Reading the excerpts from the Ryan report into child sex abuse, I’m struck by one thing. It would be very easy to point the finger at the Catholic Church and say “it was them”, and that would be that. Except it wouldn’t. The Dail knew, the Department of Education knew, and most Irish people had a rough idea what was going on. This is a small country, and it is hard to keep things secret. We may not have known the details, but we all knew that Charlie Haughey’s outgoings exceeded his modest TD income, and yet we collectively turned a blind eye. The industrial schools were no different.
We have a culture in this country of victimhood, and pointing the finger elsewhere and saying that “it was them.” It was the British. It was the Famine. It’s the EU. It is never our fault. We are a country that is forever demanding apologies from the British for this slight or that. Yet we can’t point anywhere else on this one. We’re the British during the Famine. We’re the Nazis exterminating the Jews. We’re the Americans wiping out the Indians. We did this.
Why? Because that was, and is, our culture. Don’t rock the boat. Don’t point out the flaws of others because someone might point out yours. When did we last vote for a candidate who actually had honour, and a willingness to do the unpopular thing not because they had no choice (Fianna Fail today) but because it was the right thing to do? Joe Higgins spoke up for the rights of foriegn workers who could never vote for him, and got thrown out. Michael McDowell told a home truth about us as a nation, that we did not really want economic equality, and was lambasted for saying so, despite the fact that we vote that way every election. As a people, we don’t do honour.
There were doctors and inspectors who went into the industrial schools. They must have seen abuse. Yet where was the chain of outrage from inspector to civil servant to minister? Where was the minister or deputy who read their reports and said “Not on my watch.” and faced down the archbishop? There wasn’t. Because even the tiny handful of deputies or senators or civil servants or judges who decided to speak out would have found the Irish people siding with the archbishop against them. They would have sided with him even as he excused the rape and murder of Irish children, because he was the archbishop and they were wicked children and it was so much easier to pour him another cup of tea and gossip to the neighbours about how the archbishop was in the house and had tea on the good china. That is who we are and how we go about our lives, and we don’t have time for men or women who stand up and say things that we don’t like but know to be true.
Want to point at monsters? Go point in the mirror.