A Magdalene Rose: Redress and the unspoken dead III

What would you say if a Redress scheme excluded victims of Institutions?

What would you say if the unspoken dead's lives, experiences & very existence went unrecognised?

Hello and welcome to my latest podcast; thanks for joining me! 

Don't grieve for me, for now I'm free, I'm following the path God laid for me. I took his hand when I heard his call, I turned my back and left it all. I could not stay another day”. 

These are the opening words of an Irish funeral poem called ‘The Final Flight’ and best sums up perhaps how those who were held captive in Ireland’s Mother and Baby Homes, Magdalen Laundries or other Institutions, must have felt at the point of death. Perhaps what occupied their minds at the point of death was escape, escape into a life of eternity, turning their backs and leaving it all behind. Death always leaves behind its own wake or ripples, that has consequences for those who were close to them. In the cases of the thousands of women and men who suffered within this terrible system, it leaves behind unresolved issues, driven toward invisibility, by the now oft repeated process of apology-washing. 

In the last few days, the Redress Bill once again returned to the Irish Parliament, the Dáil, with the intention to discuss the post-Committee landscape, along with the intention of the Irish government to make sure that the Bill passed through without any further amendments or changes whatsoever. 

I have already published two other Podcasts (Redress and the unspoken dead I & II), that charted the earlier progress of this Bill, highlighting what I saw as the fundamental flaws within its proposals. Key to my observations was that whilst many quite correctly called out the many exclusions from Redress, the fundamentals of the proposed scheme had revealed deep flaws at the heart of its construction. In my last Podcast in this series, I produced evidence that the Minister, despite claiming that he had consulted and read the consultative report, there was ample evidence contained within that many of the living wanted a simpler and inclusive methodology toward compensation, but, there was also concern expressed about those who had died before the State Apology and the danger that they would become even more invisible. Why, not even in the State Apology for the Mother and Baby Homes, delivered by the Taoiseach, was there any recognition given to those who had died. 

In the days before the latest Oireachtas debate, I wrote to all the members of the Oireachtas, highlighting the clear detriment to the living, found in the exclusion-by-design scheme. But, just as important, was my long-held view, that the women and children who had died before the State Apology, (who must surely number in their thousands), must also form part of this Redress scheme, because without them, there is no legitimacy to its proposals; they remain invisible – all their experiences are invisible – all their suffering is invisible – and the country, and the common good of the country fails to properly assess or recognise the historic wrongs of the country and those in power who made or continue to make decisions in their name. 

My proposals on how to deliver a scheme that included the unspoken-dead called on the government: 

To recognise all those who died before the State Apology of 13/1/2021 and their surviving families. This cohort, who must be numbered in their thousands (from 1922 to 2021), are not recognised in any process or Redress scheme, they are in effect, invisible. They are not even on the radar in the current discussions with the Religious Orders. Their memories and their surviving families must it appears, be content with the State Apology. The Government has professed that they wish to address the many wrongs suffered by women and children, but these lived experiences are not even a footnote in history. The Government has a unique opportunity to demonstrate an inclusivity which is sadly lacking in this scheme. If the Government included this cohort of deceased women and children, it would begin to send a powerful message that the Government truly wish to correct exclusions from this scheme. It would alter the fundamentals and dynamics of the proposed scheme. I would propose therefore, that for those who were subjected to incarceration within Mother & Baby Home Institutions and have pre-deceased the State Apology, the following measures be introduced into the Redress Bill:

i     That all women and children from 1922 to 13/1/2021, who predeceased the State Apology of 13/1/2021 be provided with an‘in memoriam’payment;

ii    Such a payment should not be less than €25,000 per deceased person;

iii   That Surviving Family Members be allowed to apply for the said ‘in memoriam’ award and that award would be allocated directly to a charity of the Surviving Family members choosing. Such a direct payment to a chosen charity would be made in the name of a deceased relative, who could be shown to have been incarcerated within a Mother and Baby Home Institution;

iv    There should be no time limit placed on potential applications. In the alternative, if a time limit is imposed within the scheme for this category of claim, the scheme should at the least allow for applications to be submitted for up to 25 years beyond the inception date of the Bill. This would allow subsequent generations to ensure that the deceased relative is not forgotten and that their memory is honoured in the National story;

v     Where there are concerns that no new items/amendments can be introduced at this stage of the passage of the Bill, I would call on all TD’s and Senators to work together and provide such an amendment through the ‘cream list’ process of the Seanad Éireann”.

I have written to Members of the Oireachtas on many occasions and have had the privilege of meeting with some of them. Those that I have met are honourable people and I have no doubt of their real concern and interest in a consecutive State & Religious collusion that has brought so much suffering to so many. 

To give you a flavour of the replies I received, some stated: 

I, alongside my Sinn Féin colleagues, fully support your calls in respect of the Mother and Baby Homes redress scheme. I commend you for your own activism on this matter 

This is an issue that [NAME] has highlighted previously and she intends to do so again tomorrow”. 

