Wednesday 21 February 2018

Much of our dark past lives on in the Ireland of today

We've replaced religious morality with an austere economic reality that punishes the poor and weak

FERGUS FINLAY: Talked about massive increase of children forced to live on the street
FERGUS FINLAY: Talked about massive increase of children forced to live on the street
Carol Hunt

Carol Hunt

'The past is a foreign country – they do things differently there," is a phrase that has become so overused it sometimes feels like a banal cliche. But it has a certain truth. There's no doubting that the Ireland of our parents and grandparents was a very different place. So, when Enda called for an enquiry into the mother and baby homes scandal last week, he quite rightly noted that there was a broader question to be answered about the "kind of society" Ireland was from the foundation of the Free State to the Sixties.

We may have called ourselves a free democracy then, but as John Stuart Mill tells us, there are social customs and taboos which can exert a formidable tyranny over the conscience of the individual, especially as it "leaves fewer means of escape, penetrating much more deeply into the details of life". Social and cultural mores, such as those that existed in Old Catholic Ireland, proved to be just as constraining as any form of political oppression. Thank God we're not like that today in new, shiny, post-Catholic, liberal Ireland eh? "The practices of a bygone age" is how I heard one politician describe the scandals, with relieved hindsight, on Today with Sean O'Rourke last Friday.

And they were dark times, when Ireland was the kind of country where every two weeks a child in the care of the State died; where we had the kind of society which allowed some children to be seen as a "a sub-species", and ignored the fact that they had a mortality rate four times higher than the rest of the population.

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