As I have been writing the story of A Magdalene Rose™, I have become more and more conscious that I am the voice of my Dad, my Grandmother, Mary and my Grandfather, Patrick. It has made me realise that not only is it a privilege to be that voice, but as I write and turn each page, there is a core that runs deep within me, to ensure that every detail, every twist and turn, every emotion, every tear is recorded. It has required me to plunge into the depth’s of my ancestral soul, to seek a new courage, to try to understand their fears, hopes and indeed how they survived. I am here to tell their truth.
But in doing so, I’ve realised that Truth is such a fluid concept when I measure their truth against the prevailing forces of their time.
In general terms, collective truth delivers a conclusion, which when measured against established facts, is considered to be correct by us all. Truth allows us to collectively condemn or celebrate, and it can deliver change, but it can also deliver a contradictory outcome and hardship.
As I conclude the pages of this book in 2020, truth now runs at the speed of thought, through our social discourse, but it contains the same components of truth that once came through the pulpit, some 90 years ago; there is actually very little difference in how the building blocks of truth are constructed or delivered.
Take for example the word ‘bastard’.
In my Dad’s Ireland of 1930, the ‘truth’ of the word delivered into the minds of the people, that he was a lesser person, that his parent’s were immoral; it suggested and delivered a sub-human existence through the truth of Charity. The word in his case failed to recognise the truth of his origin, that he was created in love which was ultimately betrayed by dogma.
Fast-forward to 2020, and the word ‘bastard’ provides for an almost shrug of the shoulder; society’s truth boundaries have changed and we have become more accepting of the different level’s of human relationship. But there is all the potential of an attack on that new ‘truth’ from politicians who decry the move away from ‘Traditional Family Values’ or through some other attack on women’s rights or against those who are different from the so-called norm.
But even through the tolerance of our ‘new truth’, people still throw the ‘bastard’ word insult at each other, failing to recognise perhaps, that their own unconscious bias is still at play; maybe it is generationally influenced?
In writing this story, I could not just simply talk about Church and State records, I have found that it has become necessary to ask the all important question of ‘why’ and how the answer to that question has influenced our societies.
To do otherwise would be a great disservice to my Dad, Mary & Patrick, because what happened to them was not just dogma, or ‘those were the times’. Everything that happened to them came as a result of political decisions, be they taken by the Church or by elected Politicians.
It’s a simple premise; all laws are political.
On the categorisation of truth, I consider that there is surely is a difference between a truth determined in a court of law, or in a parliament, provided all legal due process and debate has been followed, against the casual truths or bias we quickly subscribe to on a daily basis?
Our daily truths may not have a serious impact on us as individuals or our families, but when the expression or believe of a truth, or lack of truth, expands beyond the familial bubble, the unimpeachability or rejection of a stated truth, creates a conflict of beliefs, scepticism, denial or agenda.
I have seen this at play through my research, and within the pages of this book, when seeking to establish my own family truths. I have experienced doors being slammed in my face, or through letters I have received from people of God or Politicians that reveal that same disdain, discomfort or conflict. At times it has left me feeling angry, frustrated but ultimately, even more determined, simply because of the language used against a set of growing personal or public facts, that either treats you as a complete imbecile or it reeks of the ‘you shall not pass’ agenda.
Where the pursuit of truth is carried out in the public domain, which I’ve witnessed not just in writing this story, but in my day job of Consumer Campaigning, those who would seek to diminish an alternative to their truth, can do so through insult or through the famous method of quiet whispers.
I have seen this so many times and I know this is correct as far as the Magdalene Women are concerned. They have lived every day of their lives with this experience; carrying with them the same stigma and judgement my Father lived with all his life; the same sense of no help or compassion; the same sense of fatalism that Mary and perhaps Patrick experienced every day of their lives.
So trying to establish a truth is a slow and at times, a painstakingly complex process.
As I was thinking about these matters whilst writing the final chapters in this book, the latest journey toward truth exploded in our faces. News came out from Ireland that there was a problem with the latest ‘Magdalene’ inquiry, and urgent legislation was needed to rectify the problem.
