Friday, January 15, 2021

Ireland's Communist Party: Mother and Baby Homes scandal reveals decades of church and state repression of women

A horrendous scandal that exposes decades of institutionalised patriarchal and misogynist values has been revealed in Ireland. Thousands of infants died in Irish homes for unmarried mothers and their offspring mostly run by the Catholic Church from the 1920s to the 1990s, an inquiry found on Tuesday, an “appalling” mortality rate that reflected brutal living conditions.

The report, which covered 18 so-called Mother and Baby Homes where over decades young pregnant women were hidden from society, is the latest in a series of government-commissioned papers that have laid bare some of the Catholic Church’s worst abuses.
Around 9,000 children died in all, "Mother and Baby Homes" Commission's report found - a mortality rate of 15%. The proportion of children who died before their first birthday in one home, Bessborough, in County Cork, was as high as 75% in 1943.

Infants were taken from mothers and sent overseas to be adopted. Children were vaccinated without consent. Anonymous testimony from residents compared the institutions to prisons where they were verbally abused by nuns as “sinners” and “spawn of Satan.” Women suffered through traumatic labours without any pain relief. One recalled “women screaming, a woman who had lost her mind, and a room with small white coffins”.

Prime minister Micheál Martin will make a formal apology to those affected by the scandal in parliament this week for what he described as “a dark, difficult and shameful chapter of very recent Irish history.”

In a statement concerning the report, the General Secretary of the Communist Party of Ireland Eugene McCartan underlines that the scandal reveals decades of church and state repression of women. The statement reads:

The publication of the report by the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation, cataloguing the horrendous abuse and exploitation handed out to tens of thousands of women over the decades by religious institutions—of both main religious faiths—lays bare the violence and repressive attitudes that have been inflicted on women in general here in Ireland.

Those forces that secured their victory and established the Irish Free State were more than willing to hand over to religious orders many critical services that the people needed, including health and education and much more, creating a culture of dependence and fear.

The state and the establishment parties of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil built a close relationship with the Catholic Church in particular to ensure the social and political stability of the state and to maintain the economic and political status quo.

This was a war against working people, against the urban and rural poor, and, in particular, against women. Women who had played a central role in the struggle for our freedom were driven from that central role; they were seen as too big a threat to the established social and moral order.

Both the state and the church institutionalised patriarchal and misogynist values and practices at all levels of society. The consolidation of church power allowed the establishment to hide behind this power. Both church and state instituted a reign of repression of working people. The oppression of women was the means to achieve this: it did not happen by accident but was a deliberate policy, designed to narrow and control the aspirations of workers and in particular of women.

Those who stood up and resisted were driven from their jobs and homes and in many cases had to emigrate. The various governments that have ruled this state were happy to oversee a “Catholic state” and equally to allow unionism to rule unchallenged in their little religious-sectarian enclave in the Six Counties. The state, governments and bosses all benefited from the oppression of women and working people.

Religion and the abuse of sincerely held religious views by the establishment is nothing new and is still a potent weapon of division and oppression around the world. At the centre of that oppression are women, in particular working women.

The publication of this report is a result of the campaigning and indeed sacrifices by thousands of working people down the decades. They did not bend the knee nor fear attack from the pulpits. Around the country and in towns and cities some people had the courage to stand up. Included among these courageous people were many communists and radical republican allies, who stood firm, speaking out in our publications, in our communities and trade unions, actively opposing these reactionary forces, many paying a very heavy price for doing so, such people as Jim Gralton in Co. Leitrim, Frank Edwards in Waterford, Esther McGregor in Dublin, and many more of our comrades.

The political and economic establishment can now shed crocodile tears about what happened in the past, but they cannot escape the fact that they are just as culpable as the established churches.