Friday, 8 August 2014

The centenary of World War I

I haven't blogged in while as I've been away to Bruges on holiday. While in Belgium I also took the opportunity to visit my great-uncle Christy Flynn's grave in Boezinge, and to see the name of possibly another great-uncle, Christy's brother, inscribed on Menin Gate in Ypres. I say possibly as in the small town I'm from there were two sets of brothers both named Christopher and Patrick Flynn. Both sets of brothers fought and were killed in action in World War I. To further confuse matters both sets of brothers had a mother named Bridget and a sister named Anne/Annie. As a friend of mine recently commented, it appears names were rationed back then. I know that the Christopher, whose grave I went to see, was indeed the 'right' one as I'm in possession of his British War Medal, with his service number inscribed on the edge.

Sorting out the two Patricks is a process which is still ongoing. In fact a cousin of my Dad's routinely goes to both Menin Gate were one Patrick is remembered and to the Guards Cemetery in Lesboeufs, France where the other Patrick is buried.

I was happy to see our President Michael D. Higgins representing Ireland at the centenary ceremony in Belgium. He said that "it was wrong of Irish society at the time not to recognise the suffering of those Irish people who fought in the war" and "that perhaps they suffered in silence because they came home in the shadow of the execution of leaders of the 1916 Rising".
President Higgins also said the Irish were scattered across this experience of war and we must understand their role in it. After all total of 49,400 Irish died in the conflict.

I have seen much commentary regarding Ireland's participation in the centenary this year, and not all of it complimentary. Many people have referred to the men who went out to fight as 'fools' and referred to people like myself who want to commemorate these men in some way as 'proto-unionists'. People who make such comments forget that even their ancestors were regarded as citizens of the United Kingdom at the time. Researching family history has told me a lot, but not everything. For instance I don't know what political allegiance, if any, my great-uncles had. I don't know if they hoped that the war would be a way to bring about Home Rule in Ireland. I don't know if they fought because they believed it a just cause or not. I do know from family lore that their choice at the time was to enlist or starve, and that may have been all the motivation they needed. Regardless, they went to war, they lost their lives, and they, I believe, deserve to be commemorated.

President Higgins "I think the significance of the heads of state coming together on the anniversary of World War One is an opportunity to recognise the catastrophe the war was," he said. He said the anniversary also provided an opportunity to ask the question how countries could drift into war and how it could expand to the point at which it consumed a generation that had such promise.

I know very little about my great-uncles, but I have a keen interest in history and family history. So it was when I realised how close we would be to Boezinge and Ypres, I took the opportunity to see Christy's grave and one Patrick's commemoration. Many people told me that it would be quite a moving experience, and while I can sometimes border on the sentimental, I didn't quite get it until I went there. They day we went out was the 28th July, also Christopher's 97th anniversary. It took us quite a while to get a taxi in Ypres, and the one we did eventually get wanted to know if we had a map! Eventually with the help of Google he made it out to Artillery Wood Cemetery.
Stepping into the marshy ground in a pair of ill-advised flip flops, I thought about my great-uncles and what they might have gone through. I thought about their sister Annie, my great-grandmother receiving news of their deaths and I thought about how nobody in the family at the time would have had the money to go and see their graves.

I opened the guest book encased at the gate and saw that I was not the first Athy native to be there even this year. It was a sombre and moving experience, but it didn't really hit me until we got back into the taxi to leave. Then it felt like I was leaving him behind, in a strange country.

From Artillery Wood we went back to Ypres to see Menin Gate and the name of one of the Patrick's inscribed there. Menin Gate is a towering, impressive looking sight and inscribed on all the walls are the names of the many, many men who were missing in action. The crowds were arriving for the Last Post which is played every night at 8pm and has been since 1922. We saw one Patrick's name, the L in Flynn having worn away somewhat.

