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A bleak history January 12, 2021

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
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One small but shocking note in a report that has many such from the Commission of Investigation into the mother-and-baby homes:

the proportion of women admitted to such homes in Ireland was probably the highest in the world in the 20th Century.

In a society that almost fetishised the idea of the ‘mother’ more generally the incalculable cruelty of this approach is something else. Similarly with the fetishisation of children as against this appalling reality.

It says 9,000 children died in the institutions and it finds that mortality rates were very high in the period compared to the overall national rate of infant mortality.

And the numbers overall are near incredible. 56,000 women, 57,000 children in these homes. The ages of mothers ranging from 12 to their 40s.

Worse, if possible:

The greatest number of admissions was in the 1960s and early 1970s. It said in the years before 1960 mother-and-baby homes did not save the lives of “illegitimate” children; in fact, they appear to have significantly reduced their prospects of survival.

And these words no doubt have behind them a weight of human misery.

The commission of Investigation found that many of the women suffered emotional abuse and were often subject to denigration and derogatory remarks. The report says: “It appears that there was little kindness shown to them and this was particularly the case when they were giving birth“.

The key aspect in many many instances – pregnancy outside marriage in a society where ‘Many Irish marriages until the 1960s involved an element of match-making and a dowry and these processes were reliant on a family’s respectability’.

“Their lives were blighted by pregnancies outside of marriage and the responses of the father of their child, their immediate families and the wider community.”

This isn’t something that ended many many decades ago. The report looked at 18 homes from 1922 to 1998.

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1. benmadigan - January 12, 2021

appalling cruelty in how women and children were treated.
The Catholic church created the problem (no sex outside of marriage) and the means for solving it (mother and baby homes, magdalen laundries,baby trafficking under cover of ” adoptions”).
And the Irish Republic collaborated to the full.

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EWI - January 13, 2021

And the Irish Republic collaborated to the full

Trying not to be pedantic, but it needs to be pointed out that the names of the two/three states concerned are the United Kingdom, the Irish Free State and the Republic of Ireland (and the ‘Irish Republic’ was something else).

I assume that there are equivalent Protestant homes which have yet to be touched by this scandal. Niall Meehan’s pen will no doubt be kept busy.

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benmadigan - January 13, 2021

I used the term “Irish Republic” to signify the people, the state and its institutions.
Generations of government officials like Home Inspectors and Gardai must have collaborated otherwise the Homes would not have been allowed to operate until the 1990s.
Parents sent their daughters to these “Homes” whose staff disposed of their grandchildren. On whose authority? Who exerted the social pressure that made parents conform to this pattern of behaviour?

” equivalent Protestant homes”
They most probably existed.Because the mindset and social pressure were pervasive throughout society.

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sonofstan - January 13, 2021

The Bethany home in Orwell Road, Protestant run, is included in the report.

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EWI - January 14, 2021

I am glad to hear it. There is a point to be borne in mind here about the role of religions (plural) is privileged positions by states in the past century and more, and laying it all solely at the foot of the RCC (as the IT likes to do) muddies the waters.

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EWI - January 14, 2021

*in privileged

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2. Bartholomew - January 12, 2021

The most striking statistic I’ve seen so far from the report is that of the babies born in the Bessborough home in Cork in 1943, 75% died before they reached one year. That’s infanticide.

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WorldbyStorm - January 12, 2021

It really really is. It’s shocking. There’s so much to take in.

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3. NFB - January 13, 2021

The death rate is jaw dropping. These places were for punishing women, not helping them.

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EWI - January 13, 2021

The death rate is jaw dropping. These places were for punishing women, not helping them.

And not a jot of genuine contrition to be had. That misogynist game hasn’t changed.

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4. Alibaba - January 13, 2021

Looks like there is little, if any, information forthcoming from nuns, state bodies like councils or church records on those adoptions and on deaths/burials. Cover ups at the highest levels. Nothing new there.

