Category: Religion

So I went to the Tuam Babies meeting to have my say, and then I realised I shouldn’t have one

I guess most of you already know the background to this. (For those unfamiliar with this story, be assured of its international significance. Check out, for example, this New York Times feature. Or this BBC Podcast. Or just go read Wikipedia.)

I’m from Tuam. This whole issue disturbs me on several levels. And the prospect of a cover-up is so very real. So I attended. And I said my piece.

The meeting was supposed to gauge opinion on what to do with the site: (a) leave everything as it is but erect a memorial to tell the world how much we care; or (b) fully excavate the mass grave, exhume and identify the remains, and return the lost loved ones to their grieving families and enable them to rest in peace after a formal and appropriate burial.

Spoiler alert — I was rooting for option (b).

Let’s cut to the chase. What we are dealing with here is a mass grave, one containing the remains of abused persons, people discarded as second-class citizens, coercively separated from their families, born in captivity, and denigrated with the zeal that only religious sanctimony and god-fearing hubris can muster.

It seems simply unconscionable that any humane society would respond to the revelation that nearly 800 babies have been interred in an unmarked grave — a septic tank, no less — and say, ‘Well…let’s just leave them there.’

And yet that is what was being proposed for Tuam.

* * *

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On Monday night, Katherine Zappone, Ireland’s Minister for Children and Youth Affairs hosted the meeting, ostensibly a ‘public consultation’ to help her department to decide what to do with the site.

Yes, you heard correctly. The government are asking members of the public what to do with an unexpectedly discovered unmarked mass grave containing hundreds of unidentified remains.

As one attendee asked the Minister to her face, “What if a dead body was discovered in my garden? Would the police come around to ask me should they investigate?”

(Can you just imagine: “Would you mind if we retrieved the corpse? Or would you prefer we just leave it there in your garden forever? After all, it is your garden…“)

The idea of consultation is ridiculous. At best this is the scene of a catastrophe. In any other mass-casualty catastrophe, bodies would be retrieved and returned to families for proper burials. At worst — and actually this is most likely with Tuam — it is a crime scene. I am not a fan of CSI, but even I know you don’t ask bystanders whether or not you should cordon off and investigate a crime scene.

* * *

In fairness, it seemed to me that Minister Zappone personally wants to have all the remains exhumed, identified, and returned to families. The problem isn’t what the Minister would personally prefer. The problem is that the question was even being put.

The consultation approach creates multiple adverse consequences:

  • It creates unnecessary jeopardy, and potential conflict, by allowing at least some people to believe they have a right to prevent the authorities from exhuming these remains and exposing the full extent of what went on in Tuam. No doubt there will be people who want to not think about this whole issue. No doubt there will be some who want to cover it up. They will prefer if the authorities just walk away and leave well enough alone. But here’s the thing: criminal justice is not a democratic process. After all, sometimes the criminals — and their apologists — are in a majority. The whole infrastructure of abuse that the Irish Mother and Baby homes represent is simply a case in point.
  • It invites spurious rationalizing to support alternate courses of action, even when those courses of action are morally unjustified. For example, at the meeting in Tuam, Minister Zappone reported that her advisers were raising questions about whether the government has the legal authority to excavate the site. They told her that the coroner might first need evidence that a crime had been committed, or that unnatural deaths had occurred. But this logic falls on at least two counts: (a) in many cases you can’t accumulate such evidence unless you excavate a site and examine the remains in detail; and (b) it is always justified to retrieve bodies from disaster sites even when no crime has been committed, so the whole criminality dimension is moot. It’s a red herring. But raising the question in the first place just invites people to lob in their red herrings. It’s what bureaucrats (especially those who want to save the expense of an excavation) like to do.

* * *

Monday’s meeting followed publication of a hastily organised consultation survey conducted by Galway county council. That survey suggested that, while most survivor groups and relatives of those previously incarcerated in the Home wanted the site to be excavated, most local people wanted to memorialise rather than exhume.

That survey finding just doesn’t ring true to me. And when they heard it, it didn’t ring true to a lot of people resident in the town. So there was quite a bit of anger in the room on Monday night. Of the two hundred or so people who turned up, only one person said they wanted memorialisation and not excavation. Another man said he thought excavation was “pointless”, but he didn’t say it shouldn’t happen.

And that was it. Everyone else said very clearly — often very emotionally, passionately, and heart-rendingly — that they favoured complete excavation, exhumation, identification, and return. The consensus was utterly unambiguous.

Many mentioned how offended they were at the council’s claim that local people wanted to look the other way.