Upon my return home to Ireland I saw that President Higgins had been heckled while giving his speech unveiling the Cross of Sacrifice at Glasnevin Cemetery. The Cross is the first of it's kind to be erected in Ireland.
President Higgins said "On an occasion such as this we eliminate all the barriers that have stood between those Irish soldiers whose lives were taken in the war, whose remains for which we have responsibility, and whose memories we have a duty to respect".

That's what it comes down to, these men are ours, all 49,400 of them. The least we can do is show our respect.

In memory of Corporal Patrick Flynn, 2nd Battalion Irish Guards, who died on the 14th September 1916.
Private Patrick Flynn, 8th Battalion Royal Dublin Fusiliers, who died on the 11th August 1917
Private Christopher Flynn, 1st Battalion Irish Guards, who died on the 28th July 1917

Vote for me please!

I've been nominated for Best Blog post for my post on Forced Vaccine Trials in Irish Mother and Baby Homes. I would really appreciate if you could vote for me and my post here: Best Blog Post

I'm a bit down the list and I'd be so delighted if I could make it into the top ten.
Thank-you to everybody who nominated me and thank-you for your votes.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Forced Vaccine Trials in Irish Mother and Baby Homes

Having looked into Irish Mother and Baby homes we know that the treatment of the mothers and children kept there was sub-standard, to put it mildly. Women and girls were kept against their will, had their names changed in the home, often had their hair cut, were given no pain relief during labour and had their children taken away from them. Children in Mother and Baby homes had a mortality rate that was up to five times higher than that in the general population. We know there were unnecessary deaths, sometimes through malnutrition and preventable illnesses. Often times it seems like twentieth century Ireland just keeps throwing one horrible thing at us after another. Finding out about the forced vaccine trials was yet another one of those moments for me.We now know that the Department of Health in Ireland authorised three vaccine trials by the Wellcome Foundation (now owned by GSK) on approximately 298 children. Sadly we also now know that this is merely scratching the surface of the total number of children subjected to pharmaceutical trials in the mother and baby homes.

Suspicions that vaccine trials had taken place on vulnerable Irish children -- many of whom were in state care -- first surfaced in the early 1990s. In 2000, a report -- entitled the "Report On Three Clinical Trials Involving Babies And Children In Institutional Settings, 1960/61, 1970 and 1973" -- was finally drawn up. The document found that 211 children had been administered vaccines during three separate vaccine trials conducted on behalf of a drugs company, The Wellcome Foundation.
More than 123 of these infants and toddlers were residents in children's homes in Dublin, Cork and the midlands when the trials took place in the 1960s and 1970s.
Trial one involved 58 children in five children's homes in Dublin, Cork, Westmeath and Meath. The trial investigated what would happen if four vaccines -- diphtheria, pertussis (also known as whooping cough), tetanus and polio -- were combined in one overall four-in-one shot. The trial was published in the 'British Medical Journal' in 1962. The final paragraph of it read: "We are indebted to the medical officers in charge of the children's homes. . . for permission to carry out this investigation on infants under their care."
Trial two, which was conducted during the summer of 1970, saw 35 children administered with the intra-nasal rubella vaccine. It involved children from St Anne's Industrial School in Booterstown, Co Dublin, and children living in the Killucan area of Westmeath. Published in the 'Cambridge Journal of Hygiene' in 1971, the trial attempted to find out if German measles vaccine, administered intranasally, could spread to susceptible contacts.

Both trials were carried out by Professor Irene Hillery and Professor Patrick Meenan, from the department of Medical Microbiology in University College Dublin, and other doctors.

The final trial involved 53 children from institutional homes. The homes were: St Patrick's Home, Madonna House, Cottage Home, Bird's Nest and Boheennaburna. A further 65 children living at home in Dublin also took part. The purpose of the trial was to compare commercially available batches of the three-in-one vaccine, Trivax and Trivax AD, with that of a modified vaccine prepared for the trial. 
Dr Kiely's report said the decision to conduct such clinical trials was acceptable, given the diseases that the vaccines sought to counter. However he insisted the lack of documentation available meant it had not been possible to confirm if consent had been given by the parents or guardians of the children involved or what arrangements were arrived at with managers of the homes.
He added that this lack of information also meant he could not confirm if the Therapeutic Substances Act 1932 had been complied with in relation to the licensing of the trials.
The damning document was laid before the Irish Houses of the Oireachtas on November 7, 2000.

