home Commission in Tuam.
The order said it was co-op-erating with the commission, but declined to go into specifics.
“The order is co-operating fully with it, which means that we cannot comment on any aspect of it as to do so would be to commit an offence,” the statement said.
Notes in the Bon Secours Health System Ltd financial accounts indicate there are plans for significant investment in the group of hospitals in the coming years. Some €9m was spent upgrading facilities in 2015 and further investment of up to €150m is planned by 2020.
The hospital group catered for almost 100,000 patients in 2015 and employed 350 medical consultants and over 2,700 additional personnel.
In the Dáil this week, People Before Profit TD Bríd Smith (pictured inset) called for the order to be disbanded and its resources used to compensate families involved and to provide memorial services for the children buried in Tuam and other homes.
In the Seanad, Sinn Féin senator Máire Devine said profits from the hospital group “need to be given back to the Irish people and to the women and children who were so dreadfully treated”.
However, Maeve O’Rourke, the legal advisor to the Clann, a group assisting people give evidence to the commission, said compensation was not on its agenda at present.
Ms O’Rourke said access to records and archives was the key concern. “What people want right now is access to information and there are major concerns about the secrecy surrounding the commission of investigation,” she said.