'Enda, parents sent children to industrial schools because a court compelled them or they had no choice'

Enda Kenny has said he wants to deal with the dark legacies of our past but following his statements this week, he’s still way off the mark, writes Sinead Pembroke.

LAST TUESDAY IN Leader’s questions, Enda Kenny said, “no nuns broke into our homes to kidnap our children. We gave them up to what we convinced ourselves was the nuns’ care”.

After numerous reports since the 90s, after the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, the McAleese Report, and the subsequent redress schemes, this is what the Taoiseach had to contribute around the deplorable events that are being uncovered.

The Taoiseach and various other high profile government politicians have made similar remarks in relation to the financial crisis, and the subsequent recession in Ireland, that it was our fault that we partied too hard.

Here, we have it all over again: it’s our fault that children were incarcerated in these institutions.

Revisionism of our horrible history

Not only is this statement a complete revisionism of our very recent murky history of institutionalised welfare, but it completely lets the Catholic Church and the state off the hook.

Actually, they, (along with the state), did kidnap our children. Parents did not send their children to industrial schools because they wanted to; parents sent them there either because a court compelled them to, or because they had no choice, (as the state’s policy was to give child payments to the Religious Orders rather than directly to the parents).

I am the daughter of a survivor of a Christian Brother institution, and my grandmother certainly did not have my father sent to these institutions at will; in her case she was a widow who couldn’t afford to keep her children.

The Laundries

shutterstock_257894690 Ultimately until Enda Kenny and other government politicians can admit to the deplorable legacy of the relationship between the Church and the political elite in Ireland, he will never fully deal with this. Shutterstock / wavebreakmedia Shutterstock / wavebreakmedia / wavebreakmedia

The same can be said for children born in Mother and Baby Homes.

Having interviewed people who were incarcerated in Magdalene Laundries, industrial schools and Mother and Baby Homes for numerous research projects, not only were these institutions intimately intertwined, but mothers who gave birth in these horrific places, (usually due to the fact they had no financial or familial support), had to give up their children unwillingly.

Not only were their children taken away from them, they were sold off to be adopted in places like the US, and many of the women ended up in Magdalene Laundries after they spent 18 months or so looking after the baby they were not allowed to keep.

Government must admit to legacy of Church-state relationship

Enda Kenny also said he wanted to be the Taoiseach to “once and for all deal with the sad legacies of the past”. With statements like the above, he is so far off from this.

Ultimately until he and other government politicians can admit to the deplorable legacy of the relationship between the Church and the political elite in Ireland, he will never fully deal with this.

What he didn’t say was that women were incarcerated in Magdalene Laundries or forced to give birth in Mother and Baby Homes because of the Catholic Church’s morals and values around sex and sexuality.

What he didn’t say was that children were incarcerated in industrial and reformatory schools because this was the Catholic Church (and the state’s response) to child welfare in Ireland, and the terms for sentencing a child to one of these institutions were widened in order to provide a continuous flow of children (and funding) for these institutions.

And this is the problem with inquiries conducted in a piecemeal fashion; they do not allow us to see the bigger picture.

We need to keep exposing the Church and state’s role in this system of abuse because it is only by doing this will we see an end to Catholic control, in legislation that controls women’s bodies, and in the domains of education and welfare.

Sinead Pembroke lives and works in Dublin as a researcher in TASC (Think-Tank for Action on Social Change).

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