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30-05-2009, 18:50   #1
 
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Political Accountability for the Irish Gulag

Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s book the “The Gulag Archipelago” did much to discredit Stalin's legacy. George Kennan, quoted in the Economist Issue of Aug 7th 2008 , called his account of Stalin’s terror, “the most powerful single indictment of a political regime ever to be levied in modern times”. Soviet citizens, interested in what was being done in their name, had to read Solzhenitsyn's missive surreptitiously, and at speed.

Bruce Arnold has now written “The Irish Gulag: How the State Betrayed its Innocent Children”. There is no need to read it in secret. To quote Mannix Flynn in the Irish Independent “He chronicles how the State encouraged this process and incarcerated generations of children, condemning them to inhumane torture and slavery – and how they were stripped of any rights whatsoever. My question is this: How are we, the Irish people, going to ensure that insofar as possible, the facilitators of this atrocity are brought to book and the historical legacy updated to truly reflect how state policy contributed to the scale of the state-sponsored oppression?

I would ask that the thread not degenerate into another anti-Catholic debate. Degenerate as many of their members were, the couldn't have operated freely without the support, overt and covert, of the state. Successive governments have tried, so far, so successfully, to divert attention away from state responsibility and state culpability. I say enough! It is time to get political accountability for what happened. I want to see state and party officials in the dock and in jail.
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30-05-2009, 19:18   #2
 
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31-05-2009, 00:07   #3
 
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We can all take it as read that what happened is criminal and, not only should it not be condoned, but it deserves appropriate sanction under the law.
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I beg to differ. The primary difference is one of scale and, given the difference in population between the two countries, not surprising. For far too long apologists have been trying to minimise the extent of what happened. It is time we moved on and accepted that there are issues to be addressed. Neither is it sufficient to heap blame on the religious orders, atrocious as their activities were. The political system was equally culpable. It is time they were brought to account.
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31-05-2009, 00:18   #4
 
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31-05-2009, 03:54   #5
 
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Neither is it sufficient to heap blame on the religious orders, atrocious as their activities were. The political system was equally culpable. It is time they were brought to account.
Crimes are committed by people, not systems. The crimes of sexual abuse and violence against innocent children were committed by members of the Catholic religious orders. They are the criminals at the core. There is no getting away from that fact no matter how it gets dressed up. These criminals were protected by the Catholic Church leaders, who facilitated them in re-offending time and time again.

The politicians, the members of judiciary and social services etc. are accessories to these crimes, in a variety of ways that allowed these institutions to continue unchecked over a period of time. They are guilty of turning a blind eye, and most seriously of ignoring the pleas for help from the unfortunate victims. They are ‘culpable’, but not ‘equally’ so.

However, lets not forget the phenomenal power the Catholic Church has had in Ireland for so many years. This power is of a psychological nature, which is manifested in the sinister control of peoples’ hearts and minds. It has been handed down from one generation to the next, and permeates every aspect of life, both public and private. This religious stranglehold should not be underestimated. It still exists, but to a much lesser degree, especially with younger generations.

Consequently, it is futile to have any discussion on the role of the ‘political system’ in this matter without including the role of the Catholic Church. They have been inseparable until recent times, and there is still a lingering religious influence.

Nonetheless, this does not excuse the cowardliness and treachery perpetrated by the politicians who signed the highly dishonourable deal with the Catholic orders, in full knowledge of the crimes they committed against our most vulnerable members of society. These two politicians should now be forced to resign. I'm not sure how the whole situation regarding the state sending children to these institutions in the past could be addressed without a lengthy and costly enquiry.