The vox populi is clear on this one (even though — to repeat myself — criminal justice is not a democratic process.)

* * *

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Some people had speculated that the entire exercise had been contrived simply to cultivate local dissent, and so give the authorities an excuse to take whatever decision they wished. But in the end, Monday’s meeting gave them no such cover. The sentiment of the meeting was essentially unanimous: GET THESE PEOPLE OUT OF THE GROUND.

The media had been excluded (without a convincing rationale having been offered), but there were tweets. Oh boy, were there tweets. Here is one comprehensive thread:

@IzzyKamikaze live-tweeted extensively. Check out Izzy’s timeline from here forward. And here is a thread specifying Izzy’s own forceful speech in more detail:

I’m quoted in this one actually:

(As a result of which I ended up being quoted in HerFamily.ie’s report on the meeting. Oh, Twitter.)

And here is my own thread, for posterity:

* * *

Of course, the media ban did not prevent the media from reporting. And so obviously the main result of that was, you guessed it, misreporting. For example, this is from today’s Irish Times:

Local Fine Gael representative Cllr Peter Roche was at the meeting on Monday night, and he highlighted the fact that there were varying views on what should happen at the site and how sensitive an issue it was for the people of Tuam.

“It is a very emotional subject and there are no winners. There is no other way to describe it other than it’s very difficult to take sides in it. It is very, very complex,” said Mr Roche.

But Mr Roche (who, I should point out, seemed to have been pretty invisible on the night) is being overly vague when he says “there were varying views” on what should happen at the site. Because, quite simply, there were NOT varying views on what should happen at the site.

Again, to repeat, during a 2.5-hour meeting attended by 200 people, one lady spent five seconds saying that she, personally, would prefer to leave the site untouched.

Virtually the rest of the entire meeting was spent hearing an unbroken consensus to the contrary.

By no reasonable standard is that a variable, Mr Roche. It’s the opposite of a variable. It’s a constant.

* * *

But why would people object to the excavation solution? There are probably two reasons.

Firstly, no doubt some of the resistance comes from a residual sense of deference towards the Catholic church. Some of this will be from genuinely devout but nonetheless guilt-ridden mass-going locals, but some will be from the subset of Holy Joes (and Josephines) in the Irish civil service who’d rather the authorities not get involved in highlighting the atrocities of Catholic abuses in Ireland. (I’m just guessing here, of course. Maybe there are none of these people at all.)

Secondly, I assume the issue of financial cost will also come into play somewhere. I heard from that BBC podcast that the excavation might cost €5 million or so. I guess the government might not feel they have that type of cash to spend on such a process.

Mind you, they seem to have found €5 million fairly sharpish to fund this guy’s 36-hour trip to Ireland next month:

pontifex

(Pic: independent.ie)

So maybe, and again I’m just guessing here, maybe the costs might not be a convincing barrier after all. I mean, investigation and resolution of the Tuam Babies scandal is important to the Irish people, right?

Right?

* * *

By the way, here’s what real countries do when they discover mass unmarked graves, even when relating to fraught and troubling periods of their history:

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(HT: @bansheebabe)

You see, it can be done.

If you want to make your own feelings known to Minister Zappone, you can hit her up on Twitter here. I’m sure she’s a good person. Let’s hope she makes a good decision.

But in the end, it’s not even clear it’s her decision to make. This is a potential criminal justice matter. We don’t get to decide what happens by conducting a survey.

* * *

As I feebly said at last night’s meeting myself, if the site in Tuam is left alone and not properly excavated, then we are just replacing the old scandal with a new one.

The future will look back on 2018 and ask: How could we have been so callous?

The people who were committed to the Tuam Mother and Baby Home were put there by an uncaring society who looked upon them as second-class citizens. They lived their lives as social outcasts.

Let’s stop treating them as second-class citizens just because they’re dead. Let’s stop casting them out.

Minister Zappone, your legacy is calling.

End this shame now.

Those oh-so-convincing anti-repeal arguments re-capped (Greatest Hits version)

In the Irish abortion referendum, the ‘No’ side — those campaigning against the repeal of Ireland’s archaic Constitutional abortion ban — certainly had their work cut out.

The way the Constitution was worded meant they had to persuade the Irish electorate to defend all of the following: (a) forcing raped pubescent teens to carry unwanted pregnancies to term; (b) compelling incest victims to give birth to consanguineous offspring; (c) allowing critically ill pregnant women to bleed to death by making doctors too afraid to treat them; (d) trafficking parents whose unborn children have fatal foetal abnormalities to foreign countries in search of appropriate medical care, and then making them smuggle their cremated babies back to Ireland in hand luggage; and (e) threatening women who induce miscarriages in their own homes, or anyone who assists them in doing so, with a 14-year prison sentence for murder.

