The Mother and Baby Homes scandal, and apologies

Today in the Dáil, An Taoiseach Micheál Martin will apologise  on behalf of the state for the Mother and Baby Homes scandal. The fact that these Homes operated at a time when Michéal Martin at best was running around in short trousers and more likely didn’t exist doesn’t seem to enter into the equation. Why would you apologise for something in which you had no hand, act or part? Maybe Micheál should check with Tony Blair: he apologised for An Gorta Mór, which happened around one hundred years before Mrs Blair had her little boy.

Apologies change nothing but people still seem to want them. So here are a few candidates I’ve lined up myself. Either the people themselves or someone else entirely can step forward and deliver.

  1. Irish society at the time of the Mother and Baby Homes scandal. In the Ireland of that time, the Catholic Church and, let’s not forget, civil society considered pregnancy outside of marriage as just about the most shameful fate that could befall anyone. That’s why the state worked with the religious orders to keep these homes ticking over. Oh, and  Protestant Homes as well.
  2. The young men who impregnated these unfortunate women. Where were they when their sexual partners were suffering in the Homes? That’s assuming they were young men. In some cases they may have been older men. And since we know that sexual abuse   is more likely within the family than in any other setting, in some cases they may have been blood relatives. And don’t tell me there was no incest in Ireland. You might as well say there were, in the  absence of divorce, no unhappy marriages
  3. The parents of the Mother and Baby Homes young women.  It’s not as if the nuns raided houses and forcibly removed the pregnant unmarried mothers: their families agreed to the transaction.
  4.  The state (again), this time for the ghastly poverty of the 1940s and 1950s. I recall young boys of about eight years old, barefoot and begging on O’Connell Street. If I had followed one of them home, I’m fairly certain I’d have found him living in appalling circumstances.I think that merits an apology if there’s a spare one
  5. The state (yet again) for having agreed to the partition of Ireland, leaving over half a million Catholics to suffer poverty, job discrimination, gerrymander, poor housing and all the attendant pains of living in a sectarian northern state.

Personally, I believe apology for some sin you haven’t committed is not just pointless but also irrational. The apology itself changes nothing and in many cases is made on behalf of people long dead. How do they know that the perpetrators would have wanted an apology on their behalf?

We’re a very moral people, we Irish. There’s nothing we enjoy more than a good red-faced bout of ethical indignation, especially when it casts us in the role of a sensitive, compassionate people.  

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