One thing for certain is that the government must now take a firm stand with these religious orders and stop treating them as deities above the law. They are not superior to the rest of us, and the criminals amongst them must be brought to justice like all other criminals.
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31-05-2009, 04:08   #6
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I beg to differ. The primary difference is one of scale and, given the difference in population between the two countries, not surprising.
Scale is the primary difference?!? Stalin systematically organised mass murder. In the Irish situation they raped and beat kids, but they didn't fill mass graves with them. Jesus, get some perspective.
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31-05-2009, 12:18   #7
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Scale is the primary difference?!? Stalin systematically organised mass murder. In the Irish situation they raped and beat kids, but they didn't fill mass graves with them. Jesus, get some perspective.
There is also a rather large difference in numbers involved.... Stalin sent millions to his various Gulags over the decades, and very few survived. Ireland certainly didn't involve millions of people, and the goal wasn't their deaths. Scale is mentioned, but to make a comparison between the Gulags and this Irish problem is to ignore scale completely.

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How are we, the Irish people, going to ensure that insofar as possible, the facilitators of this atrocity are brought to book and the historical legacy updated to truly reflect how state policy contributed to the scale of the state-sponsored oppression?
I'm more interested in the Catholic Church being made responsible rather than focusing our energies on the Irish government. The Church was a law unto itself and could essentially manage their facilities whatever way they wished regardless of the law. This wasn't isolated to Ireland, and many countries in Europe had similar practices. I'm not interested in blaming modern Ireland and the modern governments for something that happened in that past.

Lets face one simple fact. The Irish people approved that the Church would have serious power in this country, and the government would always pause before going against that power. I don't see too many people saying we should blame our parents and grandparents for allowing these things to happen. Because we & they did give the Church the power to be untouchable.
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31-05-2009, 15:24   #8
 
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I'm more interested in the Catholic Church being made responsible rather than focusing our energies on the Irish government. The Church was a law unto itself and could essentially manage their facilities whatever way they wished regardless of the law. This wasn't isolated to Ireland, and many countries in Europe had similar practices. I'm not interested in blaming modern Ireland and the modern governments for something that happened in that past.
I agree that 'the Catholic Church being made responsible' is the most important thing by far. It would be very difficult to accurately assess the total political role except in more recent history. However, I am not saying that it is not worth trying. I think every aspect of this horror should be addressed.

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Lets face one simple fact. The Irish people approved that the Church would have serious power in this country, and the government would always pause before going against that power. I don't see too many people saying we should blame our parents and grandparents for allowing these things to happen. Because we & they did give the Church the power to be untouchable.
The problem with this is that it doesn't take into account the brainwashing by the Catholic Church of children from an early age. This has been a particularly difficult thing to correct. Our parents and grandparents were even more affected by it. As someone here has mentioned earlier, the Catholic Church is much the same as any other cult. Try rescuing somebody from the Moonies, and you will find that it is virtually impossible. It requires professional help.
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31-05-2009, 21:59   #9
 
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I'm more interested in the Catholic Church being made responsible rather than focusing our energies on the Irish government. The Church was a law unto itself and could essentially manage their facilities whatever way they wished regardless of the law. This wasn't isolated to Ireland, and many countries in Europe had similar practices.
But...
The Church wasn't a "law unto itself" the government most certaintly did have responsibility, and ultimately accountability, for what happened. Focusing entirely on the Catholic Church, no matter how henious the crimes of that institution were, is to ignore the broader picture.

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I'm not interested in blaming modern Ireland and the modern governments for something that happened in that past.
But...
Surely the same arguement applies to the religious orders?
The rationale for bringing the government to account is to ensure that never again do they disregard their responsibilities to the vulnerable, both young and old, in so cavalier a fashion. They have to understand that with political office not only comes power, but also accountability as to how that power is exercised.

Until then, old people will continue to be abused in institutions, teenagers will go missing from care and the mentally ill will be locked up in prison for "crimes" that were forseeable and preventable. I could go on...
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31-05-2009, 23:42   #10
 
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I'd see the sides of both arguments. The gulags and the Irish institutions were created and existed in the Age of Extremes, as Eric Hobsbawm called it. Thankfully, Ireland was spare the excesses of this mad period of European history. Our war of independence, civil war and now this were mild in comparison to what our neighbours endured. But we were not immune.

