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Grace inquiry: This time we have no-one to blame but ourselves for shameful care scandal

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The ‘Grace’ case has been juxtaposed with the horrific events at at the Tuam Mother and baby home, but they need to be approached differently

The ‘Grace’ case has been juxtaposed with the horrific events at at the Tuam Mother and baby home, but they need to be approached differently

The ‘Grace’ case has been juxtaposed with the horrific events at at the Tuam Mother and baby home, but they need to be approached differently

The apology has been elevated to high art with a pretty trusty accompanying formula. We share out blame between the Catholic Church, the State and other powerful institutions. We insist all these horrors occurred at another time and in another place. We infer by extension that these days we are all modern, far-seeing, tolerant and caring. Then we move forward in our new and purged world.

There were elements of the "historic blame formula" to be seen over the past two days as the extraordinary revelations at the Tuam Mother and Baby Home were debated in Dáil Éireann. Very understandable and genuine sorrow and anger were in evidence on all political sides and the Taoiseach again excelled himself with some very well-chosen words.

But it was noticeable that the formula was not such a fit as we also contemplated the appalling case of the woman known only as "Grace", which by strange coincidence was juxtaposed with the Tuam case. Grace's story of shocking abuse and appalling neglect only really ceased less than a decade ago - not in far previous decades which happen to lie in another century. In fact, there are strong suggestions that we may be talking about problems which are just a handful of years old.

And let's not overlook a key point standing in plain view here: We cannot blame the Catholic Church for this one. It poses a new challenge for all of us.

True, we can apportion a big chunk of blame against big authoritarian state institutions. Let us recall, however, that we live in a democratic republic. In that case, while it is clear the health authorities have big questions to answer, it also risks raising more uncomfortable for all citizens.

We saw the historic blame formula at work in July 2011 when a newly-elected Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, excoriated the Catholic Church generally and the Vatican authorities in particular. Mr Kenny impressed the nation in the days after publication of the Cloyne report on child sex abuse by following the formula.

Let us be completely fair here. We are not suggesting that the Taoiseach was in the least cynical about this matter. In fact, as a country man from a small village near Castlebar, who grew up with the Irish Catholic traditions of the 1950s and 1960s, he was more entitled than most to say what he did about Cloyne and the defective and self-serving church responses to the horrors of child abuse.

On that occasion, Mr Kenny struck a chord because he was echoing the frustration and disillusionment of a whole generation of Irish Catholics who felt betrayed by senior elements in the church to which they had committed so much of their own lives.

As details of the Tuam horrors were unveiled at Leinster House on Tuesday, the Taoiseach borrowed from the 2011 Cloyne response. But he laid more blame on society at large, citing phoney hypocritical non-values, which allowed poor people who transgressed sexual codes to be treated as lesser people.

By now we know that we are fighting against a cultural history which had a strong streak of patriarchy, an implicit down on women, and a propensity to oppress children. The Catholic Church played its part, its close allies in the State institutions also did.

But that is not the full story. This is another reason why we need to look back on our recent social history dispassionately, seeking to see in the economic and social values of the times, and in an international context.

We need honest and skilled social historians to help us plot the way forward to a better Irish society. We need to decide what we need to remember.

More immediately the case of Grace and other contemporaries cry out for justice. We need an effective inquiry, we need to identify those culpable, and we need to see those found culpable pay a price.

Irish Independent