The Gist: A bad confession on Mother & Baby Homes
Picking up the leitmotif of the year so far, the government want to assure you, it is someone else’s fault. This is the Gist.
Mother and Baby home survivors. That was the topic the State wanted to discuss this week, even as the questions mounted about the fatal consequences of the Government’s decision to depart from medical and scientific advice in suppressing Covid.
The Well-Trodden Road
The Government has had since the 30th October, when the Commission of Inquiry delivered its report to the Minister, to read, digest and respond to its contents. This week has seen the well rehearsed media management of these reports swing into action. Draw some poison with the worst headline with a soft Sunday placement before anyone else can answer with the real report. Drop the report and then swing into narrative-setting before people have a chance to read it. Sorrowfully declare the thousands of dead and missing babies to be something we all were responsible for, the grim relics of a inexplicable past society. Society, unlike all the still-existing state and church institutions who actually administered these policies, can’t be sued, you see.
Finally try to rush to the Apology as quickly as possible, as an end to the thing. A state apology, but on behalf of that scoundrel society again. Strangely, no particular part of the State is acknowledged to have committed any wrongs.
The Church has a procedure for the Sacrament of Penance.
The sequence goes Admission-> Confession-> Penance -> Absolution.
The State, if cornered, will sometimes Admit something seems awry. But it doesn’t like the radical transparency and truth-telling of Confessing. Its reports become evasions, like a three thousand page ellipse, marking where the absent truths should be. Then it plans for sealing and deleting records that might let people find the truth for themselves.
This is all with the aim of avoiding Penance- to compensate those the State wronged, at the full value of the harms done to them. As Judge Quirke described his intention in designing a compensation scheme for Magdalen Laundry survivors:
the payments which I am recommending are expressly required by my Terms of Reference to be “ex gratia” in nature. They are not and do not purport to comprise full and complete damages to compensate the Magdalen women for injury and loss caused by the wrongdoing of the State.
Irish Society was, unquestionably, warped and wronged by the power structures which saw mass coercive confinement hit 1% of the whole population in 1951. For comparison, Stalin’s Gulag system was 1.5% of the USSR in 1953.
But that does not mean ‘we’ or the generality of Irish society are responsible for these abuses. When power is concentrated and misused, it is not equally the fault of the person with power and those they abuse.
Society was arranged for the benefit of specific people and institutions. The society Ireland had was the one they chose, not the one that the citizens without power wanted.
The inheritors of those powerful institutions may discover, as survivors and their advocates read the report and absorb it, that the society we have now has indeed changed, in ways that they have always feared.
As any good Catholic knows, you can’t get Absolution from a bad confession. If the Minister or the Taoiseach really wants to reach that state of grace, they will have to do better, or eventually face judgement.