The way I see what happened in Ireland was that an ideology developed which was a fusion of revolutionary nationalist republicanism (the socialist elements were exponged) with reactive conservative Catholicism. This thrust the republican state and Catholic church into an alliance that continued for decades. One could not speak out against one without speaking out against the other in a self-silencing regime of secrecy.

Both sides were concerned with maintaining order - political and moral order. This meant maintaining social order. These 'schools' were mechanisms of social order in which power was abused systematically. People knew, and yet did not want to believe what went on. The threat of being sent to the schools was a mechanism of control, and the perception that these children entered the schools were 'fallen', that they were a corrupting influence on the whole of the nation and so had to be punished - filtered more widely across society. When justice is divine, anything is permitted. This regime permitted a fantasy of Ireland to be constructed and perpetuated while concealing the ugly reality - that poverty was rife, that the state was derrogating its responsibility to the church, that isolationism was not working but could not be turned around.

In that context - where we were not immune to 'innovations' of social control more extremely applied in other European countries, that we were insulated through our proximity to the UK - they are our mechanisms of broader social control. Our 'Gulags'.

With those caveats, I really do feel the term is justified, emotive though it is. It's not a matter of scale, it's a matter of what these institutions existed for - the same reasons the gulags existed. We can debate the numbers, but what we, as a society need to hold on to is the idea that any institutions of social control must always been open to examination, that the weakest in society must always have a voice. We need to remind ourselves that it can happen again. Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

We're yet to hear more about the most voiceless: the mentally ill.

Last edited by DadaKopf; 31-05-2009 at 23:48.
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01-06-2009, 00:00   #11
 
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Nonetheless, this does not excuse the cowardliness and treachery perpetrated by the politicians who signed the highly dishonourable deal with the Catholic orders, in full knowledge of the crimes they committed against our most vulnerable members of society.
I agree with most of your post except this. How do we know the politicians knew the full extent of the abuse when they signed the deal? The Ryan report came later. There have been several changes of Government over the last 60 years. What did liberal campaigner Garrett Fitzgerald ever do about this? Where was Gay Byrne? Do you think all those people who fought the divorce referendum were afraid of the Catholic Church?
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01-06-2009, 00:32   #12
 
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There is also a rather large difference in numbers involved.... Stalin sent millions to his various Gulags over the decades, and very few survived. Ireland certainly didn't involve millions of people, and the goal wasn't their deaths. Scale is mentioned, but to make a comparison between the Gulags and this Irish problem is to ignore scale completely.



I'm more interested in the Catholic Church being made responsible rather than focusing our energies on the Irish government. The Church was a law unto itself and could essentially manage their facilities whatever way they wished regardless of the law. This wasn't isolated to Ireland, and many countries in Europe had similar practices. I'm not interested in blaming modern Ireland and the modern governments for something that happened in that past.

Lets face one simple fact. The Irish people approved that the Church would have serious power in this country, and the government would always pause before going against that power. I don't see too many people saying we should blame our parents and grandparents for allowing these things to happen. Because we & they did give the Church the power to be untouchable.
I totally agree with this post.

Comparison with the gulags is ridiculous. No one died. If they did where are the bodies? 35000 Children went through these institutions over a period of 60 years. That's an average of 600 per year at a time when the number of under 16 year olds in Ireland averaged one million per year. If half the kids were abused, and that number is a lot less than the current number of claiments, then that's 300 per year. This is the chief reason(but not the only reason) the Christian Brothers and the other Religious got away with it. The numbers were small and it was the poor and vunerable in society that suffered. How many rich kids were abused?

