Tuam: Not our dark past, but our dark present

'To The Debris', El Roto, 3rd June 2014

‘To The Debris’, El Roto, 3rd June 2014

I left this comment on the article in today’s Irish Times by Sharon Foley, chief executive of the Irish Hospice Foundation, which is titled Death devoid of dignity at Bon Secours home.

I can only agree with the author when she highlights the cut to the bereavement grant as a fact that poses serious ethical questions about the type of society the government is creating. This cut is not an anomaly, but part of a vast range of cuts implemented by the government.

These actions are in keeping with a State that treated the babies in Tuam, and a multitude of other poor children, with cold indifference at best, and vicious sadism, depraved neglect, and institutionalised terror at worst. The cut to the bereavement grant, as with so many cruelties inflicted in Irish society, is justified in terms of a dogma impervious to any kind of democratic reason, as in past decades. Contrary to the insistence from official circles since the Tuam story began to capture the attention of the global public, these things are not part of our ‘dark past’, but our dark present.

The author says that the benchmark of any society is the way in which it takes care of its most vulnerable. But it depends who is applying the benchmark. Yesterday, Ireland’s 10-year yield bond yield fell below benchmark US Treasury yields for the first time since November 2007.

What this means, in simple terms, is that the Irish State has proven itself even more creditworthy than the US, due to the way it was able to burden the public with astonishing levels of debt racked up by financial crooks, and the way it has made the public pay by slashing public spending for vital services. We don’t need to read authoritative sources such as The Body Economic by David Stuckler and Sanjay Basu to know that austerity policies kill: anyone prepared to use their imagination can figure out what the effects of high unemployment, the evisceration of public services, and attacks on working conditions will be. However, we have a government and a wider establishment that insists that this carnage is in the national interest, and a great many people who either accept this to be true and even desirable, or they resign themselves to a sense that nothing can be done about it.

Perhaps it is time, then, to focus less on what the government needs to do, given that it has been unstinting in its commitment to this barbarism, and start talking about what kinds of collective power are needed to turn benchmarks of decency into social realities.

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