Michael Dwyer (Historian, University College Cork) found that 2,051 children drawn from the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary facilities at Bessborough and Sean Ross Abbey, Tipperary were part of secret vaccine trials in Ireland. In the course of his research, Dwyer says that he could find no detailed records of the trials, no inventory of consent forms and no outline of any possible side effects or illnesses caused in the children involved. Dwyer also says "the fact that no record of these trials can be found in the files relating to the Department of Local Government and Public Health, the Municipal Health Reports relating to Cork and Dublin, or the Wellcome Archives in London, suggests that vaccine trials would not have been acceptable to government, municipal authorities, or the general public. However, the fact that reports of these trials were published in the most prestigious medical journals suggests that this type of human experimentation was largely accepted by medical practitioners and facilitated by authorities in charge of children’s residential institutions."To add further to the horror, Glaxosmithkline confirmed to Newstalk Radio that the trials in the 1960's-70's left “80 children ill after they were accidentally administered a vaccine intended for cattle.”

Christy Kirwan who was born at Bessborough also spoke to Newstalk of his experience, he was left with four marks on each arm and two on his legs, he says "My arms and legs were very badly scarred. But when I asked my Mum why she basically said when you arrived your arms were very sore and they were bandaged. I didn't know anything about vaccination trials (until later). I've since been to a few doctors and they said they'd never seen anything like it – with so many injections."

In the same interview with Newstalk Sr. Sarto insists that the mothers consent was always sought for these trials. However first hand accounts such as that of Mari Steed and her mother would indicate otherwise. Mari Steed was used as a test subject during the 'four-in-one' vaccine trials carried out on her between December 1960 and October 1961 when she was between nine and 18 months old before she was adopted out to a couple from the US. She was administered the vaccine on at least four occasions at Bessborough.   Ms Steed became aware she had been subjected to the vaccine trials after she retrieved her medical documents while trying to track down her mother, Josephine, in the late 1990s. Her records revealed that she received her first injection on December 9, 1960 and another on January 6, 1961. Despite being ill after the third injection on January 7, 1961, she was given her fourth and final shot on February 10, 1961, and a booster shot of polio on October 3, 1961. Josephine said the tests were carried out on her baby daughter without her consent or knowledge of her medical history. "They didn't ask me for my permission to give her that shot".
The Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, also known as the Laffoy Commission in Ireland, investigated the drug testing in 2001, but a court order by two doctors involved in the trials put a halt to the probe by 2003. Steed and her birth mother Josephine both presented evidence to the Laffoy Commission before it was disbanded.

The new inquiry into Mother and Baby Homes has the unenviable job of looking into all aspects of the homes and hopefully will include these vaccine trials. Many defenders of the church have claimed that since vaccines are given routinely now that it's all a fuss about nothing. However those conducting trials have a responsibility to ensure that there is consent, that the trial is designed to minimise pain and discomfort and that there is no financial inducement. The issue of financial inducement in Irish institutions is yet another question to be answered. Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin has said “We have to look at the whole culture of mother and baby homes; they’re talking about medical experiments there. They’re very complicated and very sensitive issues, but the only way we will come out of this particular period of our history is when the truth comes out".
Hopefully this time around the issue of illegal and unethical experimentation on our most vulnerable citizens will not be swept under the carpet.