Ireland’s abortion ban had repeatedly been condemned. After several negative findings, the United Nations formally denounced Ireland in 2017 for adopting an approach that was “cruel, inhumane, and degrading.”

In other words, considering all the issues, the ‘No’ side had a difficult argument to sell.

So how exactly did they go about crafting the subtleties required to assuage voters’ concerns? How did they pitch their philosophical and ethical arguments to an increasingly sophisticated, critically aware, and well-read electorate?

Well, sit back and enjoy some hand-picked highlights from the ‘No’ side’s quite memorable campaign…

* * *

1. That time someone installed a giant ‘NO’ on Ben Bulben

Ben Bulben is a protected geological site in County Sligo. A mountain. Supposedly, a huge ‘NO’ installed on the side of a mountain was intended to persuade Ireland to put aside their reservations and vote to keep its internationally controversial abortion ban.

Sure, the ban produces terrible outcomes for women, their families, and wider society. Sure, the United Nations have condemned it. But a huge ‘NO’ installed on the side of a mountain? That really puts the whole issue into perspective, doesn’t it?

A ‘NO’ on Ben Bulben just makes you think.

Of course (spoiler alert), it turned out the Irish people are generally unswayed by moral argumentation conveyed on the sides of mountains. Seemingly they choose to prioritize women’s lives ahead of typographic masonry.

* * *

2. That time the Iona Institute started putting quotation marks around ‘mental health’ because, you know, mental health shmental health

This became something of a running theme.

The Iona Institute is a right-wing conservative Catholic think tank. They specialize in promoting awareness of research findings that happen to coincide with their preferred moral worldview, as if to imply they adopt an evidence-based approach when deciding whether or not to love Jesus.

Prominent anti-abortion campaigner Rónán Mullen went so far as to say this type of thing — repeatedly — on national television:

In other words, mental health is all in the mind (you see what I did there?).

As Fionnuala MacLiam pointed out on Twitter, such a claim runs counter to the pro-lifers’ usual trope that abortion itself damages mental health, by inducing something they call post-abortion syndrome.

Too bad that post-abortion syndrome is a myth.

In summary, the argument here is that (a) real mental health conditions are fake, whereas (b) fake mental health conditions are real.

This angle amounted to little more than mental health denial.

* * *

3. That time the Bishop of Ossory told us that having an abortion after being raped is actually far worse an experience than the rape itself

According to his interview on national radio, he knows this because he heard it from some women he spoke to.

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Coincidentally, this was the same day the Psychological Society of Ireland published a report stating that decades of research shows abortion does not hurt a woman’s mental health.

Presumably, however, rape does.

* * *

4. Or that time a pro-life parliamentarian suggested that mental health *was* important, and that women who have abortions could be considered de facto INSANE in order to receive reductions on their murder sentences

Er, yes. After spending weeks denying that mental health even exists, the ‘No’ side tried to switch the argument to imply that having an abortion was itself a sign of mental derangement.

As a psychologist I admit this strategy particularly irked me.

Its contorted logic — presented to parliament by the grandson of our republic’s first President — epitomized entirely the systematic inter-generational stigmatization of Irish women that the Eighth Amendment issue had come to symbolize.

It also revealed the panic that gripped the pro-life movement when public opinion began to overwhelm them in the campaign’s final days.

In some ways the idea represents a kind of cognitive dissonance. These people think their own position is so compelling that anyone who holds a different view to them must be mentally unstable. They think that no right-minded person would ever have an abortion. They just don’t get it.

The fact these people’s own grasp of reality is so poor will remain a one of life’s pathetic ironies.

They will never get it.

* * *

5. That time a Life Institute spokesperson argued that abortion statistics were inflated because they included Irish women who were not white

Here she is again in all her glory:

Obviously black women don’t count as Irish.

Or, indeed perhaps, as people.

* * *

6. That time the director of the Iona Institute mysteriously claimed there were 18,000 GPs in Ireland…

…when there are actually just 2,500. He had wanted to play down the proportion who supported a ‘Yes’ vote.

What gives? Well it’s a bit of a mystery. But as Aoife Barry pointed out on Twitter, 18,000 GPS locations were mapped on an Irish website a decade ago…

Maybe that’s what he was referring to?

It is a fundamental tenet of the scientific method that correlational reasoning is parlous.

