How symbolic it is that the inquiry into the oppressive practices of the religious orders in Ireland should be announced by a son of Oliver J Flanagan.
Who’s that? somebody asked me earlier today.
Oliver J Flanagan, TD, was an extremely conservative Catholic bigot, an anti-Semite, a short-lived Fine Gael minister and a proud Knight of Columbanus. The Mountmellick Monolith, as John Healy once called him in the Irish Times, represented the worst of parish-pump Irish political stroke-pulling, a ward-heeling kisser of every episcopal ring that came within 100 miles of his ambit and a symbol of everything that was wrong with this backward little country since independence.
How refreshing, therefore, that his son, Charlie Flanagan, minister for children and youth affairs, should be the one to announce a commission of inquiry into the activities of the mother and baby homes that wrought such misery on some Irish people, with the active support of many others.
Charlie is a man of integrity. In 2011, he called for the expulsion of the papal Legate from Ireland, something that would probably have led to the early demise of Oliver J, but it took another three years before Charlie and his leader finally confronted the horror that lies at the heart of clerical domination in Ireland, both Catholic and Protestant.
Nevertheless, well and good. They’ve done it. There will be a commission of inquiry with full judicial powers, and what’s more, the chair won’t necessarily be a judge or indeed a lawyer of any kind. It seems that the government has decided to leave no loose ends this time. The inquiry will look into the high mortality rates in the homes, forced adoptions, clinical trials, anatomical dissections, falsification of consent papers, criminally-negligent obstetric treatment of mothers, and a desire by some to punish young women who had become pregnant either through their own actions or as a result of rape.
This is the story of 35,000 young mothers, disposed of by a society steeped in shame, and 35,000 babies dismissed as little more than rubbish, to be sold, abused or buried at the whim of some emotionally-disordered religious petty tyrant.
We’ve reached a very significant moment in assessing what precisely Irish Independence really meant. Did those most conservative revolutionaries really fight for Rome Rule? Whose freedom did they have in mind, with all their fine words?
It certainly doesn’t seem to have been the freedom of the weak, the poor or the vulnerable.
Ireland was not Afghanistan, but in the way it treated its daughters, it wasn’t all that different and it’s time for us to look very hard indeed at what we are and where we came from.