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5. CL - January 13, 2021

” In the nearly 3,000-page tome, the government blames the unwed mothers, their families, and society at large, angering a number of victims who have called it a “whitewash.”…
The lengthy report is full of grim details about the homes’ residents. One, referred to as “Resident (A),” was raped by her boyfriend and became pregnant at 18. “She told the commission she saw ‘about 10’ deceased babies being sent for burial in what appeared to be shoeboxes.”…
Throughout the report, the authors refer to practices “of the times” and the stigma of unwed mothers with little mention of either the fathers or the fact that the last of the mothers’ homes only closed in the late 1990s…
The report does not thoroughly explain why the remains of 767 fetuses and babies were found in a septic system at the Mother and Baby Home in Tuam, County Galway, instead blaming infant mortality and lack of burial records….
She says she can never forget the horrific screams of the children and when one of them suddenly disappeared. “I remember the screams and I’ll take them to my grave. You always knew when there was a baby missing out of the nursery,” she said. “It’s the weirdest sound you’ll ever hear, like animals in the wild. I remember when I found his cot empty, that same sound came out of me, but it didn’t sound like me.”…
babies born in a home were part of …a “highly unethical” vaccine trial in which she was injected with experimental shots against diphtheria, whooping cough, tetanus, and polio.”
https://www.thedailybeast.com/ireland-says-9000-babies-died-in-catholic-homes-but-it-was-societys-fault-not-the-church?ref=home

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6. LMS - January 13, 2021

Not only is this not something that ended long ago as noted, but also a parallel situation continues today in the Direct Provision system. As mores around women’s sexuality have changed and the stigma of the unwed mother and her child has faded away, a new Other, namely black and brown immigrants, has been conjured up to fill the gap left behind. The sheer volume of the violence meted out to women and children in 20th century is not being replicated but even from an outside perspective one can see that the same vicious, dehumanising intent remains. Aside even from the stories of those who spend 10 or 15+ years in dreadful conditions waiting for a decision on their asylum application, four deaths in the last eight months in DP speaks for itself.

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WorldbyStorm - January 13, 2021

+1

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7. lcox - January 13, 2021

Just when you think you can trust Irish historians … along comes a history prof, a judge and an academic lawyer to tell survivors that there were no forced adoptions and money did not change hands, and to minimise the role of church and state. A gift to the Iona Institute at the expense of women who have suffered enough.

Unsurprising from the legal profession – our legal system has always punished the poor for trivia and let the powerful get away with anything. There has never been a trial of any of those involved in the ordinary running of the M&B homes, Magdalen asylums, industrial schools, forced psychiatric incarceration etc. at any level – nuns and brothers, doctors and civil servants, guards and councillors. The DPP “will study” the report apparently.

But I’d just about let down my guard and started to expect better of Irish social historians…

I haven’t yet read the 3000 pages but the only sense I can make of the refusal to treat the many survivor testimonies (often from people who were children at the time!) about the way in which their babies were taken away from them as evidence of forced adoption is a notion of history in which if there isn’t a written record of the moment it never happened. Or if someone was tricked or bullied into signing (or someone else signed for them or forged their signature) that counts as Proper Evidence – while repeated statements aren’t Real History.

More than ever I have respect for Terry Fagan’s dogged pursuit of the oral history of working-class Dublin, and how he keeps the story of his brother’s incarceration in Artane and Letterfrack alive – and Jemmy Gunner who helped him and others with escape attempts. A class history that flies in the teeth of this establishment peering over its spectacles at the poor.

Court history, in more senses than one.

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WorldbyStorm - January 13, 2021

Very true. That’s a crushing indictment of the process of engagement by the state – or lack of same.

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terrymdunne - January 13, 2021

Actually based out of N.U.I. Galway history department is –

http://www.nuigalway.ie/tuam-oral-history/

https://www.rte.ie/news/connacht/2019/0207/1028207-tuam-mother-and-baby-home/

– I am not sure they are any more representative than Mary Daly, they are social historians though & one of them has been on twitter and drivetime in the last 48 hours making the very point about centering survivor testimony.

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lcox - January 13, 2021

Really glad to hear that Terry.

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Alibaba - January 13, 2021

I must echo some of your comments, Icox. As an adoptee, I traced siblings almost three decades ago; one of whom was sent to the USA for adoption. When we met, he showed me letters from the US catholic church to his adopted parents conceding their payments to Irish Church authorities for the adoption process, but seeking more in fundraising initiatives for his local church.

Three Commission members have the audacity to hide something that can be seen in plain sight when they claim that money did not change hands. It is without doubt obvious the Irish state colluded with Church agencies to send ‘illegitimate’ children abroad and a black market for baby exchange existed beyond official arrangements. Details were published in Mike Milotte’s book ‘Banished Babies: The secret history of Ireland’s baby export business’ in 1997.

Some other thoughts. There are thousands of adoptees born outside the 18 mother and baby homes who were “given up” not in a forceful way but under pressure and in desperation nonetheless by birth mothers who had no other options. Their children were endlessly lied to, misled and stymied in the tracing process. I am one of them.
 