Note: Mari Steed is US Coordinator for the Adoption Rights Alliance, now working in conjunction with the Philomena Project. She is also a co-founder of Justice for Magdalenes. Mari has written extensively on Ireland’s adoption exportation, inter-country adoption practice, US adoption activism and the Magdalene Laundries. You can read more of Mari's work here at

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

A Secret Buried: The Mother and Baby Scandal part 3

The TV3 documentary A Secret Buried touched on another topic that I will also be delving into over the next few days: the illegal and unethical experimentation on children in Irish Mother and Baby Homes and unauthorised handing over of children's bodies to medical students in universities. The Department of Health has confirmed that it authorised three vaccine trials between 1960-1973 by the Wellcome Foundation (now Glaxosmithkline). However Philip Delaney who was born in Bessborough Mother and Baby Home. He speaks about how he was part of an unauthorised trial for a five-in-one vaccination in 1965. Seemingly the pharmaceutical company involved bypassed the Department of Health and went straight to the homes themselves. Philip was adopted from the home and light was not shed in his involvement in the trial until doctors arrived at his home to take blood samples one day. The doctors explained to Philip's parents that he, and other children, should not have been put up for adoption as they had to travel around the country to take blood samples. Philip says that his birth mother had not given informed consent and was not aware that the vaccination was a trial. The idea of using children in vaccine trials without consent or going through proper channels is truly horrific. Even more horrific is the lack of any accountability but that should come as no surprise in Ireland. The TV3 documentary leaves this issue here but I'll be returning to these vaccine trials tomorrow in an attempt to show the sheer scale and enormity of this.

Mother and Baby Homes were not just restricted to the Catholic Church. Bethany Home in Dublin was a Church of Ireland run home which operated from 1922-1972. Girls and women from Northern Ireland would be sent south to Bethany Home. The reasons they were there varied from being an unwed mother to petty crime. Women and girls in court were given a choice between a jail sentence or Bethany Home. At any give time there would be around twenty women and children confined at Bethany. Eileen Macken spent three years in Bethany between 1937-40 in Bethany before being transferred to an orphanage. She says that her experience made her believe she was 'nobody' and that it played havoc with her life.
One of Eileen Macken's friends in Bethany was Betty Honan and later the two of them took a genealogy class together. Betty Honan discovered not only did her mother have five other children, her sister Sheila had spent two years as a child in Bethany House. Neither sister knew of the other's existence at Bethany, and later when adopted Betty was in a home on the North Circular Road, Dublin and Sheila was living in Leeson Street. Naturally Betty Honan is haunted by the time together that her and Sheila missed out on when they were young. She says "I can never forgive anyone. (It was) the most inhumane thing to do on any child".

Bethany Home also had an unusually high child mortality rate and was a dangerous place for a child to be. The Registration of Maternity Act 1934 was intended to make these homes safer for children but Bethany became even more dangerous. In the year preceding the act 57 children died at Bethany, in the subsequent year 132 children died there. In Mount Jerome cemetery, an estimated 200 children are buried from Bethany Home. Many of these children were buried on the day of their death so there appears to be little or no formality regarding the manner in which their deaths were recorded or how they were buried.

As a result of Catherine Corless' tireless work in revealing the mass grave in Tuam the Irish government have announced an inquiry into the Mother and Baby Homes in Ireland. One can only hope that such an inquiry will be full and frank and not a mere whitewash. I echo the sentiments of Eileen Macken I am "ashamed that our country has kept so much hidden. Until we get to the end of this we will not be safe. Our children will not be safe".

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

A Secret Buried: The Mother and Baby Scandal part 2

Following on from yesterdays post today I'll give the second part of a recap of the scandals that are plaguing the Mother and Baby Homes.

