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Thursday, August 6, 2015

Mother and Baby Homes: Revelations put State in uncomfortable position

The reaction of the Government to a shocking 2012 HSE report on Bessborough Mother and Baby Home has been instructive.

The revelations contained in the report have clearly put it in an uncomfortable position. Despite the shock displayed once the Tuam babies story went global — it is now clear that the Government had possession of a report showing a higher death rate in Bessborough almost two years earlier.

When the report, compiled as part of the HSE’s examination of the State’s role in the Magdalene Laundries as part of the McAleese inquiry, was made public by the Irish Examiner in June, along with equally disturbing material relating to Tuam Mother and Baby Home, the reaction of Government was to first deny it had ever seen it, then admit that, in fact, two departments had the report before finally labelling the entire study “conjecture”.

Even if you accept the “conjecture” line, it is impossible to get away from the finding on the number of infant deaths at Bessborough.

They are worth repeating. Between 1934 and 1953, Bessborough’s Registration of Deaths ledger records a “shocking” 478 children as having died at the institution.
To put this into context, this death rate is higher than that found by Catherine Corless in Tuam almost two years later – research which led directly to the State inquiry.
If the Government was so horrified by the death rate found in Tuam that it felt compelled to launch a State inquiry, then why was it not similarly moved in 2012?

When the Irish Examiner first revealed details of the HSE report, the Department of Children and Youth Affairs said it had no knowledge of the report. The department has since altered this position, stating that not only did it have a copy of the report, but so did the Department of Health. In a series of responses to parliamentary questions, children’s minister Dr James Reilly has sought to defend the lack of action on the deaths – which are described as “wholly epidemic”, “shocking” and a “cause for serious consternation” – by stating the 2012 report’s findings are “a matter of conjecture”.

It is important to put this “conjecture” line to bed. Firstly, the 2012 HSE report is based on an examination of Bessborough’s own records spanning from 1922 to 1982. These were transferred to the HSE by the order that ran the home — the Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary — in 2011. The 478 deaths recorded are taken directly from the order’s own death register. Based on the records, the author outlines a “narrative of patterns and practices of the Sacred Heart Order in the provision of adoption services at Bessboro”.

The records reveal an institution where women and babies were considered “little more than a commodity for trade amongst religious orders”, where “institutionalisation and human trafficking” took place among various religious orders and state-funded institutions and where women were provided with “little more than the basic care and provision afforded to that of any individual convicted of crimes against the State”.
The report is rock solid on the number of deaths listed, but says the question of whether or not all these children died but were instead “brokered” in clandestine adoption arrangements both at home and abroad was one which needed to be examined as part of a forensic investigation. It also says “further investigation is warranted” into the order’s accounting practices.

The records reveal clearly that the order requested payment from adoptive parents for the children they were adopting, while also requiring payment from the natural mothers for the care both they and their children received at the institution.
The author of the HSE report does state that the conclusions of the report were conjecture but, as always, context is everything.

The remark was in reference to establishing the interaction between the state, the order running Bessborough and the order operating the two Magdalene Laundries in Cork, and clearly indicates the Bessborough files reveal enough disturbing information to warrant a full forensic investigation.
“In order to conclusively verify interaction between the State and the Good Shepherd Sisters (who operated Magdalene Laundries in Sunday’s Well and Peacock Lane, Cork) and the Sacred Heart Order, it is imperative that full disclosure of any and all case files, records, institutional accounts and communications between the State and the religious orders be subject to forensic investigation. Until such time the conclusions of any such examination,” states the report.

None of the concerns raised in the Bessborough report are mentioned in the McAleese Report, nor does it appear any further investigation was done into the report’s findings.
The 2014 inter-departmental report on Mother and Baby Homes listed just 25 infant deaths at Bessborough, despite two Government departments being in possession of the order’s own figure of 478.

Dr Reilly has defended these omissions stating the findings were not “validated” and Mother and Baby Homes were outside the remit of the McAleese Committee. “As the issues raised in this draft report regarding death rates in Bessborough were outside the direct remit of the McAleese Committee, the HSE advised that these and other concerns would be examined separately by the HSE. At that time my department advised the HSE that any validated findings of concern from this separate process should be appropriately communicated by the HSE. My department is not aware of any subsequent report on this matter by the HSE,” he said.

