Wronged new Little People have no voice
In recent years, my work as a journalist has come more and more to resemble an iceberg, in this respect at least: most of it happens out of sight. The things I write in this column or elsewhere are but the tip of a process of engagement.
For nearly 20 years, since I first began writing about family law and associated topics, I have been aware of a gruesome and distressed underbelly of Irish life, a concealed reality in which appalling injustices happen as a matter of routine, in which no redress or relief is available to the wronged.
Recently – unaccountably as far as I have been concerned – the situation has grown exponentially worse, and reports from this undocumented front now approach flood proportions. But, whereas those who contacted me in the beginning were mainly men, or women acting on behalf of men, my correspondents today represent a broad and mixed bag of Irish citizenry.
On a given day, I might have emails or letters from: an Irish couple who, having lived for years in England, have come back here to seek refuge from UK social workers seeking to forcibly adopt their children; an unmarried mother whose child has already been taken by social workers here; a woman jailed for breaching a barring order (ie returning to her home); the mother of an Irishman whose children have been abducted to a foreign jurisdiction and who is getting the runaround from the Irish authorities. And so on – each day a new story or three, each vying to be worse than anything I have heard before.
The frustrating – heartbreaking – thing is that I can do nothing for such people except enter into a conversation. Usually, I make it clear that I cannot write about their cases, and often advise them that this would be counter-productive. I outline the workings of the in-camera rule, which prevents any ventilation of such matters in public, regardless of facts, injustice or human cost.
Of course, simply by contacting me, such people have already broken this rule, but, since it supposedly exists for their protection, I take the view that they have a perfect right to tell me their stories. To suggest otherwise would be to imply the rule exists for the protection of someone else.
Irish society and its conversations has turned its back on these people, muttering about smoke and fire, so most just want to be heard by another human being, who already knows enough to believe them.