Bessborough House Mother and Baby home run by the Sacred Heart Sisters of Jesus and Mary opened in 1922. TV3's documentary spoke to a woman names Helen Murphy who was born in Bessborough in 1962. Helen Murphy had been placed for adoption. She left Bessborough at seven months old and spent much of her grown life feeling rejected while not knowing her true history. Unfortunately by the time her search for her birth mother came to fruition Murphy found out that her mother had died just three weeks prior however she was reunited with her sister. Again Helen Murphy maintains she was one of the lucky ones who made it out but she believes that the only way we will know the true extent of the number of children buried at Bessborough is by excavating and exhuming the site. Murphy also wants light shed on the conditions in which the mothers were treated at Bessborough.
June Goulding, a midwife who worked in Bessborough in 1951 sheds light of some of this treatment that she saw during her time there. She told the programme that there was no kindness, no empathy and that the mothers were treated like outcasts and criminals. She outlines how on attending one particularly difficult birth and noticing that there was no foetal heartbeat the nun stated that the woman would still have to suffer through. The woman in question went through 36 hours of labour to give birth to a nine pound stillborn baby. June Goulding's 1998 book The Light in the Window details further the working conditions of heavily pregnant women and girls who tarred roads, tended to gardens, polished floors etc. often well into their labours. When they were in labour they were given no painkillers, no stitches and no antibiotics for infections that occurred.
In 1951 Dr. James Deeny (Chief Medical Officer) became suspicious of the high mortality rates for children in Bessborough and conducted investigations. Despite seeing nothing out of the ordinary in his examination of the building and wards he decided to examine the children himself. Dr. Deeny found that every child had a purulent infection of the skin and green diarrhoea that someone had intended to cover up. In an unprecedented move, Dr. Deeny sacked the matron/head nun and temporarily closed Bessborough.
Which brings us to Sr. Sarto, Sr. Sarto is the Mother Superior of Bessborough and is, to say the least, an interesting woman. Over the next couple of weeks I intend to post about both her and Dr. Deeny but for quite different reasons. Sr. Sarto appears intent of defending her order and the church at all costs. She says of the nuns under her charge " I don't think it's fair. We had a good staff, some of them are still with us. I think it's sad that it has come to this". Sr. Sarto has a list of reasons why the child mortality rate was high: lack of antibiotics, close proximity etc. However before Dr. Deeny's involvement Bessborough had a child mortality rate of up to 51% with 100 out of 180 children dying in one year before Dr. Deeny's investigation. After Dr. Deeny reopened the home the child mortality rate plummeted to under 2% with yearly deaths never getting above single figures. Sr. Sarto is still indignant that this news is currently breaking "We gave our lives to looking after the girls" she says "and we're certainly not appreciated for doing it".

Mike Millotte, who was also interviewed, wrote Banished Babies in 1997, a harrowing read which outlines the extent to which children and babies were adopted and sold, sometimes out of Ireland. He details that often a mother would have her child for two years in a Mother and Baby Home before they were separated and the child taken away with often no more than an hours notice. Money changed hands for these adoptions and often couples were asked for ongoing donations for years afterwards. Despite the 1952 Adoption Act deeming money for adoptions being illegal the process was still ongoing. At least two thousand children were exported to the United States over a twenty year period after World War II. Many of these children were sold to American couples who had been deemed unsuitable candidates as prospective adoptive parents in their home country. The criteria for adoptions from Catholic Mother and Baby Homes was that prospective parents be Catholic, Mass-goers and obviously wealthy enough to afford the extortionate fees and subsequent donations to the convent.
The degree to which the mothers in the homes consented to these adoptions raises many questions. Sr. Sarto maintains, in the face of large amounts of evidence, that all these adoptions were legal and consensual. However, Mike Millotte found in many cases that the mothers did not have their rights explained to them, no other options were up for discussion and many who did sign adoption papers felt they had no other options under heavy duress. Furthermore no counselling or psychological services were ever offered to the mothers. There is an interesting note on the Adoption Rights Alliance of Ireland's website referring to Sr. Sarto which states that in 2005, Sr Sarto "secretly join(ed) an on-line adoption support group and summons some members to her office to question their posts and begins personally harassing other members via phone and letter". The entire timeline of shame can be found here and is well worth reading for a concise history of adoption out of Mother and Baby Homes amongst other aspects of Ireland's shameful history.

I thought this would be a two parter but I'm splitting again into a three parter as I want to go into further detail than is in the TV3 documentary about the vaccine trials that children in Mother and Baby Homes were subjected to. Also lest I be accused of anti-Catholic bias (again) I'll deal with the programmes findings on the Church of Ireland's Bethany Mother and Baby Home.