This indicates that the department does not feel that a figure of 478 deaths taken directly from Bessborough’s Registration of Deaths transferred to the State by the order constitutes a “validated finding”.
While it is true that Mother and Baby Homes were outside the remit of the McAleese inquiry, that report points out that the committee uncovered material that was, “strictly speaking, outside its core remit” but chose to include it “in the public interest”.
This was because some of this material “may challenge some common perceptions” about Magdalene Laundries.

By Conall Ó Fátharta

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Irish Water will be major election issue

Water protesters in Dublin clash with gardaí earlier this year. Most of those driving the opposition are coming from a political place that is informed by neither principle nor ideology. Picture: Photocall

AT TIMES like these, it’s customary to invoke an alien being. What would an extra terrestial think of how we’re dealing with our most precious resource if he landed here from outer space? What would he think of the mess of Irish Water, and how water is being used as a political tool?
In fact, there’s no requirement to venture into the firmament to locate a being that would find the whole thing ludicrous. Just ask anybody from any other developed country in the world.

First off, there’s the business of water meters. The installation of meters in many areas involves turning up for work before 5am and finishing soon after 8am when the protesters appear, as if the workers were actually marking out homes from which the first born would be removed for slaughter. Is there anywhere in the world where measuring the use of a resource generates such anger, not to mind the odd incident of violence?

Then there is the “conservation grant” of €100, which has nothing to do with conservation. It is in fact a political inducement to get householders to sign up for registration. More than 70% of householders have thus registered, but less than half of those who will be liable for a charge have paid.
Why would they, when there’s no penalty for not paying? Is there any charge anywhere in the world that is dealt with as if it’s “voluntary”, not to mind one that has hit a nerve in the national psyche?

The Government wants Irish Water to be treated as an “off the books” commercial entity, operating on a commercial basis. This entity does not charge according to use of water, and it offers a conservation grant that resembles a Late Late Show hand-out for everybody in the audience. In addition, much of the work that Irish Water is supposed to be doing is being carried out by personnel from local authorities. As such, the current design of Irish Water and all its works resembles a cross between a fly-by-night operator, and the plaything of a tin pot dictator.

The boys from the EU agency Eurostat took one look at it, laughed uproariously and told the Irish Government to go take a hike.

All of which would be a great victory for those opposed to the whole concept of water charges if only they had any credibility themselves.

Most of those driving the opposition are coming from a political place that is informed by neither principle nor ideology. Groups like the Anti Austerity Alliance and Sinn Féin describe themselves as “left wing” and suggest that access to free water — and the treatment of waste water — is a “human right”.

As things stand, around 400,000 citizens in the country have been paying for water through group schemes for decades, and none have declared themselves victims of human rights abuses.
The anti-charge brigade consider water charges as the twin of the property tax, making them the only left-wing groups to ever oppose a property tax since Karl Marx first put pen to paper.

Last September, these same groups had precious little consideration for the basic human right of housing, when they voted on Dublin City Council — and other local authorities — to reduce the property tax instead of spending money on the homeless. (Fine Gael did also, but at least they have the excuse of espousing right-wing values).

The opposition’s solution to a creaking infrastructure, and the pumping of raw sewage into the sea, is to get the rich to pay for it. Anybody who believes this is feasible lost sight of the world around the time the Berlin wall came down.

There is a case for further taxes to be levied on high earners, but the idea that the scope is there to cover the investment required is delusional. In any event, asking the better-off to pay a greater share, using such funds to render water and waste water treatment free for the rest of us, rather than ploughing it into issues like child poverty, is nothing short of obscene.

The issue came to the fore just as the night of recession was beginning to lift.
The so-called anti-austerity brigade saw this as a last ditch opportunity to push for a radical shift in politics. Throw in understandable anger among the wider population at how the matter was being handled, and a perfect battleground opened up. That’s how things stand in this allegedly developed country as we face into the first post-recession election.

The whole affair has exposed the incompetence of the Government and the posturing of the opposition. It is now inevitable that Irish Water and charges will be a serious election issue, and it will be a plague on all houses.

Fine Gael and Labour face either capitulation on the whole water charges process, or be forced to defend Irish Water and all its works. The opposition will make hay on the shambles that exists, and pledge that it must be done away with.

In all likelihood, if Irish Water survives the election, it will face transmogrification afterwards, particularly, as seems likely, if the current coalition is not returned in its present form. Thereafter, once the smoke around the toxic body clears, the real question will have to be answered — will water be subject to a charge ultimately on the basis of use, or will the cost revert to direct taxation?

