Tuesday, September 27, 2011

how we tortured our children

I remember as a child we would occasionally drive by the reform school in Greenmount. And if my siblings and I happened to be bickering in the car, which often happened, my mother would point to the school and say: 'if you don't behave, I might have to send you there.'

That usually shut us up. Because even as kids we knew that it was no place you wanted to go.

And that is what has emerged from the Amnesty International Report, In Plain Sight (full report here), about what was going on in institutions in Ireland. Everybody knew. Maybe not the specifics, but enough to make you uneasy as you passed by.

Colin O' Gorman of Amnesty thinks it was due to the deference that people in Ireland had to powerful institutions at the time. That may be partly true. But I think there's a lot more to it than that. 

Money played a part. Proper care would have been expensive. And of course, there was a lot of casual violence towards children in society at the time anyway. I experienced some pretty hefty beatings while I was in school. And I witnessed others that were terrifying. And this was in ordinary school, where the children had families to look out for their interests. These children had no one.

But more than anything, this was a failure of moral values ... a failure of simple Christian values in a society that was overwhelmingly Christian ... in today's Gospel reading, St Matthew talks about what is often referred to as the Golden rule:  ‘In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.' Because it was easier, because it was convenient, because they were only children - because, because, because ... people did not apply one of the fundamental rules of our faith: if that was me, how would I like to be treated?

The Amnesty report says that our children were tortured. And that while some may bear greater responsibility than others, we were all at fault. What we have to do now is say 'never again.' And mean it.

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