Monday, 30 June 2014

A Secret Buried: The Mother and Baby Scandal Part 1

Ever since the scandal of 796 babies buried in the Tuam Mother and Baby home broke slowly in dribs and drabs I've felt like Alice going down the rabbit hole. Each piece of research that I do or read about leads on to an often more horrible piece of evidence surfacing. I am glad that the government have set up their inquiry into the Mother and Baby Homes, I hope it will be as full, frank, transparent and honest as possible and I hope that it will be of some comfort for survivors and their loved ones.

Last week TV3 broadcast a documentary about the Mother and Baby Homes titled A Secret Buried: The Mother and Baby Scandal. I'm going to do a run down of the programme for some twitter followers who are unable to access it from outside of Ireland but anyone in Ireland I would urge you to have a look at it on the 3Player here: A Secret Buried.

As an aside when I sat to re-watch the programme again today to take some notes it was with a certain sense of irony that I heard the bong of the Angelus bells ringing from the local Catholic church through my open balcony door. The second viewing was no less harrowing than my first. Dr. Lindsey Earner Byrne (Professor of History and Archives, University College Dublin) gave a run down of the establishment of the Irish Free State, the workhouses residual from when the country was a part of Britain were converted to County Homes. These County Homes then consisted mostly of poverty stricken people with no ability to work and also contained significant numbers of unmarried women and their babies. Dr. Diarmuid Ferriter (Professor of Modern Irish History, University College Dublin) further elaborates that the state and the church classified the poor into certain categories. There was the 'respectable' or 'deserving' poor and then there was the unmarried mothers classified as 'offenders', 'hardened sinners' and so on. These women it was thought must be kept separate for fear of having a "contagion effect" on public morals. They must also be kept somewhere as both Church and State had a fear of these women travelling to our more liberal neighbour,England and perish the thought that their children might be adopted into 'English, Protestant hands'. In 1924, Séamus Burke, the then Minister for Local Government and Public Health wrote to the Bishop of Waterford, Dr Bernard Hackett on the need to take unmarried mothers out of the County Homes, he said: "both for their own benefit" and in the interests of what he called "the respectable poor who are compelled to seek its shelter, so that there should be no undesirable associations connected with it". Thus began the establishment of Mother and Baby Homes.

Susan Lohan of the Adoption Rights Alliance outlined some of the conditions of these women and girls who were considered "inmates" in such homes at the time. There would be high walls, big gates, isolated from the wider community so that they would not give the idea that pre-marital sex was normal. The women surrendered their own clothes on entry and wore shapeless uncomfortable uniforms. They were given new names and forbidden to tell the other women their real name. Some of them would have had their hair cut tight or shaved. All of these measures were designed to rob these girls and women of their identity and spirit and ultimately to break them down.
As a result of the stigma at the time many survivors still feel shame today and are unwilling to speak publicly. "Veronica" outlined her experience anonymously to the programme, she gave birth in a Mother and Baby Home in 1971 and her daughter was taken from her. "Veronica" wasn't told about her baby's death and burial until long after the fact. She rang the hospital from a public phone one day and the nurse told her "your baby was in a very bad condition when she arrived here and she only lasted two days". "Veronica" still carries the weight of those days although she knows what happened was wrong. She says it is "desperate (to be) put down as somebody bad, when you're not."