This emergency ‘truth’ proposed to the people of Ireland, that the Commission of Investigation into the Mother and Baby Homes, had expressed some concern that before they handed their final report over to the Minister, they needed to deal with a legal problem. They were concerned that they would have to destroy a database of evidence they had created in the course of their work. This database is vital because it contains information that would help a great many people establish their own identities. For me, given that testimony has revealed that Dad and Mary were in the infamous Tuam Mother & Baby home, I felt these records could help me establish their movements from 1930 to 1938/1939.
As I read about this latest twist and turn, I couldn’t help but feel how fortunate we were as a family in being able to establish what we now know; my thoughts turned to the people I had met who were still on the starting block of trying to establish their own identity. How many stories have I now heard of separation; how many tears have I witnessed in the recounting of their incomplete stories; how much bitterness still flows through the hearts of such loving people?
The Minister declared to the country that a law to protect that database, required urgent attention, and so a new ‘truth’ was laid bare, without any documents or evidence to prove the assertion made.
In my mind, the issue of concern related to what else existed within the ‘other’ records, would they for example highlight issues of criminality and would we or others be able to access that information?
This latest Commission was one in a long line of controversial inquiries, which includes the Murphy, Ryan and McAleese reports, all leading to an increasing dissatisfaction with the Irish government and the religious orders.
For example, in the 2009 Murphy Report, it detailed issues of its investigation into child abuse within the Dublin diocese. The report made for some sober reading but the reactions and discoveries led to an even greater understanding of the truth at play. For example, the Murphy Inquiry, independent of government, sought records from the Vatican, addressing their request to the Pope as the Head of the Catholic Church, not as Head of State. The Vatican furiously responded, claiming that diplomatic protocols had been breached and that any request should come from the Irish State to the Vatican State; there’s nothing like diplomatic niceties - so much to discuss in their hallowed halls of privacy. Perhaps they knew already what the Murphy inquiry had found, that several years before its inquiry, the Diocese had taken out indemnity insurance, to cover allegations of sexual or other abuse; the Church had made cold commercial calculation, in the face of their own denials, to divert the truth.
The 2009 Ryan Report inquired into the the allegations of child abuse within the predominately religious educational institutions, which were funded by the Irish Department for Education. The Inquiry was originally called the ‘Laffoy Commission’, after Justice Laffoy, but she resigned from her role after what appears to be substantial challenges for victims and survivors, failures in resources and her claim that the Department of Education had not apparently handed over files necessary for her work. What truth I wondered was being denied? But truth seemed to rest uneasily in the formation of this Commission with the creation of a ‘Confidential Committee’ and an ‘Investigation Committee’; the former being what it said it would do, to treat all testimony confidentially and being incapable of further scrutiny of challenge. The latter allowed for public scrutiny but they apparently held most of its hearings in private. It is a theme that has followed through into the 2020’s. But the final challenge to ‘truth’ came with the so-called ‘indemnity deal’ brokered between representatives of the Catholic Church and the government in 2002. It was agreed that the Irish taxpayer would pay ‘compensation' to the victims, in return for the Church handing over a proportion of their property to the State. As it was such a good deal, the detail was kept secret from the Irish Public until it was broken by media reports. But, upon the publication of the Report, the realisation and outcry against what some considered to be a stifling-deal, concerns remained strong that there would again be no transparency or truth, leading to an accountability. One American Nun, Sister Maureen Turlish commented:
“The government of Ireland made a deal with the Devil in agreeing not to prosecute or name any of the individuals, living or dead, who were party to the widespread torture and abuse of children as has been reported in the recently released Ryan Report…These are nothing less than crimes against humanity”.
This surprising source of outrage, left me wondering what had happened to the Ryan records? It is clear that there was a school of thought that wanted to see the destruction of those records, but as the then Minister for Education declared, she had no desire to see these important records destroyed, and that the Bill she was proposing would seal the records for 75 years and be of benefit to future generations! Her 2015 Bill was superseded by a Bill in 2019, which was finally laid to rest in August 2020, with the question mark remaining as to the status of the the Ryan records. Again, a Society’s truth, was dependent of the prevailing political winds, who appeared to be quite happy to mask this thorny problem behind notions of legislation with no thought at all it seems to the victims of this State and Religious crime.
