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Apology hollow while our Constitution deems single-parent families as lesser to marital ones

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An Taoiseach Micheál Martin at a briefing on the publication of the report at Government Buildings. Photo: Julien Behal

An Taoiseach Micheál Martin at a briefing on the publication of the report at Government Buildings. Photo: Julien Behal

An Taoiseach Micheál Martin at a briefing on the publication of the report at Government Buildings. Photo: Julien Behal

The imperfect report of the Commission of Investigation into mother and baby homes has shocked the foundations of our society.

It has made, as expected, horrendous and egregious findings. All due credit is to be given to the survivors for their bravery and courage which they have shown, or else the report simply would not have been possible. It would have all been long forgotten.

The State will never be able to truly remediate all those who have suffered and survived and, those who have suffered and tragically died, under the gross abuse of powers and neglect of Church and State. The story is one with which Ireland is all too familiar.

There is no shortage of efforts which should be made for remediation. The State must beg the survivors to allow it the opportunity to try to show them that the apology issued by An Taoiseach has true meaning.

As a society, we must do all we can to show that we have heard them and that we care.

Surely, one such action is to ensure that every single mother and her child who has suffered are finally given their constitutional legitimacy, not only as an individual but also as a family. The Constitution provides important and necessary recognition and guarantees for the family.

To this day, the Constitution has never deemed single mothers and their babies to be a legitimate and legal family.

The Constitution, as the legal foundation of the State, does not define the ‘family’.

By a series of decisions of the Supreme Court, the meaning of ‘family’ has crystallised to mean the married family only.

Article 42 has always required the State to “recognise the family as the natural primary and fundamental unit group in society, and as a moral institution possessing inalienable and imprescriptible rights, antecedent and superior to all positive law” and the further guarantee of the State to “protect the family in its constitution and authority as the necessary basis of social order and as indispensable to the welfare of the nation and the State”.

Article 42.1 of the Constitution requires the State to acknowledge the family as the primary and natural educator of the child and it guarantees that the State must respect the “inalienable right and duty of parents to provide, according to their means, for the religious and moral, intellectual, physical and social education of their children”.

As a bare minimum, we owe it to the living and deceased victims of institutional abuse by Church and State, their right to constitutional legitimacy both as an individual and of their long forgotten family unit of mother and child – that family which was heartbreakingly cut far too short.

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This is an essential and further vindication of the human and natural rights of the survivors and for the respectful memory of the deceased.

The Constitution, as our fundamental legal instrument, can no longer be permitted to allow our single-parent family to be marginalised, illegitimatised and ultimately stigmatised.

For every day that the Constitution continues to deprive single parents and their children of the identical recognition, guarantees, respect and protections which is given to the marital family,
it will represent, in my view, how little we have actually learned from this devastating affair.

David Byrnes, Barrister-at-law

Four Courts, Dublin

Precedence was given to economics over children’s wellbeing

One sentence of Tom Gilsenan’s letter (‘Heart-rending stuff, and a segment that I personally now find hard to watch’, Letters, January 15) reminds me of a heart-rending incident in Sligo in 1970 when I was in my early 20s.

My father provided a hackney service to Nazareth House. I was the car driver. One day I had to take an infant and a carer to a hospital outpatient clinic. When we returned to Nazareth House, the carer asked me to assist her with the baby’s bag, as the nursery was on the third floor.

When we entered the nursery, I was gobsmacked at the number of infants, around 15, crawling around with two young ladies tending to them. Coming from a family of 16, then with lots of young nieces and nephews, toddlers were always fun to me.

One little girl was at my feet and when I looked down she had her hands up. It was so natural for me to pick her up and talk to her.

Within minutes, my trousers were being tugged at, and I looked down to see every toddler in the room around me, wanting to be lifted and hugged.

After lifting and holding a number of them, I ran out in tears. To this day, it still hurts me to think of those toddlers yearning for another human being to hold and hug them.

As the Sisters of Nazareth were allocated a small allowance per child, there was only two young women for the nursery.

That economics took precedence over the needs of the infants must be taken into account when judging the past. Indeed, the African adage, ‘It takes a village to raise a child’ is still true today.

While we cannot undo the past, we must inform ourselves to endeavour we make the future better.

Declan Foley

Berwick Australia

We must learn the lessons from those darker times

The publication of the report into the mother and baby homes is harrowing to say the least. My generation just cannot understand it, therefore condemnation is easy.

For a semester I served at a parish in the Bronx in New York. As you can guess it was an experience, one I’m glad I had because I got to know Nan. She was from Cork.

I wondered why she never would visit home, it was then that I learned that her family paid for her passage to New York because she was a so-called ‘fallen women’.

She told me about her time in one of the homes.

To my surprise she remained a devout Catholic, she found a ‘family’ in the Church, the parish, and was generous to a fault.

I learned a lot from her on how to be human. I lost all contact, but she was extraordinary. I hope and pray that we have learned the lesson and never again anyone is stigmatised or condemned.

I hope healing can come to many of those brave women like Nan.

Fr Paul O’Connell

St Paul Catholic Church, Douglas, Georgia, US

Work-from-home move should apply to all of EU

What a great move on a national scale (‘Work-from-home laws to create a ‘whole new world’ for employees,’ Irish Independent, January 15).

Now, how long before we can benefit from a similar set-up at a European level? I have found many companies in Europe advertising remote jobs. But it’s basically, ‘you can work from anywhere you want as long as it’s within the borders of our country.’

Employers should be able to offer regular employee contracts to workers wherever they live in the European Economic Area.

David O’Donoghue

Tramore, Co Waterford

Closing our borders is easier said than done

According to John Connell, we should have followed Australia’s example and closed our borders early in the Covid pandemic, with strict hotel quarantine for anyone allowed in (‘Australia banned all inward travel and it is now reaping the benefits. Why didn’t we?’ Comment, January 15).

And who would have enforced the closure of the Northern Ireland Border?

Dr John Doherty

Gaoth Dobhair, Co Dhún na nGall

Why are adopted people being treated as inferior?

By not giving adopted people unconditional access to their own birth certificates, the Government is permeating and promoting differential treatment to adopted people on grounds of family status, thus treating adopted people as inferior beings.

It undoes the civic, sociological, societal, and legal progress which followed the passing of the Status of Children Act 1988.

I challenge any non-adopted politician to look me, an adopted person, in the eye and tell me both why they think have more human rights to their own personal birth certificate than I do, and which law they think underscores such a notion.

Michele Savage

Dublin 12

We treat asylum seekers like we did single mothers

How we treat the most marginalised in our society is the touchstone of our humanity.

Our cold and cruel inhumanity towards unmarried mothers and their children has been laid bare by those who have testified to the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes.

But another festering gaping wound of injustice within our present society is there for all of us to see and nobody in the future can say they weren’t aware of it.

I’m speaking of the State’s unjust treatment of asylum seekers, a treatment which will return in the future to haunt us.

We can’t wait for another Commission of Inquiry to shame us into action.

Brendan Butler

Malahide, Co Dublin


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