St Mary's Mother and Baby Home operated in Tuam, Co. Galway from 1925 to 1961 by the Bons Secours nuns was the starting point for the breaking story a number of weeks ago. JP Rodgers was born there in 1947 and he speaks about his experiences of being "forcibly separated (from his mother) by Church and State" when he was one year old. Rodgers was kept in Tuam until he was about five and a half or six. He states that it was a lottery how you would get out of the home between fostering, adoption, malnutrition or sold. He was not reunited with his birth mother until he was thirty-four years old and described it as "probably the greatest day" of his whole life. Rodgers said that when he met with his mother she had kept a lock of his hair that she cut on the day they were forcibly separated she spoke of being stigmatised as a 'fallen woman' and branded 'evil' and ostracised as a threat to society. He also tellingly notes that "the men were never ostracised or accused of anything".
In the 1970's the Tuam Mother and Baby Home was demolished to make way for a housing estate. Frankie Hopkins speaks of when he was a boy at the time uncovering the tank filled with little skeletons. A couple of days later the boys were told never to go back to the site, a priest was called to bless the area and no more would be spoken about it. There was a shrine carefully kept and maintained by local people. Catherine Corless, the historian who was instrumental in bringing this mass grave of children to light purchased the 796 death certificates of the babies and children at a cost of over €3000. The children died at a rate of about twenty-two a year of TB, measles, malnutrition etc. No one appeared to know where they were buried. JP Rodgers speaks about it as he realises he may have been one of the 'lucky' ones and rightly asks "Do (those children) not deserve something better?"
This leads to a question mark over all of the Mother and Baby institutions. Nobody in the State appears to know where the bodies of these children are in a case of disposal rather than burial.

I'll leave this post here as it's turning out to be quite long and tomorrow I'll resume with A Secret Burial's  detailing of the Bessborough and Bethany Mother and Baby Homes, the vaccine trials that were done on babies and children in those homes and the adoption and sale of some of those children.

Monday, 9 June 2014

Time to get Angry!

The time for silence is long gone. We have watched this country hide too many scandals under the carpet, we have seen too many reports which did nothing more than whitewash. We have heard the church's silence or mealy mouthed apologies. We have shamed ourselves because we too have remained silent for far too long. Now is a time to get angry and demand answers.

There has been much written in recent weeks about the mass children's grave of 796 children at the former Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home. The story broke first with the Irish Mail on Sunday detailing historian Catherine Corless's research into the grave. The Irish press for the most part remained silent. This gained ground because of anger and social media. Anger at the scale of the find, anger at the media's casting a blind eye and anger that no one seemed to be listening. International media picked up on it, Irish media remained for the most part, silent. With the exception of the Irish Times who then wrote that there couldn't possibly be 796 bodies in the one tank. Oh well, that's okay then isn't it? Catherine Corless through the Freedom of Information act purchased 796 death certificates of children who had died in the Mother and Baby Home in Tuam, they are in the tank, or the ground, they are there somewhere and we need to know where.

A snowball effect happened as more information about other such mass graves came out, evidence of more than 2000 children being used in drug trials without their mother's consent. The media picked up its pace, the issue was raised in the Dáil. We are losing time, the government will vote on whether or not to have a full public inquiry. The good sisters at Bon Secours decided to hire a PR adviser. Wednesday the government will vote, Wednesday may be too late.
We have played softly softly for far too long with these scandals in the past. We cannot allow any more church files to 'disappear' in fires. We need to demand that they hand over their files on these homes and they need to hand them over now, no ifs or buts and no asking nicely.

We have been silent for far too long. It is time to get loud and angry and demand that for once we see accountability. Let's be outside the Dáil on Wednesday evening as they vote, let's get angry, let's make a racket and let's never, ever stop until for once we see some justice!

Monday, 10 March 2014

International Women's Day - Reproductive Freedom!

On Saturday the National Women's Council of Ireland held a soapbox event, which took place in O'Connell Street just opposite the GPO. Many women (and a few good men) from different walks of life spoke, yelled and shouted about what would make this world a better place for the women who live in it. (BTW just heading this one off at the pass: International Men's Day is November 19th). The topics were as numerous and varied as the people speaking about them. Safer childbirth practices, emigration, disability, poverty, Margaretta D'Arcy were among the many,many topics discussed. I was proud to be among all those wonderful voices on Saturday, and I'd like to thank the NWCI for holding such a great event.

I represented the Abortion Rights Campaign, and spoke about women's right to reproductive freedom and this is what I had to say:

"I am a member of the Abortion Rights Campaign, and what we need to change for women is that we need to allow every woman to have the right to reproductive freedom.

It has been said that hard cases make bad law. The reverse is true. Bad law leads to hard cases. A law that governs anyone’s bodily integrity and ability to make decisions on what’s best for them is a bad law.