“I agree with the points you make. I am concerned that the need for an independent review of survivors’ testimonies has been excluded along with not amending of the insulting passages and narrative of the commission’s report”. 

It is good to hear from you and thank you for the very considered letter below. I sincerely hope that the Government will listen to the thousands of people who have emailed in to support what are very reasonable and appropriate redress measures. You can be assured of my full support as always Frank”. 

“I got your email, and it went right to my heart. People must know we are listening to them and heeding them and it’s reassuring that so many are supporting the survivors and their families. But your own case with your father Francis and your grandmother Mary is of a different order so I just wanted to get in touch with you personally”. 

You can feel the humanity in such responses and that was what was needed in the construction and debate of the Redress Scheme in the Dáil’s Chamber. But we now know that the only person who sat on the government benches during the debate, was the Minister. The opposition presented cogent arguments, and pleas for action, along with a sprinkling of fatigue, during which, the Minister refused to move away from the government’s agreed plan. 

The Chamber presented two sides for the same country, one that is compassionate, the other appearing distant and remote. When the vote was called on amendments, the government’s own TD’s filed into the Chamber, without it seems having heard any of the arguments nor contributing to the debate and collectively, they defeated the proposals for change. 71 TD’s did their duty, voting on a whipped line rather than vote with their conscience or humanity. 

This vastly compared to the opposition TD’s, who stood their ground and represented the very best in a modern secular State; a secular State that would have the confidence and vision to govern for all its peoples, alive or dead. 

But further insult was added to the cry’s for Justice, by a report that the Irish government had refused to grant a Freedom of Information request. The request sought to receive or have published documentation that would reveal the decision-making methodology that led to the construction of the current Redress scheme. After an appeal against the refusal to supply this information, the decision was upheld on the basis that the government is still deliberating, that it was not in the public interest to provide this information and that any provision of publication would only “cause unnecessary distress to an already vulnerable group”. 

Another example of the practice of ‘containment’ was also revealed at the time of the Redress Bill’s passage. A Whistleblower, who claimed a protected disclosure, revealed the apparent practice of strategy and cost-containment against those who claimed that they had been wrongly charged for nursing home costs. It revealed an insurance mentality in practice, that being, keep the claimant on the hook because they were likely to have limited means and resources to fight their claims. Claims settlements had to be kept secret for fear of opening up the floodgates to litigation, and let’s remember, it is a litigation that appears to be justifiable for 70,000 Irish Citizens. Since the disclosure, the now Taoiseach has claimed that the strategy revealed was “grossly misrepresented” but conversely added that it was a “sound policy approach and a legitimate legal strategy”. Let’s think about this: “a legitimate legal strategy”? How can the strategy be said to be legitimate, when it is estimated that some €5 billion is potentially owed to Irish Citizens? 

Then we heard of comments from the newly appointed Tánaiste, who reacted to challenges in the Dáil against the strategies being deployed against those who had to pay nursing home charges or those who did not receive their disability allowances whilst they were in care. In response to the criticism, he stated that: 

The last 25 to 30 years has been about revelations about the 20th Century in Ireland – and in many instances significant redress schemes instituted” and that, “We have to make a call on this – and every government will in its day. Does the country keep on paying for historic wrongs? Or, do we concentrate on the needs which are very real today, right across the board in social services”. 

There we have it again, strategy and cost-containment. I think it is legitimate for any government’s goal to have in its day-to-day thinking, concerns over the present and future needs of the current population. But, as we can see by the two examples of the nursing home litigation cases and of the apparent failure of welfare benefits to disabled people, previous government’s had clearly made policy decisions that has affected many Citizens. Perhaps many years before any of them realised that they were suffering detriment, structures and policies were manufactured by a government strategy machine, intent on watching, listening and reacting to potential threats and legal actions all to control it seems a public purse. 

When we look at the overall Magdalene story, it’s roots lay firmly within the construction of a society prior to Independence. Anxious to change laws away from their former masters, the succeeding Irish government set about creating new strands of poor law provisions, which were effectively the same provisions contained within different packaging. But, the motivation for that change was also driven by a State and Religious desire to create a Catholic State on earth, to be admired by many, or so the theory went. Policy became enmeshed within public morals and the common good, phrases contained within encyclicals and Church teaching and adopted by politicians of the day. So-called laws cared not for due process, preferring instead to brand women as ‘offenders’ or ‘repeat offenders’, having been condemned through denunciations, along with the desire to package the poor, imbeciles and unmarried women together, without any regard for a true legal due process and Constitutional Rights. Once incarcerated, the practice of stripping identity and individual abilities became part of the State & Religious carceral process, with many women routinely classed as ‘illiterate’ and therefore ignorant, and as their children were separated from them, they were again presented as having ‘deserted’ or ‘abandoned’ their children, so removing the need for any Ministerial approval for a child to be boarded-out. The reclassification of women and their children became a self-fulfilling dream and justification for the Irish State and Religious Institutions at large. Throughout these decades, countries across Europe and around the world embraced the need for human dignity and a structure of human rights, not so it seems in dear old Ireland. 

