From top: Tuam Burial ground in 2016; Attorney General Paul Gallagher (left) Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman; Kevin L Higgins
Having been kindly offered a platform by Broadsheet’s Bodger to provide a few words on the foul Burials Bill, aka as the Institutional Burials Bill 2022, it was reasonable to assume that he expected a forensic examination of the text of the Bill. This isn’t it, but the following represents my view of the matter.
The members of the Joint Oireachtas Committee in their consideration of the Bill did on the whole approach their task with a degree of empathy for the memory of the dead children and the feelings of their families. That said, the Minister’s Bill was an invitation to do a substantial job of virtue-signalling, which the text offered them. I do not gainsay the genuine decent feelings of Committee members. I do say they were suckered.
Nothing changes the glaring facts that the Minister did not have the Ministerial or Parliamentary jurisdiction to initiate the Bill and neither did the Committee have the jurisdiction to consider it.
I raised that issue with Mr Sean Sherlock TD, who chaired the Session of the Committee which I addressed. I did so for the simple purpose of putting the issue on the record of the Oireachtas. Mr Sherlock as Chair assured me that he had satisfied himself that the Committee did have the power to deliberate on the Bill. He did not tell me if the Committee had received advice to that effect or from whom they might have done.
Prior to the sitting of the Committee I had written to the Chair of the Committee, Kathleen Funchion TD on this specific issue and despite further correspondence with the Committee, a year later, I still don’t know from whom they took advice as to their capacity to consider the Bill or if they sought any advice at all.
If they did as a Committee seek legal advice and acted on it, then I am content to say it was very bad advice and I don’t ultimately expect anyone to readily put up their hand to claim any such Advices as their own. Despite for the most part, but apparently not unanimous empathy or understanding of Committee Members, they did not seem to realise they had been been sold a pup.
The Minister’s subsequent agreement that any ‘obstruction’ to the relevant coroner exercising his jurisdiction be ‘removed’ would in other circumstances be almost funny. It does not appear to have occurred to the Committee that apart from the issue of the Minister having no right to meddle in the matter, that ‘obstruction’ would probably have seen the Bill in it’s entirety torn to shreds under judicial examination.
The third Attorney General to have a finger in this pie (Paul Gallagher) seems to have taken the view that leaving within the Bill, something so legally absurd and pursued by a Minister lacking in Parliamentary Jurisdiction (and apparently commonsense); that when an ‘outraged’ Committee removed it, the chorus of welcome would drown out any questions as to why the Coroner did not perform his duty when the remains of the Tuam Children were in part, unearthed in September 2016.
Not to mention why three Attorneys General [Marie Whelan, Seamus Woulfe and Paul Gallagher] have failed in their the clear obligation to invoke s24 of the Coroner’s Act 1962 to remove the Coroner for North Galway,who has sat on his hands for more than five years and appoint another Coroner to act.
The net result is that something which made the Bill an indisputable legislative excrescence and may have pulled it down in it’s entirety, has been removed. This does however leave in the body of the Bill, the mechanics to construct a clunking layer of administrative asbestos, with which to smother and hide the truth of Tuam and other mass graves. As a child I saw better three card tricks executed on half-day school holidays at Punchestown.
The bet, this Minister,, Government and Attorney General have placed on the current text with it’s unnecessary baggage, is that it will survive legal challenge and perform its intended role in burying for all time the grotesque truth of Tuam; but more importantly stifle the clear obligation rooted in law, to both investigate the deaths of so many children and avoid a finding in law as where responsibility for their deaths lies.
In short, this piece of legislation has never been necessary to complete the exhumation of Tuam and determine as far as possible by the use of advanced forensic techniques the causes of death of those children and to record verdicts of a Coroner’s Court as to the likely causes of death.
The existing law is not only adequate to perform this task, it is a legal imperative that it be used. The obfuscation and obstruction which has been the modus operandi of Government for the last number of years is beneath contempt. It amounts to something which libel lawyers may tell you, dare not speak it’s name and certainly not outside of legal proceedings.
In acknowledging that this piece may not correspond to what was suggested to me, I will indulge myself in referring to the words of Captain Gustave M. Gilbert the Army psychologist assigned to confer with the defendants at the Nuremberg trials. His access to individuals such as Herman Goering was quite unique. He would later write:
“In my work with the defendants (at the Nuremberg Trials 1945-1949) I was searching for the nature of evil and I now think I have come close to defining it. A lack of empathy. It’s the one characteristic that connects all the defendants, a genuine incapacity to feel (for and) with their fellow men (empathy). Evil, I think, is the absence of empathy.”
I need to pause here and say that in my direct contacts with Minister O’Gorman I have found him a courteous and urbane individual, genuinely personally pleasant and when let off the leash by civil servants, generous in his readiness to engage.
But Irish ‘Greens’ it seems are not actual politicians in the usual sense. They are ethereal creatures amongst us, whose good intentions cannot be challenged. Of course, anything contained herein should not be characterised as amounting to any degree of particular animus. Rather in the style of Monty Python it should be regarded as applying to any purveyor of bullshit.
Pursuing this theme I am drawn to the dialogue scripted by the late Robert Bolt for David Lean’s majestic ‘Lawrence of Arabia’. The issue therein was one which impacts on all our lives to this day: the appropriation and/or acquisition by the ‘West’ of the natural resources that drive the capitalist economy.
The exchange in question is between politician/diplomat Mr Dryden (Claude Rains) and Lawrence (Peter O’Toole) ;
“A man who tells lies, like me, merely hides the truth. Whereas a man who tells half-lies has forgotten where he put it”
Kevin Higgins has contributed to Broadsheet previously on the issue of Mother and Baby Homes. He is a member of the Tuam Home Survivors Network and acted as Solicitor for Mr Peter Mulryan In the first High Court case, in respect of records for the ‘Home. Though retired he continues to be part of the campaign to achieve Justice for the dead children of all such Homes and contributed to the Joint Oireachtas Committee dealing with the issue.