Those mothers who were dealt with in ‘private’ arrangements were treated better but carried stigma. As origins tracing is prohibited, it is highly problematic unless one can afford to pay for a detective and even then … It’s a class dynamic. 
 
The despicable treatment of all these people was implemented by the religious institutions in cahoots with the state and successive governments. That’s something else that requires investigation and redress too.

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lcox - January 13, 2021

Thanks for saying that Alibaba. They’re only fooling themselves if they think survivors are going to give up and go home – or that new generations will hear this and shrug it off as “it was a different time”.

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sonofstan - January 13, 2021

I’m an adoptee too, as I’ve said before, and would have been born in a home if there hadn’t been complications that caused my mother to be rushed 60 miles to the Coombe (which at least ensured I was born a Dub…).
I’ve traced my family, know enough to know that I don’t really want to know any more and have made my peace with the whole thing by now.
TBH, although I’ve no desire to let church or state off the hook for anything, I’m not into trying to attach too much blame to individuals, because that ignores the complicity, silence and duplicity of many more. If there were 52,000 legal adoptions up to the late 70s, and God knows how many more of the kind of arrangements AliBaba takes about, then that’s maybe 200,000 parents, and another 400,000 parents of those parents, and siblings, and priests and….
I’m grateful that maybe people will now realise that adoption stories are not all lovely fairytales, a kind of redistribution upwards of babies from bad (read ‘poor’) people to nice people who deserve them. I also hope that maybe a more critical eye will be cast on the even more problematic cases of trans-country adoptions and the doubtful legality of many of those.

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Alibaba - January 13, 2021

+ 1

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sonofstan - January 14, 2021

Thanks Terry. That story is unreal, that people would do all that to a 16 year old.

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EWI - January 14, 2021

I am not sure they are any more representative than Mary Daly, they are social historians though & one of them has been on twitter and drivetime in the last 48 hours making the very point about centering survivor testimony.

I would echo the positive note about S-AB.

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terrymdunne - January 14, 2021
8. Arthur Owen - January 13, 2021

I am was a child born to a single mother in Wales in 1945. My mother was Welsh, my father Irish.I have never been so glad as I have been in the past few years that it was not the other way round.

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9. lcox - January 13, 2021

Mairead Enright thinks that part of what is going on is a distinction between forced and coerced using 1970s cases which resolutely ignore context. If I’m reading that right, it means that so long as nobody held a gun to their heads the Commission doesn’t see it as forced adoption. (I’m not sure if forced adoption is a legal category or just the term force.)

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WorldbyStorm - January 13, 2021

That’s abysmal.

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10. lcox - January 13, 2021

She is doing an FAQ from a legal point of view and it looks as though there will be a number of similar commentaries.

There is clearly a lot of outrage and I suspect that the official plan – tell lots of horrific stories, act sad, but then refuse to draw any practical conclusions – will backfire.

The Iona Institute etc. will love the Commission’s line but I think for the wider world the big story will be “this happened”, not the neat little bow that they are trying to tie that package up in.

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11. crocodileshoes - January 13, 2021

Not trivialising this, I hope, but John Banville’s novel ‘Caroline Falls’ – it’s one of his Benjamin Black ‘detective’ books – gives a really striking picture of the power relationships behind all this, the ways in which church, politics, the legal system and a national obsession with ‘respectability’ interacted to make victims of thousands of women and their babies. I felt I knew a lot more about it after reading it, something you can’t say about many ‘thrillers’, and it appears it was not at all exaggerated.

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CL - January 13, 2021

Just read Banville’s ‘Snow’. Great chapter on John Charles McQuaid interacting with a Protestant Garda investigating the murder of a priest,- a priest who had been a teacher in an ‘industrial’ school.

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lcox - January 13, 2021

Cork anarchist Kevin Doyle’s novel “To keep a bird singing” is a powerful attempt at writing a crime novel digging up the past of Ireland’s carceral complex. Haven’t yet read the new one “A river of bodies” but would strongly recommend.

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12. WorldbyStorm - January 13, 2021

I avoid Twitter like the plague but I see Brenda Power didn’t cover herself in glory on this today.

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13. lcox - January 13, 2021

Put together the best thoughts I could come up with about the politics of memory here: https://twitter.com/DhammalokaU/status/1349086859171917824

There really is no neutral place to stand around this if you live on or come from this island. The politics of memory are visceral.