The law moves slowly, slower than the people it is meant to represent, slower than advances in public opinion, social justice and medicine. This is especially apparent when it comes to women’s health, and obviously apparent in Ireland where it took the powers that be more than two decades to legislate for the needs of just one of its many constituents. More than twenty one years on the people have moved forward, the law has not. The legislation that was passed last summer leaves the majority of women without the access they need to abortion in this country. And it has worsened the situation for so many women who can’t travel by adding a clearly possible prison sentence to abortion within the state.

And so we now look at the Eight Amendment to the constitution which equates the life of a pregnant woman with that of an implanted embryo. This does not reflect public opinion in Ireland. The Eight Amendment is discriminatory. It has a chilling effect on all pregnant women, their partners, their families and the medical professionals who treat them.

Restrictive abortion laws do not restrict abortion. They don’t change a culture where women are legally punished if they do or economically and socially punished if they don’t. Restrictive abortion laws more it more difficult, more dangerous and more detrimental to women making the decision to terminate.

Choice respects each person’s right and responsibility to make their own decisions about their own bodies, including the choice to continue with or end a pregnancy. Every person should be able to carry out their choice safely, with dignity and without having to circumvent coercion, stigma or unnecessary obstacles.

A commitment to choice means that we have to work to make sure there is a level playing field, so that the ability of a woman to act on her choice is not limited by economic, social or political factors.

No society can truly call itself free and democratic if people are prevented from freely deciding what happens to or within their own bodies. The law has no place to govern inside us and the Eight Amendment needs to go!"

Friday, 3 January 2014

The problem with opinions

I'm sure you know the old adage about opinions being like a certain body part used for excretory purposes. Everyone has one but some people's are ill informed and not fit for public consumption.
The problem is our world today is as, Daire O'Briain stated in the past "But there’s this notion that everyone’s opinion is equally valid. My arse! A bloke who’s been a professor of dentistry for 40 years does not have a debate with some eejit who removes his teeth with string and a door!" The problem then is that sometimes when we listen to the 'experts' their opinion is as damaging as the person who knows nothing.

Case in point: Terence Casey the coroner for South Kerry said that the removal of corporal punishment was the "downfall for a lot of things" and that “the lack of punishment has given us a lack of respect of love of life and people’s neighbours and property. The lack of respect for your own life might follow that". He, of course qualifies this, by saying "I might be wrong but that is my own personal feeling". Which is basically another way of saying that he is entitled to his opinion, so that's all right then, no harm done, it's only his opinion to which he is entitled. However, while Mr. Casey may be a coroner, to my knowledge he has no experience in the field of mental health. As coroner he may preside over the unfortunate outcome of suicide but he is not there for the starting and the middle points. 

We have to be concerned about the rising suicide rates but the reinstitution of corporal punishment is not the way to go. I was fortunate to grow up in a time without corporal punishment, my parents and other relatives were not so lucky. There were suicides back then too, some due to the cruel behaviour of teachers towards children. These suicides were hushed up, 'death by misadventure', etc. They had to be in order for people to be buried with 'proper' funeral rites and inside the cemetery wall.
Mr Casey is right, we do need to talk about suicide. 

One cause of rising suicides may be due to the culture of binge drinking in this country. Alcohol, depression and suicidal thoughts do not make good bed fellows. But wait! The esteemed coroner also had something to say about this in the past. He suggested that our drink driving laws were responsible for suicides in older men who felt isolated. Again Casey is putting the cart before the horse, this does need to be looked at but getting rid of or lowering the legal alcohol limit is not the way to go!

Another thing Mr Casey may need to look at before he opens an orifice to give us his opinion or 'personal feeling' again is that he repeatedly uses the archaic phrase "committing suicide". That tells me all I need to know about the worth of his opinions on mental health.

If you have been affected by the discussion of mental health and suicide please contact one of the numbers below, they are trained, non-judgemental and unlike the coroner don't believe that hitting people is the way to combat suicidal thoughts.