The fact that 1,300 GPs supported repeal AND 18,000 points of interest were added to global positioning-system maps in 2008 seems, in retrospect, a particularly unconvincing correlation on which to base an argument against constitutional change.

* * *

7. Or that time he seemed to describe female bodies as “our property”, warning that providing women with bodily autonomy was akin to “nationalising half the housing stock”

Here he is again:

Cool the jets, snowflakes! David didn’t state that women’s bodies were men’s property. He merely implied that they were analogous to men’s property, because it was an analogy and that’s how analogies work.

David deleted this tweet, so even he might have seen the problem with this one.

* * *

8. That time the anti-abortion ‘Save the 8th’ campaign wheeled out a ‘psychiatric nurse’ who claimed to have assisted with abortions in an English clinic for five years but turned out actually to have worked just as a porter for 8 months…

…and who then — allegedly — misrepresented his qualifications by falsifying his certificates.

I think he was a member of the ‘Circulation Nurses with Fire Safety Training For ‘NO” group.

* * *

9. Or that time Save the 8th unlawfully used photographs of the Irish Defence Forces in press advertising, contrary to the Defence Act of 1954…

…in order to imply that while men can be trusted to protect children, women can’t.

The illegal use of our nation’s defence forces to support subliminally misogynistic messages about female child-killers was intended to convince the electorate to jail women for 14 years on murder charges for taking abortifacient pills in their own homes.

I guess it wasn’t effective.

* * *

10. Or that time Save the 8th used photographs of an apparently incompetent firefighter…

…to further imply that babies need to be protected from, not just fire, but also women.

It was perhaps a tad unfortunate that the firefighter they used seemed to know little or nothing about firefighting. Contrary to even basic practice standards, he was carrying the child in one arm, wearing no oxygen mask, and had his visor up.

I guess if you don’t know what you’re doing, then you just don’t know what you’re doing.

* * *

11. That time this guy…well, that time this guy produced this:

A sample lyric will capture the spirit of this haunting ditty for you: “Live and let live/In a land with Mammy and Daddy!

The ‘No’ side didn’t just have this guy though, they also had Crystal Swing. And Jim Corr.

The ‘Yes’ side had U2, Christy Moore, Hozier, Niall Horan, Pink, Lily Allen, Kate Nash, Boy George, Mark Hamill, Courteney Cox, Saoirse Ronan, Russell Crowe, Amy Huberman, Emma Watson, Cillian Murphy, Katherine Ryan, Sam Neil, Emma Thompson, Liam Neeson, Maria Doyle Kennedy, and many others.

If the referendum had been a sing-off/dance-off/act-off, I know which side my money would have been on.

* * *

12. That time an anti-abortion campaigner told the Drogheda Independent that allowing abortion would eventually reduce the pool of available Gaelic Football players

Yes. He really said it:

But at the end of the day, football is just a load of men kicking a bit of leather around a field, so I guess we’ll just have to get used to it.

* * *

And finally…

13. That time a public representative declared on radio that repealing Ireland’s abortion ban would lead to:
(a) the normalization of sex slavery;
(b) euthanasia;
(c) 14-year-olds being forced to have sex on demand;
and
(d) political assassinations.
Oh, and (e): it would make Hitler “very” happy

That is certainly quite a lot of consequences.

 

As a rider (if you will), he also offered this nugget of advice:

Mr Guckian also said Ireland should turn to a “culture of life” and to a “proper use of sex”.

This was the archetypal ‘slippery slope’ argument: Sure, the guy could be exaggerating. But could you really afford to take that chance? DO YOU WANT HITLER TO BE HAPPY? No, of course you don’t. Therefore, you must vote ‘No’.

Unless, of course, those various slippery slopes turn out to be illusory.

I suppose only time will tell now.

* * *

In the end, for some unbelievable reason, the Irish electorate were simply not swayed by all these powerful arguments…

 

Hmmm. I guess the Irish people have had enough of ‘experts’.

Democracy, folks. It’s out of control…

It’s official: Ireland’s abortion ban repealed by popular vote

For: 1,429,981 (66.4%)

Against: 723,632 (33.6%)

Ireland votes ‘YES’.

Careful, logical, critical contributions carried the day, outweighing the fake news, grim posters, emotional manipulation, attempts at foreign influence, church persuasion, alt-right hectoring, and brain-dead dogmatic pseudo-morality. We focused on the facts and the evidence. We relied on experience and expertise.

We decided that each person could decide for themselves.

We acknowledged each other’s humanity.

Not before time, it must be said.

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