If the latter option wins out, then there will be two outcomes in the short to medium term. In the first instance, the investment required to ensure that our infrastructure befits a modern country will not be made. That will have serious consequences for citizens primarily, but also for attracting foreign business.
There will be some investment, but not enough. And that investment will largely come at the expense of other services, with a disproportionate impact on those most reliant on the State’s support. There is nothing surer than that.

There is a complete lack of honesty on all sides in this debate. In a mature democracy, the government would have presented the new regime as a necessary development to prevent the mistakes of the past, and it would have ensured that all fears of privatisation would have been dealt with at the outset.
Those opposed would not be dishing out the waffle that we already pay for water, at a time when kettles have to be boiled in some parts of the country, shortages loom in the big conurbations, and waste treatment facilities are creaking.

Of course the biggest problem with water is that it’s a long-term issue. Those who shout loudest today will no longer be on the stage if the country sleepwalks into a crisis, just as it wandered into many other crises. It’s no coincidence that the only political party to really give a fig about the future — the Greens — are making little impact on the electorate.

By and large, the Irish political culture does not do long term. There’s no votes in that for politicians, no immediate benefits for the electorate.

Michael Clifford

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Racism Is More Than Skin Deep

To perhaps understand better what it feels like to be a black person who feel he/she is  part of a minority, and who feels they are racially profiled and discriminated against, can be a challenge for any white person who prefers to be on the sidelines on this debate. As a white person I would like to have a go at what it ‘might’ feel like and sure I will fail in any case.

The first time I will have to confront the fact that racism is more than skin deep, is more than a state of mind, would be when my first baby girl comes into the world. After the initial joy of that birth my mind will ramble a bit, as it often does, and I will soon come to realise that that small innocent bundle of joy will be discriminated against just because she is black before she even leaves the maternity ward. Of course it wont be obvious at first for discrimination lurks in the shadows of the mind of others, when even they would be outraged to think that they had a racist bone in their body. My thoughts later would be in securing my daughters future where the odds are stacked against her that she will have one that is remotely secure. We all know the statistics that tells us the facts on this one too, and there is the opposing points of view that tells us as well that it is their fault; that too much is given to them already, let them get a job. Fu…them who cares anyway. Here is some of the maths on the stats:

In the United States, and these issues do not have borders, infant mortality for blacks is twice as high as that for whites. As they get older the odds are still stacked against them on the mortality part as well with 17 deaths in every 100,000 against less than 2 deaths per 100,000 for whites. In 2012 black people murdered 431 white people against 2,614 for white on white murder.  It is also perhaps worth noting that the murder rate for black on black has fallen 38% since 1995. Some may suggest in whispered murmurs that is because that they are getting more civilised. These facts are but a small sample soundbite of a very large, complex, yet distorted picture and the jury is still out on whether a zebra is a white horse with black stripes or a black horse with white stripes. It will only take someone with horse sense to figure that one out.

Unless you are a paid up member of the klu klux clan or your emotions are made of steel and ice, and you only ever gave lip service to black people where you thought the man in front of you was ‘very intelligent for a black guy’ and never really got past that point in your state of mind; if you were were not outraged by the savagery and brutality of black citizens being murdered by white cops recently (and these are just the ones we know about) then I suggest you do not have a heartbeat let alone a heart. 

When a cop shoots dead an unarmed man in the back eight times who is running for his life and then plants a taser nearby to give the excuse of a fight over the weapon is one thing; but when other cops verify his version of the event then that becomes a conspiracy. 

Unless we as citizens without borders or a colour code fail to become part of a collaboration to stop these murders and change the law, change the training, and change the mindset of cops who think they are not just the law but are above it too, then no one is safe and the murders will continue.  

Rodney King spoke it best when he said: “Why can’t we all get along?”  but of course it is more than that: When a nation becomes deeply divided along any lines, they effectively become opposing and weakened forces virtually all of the time. Even the victorious find it a hollow victory. Only with the benefit of collaboration can any party, big or small, ever be truly strong again. The cliche is a truth: united we stand, divided we fall. And when the endless benefits of that become crystal clear, we will then wonder why it was not thought of before and carried through.

Barry Clifford 

Jimmy Kimmel on Cecil the Lion- very funny!!!!!