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Column: 'The rawness is felt collectively in Kerry, by a people, by a place'

The emotions and memories stirred by the words “The Kerry Babies” is something that cannot be understood in any other county, in any other place.

Radio Kerry

This piece was written by Fiona Stack and read by Jerry O’Sullivan at the start of the Kerry Today programme on Wednesday 17 January 2018.

IN THIS MORNING’S programme we will bring you details of the Garda press conference in Cahersiveen, which saw gardaí conclusively state that Joanne Hayes is not the mother of what was known as the Kerry baby, and issue an apology to her.

The press conference also appealed for information in relation to the death of the baby, found in Cahersiveen in 1984, known as baby John.

Before we do that we are going to do something we don’t normally do as a current affairs programme – maybe even as a society – we are going to pause. We are going to acknowledge.

Source: TheJournal.ie/YouTube

The emotions and memories stirred by the words “The Kerry Babies” is something that cannot be understood in any other county, in any other place.

The rawness that is felt, undoubtedly by all those still involved, but also collectively in Kerry, by a people, by a place. The instinct, even by many of our listeners yesterday to leave it all alone, to question what purpose could be served in dragging it all up again.

I was seven in 1984,  yet like many others of my generation, as well as those older and probably younger, on hearing the words the Kerry Babies there was a collectively flinching. An involuntary instinct of pain.

Why? Because it is a memory of a painful time in this county.

Maybe the words can take on a different meaning

But maybe after yesterday, the words can finally take on a different meaning. Maybe when now spoken of the Kerry Babies in time will represent a turning point in our society.

In 1984 some institutions of the State sought to make a criminal case partly using a very available weapon at that time – shame. But ultimately through the courage of Joanne Hayes and her family – it began a process which we are still seeing now – where citizens spoke their truth and the shame was placed where it deserved to lie – with institutions and individuals who abuse their power in the name of the State.

At best well-intentioned gardaí were found to have feet of clay, to have made mistakes in a desire to solve a child’s death – at worst it was a time when power was knowingly abused by others who placed their careers ahead of search for the truth.

Can any apology – and my experience of the Garda press conference yesterday is that apology is sincerely intentioned – given 34 years after an event make up for the trauma is caused and the shadows it cast on the Hayes family? Only they can know that, they have asked for and they deserve privacy at this time.

There may be other people listening to us this morning for whom the review of the case is causing huge and silent distress – I hope I speak for all our listeners when I say it is a different Kerry, it is a different time – and you find support waiting.

Baby John didn’t deserve to be alone

Yesterday also changed, maybe for the first time “The Kerry Babies” to where its focus should have always been to the Kerry Baby – to baby John found on White Strand in Cahersiveen on 14 April 1984.

Baby John didn’t deserve the death he had. He didn’t deserve to be alone. And gardaí are now seeking help in his name. A name that has been too long forgotten, and somehow replaced by the name Hayes 34 years ago. Baby John also deserves a voice, someone to speak up for him, someone to give him peace.

Yesterday we saw an unprecedented apology, we saw an organisation say sorry. Maybe The Kerry Babies legacy should teach all of us to have the courage to admit when we are wrong.

Maybe it can help create an Ireland where we seek answers before we allocate blame, we can be mature enough to understand rather than judge, and to support rather than sacrifice.

Radio Kerry wasn’t on air in 1984, but since we came on air in 1990 we have sought to be means by which the people of Kerry tell their own story, in their own words.  Maybe now in Kerry and beyond the Kerry Babies case can stand for something else.

Read: After 34 years, gardaí have apologised to Joanne Hayes over the Kerry Babies case >

Read: There is more than one apology due over the abysmal Kerry Babies saga >

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