Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Taoiseach offers support, but won’t say sorry

Enda Kenny: Gave the Dáil a clumsy historical overview of decades of authoritarian Ireland.Given that he was cutting such a sorry figure in the Dáil, Enda Kenny’s reluctance to actually apologise seemed even stranger. 

In a spectacular misjudgement of the national mood, the Taoiseach came across more as an apologist for the misery Ireland of the past than a leader ready to apologise for the systematic suffering the laundry regime meted out — and the State’s active collusion in the brutality of it all.

Mr Kenny looked decidedly uncomfortable as he stood there reciting dry statistics as if this was a story about numbers, not the individual stories of lifelong damage and harm from being rail-roaded into effective incarceration.

The Taoiseach was sorry for the hardship they had suffered, and was sorry it had taken the State so long to try and unburden them of the stigma of being branded “fallen women”. But he was not sorry on behalf of the nation. He was not sorry for the thousands of women pushed into jail-like laundries by the State.

In a bizarre ramble down through the decades of what he called a “harsh, uncompromising, and authoritarian” Ireland, Mr Kenny’s clumsy historical overview could be summed up as: “Sure, weren’t they all at it? It was a funny old country then — symphysiotomies, Thalidomide victims, mental hospitals, or lunatic asylums as they were referred to in those days — not a good place. Could have been worse for these ladies though — the numbers were not as high as we thought — only 10,000 — and hey, some of them liked it so much they kept coming back! It must have been quite peachy for them — it couldn’t have been because they were institutionalised, broken victims of an appalling State conspiracy — oh, no, of course not! And aren’t we just a great little Government for having this report at all? I won’t mention it was because the UN commission on torture made us do it — no, forget them, aren’t we just great altogether?”

This unfortunate attitude was compounded by the drive-by condescension the Taoiseach directed towards Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald, who put in a strong performance when raising the matter in leaders’ questions. Again, she managed to command the attention of the Dáil far better than Gerry Adams.

Ms McDonald compared the Magdalene system to a form of “Irish slavery”, but the Taoiseach just kept telling her to go away and read the report. Silly Ms McDonald, she only recited the testimony of survivors — what did they know?

So why was Kenny, who had been so in touch with the public mood after the Cloyne Report, so cold? Because it is all down to cold hard cash. He offered “support” to the victims, but no offer of compensation was mentioned. His spokesman was later asked if Mr Kenny had been advised by the Attorney General or others to avoid the apology in order to try and stall a payout. “We don’t comment on how the Taoiseach arrives at what he says,” came the reply.

And while it is often difficult to figure out exactly how Mr Kenny arrives at some of the more unusual things he comes out with, this time it was simple — shamefully cutting the compensation claims of the one thousand surviving victims.

It was a surprisingly shabby performance from the Taoiseach, and the hurt caused to the laundry victims will not be easily washed away.

The exploited women were abandoned once more — and all in the name of money.

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