“Ireland And The Catholic Church Have Been Unfairly Singled Out”


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Sarah Anne Buckley, of the National University of Ireland Galway and David Quinn, of the Iona Institute and the Irish Independent, on Al Jazeera last night

David Quinn, columnist at the Irish Independent, Susan Lohan of Adoption Rights Alliance, and Sarah Anne Buckley, a history lecturer at National University of Ireland Galway appeared on The Stream on Al Jazeera last night – hosted by Malika Bilal – in light of last week’s publication of the Report of the Inter-Departmental Group on Mother and Baby Homes.

During the discussion, David Quinn pointed out that Mother and Baby Homes were not unique to Ireland, told of his bewilderment at the international media’s fascination with Ireland and, indeed, Ireland’s fascination with holding inquiries into its ‘dark chapters’, and also suggested single mothers were treated worse in non-Catholic Sweden than in Ireland.

And on the matter of the few options available to women in Ireland – in regards to contraception – Mr Quinn was at pains to point out that the Pill wasn’t invented until the early 1960s and that “no country in the world had effective contraception”- inferring that Ireland’s Catholic-influenced rules regarding women were really of little or no consequence.

Grab a drink tay.

Malika Bilal: “If it were not for these homes run by the Catholic churches and, in some instances, Protestant Anglican churches, where would these women have turned to? What were the alternatives? Were there alternatives?”

David Quinn: “Well, I mean, I think there’s a danger, some of your listeners may think these homes  were in some way, particularly, uniquely an Irish experience. This is to excuse nothing and I mean there was a terrible stigma shown towards single mothers back then. But Mother and Baby Homes didn’t exist only in Ireland. For example, they existed as well in Britain. They existed in a lot of countries because many countries, unfortunately, stigmatised lone parents back then. I mean it’s a focus on Ireland. I don’t quite know why there’s a focus on Ireland to the extent that there is, compared with the same kind of homes in America, in Australia, in Britain. In Sweden, between the 1930s and the 1970s, they had a eugenics programme that swept up many lone parents, treated them as asocial and frequently sterilised them and this carried on until the 1970s. Sometimes they forced these women to have abortions and they had institutions and this was social democratic Sweden where the Catholic church has no influence whatsoever and is also one of the world’s most secular countries. And this is going on between the mid-1930s and the mid-1970s and in social democratic-ruled Sweden…”

Bilal: “But David are you saying that the reason, that the Catholic church is being unfairly singled out?”

Quinn: “Well I think Ireland and the Catholic church have, in fact, been unfairly singled out. I mean it’s interesting that the worldwide media and, indeed, your own organisation now, and I understand why, are reporting on Ireland and the Mother and Baby Homes in Ireland. I mean really to get a proper handle on this, we need to know what was the death rate for infants in Mother and Baby Homes in countries that were socio-economically similar. I mean, for example, if you go back to the 1930s and 1940s, the infant mortality rate in Ireland was 20 times higher than today. It was 20 times higher in Northern Ireland. It was 20 times higher in Scotland. It was about 10 times higher than today in England. The reason is because England was more prosperous at that time than either Ireland, Northern Ireland or Scotland. So a lot of it had to do with background poverty issues…”

Susan Lohan: “But David, David, you haven’t mentioned however…”

Quinn: “The reason the mortality rate was higher again. Sorry. I need to say, I need to say…”

Lohan: “…That these Mother and Baby Homes got State grants to run themselves so not only were they getting a [inaudible] payment but a lot of these Mother and Baby Homes also…”

Quinn: “I want to finish my sentence though. Yeah, can I finish my sentence though? Malika, can I finish my sentence?”

Bilal: “Yes, Susan, let’s let David finish his sentence and then we’ll get right back to you. David?”

Lohan: “Sure.”

Quinn: “Yeah, I mean the reason the…the mortality rate in a Mother And Baby Home was higher again. One reason is because, and we saw this reported in for example the Sunday Independent, once one child got measles in a confined space, in the space of maybe a week or two, ten babies would die, same for things like gastroenteritis. You often had things like TB which would run rampant in these institutions. They were not properly resourced, they were not properly financed. It was a disaster at a time when you had so many deadly infections and highly infectious diseases that could carry children away in these confined spaces. Now these Mother and Baby Homes in fact were absolute death traps for these children and that’s why the death rate was even higher than a rate that was already extremely high.”