As we reflect on this landscape, we should also recognise that it was politicians that made these decisions or created a public policy or morals (along with Church leaders), leaving future generations of politicians to clean up their mess. Current day politicians are the inheritors of the past decisions of their political heroes; they have a choice when it comes to deciding how to deal with historic failures. But as present-day politicians struggle with the concept of providing a just reaction and creating a true Justice, we should recognise that they exist in a groupthink that stretches across the decades. Whether their reactions relates to the use of money, potential claims, addressing past injustices in an all-inclusive manner and not addressed through so-called comprehensive solutions, the forgotten or excluded are left behind. 

It’s an on-going disease: a government of the people, but not for the people. 

In the Magdalen Laundry cases, we should reflect upon the words of politicians in the Dáil, following the publication of the Magdalen Laundries report. The then Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, made what I believe to be a very personal, genuine and heartfelt apology, only to be let down by the subsequent machine of the government he led. But on that day of sorrow, another politician spoke, a politician who attracts a marmite reaction to the mere mention of his name, Gerry Adams. In that session he made a statement, indicating what were the heart of the hopes and dreams of a new Ireland, free from its colonial shackles. After paying tribute to the women and their suffering, he added: 

The 1916 Proclamation, which has yet to become a reality, addresses itself to Irish men and women giving recognition to that reality. It is a mission statement of Irish republicanism at the start of the 20th century which remains as vital and relevant today as it was then. It is a charter of rights for citizens, which guarantees religious and civil liberties, equal rights and equal opportunities for all. It is a charter of rights for equality, solidarity and freedom for all the people of this island. This is not what emerged in our partitioned island post-1916”. 

In the early 20th Century, as Europe raged in war, and the hopes and dreams of the Irish people was made manifest in the Declaration of Independence. For many decades before the Declaration, European countries had witnessed debate amongst their peoples, philosophers and jurists, called for a greater secular liberty and safety, protected by a new compact of human rights in law and within their Constitutions; the people on the island of Ireland were no different. But as his words suggest, it was not the will of the people that was enacted, but of the will of a Political and Religious class, supported by the narrative of righteousness that created an Ireland of judgment and exclusion. As current politicians cry foul and try to divert attention away toward the present and future needs of Citizens, we must never lose sight that they carry a political inheritance that affected many Citizens in the past and continues to do so. 

So when we examine and discuss the nature of Redress schemes for the whole Magdalen story, we can see plenty of fine words, evident breaches of successive Constitutions and very clear breaches of Human Rights and the vision of the Founders of the Irish State. 

In thinking about this Redress Scheme, I know of other State Compensation schemes for workers’ rights across Europe, who are robust in their assessment and application on behalf of a State. But it is one thing to be robust in the application of compensating an individual or group of individuals for some injury sustained whilst at work, it is quite another thing to apply a similar robustness against Citizens where the detriment has arisen because of a corruption of the common good, denying Constitutional Rights and designing the operation of a governments day-to-day activities and the reactions of a government, behind closed doors; it is the opposite of morality. 

But let’s imagine for a moment that we are presented with an Irish government that is progressive and socially well-informed, with a true vision of what a human rights-based society looks like. In the instance of the Mother and Baby Home Redress scheme, we would have a government that genuinely looks to the past with horror, particularly recognising their predecessors failures, perhaps designing amendments to the Constitution to amend and prevent those wrongs repeating themselves into the future. They may create a Truth & Reconciliation Commission and deliver a complete separation of Church and State, bringing about the dream of a secular State; a State where the people would fall or rise according to their decisions and not afraid to confront the past. 

The design of the scheme would want to be informed by the experiences and perhaps crimes of the past; they would want to make sure, that after all this time, no victim or survivor would be left behind. 

And this is my point. If you ignore the many victims of the past and their families and exclude them from any consideration in a Redress scheme, you allow for the exclusion of the living. By embracing such exclusions, you also present the opportunity to control the onward narrative. It is clear that the present government wishes to swiftly deal with historic wrongs, because they were not around at the time those wrongs were committed. But surely they continue those historic wrongs through the State models and methodologies of how they engage with Citizens; perhaps these methods were forged following the creation of the State; these are their political and institutional safe-zones, allowing them to make the claim that their duty is to present a balanced solution for some, but not the many. 

The government has kicked their duty and responsibility to all Citizens, alive or dead, further down the road. In their obsession to control, they have simply opened up the State to new challenges, costs and greater pay-outs. They also risk the International reputation of Ireland because it cannot be truly said that the government is fully engaged in the detailed notion of a human-rights based society. 

All that’s left for the unspoken dead is an apology and their experiences rapidly falling from view. They are invisible because the State has designed it to be so. 

But, irrespective of their failures, all I hear are determined voices, and a day of reckoning that will surely come. I think that history will reveal that the Children of the Scaradh will not fade from view. 

Thanks you for listening, until the next time, take care.

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