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WorldbyStorm - January 13, 2021

Superb thread. As you say there is no neutral place, and the official response is ‘everyone is guilty… so… no-one is guilty’. Not good enough.

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14. lcox - January 13, 2021

Thanks WBS.

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15. terrymdunne - January 14, 2021

Obviously the point of the “we all partied” approach is to transfer the blame from the institutions that were running the so-called “mother and baby homes” – namely the church and state – and equally obviously that is where the responsibility lies – like the carceral institutions were actually sub-sections of the institutions of church and state – there isn’t really a way around that.

It seems to me there are two different questions being confused here – perhaps the commission deliberately had a wide remit in the interests of a more exculpatory approach? Looking at how the so-called “mother and baby homes” were run and what they inflicted on people is one question (and would need to centre survivors – not to mention the fact it would need to do so as part of redress).

That doesn’t really necessarily say anything about why there was a basically expulsionary approach to crisis pregnancy – and that question cannot be adequately addressed by seeing this as just a top-down process – for one thing the condemnatory attitudes around childbirth outside of marriage pre-date the relatively modern dominance of the Catholic Church. Moreover – not a rhetorical question here – but was the clerical line actually to favour incarceration/adoption over marriage in cases where conception was outside marriage?

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terrymdunne - January 14, 2021

Like in the case of the Grimes article I linked to above the teenaged prospective parents wanted to get married. In the commission report there is a whole chapter based on 2,000 Dept. of Health case files from 1940 to 1961 and seemingly there was as many cases of families/parents preventing marriage as there was of them trying to force marriage.

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lcox - January 14, 2021

Thanks for that Terry – a good way of putting the distinction.

The standard account when I was studying this stuff was around the new class relations brought on by the shift from multiple to single inheritance, going together with a shift from subsistence farming to commodity production and of course the land acts – meaning that the majority of the population (excluding also landless labourers obvs) moved from a situation where it was fine to keep on splitting up the landholding / tenancy as long as there was enough to live on to one where only one favoured son would inherit and (logically) one daughter on average could hope to marry. Hence both a sudden need for massive control of sexuality (since you needed land to start a family, and this was now happening only for a few people and that often quite late in life for men in particular) and the production of a vast surplus population excluded from marriage, many of whom acquired a religious vocation.

So a class analysis of why Irish Catholicism became so centrally defined around controlling sexuality in ways that are not universally true for other Catholicisms (not that it’s not there but that it’s not necessarily the defining and unavoidable centre-point as opposed to say being on the political right wing).

I have heard increasing criticism of the view that went along with that, which highlighted e.g. trial marriages and what was seen as a more positive approach to sex in pre-Famine Ireland – and most recently some research (the same you’re quoting?) which proposed that actually Ireland was already uniquely punitive in relation to births outside marriage.

Is that research now generally accepted? And does it demolish the class analysis of post-Famine Catholicism? Or are the two logically separate?

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sonofstan - January 14, 2021

I’ve been reading a fair bit about the origins of American popular music in the early to mid-19th century and a similar conflict between old patterns of courtship and sexuality and newer patterns of control seems also to have played out in the Northern states and at around the same time. Even puritan Massachusetts seems not to have been quite as puritan as all that, with the survival of maypole ribaldry, and customs such as ‘bundling’ as a sort ‘blind eye’ turned to pre-marital sex. By mid-centruy though, these cultural survivals were been policed out of existence, not coincidentally with the transformation of an artisan class into a working class and the added complication of ‘nativists’ wishing to distinguish themselves from the tide of immigrants from Ireland and from African Americans. The Irish, by the end of the century, were buying into respectability too, as were a small, but influential black middle-class.

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terrymdunne - January 21, 2021

This book https://jhupbooks.press.jhu.edu/title/best-poor-mans-country has been recommended to me as the one to read on social change in rural early-nineteenth century northern U.S., have not got my hands on it yet. Also some of the chapters in this https://www.haymarketbooks.org/books/436-the-american-road-to-capitalism

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sonofstan - January 21, 2021

I taught a student once from southern PA who told that people in his town still recalled how the area had the largest single branch (or whatever they called them?) of the KKK outside the south. But then it’s worth remembering how far north, ‘the south’ stretched: Kentucky is on one side of the Ohio river and Ohio on the other, and the other side of Ohio is Canada.

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yourcousin - January 21, 2021

Shit, the Klan was everywhere. Very active in Colorado in the 20s. They largely targeted Eastern European immigrants because there were so few African Americans here. My family remembers getting fucked with in Sterling by them. Total side tangent there.

