YESTERDAY was a dark day for Enda Kenny and this government. The failure to give a full and unequivocal apology to the survivors of the Magdalene laundries will haunt them. In time that apology must surely come. Everyone in the country knows that the right time is now.
This is a matter of deep national shame. We have failed as a state and a society in our primary obligation to care for citizens. The laundries were part of an Ireland we would rather forget. An Ireland born out of repressive ideals and dangerous practices enabled by people who consistently turned a blind eye. It was convenient to become convinced of the merits of such systems and it was all too easy to dismiss and abuse those who had no voice and could be shunned.
The part the church and religious orders played in this revolting scheme went against everything Catholicism is supposed to stand for. If Christ had treated Mary Magdalene in the same fashion, scripture and history would be very different. But it is not just a problem we can lay at the door of the church.
No, it’s a problem that involves the state too and this is where Enda Kenny ran into difficulty. We all like to blame someone else; taking responsibility is not an easy thing to do. For too long throughout successive governments these women have been ignored. The state used this system; it participated and enabled it to work. Just like it did in the schools where children were abused.
That’s the issue though. Deep in the corridors of power, Enda Kenny sat down with the people who would frame the response. Their approach is chillingly familiar. We saw it before in the Hepatitis C scandal; we saw it in the delays into proper investigation of abuse.
Somebody looked at the legal situation and said ‘You can’t say sorry, if you do it is tantamount to accepting liability, there will be claims and we can’t have that.’ It takes a very strong man or woman to stand up to such views, to say justice must still be done whatever the cost. To lead by doing what’s right rather than being led by fear of the consequences. We don’t have such people at the helm and haven’t had for quite some time.
Now, some of you may ask ‘What about the Cloyne speech?’ That great moment when we were told that Enda Kenny was bravely facing down the church and changing everything. Except that wasn’t the same at all was it? In the famous Cloyne speech Enda Kenny carefully avoided two central themes. He failed to criticise the Irish church or point out its failings because to do so would lead to the second problem, his failure to admit the failings of the state.
Instead, that speech focused on the Vatican. It was popular no doubt, but it was also focused on an enemy outside of Ireland. That enemy deserved criticism but it should not mask the failure to tackle what went on in our own governments and state. The Vatican was never going to sue; the Vatican was never going to take Ireland to court. It was the one failure that could be attacked with the fewest consequences. It was easy to deal with the wasp sitting on the windowsill, but dealing with the wasp sitting on your arm is another matter.
Yesterday proved that. Once our state is asked to examine its own role and accept its own failings it quickly shuts up shop. There was a danger that an apology would carry consequences. It should. What is more we need that apology and need to demand it if for no other reason than the fact the we have all turned a blind eye for long enough and shame alone should see us make the demand. There is no one else to take the blame. The government must stop running and do the right thing. Now.