Apologies are welcome but Irish women need answers
Majella Moynihan’s story will empower more women in similar situations to come forward
Majella Moynihan in 1998. She has been commended for telling her story by the National Women’s Council of Ireland. Photograph: RTÉ
A story of secrecy and shame, of a woman being treated appallingly by State institutions, with involvement from the Catholic Church – this is a narrative that is all too common for us, yet Majella Moynihan’s story has shocked and angered Ireland, as our failure to deal with our harmful past again rears its head.
From all in the National Women’s Council of Ireland (NWCI), we commend Majella Moynihan’s courage and bravery in speaking out. The ordeal that Majella faced at the hands of her superiors in An Garda Síochána is horrific.
Being interrogated and facing dismissal for having pre-marital sex with another trainee, pressured into giving her baby David up for adoption, and the sexual harassment she experienced in the subsequent years are an inexcusable indictment of how our State treated women.
The swift apologies from both Garda Commissioner Drew Harris and Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan are welcome, yet we cannot simply wring our hands, and wash them of our terrible past. We need to go beyond apologies, because women need answers.
Majella Moynihan has spoken of how her files were redacted, and when she later sought more complete access under data protection legislation, she was told that they have gone missing.
In order to properly apologise, the Garda Commissioner and Minister must ensure that these files are found and that Ms Moynihan is given access to the complete documents. It is also crucial that she is met in person by the Commissioner and the Minister, and that Majella Moynihan is given an official State apology.
And this apology must only be the start.
We owe her a debt of gratitude for breaking her silence
One of the starkest lines in Majella Moynihan’s testimony was how she was used as a “guinea pig”, how she felt that they were saying, “We’ll show other women, this is what will be done to you.”
An official State apology is crucial for Majella Moynihan and her family, but it is also crucial that the Minister and the Garda Commissioner initiate a review, to find out how many other women were subjected to such treatment, how many were disciplined and harassed in such a manner, how many were pressured to give their babies up for adoption.
It is crucial that this review covers not only An Garda Síochána, but all State institutions. Women who have stories similar to Majella Moynihan’s may now be encouraged to come forward, and they must be supported and empowered by the State in seeking access to their records, in telling their stories and in securing long overdue apologies.
Power of Church
Against the backdrop of the Eighth Amendment being inserted into the Constitution in 1983, questions need to be asked about the power the Catholic church had over An Garda Síochána, other State agencies, or indeed government policy.
The pain of Majella Moynihan, who says she felt and still feels as though she was coerced into signing adoption papers for her baby David is to the fore, as Government currently attempts to rush through the Adoption Information and Tracing Bill before the Dáil goes on summer recess.
The story of Majella Moynihan is unfortunately all too common for natural mothers, who tell of being forced to sign consent forms promising to never contact their children, and then being told to walk away, get on with their lives, and forget that they had given birth.
NWCI are calling on the Government and Minister for Children Katherine Zappone to engage in meaningful dialogue with stakeholders, including the Adoption Rights Alliance before rushing this Bill through.
The raw pain in Majella Moynihan’s story is the pain of generations of women who were shamed, silenced, and were pressurised into giving up their babies. She adds her name to a long list of women wronged by this country. Her story will empower other women in similar situations to come forward, if they wish to tell their story, and to seek answers and importantly, apologies. We owe her a debt of gratitude for breaking her silence.
We wish her all the future happiness, with her family and her two sons.
Orla O’Connor is Director of the National Women’s Council of Ireland (NWCI), Ireland’s largest women’s membership organisation