Sorry State: a future taoiseach's apologies for today's Ireland
The Taoiseach has said sorry to Magdalene laundry survivors, but State-sanctioned injustice remains
This week Taoiseach Enda Kenny, his voice choked with emotion, apologised on behalf of the State to the hundreds of women who spent time in Magdalene laundries. It was a heartfelt tribute to women who were blameless but had been forced to live in the shadows, carrying a deep-set sense of shame that they had done something wrong. If there was any consolation, it was that Ireland was finally giving up its secrets and coming to terms with the State’s role in sending many of them there.
“Today we live in a very different Ireland, with a very a different consciousness and awareness. We live in an Ireland where we have more compassion, empathy, insight and heart,” he said.
It’s comforting to think of State-sanctioned mistreatment of citizens as a historic injustice. Each time we express remorse for what happened, there is an implication that somehow we are now more enlightened, humanitarian and sensitive. But in the shadows of society, injustice remains.
We still have about 3,500 people with learning disabilities living in antiquated institutions that are neither inspected nor subject to independent care standards.
We still admit more than 100 teenagers with mental-health difficulties to adult psychiatric hospitals each year, even though the State has been warned by its own officials that the practice is “inexusable and countertherapeutic”.
We still place thousands of vulnerable young people in a care system that too often is chaotic and dangerous.
We still insist that hundreds of children of asylum-seekers live in a direct-provision accommodation system with documented evidence of grinding poverty, overcrowding and even malnutrition.
We still lock up minors in adult prisons that are rife with drugs and intimidation – though this practice is finally, and belatedly, coming to an end.
There’s every chance, then, that a future taoiseach, in 20 years’ time, will stand in the Dáil and apologise for State-sanctioned mistreatment happening in Ireland today. It would likely tread the same ground as Kenny’s apology this week or Bertie Ahern’s apology to abuse survivors 14 years ago.
A future taoiseach may well say that the State was directly involved in sending young people into often brutalising environments. The same leader might examine how Ireland’s self-portrait in 2013 was, in many respects, fictitious, hiding a cruel, pitiless society. There could even be an acknowledgment that when it came to spending cuts, services for the most vulnerable were targeted, and the well-off were protected.
A leader may even wonder what was the point of celebrating the centenary of the State when its values included a tacit and unchallenged decree that allowed society and authorities to mistreat and degrade so many young people.