Tuam tragedy should inspire us to discuss role of our ancestors
All nations produce the sort of legacies that prompt moments of intense pride and despair. But when it comes to the excavation of hundreds of infant remains from a tiny plot in Tuam, we are faced with a legacy that will echo in the conscience of the State forever.
It's not that long ago that we proudly repeated the 1916 Proclamation's salient point of treating the children of the nation equally. Well, right now it's difficult to make sense of that.
The religious institutions of this State did well in areas such as education - helping particularly to educate the poor and impoverished. But when it comes to conjoining sexual morality and human compassion, it was badly found wanting.
The fall-out from institutional and religious abuse in Ireland is far from a new phenomenon. But there's just something about a scenario in which the remains of hundreds of babies and infants - citizens of this state - being discarded in unmarked graves and septic tanks, that reverberates beyond all that has gone before.
It tugs at the very root of our emotions and runs contrary to the basic principles of protecting the vulnerable. Understandably, it's hard for this generation to fully grasp how the involvement of a religious order could oversee such horrific behaviour.
But we're speaking of a time when wider society was part and parcel of the problem, as opposed to finding the solution. It's all well and good to attack the religious institutions involved but their actions were not without knowledge of people living in the communities in which they were based.
The tragic circumstances in Tuam, and elsewhere, are symptomatic of a society so submerged in the church's diktat that, in certain circumstances, it ignored a basic and fundamental humanitarian approach. One must also ask whether such ignorance can continue to be held up as the sole excuse for a flagrant disregard for innocence; one must also ask whether we can continue to lay the blame at the feet of the perpetrators knowing that recent generations acquiesced to such religious crimes by not asking 'why?'.
The brainwashing of so many Irish people when it came to religion is a stand-out question of our time. These days we revert to tribunals whenever a wrong-doing is inflicted. But while we can't hold tribunals on the collective consciousness of our ancestors, we can still hold to account an era that largely disregarded Irish woman and children.
Placing the blame squarely on the altar of religious officials is but one part of the overall redemption process. Acts like Tuam call for a broader spell of societal cleansing. In short, we need to stand up and hold our past to account by discussing it openly and honestly.
If there is any comfort from this heartbreaking situation, it's knowing that for the families forced to endure this nightmare they might find some form of emotional restitution. The 1916 anniversary showed that we are well capable of reaching into the past and extracting the sort of narrative that best suits our mood. But now is the time to fully explore all legacies.