From the 1943 Cavan Fire in which 35 children and one adult perished after nuns refused to let girls escape to avoid them being seen in their night-gowns; to the enslavement of poor women in Magdalene Laundries, the last of which closed only in 1996; to the systemic cover-up of child sexual abuse; to the deplorable and sinister infant and child mortality rates in Mother & Baby Homes – the litany of abuse, degradation and oppression presided over by Church and State in Ireland, is simply confounding.
The Irish capitalist class from the outset of independence was incapable and weak, dominated economically by imperialism, and was in need of an ally in forging an ideology and a state infrastructure to repress and to rule. This ally was the Catholic Church. In the aftermath of the disastrous partitioning of Ireland, the southern ruling class elevated Catholic ideology and fostered Catholic hegemony in social services. The backward state had little to offer its inhabitants but poverty conditions – infant mortality was nearly 7% of births in the 1930s tuberculosis was a widespread problem right into the 1950s.
Central to the incestuous relationship between Church and State in Ireland was a misogynistic and patriarchal outlook that girls, women and children were the sharpest victims of. A pathological obsession with women’s sexuality that fostered shame, fear and secrecy – preached from pulpit to print to political chambers – not only oppressed and repressed, but also created a culture in which the horrors of the Laundries and the Industrial Schools, with the help of the State, were able to thrive.
Furthermore, Church influence on the State from its outset normalised the state leasing out social services and failing to ever develop comprehensive public healthcare or education. Church control of both these sectors prevails in 2014, as well as the privatisation push that leases out other crucial services that should be state-provided – childcare, home-help, addiction services etc. – to private companies to make a profit, or to charities that can be unaccountable and religiously influenced.
The thousands of women and children who resided in Mother & Baby Homes deserve a comprehensive, democratic and unbiased enquiry that survivors of Church and State abuse have a central say in constituting and implementing. Unlike previous enquiries, those guilty must be held accountable – Church assets must be seized in order to compensate victims and all legal and institutional manifestations of the entangling of Church and State must be severed once and for all.