Language matters, or at least it should, says Catherine Connolly in her moving speech to the Dáil about the handling of the Mother and Baby Homes report.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin’s speech yesterday left a sour taste in the mouth. A taste of structured, precisely composed wording.
It tasted of time.
Time to decide what to say, the exact phrasing to use, the correct legal wording.
Reading from pre-prepared notes neatly stacked, the Taoiseach gave – "long-waited" seems like a gross understatement– an apology to the women and children of these homes. He had time to prepare these notes as Government has had the report since October 2020.
This time was not granted to those whose lived experiences sits among the pages of the report. Survivors received a download link to the report on Tuesday, January 12, following a short Government webinar. It was not time granted to other TDs, who were given the 300-page report less than 24 hours in advance of these statements. Indeed, The Sunday Independent was granted more time than those discussed in the report to read and digest it before it was made public.
One line in his pre-rehearsed speech jumped out:
“The most striking thing [in the report] is the shame felt by women who became pregnant outside of marriage.”
“Shame felt by women” assigns no blame for the source of the shame. Women didn’t shame themselves. They were shamed, they experienced shame, the shame was inflicted upon them. But to say that would require further clarification to complete the sentence: by whom?
Language matters, something Galway TD Catherine Connolly pointed out in her response to the Taoiseach's statement. She closed out her powerful speech by saying, “I hope, I hope this is the start of a truly meaningful debate and action, where language means something.”
However, while she hopes for a well-planned and sufficient redress scheme and other supports for survivors, she does not expect it. “Forgive me for my lack of trust,” she notes, listing off the multiple previous reports into the influence of the church and state when it came to unwed women and children of Ireland. It has been 21 years of these reports and her expectations are low.
“My trust is stretched, but that’s just me as a TD. Where does that leave the survivors?”
More than 500 survivors came forward and put their trust in the commission in the hopes it would be taken with care and consideration. And yet, the report concludes that there was no evidence of compulsion by the church or state, no evidence of forced adoptions. No plans have been laid out for a redress scheme, the survivors don’t even have the physical report in their hands.
“I look at this report and I… I… I struggle for the words. But I owe it to the survivors to find the words to articulate this. You are placing abuse on abuse in the manner that this whole subject has been dealt with.”
Connolly goes on to say that what jumped off the pages to her was not the “shame felt by women”, but the “the role of the church, the role of the priest, the role of the county council”. She mentioned the parts also played by solicitors and GPs, by abusive family members.
“Either we believe the women, or we don’t,” she said.
“We are not all responsible,” she went on, referring to criticism of Taoiseach Micheál Martin that he had tried to spread responsibility. “Society did this... a society composed of the powerful against the powerless.”
You can watch Catherine Connolly's full speech below.
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