McAleese produced his Committee’s report into the Magdalene Laundry system in 2013. The report produced a range of reactions that ranged from, those victims and survivors believing that they had finally been believed, to those who were highly sceptical about the intensity of the investigation and the evidence that was extracted. The Committee declared that it was simply not feasible to place all the testimony of the victims and survivors in the report. The UN Committee on Torture clearly had some concerns about the status of evidence when it asked the question in 2016:
“Was survivor testimony given a lesser rank or status in this inquiry than written records of the State and the religious orders?”.
The terse reply from the government of the Irish Republic was, “No”.
But as I discovered, the same concerns over the sealing of the McAleese records existed then, as it does today, with reference being made back to the Commissions of Investigation Act 2004.
So as I sit and write these words, the same themes and concerns are being played out with the Commission of Investigation into the operation of Mother & Baby Homes; this report joins a long line of unfathomable political reasoning.
The current angst arose from the near-publication of the Mother and Baby Homes report, along with the Minister now calling for urgent legislation to be passed. Irish patience had clearly been stretched to the limit, particularly when it was realised that the records were going to be split, with the database heading to the controversial Child Agency, TUSLA and the rest sitting with the Minister, ready to be sealed for the next 30 years.
True to political form, Ministers were taken completely by surprise it seems, by the public backlash. They claimed that the new Bill did not seal the records for 30 years, no-one disputed that, but they very conveniently forgot to say how the Minister was obligated by the 2004 Law, to seal the very records in question. Needless to say, the Irish government relented to a point and decided that the Minister would keep a copy of all the records, offering that nothing would be sealed, so potentially breaking his legal obligation, unless of course he came up with another law to dig him out of that hole?
What became clear through this heavy debate was that other important records were held by Irish government departments, so for example, in my family’s case, I have discovered that the Department for the Taoiseach holds the records from the High Park Laundry. I also found out that they had denied one woman access to her records, without realising as it turned out, that they had a legal obligation to provide her personal information. It became clear to me that Ministers and members of The Dáil appeared to be ignorant of the requirements of the General Data Protection Regulations, with the Minister receiving definitive advices from the Irish government’s legal officer on tis issues, on the day of the final vote of his emergency Bill. What followed was the unseemly display from some Irish TD’s who accused those who spoke out as having agenda or other motives. The Taoiseach eventually declared in The Dáil that he had no desire to stop people accessing their personal records and that from this point, all records would be accessed.
This was all such a long way from The Dáil apologies and the sentiments expressed in 2013.
I had added my voice to many others and publicly challenged the politicians and appeared on Irish Radio making my case. But, in doing so, I never forgot the human story, not just for my Dad, Mary & Patrick, but I also spoke of others I have met on this journey, and their shocking experience of trying to access their own truth. As I spoke across the Irish airwaves, I discovered another truth; the truth that Irish people were truly outraged by this political shenanigans.
I think the people have come to realise that they have been subjected to a generational con-trick. A scam for morality, a fraud to get their bums on the Church seats or a cross against a political candidate. They had become fearful for their own lives and so much wanted to be part of the Catholic-Irish pack; they would follow anything to achieve salvation, not just for themselves, but for the nation.
But con-tricks come with a price. To deceive a person, you have to deploy a different type of truth, a truth that is secret, a truth that is disguised by the scent of incense, a truth disguised as charity. Another word for this kind of truth is a lie.
As I spoke with Irish people, their honesty and embarrassment was evident and clear, and as just and honourable people, they told me that what they wanted to do, was to bring forward what is right, along with justice to their brothers and sisters.
They have realised that the experiences of Dad, Mary and Patrick have their roots in politics and law and it will be that same polite and law that will rectify its past wrongs.
Where truth is pure and honest, there is nothing more unifying.
It’s been an intense few weeks, bringing me now back to these pages, feeling more deeply the desolation that comes with separation. My real and genuine tears of sorrow, are also the tears of my Dad, Mary & Patrick; they stain these pages as I write.
They are the tears of the Scaradh!
(This an extract from Frank's forthcoming book - A Magdalene Rose™. Frank has created a Podcast entitled 'Tears of the Scaradh™. You can listen to Frank's Podcast here. Copyright: Frank Brehany © 2020)