Bilal: “David you’ve made that point in a couple of sentences and Susan is shaking her head as you’re speaking. Susan, go ahead.”

Lohan: “Yes, that’s completely wrong. I mean I referenced at the top of the programme, Alice Lister, who was an inspector for the Department of Local Health I think it was. In 1939 she brought to attention of the relevant minister that a child born in the slums now remember the slums in Dublin at this stage were compared readily with those in Calcutta where 10 families may be numbering, 10, 12 to a room were living in these most incredibly cramped and sanitary conditions. Alice Lister, the inspector, the Government inspector pointed out that in homes where people, children and mothers, were supposed to have had a superior diet, a superior sanitary and medical conditions. As I said the, many of these Mother and Baby Homes were situated in large farms, there is absolutely no excuse for the death rate and James Deeney, a former chief medical officer…”

Quinn: “But the cause of death is listed…”

Lohan: “…In his book, in his book said that when he visited Bessborough in 1944 that the matron there was trying to cover up a purulent gastroenteritis type of infection which had led to further complications in the children. He promptly shut the place down. And it was due to a lack of concern for these children and a belief they were disposable.”

Quinn: “Susan, I called them death traps.”


Sarah Anne Buckley: “There is an issue of comparisons to other countries. And there is work being done on this but there were very limited options for women in Ireland. This is a critical point. We had an incredibly high infanticide rate. When your fertility options are that limited, due to legislation that is Catholic influenced, then that will have a bigger knock-on effect. However I do take the point that…”

Quinn:But Sarah, up to the 1960s, up to the 1960s there was no country with effective contraception and the period we’re looking at here is 1925 to 1961. The Pill was not invented until 1962 or 1963.”

Buckley: “I think that’s the banning of any information. The censorship of any information about a woman’s reproductive system…”

Quinn: “But there was no effective contraception anywhere in the world.”

Buckley: “There was…”

Talk over each other

Quinn: “There was no effective contraception anywhere in the world.”

Buckley: “…I do not agree with you on that point.”

Talk over each other

Quinn: “But of course there wasn’t, the Pill, the Pill was not invented…”

Buckley: “Do you think that the Pill is the only…?”

Bilal: “Both of your points are taken, David and Sarah, I’m going to jump in  here and I’m going to go to Susan actually because we started this with the news of the inquiry that’s coming. Susan, what do you think will come out of it?”

Buckley: “Right, well I think the inquiry is being set up to be a whitewash.”

Later, Mr Quinn is asked what he thinks of the upcoming inquiry

Quinn: “Well I mean I actually agree with Susan, I think it has to be a proper, comprehensive inquiry, it has to get to the bottom of it because…I mean Ireland is a country that’s had many inquiries actually into its past, I mean more than most countries I can think of. We’ve had inquiries into our past. I mean it’s a kind of curious aspect of Irish society that we do that. I mean again I’m just of, let’s say, Britain or the United States or any other country I can certainly think of in the English-speaking world where they’re launching a similar number of inquiries into dark chapters of their past. Even undoubtedly all these countries also have dark chapters in their past. And I mean I just find the interest, of the international media in Ireland in particular also, almost fascinating. This is not to say we should not have these inquiries but I just wonder why it is that there’s such focus and attention on Ireland, all the time – not just by ourselves, cause we’re obviously interested in our own past but we seem to be more interested into delving into our own past than other countries and the international media seems to have a similar interest that I can’t quite figure out. But what is noticeable is that the Catholic church is often put, you know, centre stage in these inquiries which is justifiable to the extent that the Catholic church was an extremely dominant institution but again when you see that other countries where the Catholic church was not dominant and had similar problems – either you have these institutions run by other churches or by simply the State. And the State, in a completely secular dominated not church dominated, and again it’s just becomes again curious to me why there is such a singling out of Ireland all the time.”

The plight of Ireland’s unmarried mothers (Al Jazeera)

Previously: A Waste Of Copy And Paste

Thanks Cathal O’Rourke

31 thoughts on ““Ireland And The Catholic Church Have Been Unfairly Singled Out”

  1. Gorugeen

    I was born in one of those so called homes. It matters a whole lot to me that they are investigated ( and I was one of the luckier ones ). Just sayin’.

  2. Sidewinder

    Amazing that Quinn expresses regret about stigma of single mothers while still banging on about how children in any situation other than straight married parents will to fare worse.

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