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CL - January 21, 2021

” Father Coughlin, was a Canadian-American Roman Catholic priest who was based in the United States near Detroit…..
After hinting at attacks on Jewish bankers, Coughlin began to use his radio program to broadcast antisemitic commentary. In the late 1930s, he supported some of the fascist policies of Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, and Emperor Hirohito of Japan. The broadcasts have been described as “a variation of the Fascist agenda applied to American culture”…..
n 1926, Coughlin began broadcasting on radio station WJR, in response to cross burnings by the Ku Klux Klan on the grounds of his church. The KKK was near the peak of its membership and power in Detroit. This second manifestation of the KKK, which developed chapters in cities and towns throughout the North and West as well as in its Southern origins, was also strongly anti-Catholic and anti-immigrant. In response, Coughlin’s weekly hour-long radio program denounced the KKK, appealing to his Irish Catholic audience.”
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Coughlin

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terrymdunne - January 15, 2021

There was a shift away from a more bawdy and generally rambunctious popular culture over the nineteenth century but it was a shift moving from a cultural baseline which already had (a) stigma associated with “illegitimacy” and (b) in which a woman’s honour was her chastity. Otherwise I think the schema you present is broadly correct – though as much to do with different social strata and different regions as to do with time – that is to say “post-Famine” practices will be found in the “pre-Famine” period – just not as dominant.

Kinship mediated access to property & domestic labour & farm labour as well as organising migration and manipulating this system at times meant including as people as kin who were not actual blood relatives and excluding people who were. Even groups outside of all that like urban and provincial town workers were greatly taken up with status and “respectability”.

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16. sonofstan - January 14, 2021
CL - January 14, 2021

” Deputy Connolly claimed the leaking of the report was not “a technical glitch”.
“This was a deliberate policy, because it did not trust the survivors not to leak so they leaked. They decided they would determine the narrative.”

-“Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.”- Orwell.

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CL - January 23, 2021

” Yet it is the Irish state, cringing before the Catholic church, that has long facilitated the warehousing of its most vulnerable.

James Smith, in Ireland’s Magdalen Laundries and the Nation’s Architecture of Containment (2007), noted the range of interconnected institutions: industrial and reformatory schools, mental asylums, adoption agencies, Magdalene Laundries, and the mother and baby homes.
The incarcerated included ‘illegitimate’ and abandoned children, orphans, the sexually promiscuous, the socially transgressive, or those who were simply ‘in the way’.

‘In a still decolonising society,’ Smith writes, ‘those citizens guilty of such “crimes” contradicted the prescribed national narrative that emphasised conformity, valued community over the individual, and esteemed conservative Catholic moral values.’
Women’s families drove them to the mother and baby homes, but it was the church and the state that made the communal response possible….
Apologies for the past must confront its legacy in the present.”
https://www.lrb.co.uk/blog/2021/january/church-and-state

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17. terrymdunne - January 21, 2021

There is a detailed report on the commission report up on History Workshop Online. The implications of this particular passage –

“A Confidential Committee established to gather oral testimonies from survivors, provided extensive evidence of both emotional and physical abuse, but its report (based on 539 interviews) seems to have been hardly used by the Commissioners, who write that ‘there is very little evidence of physical abuse’ (Recommendations, p.8). It is disappointing to learn in the Confidential Committee Report (CCR, p. 9) that the interview recordings were destroyed, once their purpose as an aide memoir for official reports was fulfilled. ‘No evidence’ is repeated 102 times in the Final Report: history and memory are pitted against one another in a very unfair, and highly gendered fight. Written records of the powerful trump the spoken words of survivors.”

https://www.historyworkshop.org.uk/mother-and-baby-homes-report/

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terrymdunne - January 21, 2021

Also here is massive infant mortality rates actually being an issue in the 1930s and 1940s – as opposed to just the way things were done – “nursing homes” were seemingly regulated precisely to address this problem (not sure if that was regulation just for private secular ones) –

https://www.irishtimes.com/news/ireland/irish-news/state-abandoned-in-1947-proposed-investigation-into-almost-700-bessborough-deaths-1.4463373

https://www.oireachtas.ie/en/debates/debate/dail/1934-02-07/38/

A societal approach of hide her away and have the baby adopted is not at all the same as infanticide by neglect. Not to minimise the former, but what the institutions were doing was, in this instance at least, actually way outside the the parameters of what was broadly acceptable at the time (even if we wanted that as a yardstick).

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