Tuesday 17 September 2019

Editorial: 'We owe forgotten babies the dignity of memory'

People leave candles and mementos during a vigil in memory of the Tuam babies. Photo: PA
People leave candles and mementos during a vigil in memory of the Tuam babies. Photo: PA


One of the many lessons we have learned historically concerning scandals and the Catholic Church is that the cruellest lies are often told in silence. But what was kept secret or suppressed has repeatedly returned to hound and to haunt.

So it was devastating to hear once more a Government having to plead with religious orders to reveal where babies who died in their care are buried.

That so little evidence about the deaths of the infants has been brought forward is shocking.

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Retreating from the past is not only futile but devastating for all concerned.

Those originally betrayed are injured again, while the reputation of the institution the silence was originally intended to protect is further tarnished.

That is why the fifth interim report from the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation came as such a blow.

It claimed there must be people in the area surrounding Tuam in Co Galway who know more about the burial arrangements - of former residents of the home - who have not come forward. It confirmed that 802 children died at the home in the town between 1925 and 1961, but said some were likely buried elsewhere on the site.

It expressed surprise at the lack of knowledge about the burials from the local council and the nuns from the Bon Secours order who ran the home. It was chilling to learn more than 3,000 children died in five other institutions.

Investigators could only establish where 64 out of the 900 children recorded to have died at the Co Cork home of Bessborough were buried.

We must await the final report to know the full facts, but there is already enough on record about which to be gravely concerned.

We must also be fair. Too often the Church is called upon to be a target for all of our societal ills. In the rapid fire world of social media and hyper-communication, we take our targets where we find them. It can be easy - but lazy - to select a scapegoat to explain away past secrets society was all too willing to conceal to spare its blushes.

Mothers were shamed into going into these homes. The State had no shelter or protection for them. Finding themselves scorned and shunned, these were the only sanctuaries available on becoming pregnant.

This was a "satisfactory" arrangement for it meant the men who fathered these forgotten and abandoned children could escape responsibility. "Respectability" and financial security was thus protected. The babies and their rights were not worthy of record.

So let us not pretend the State was not complicit. It did nothing to help and everything to ignore.

Today we have an opportunity and a duty to give names and dignity back to our forgotten infants.

Church and State must not compound past errors. They say it takes a good fall to know where you really stand. How many more times must we trip over our past before we wake up to it, warts and all?

Irish Independent

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