The Tuam Babies, Adoption, Society and Pain.


The recent press interest in the Tuam babies’ story is interesting; it is interesting from the point of analysing the blame game. On the one hand there are those who believe that the Church and/or its actors are responsible for all the hurt and pain that was inflicted on those who they were supposed to care for. Others are inclined to look to the Government to accept responsibility for what happened at that time, and others take a view that it was of its time, that society as a whole lived that experience, that in fact there was no complicity rather that it was a lived experience for all those that were alive at that time.

In essence as human beings it is much easier for us to understand if we can indeed apportion blame, for in apportioning blame we then somehow manage to distance ourselves from the pain. It becomes someone else’s doing, not something we were involved in.

I believe that as in all historical sociological practices that they are of a time, I was watching a historical drama based on the lives of the Vikings recently, they were barbaric men, they listened and sought advice from their wise men, and they subscribed to fearsome gods and practiced sacrificing humans as a way of appeasing those gods. That was of its time.

In 1965 when I was born things were very very different than they are now, there were very few shopping centres, cars, foreign holidays and no mobile phones. Education, hospital care, disability and mental health services were almost entirely facilitated by the religious orders. Women predominantly worked in the home and when married they could no longer teach. The Catholic belief system was predominant and church attendance was the practice of most people.

Much has changed in the intervening 50 years, not all of it for the better. There is little religious involvement in child care now but that certainly doesn’t mean that childcare is better in fact we still have major problems surrounding the way we look after those most in need.

We do ourselves a disservice if we continue to argue from a now perspective against a then based practice. Ireland in the 1960s and beyond was a much less educated state, people lived in fear of not just the church but of all those who were deemed more educated. Teachers, Gardaí, Doctors, and Politicians were all treated with respect and reverence. There was clear social stratification.

We now live in a very different time, we now by and large come from a more educated perspective, and we know that looking for blame in situations of conflict does not work. We need to accept that these were practices of a time; we need to concentrate on the hurt and the pain. We need to find a way of moving forward, we need to have full open and honest debate around how we can best disseminate the information of the past. We need to accept that the children of the past are the adults of the now and should be treated as such. We need to seek help from those who have self-experienced. We need to be careful about losing ourselves in fear and most importantly for those who have survived the treacheries of the past we need to be inclusive of and supportive of all.

The last thing we need in the quest for the truth is for one section of the self-experienced to subsume power and control over or on behalf of the others. The single greatest issue that stands in the way of healing is US….many fine groups have been set up to help those who are part of the adoption triad, those who were incarcerated in the mother and baby homes, those who were sent to the industrial schools and those whose very identities have been obliterated from the record books.

But in trying to support each other through the various groups there has been a replication of the power paradigm. We are now hurting ourselves as one group tries to take a dominant position over the other. This is not an Irish phenomenon this is a Human phenomenon. In Ireland if we do not recognise this soon and start calling very loudly for all actors to support us all equally then we will again lose this chance to finally break free from the constraints of the past.


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