By Fiona O’Loughlin
When the full scale of the Tuam (grotesquely misnamed ‘Mother and Baby Home’) scandal was laid bare with the publication of names of the 796 babies who died from institutionalised state sanctioned neglect, sorrow quickly turned to rage.
The infant mortality rate at this home was 30% higher than for babies born into families in the same period, these babies born to ‘sinners’ and were deemed not to deserve the same care as ‘legitimate’ babies. This was clear in their short lives and the callous manner in which they were literally disposed of in death.
What remains uncovered?
The spontaneous standing ovation local historian Catherine Corless received on The Late Late Show was a snapshot of how people felt. This quiet ordinary woman was determined that the state and the Catholic Church who ran these institutions would not get off the hook, and doggedly kept researching until the facts simply could no longer be denied or covered up. How many more similar stories as yet remain uncovered?
Tuam was not just once off case, it was part and parcel the system of shame that was used to control women and their sexuality. It is the same system that imprisoned women in the Magdalene laundries, butchered women with symphysiotomy and tortured children from poor working class backgrounds in orphanages and industrial schools. These so called ‘Mother and Baby’ homes were in every county in Ireland and ran up until 1990s.
Separate church and state
How many more infants died from neglect and where are their remains? Where are the records of the thousands of babies sold as adoptions from the religious orders who ran these homes? Why is there no accountability from the Church who is being protected by the State?
While the horror of Tuam may date back to the 1960s the control of the Catholic Church in Ireland is still invasive in all our lives. The 8th amendment still polices women’s bodies, more than 90% of state funded primary schools are run by the Catholic Church, the religious orders still have control over the public health service, the Dáil starts each day with a prayer and the bongs of the Angelus – a Catholic prayer – are sounded twice a day on the State broadcaster!
It is time for a complete separation of the church and state with a guarantee of religious freedom, which is a private matter for each individual.