The prevaling ethos at the time was one of rigid moral conservative values and most of this related to sex outside marriage. There was no attempt to ban alcohol or gambling. People believed in these values. For example many of the children in the institutions were born out of wedlock and removed from their mothers. Others were made wards of court after their parents split up. Society did not approve of single motherhood or divorce and was quite content to "shovel" the results into the orphanages and industrial schools. No-one forced this on Irish Society. It was accepted practice.
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01-06-2009, 01:19   #13
 
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I agree with most of your post except this. How do we know the politicians knew the full extent of the abuse when they signed the deal? The Ryan report came later.
I was aware that this might be interpreted as being aware of the full extent of the abuse that later emerged in the Ryan Report, but the sun was beating down outside and I was in a hurry to catch some of it.

What I meant was that they were in full knowledge of the abuse that was known at that time: the abuse that brought about the need for the compensation deal they were signing. We now know that this was far from being the whole story, but it was still pretty significant, and the deal included indemnity for the criminals.

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There have been several changes of Government over the last 60 years. What did liberal campaigner Garrett Fitzgerald ever do about this? Where was Gay Byrne? Do you think all those people who fought the divorce referendum were afraid of the Catholic Church?
The compensation deal was done in the lifetime of this government. I don’t know what Garrett Fitzgerald knew about the clerical abuse, but it was his government that tried to remove the ban on divorce. I cannot see what Gay Byrne, a chat show host, has to do with any of this. He is neither a priest nor a politician. Wasn’t the divorce referendum done by secret ballot? Hence intimidation was limited to persuasion from the pulpit. Who knows whether it worked, but I seem to remember the concern over property rights featured largely in the voting decisions in 1986.
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01-06-2009, 01:38   #14
 
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I'd see the sides of both arguments. The gulags and the Irish institutions were created and existed in the Age of Extremes, as Eric Hobsbawm called it. Thankfully, Ireland was spare the excesses of this mad period of European history. Our war of independence, civil war and now this were mild in comparison to what our neighbours endured. But we were not immune.

The way I see what happened in Ireland was that an ideology developed which was a fusion of revolutionary nationalist republicanism (the socialist elements were exponged) with reactive conservative Catholicism. This thrust the republican state and Catholic church into an alliance that continued for decades. One could not speak out against one without speaking out against the other in a self-silencing regime of secrecy.

Both sides were concerned with maintaining order - political and moral order. This meant maintaining social order. These 'schools' were mechanisms of social order in which power was abused systematically. People knew, and yet did not want to believe what went on. The threat of being sent to the schools was a mechanism of control, and the perception that these children entered the schools were 'fallen', that they were a corrupting influence on the whole of the nation and so had to be punished - filtered more widely across society. When justice is divine, anything is permitted. This regime permitted a fantasy of Ireland to be constructed and perpetuated while concealing the ugly reality - that poverty was rife, that the state was derrogating its responsibility to the church, that isolationism was not working but could not be turned around.

In that context - where we were not immune to 'innovations' of social control more extremely applied in other European countries, that we were insulated through our proximity to the UK - they are our mechanisms of broader social control. Our 'Gulags'.

With those caveats, I really do feel the term is justified, emotive though it is. It's not a matter of scale, it's a matter of what these institutions existed for - the same reasons the gulags existed. We can debate the numbers, but what we, as a society need to hold on to is the idea that any institutions of social control must always been open to examination, that the weakest in society must always have a voice. We need to remind ourselves that it can happen again. Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

We're yet to hear more about the most voiceless: the mentally ill.
This is an excellent post, DadaKopf.
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01-06-2009, 02:43   #15
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With those caveats, I really do feel the term is justified, emotive though it is.
I would still disagree, I think it would be more accurate to draw parallels with something of similar outcome (i.e. not mass murder). The Gulags and the Concentration Camps will be remembered internationally for generations precisely because they were systematic mass murders on a hitherto unheard of scale, you can't say the same for the present Irish situation. I don't think it diminishes how evil and wrong what happened here is to avoid using over the top emotive labels. The problem here wasn't systematic abuse but system failures which moved offending clergy to other locations without removing their access to children etc. If there was systematic abuse, in that those at the top of the system encouraged such abuse due to some ideological delusion then maybe you could call it the Irish Gulags, maybe.

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