Time For a Culture Change With Regard to Abuse

Last night, RTE’s Prime Time broadcast an investigative piece on the state of childcare in a number of crèches in the greater Dublin area. I can’t link to the programme because (rightly, in my opinion) RTE has chosen not to make the piece available on iPlayer.

 

We were exposed to children who were yelled at, sworn at, pulled around, held down on mattresses with blankets over their heads to “make them sleep”, left in high-chairs for up to two hours with nothing to do (i.e. after mealtimes and when there were no table-top activities happening), left sitting in soiled clothes because the care worker in her own words “didn’t care” and was punishing the child. Crying babies were left on their own away from adults and other children. There was a basic lack of care or concern for the individual children, as well as a basic lack of any understanding of child development.

 

I completely accept that there are excellent childcare facilities in Ireland. I completely accept, also – that even in the crèches exposed – the fact that these incidences took place does not mean that every child was so treated all of the time. Or that all the women working in these crèches are careless.

 

Those of us who saw the programme, and those who heard about it, were outraged, upset, distressed and angry. I, for one, was not surprised. This, after all, is the culture in Ireland. Time and again we have seen that there is a terrible abuse of power in institutions in Ireland: The Industrial “Schools”; The Magdalene Laundries; Old People’s Homes;  Psychiatric Institutions;  Maternity Hospitals; Schools. Wherever there are vulnerable people, there are people ‘in charge’ to abuse their power.

 

We might not like to face or admit it, but Irish culture seems to be a culture of bullying and abuse. Those in a position of power abuse it. Of course, I don’t mean that every person in a position of power abuses it, but I do mean that it is not a surprising situation any more.

 

We can express all the outrage we like, we can make all the speeches we like, we can write all the laws we like, we can commission all the reports we like – but unless and until there is a cultural shift, nothing will change.

 

 

Mythbuster#1: The Irish Don’t Love Children

There is  a rumour being promulgated that Irish people love children. It irks me because, like many myths, it simply isn’t true. So let me take this opportunity to set the record straight; as a nation, Irish people do not love children.

I think this myth springs from the fact that Irish people had so many children – due, primarily, to the lack of availability of reliable contraception. Until years after I was born (conveniently) the rhythm method was the only method legally available to generations of Irish mammies and daddies. Let’s face it, using ‘natural’ contraception is a bit like saying that playing Russian roulette with a machine gun is safe once you know what you’re doing.  So Irish mammies and daddies had loads of children that they never touched – except to hurt; and rarely spoke to – except to give them orders, give out to them and give them an idea that they were, generally, worthless.

Irish people don’t love children, they tolerate them. If Irish people truly loved children, then the abuses that were visited upon this nation’s babies by members of the Catholic Church would not have been tolerated and condoned the way they were.

If Irish people loved children, they would not have allowed the Catholic Church to have sold their ‘illegitimate’ babies – which they did until the 1970s.

If Irish people loved children, we would not have heard Michael Murphy on the Late Late Show telling Ryan Tubridy very matter-of-factly and with great dignity about the abuse he suffered as a child.

What made Michael’s story worse was his acceptance and understanding that there was nothing at all unusual in an Irish child being abused physically and sexually by an adult within the home or close by it. It happened. It still happens – and it will continue to happen until we learn to love our children.

Of course, most individual mothers and fathers love their individual children, but our national identity cannot include a love of children because it doesn’t exist. It will not exist until our government does more to uphold the rights of children instead of merely paying lip service to them. It will not exist until children who are being abused are removed from abusive situations and properly cared for – which doesn’t happen. That cannot happen while our social workers struggle under huge caseloads. It will not exist until every child receives a decent education, which cannot happen where there are more than 22 children in the class. It will not exist until we accept that, as a nation, we have been getting it very wrong for a very long time – and we learn how to do it better.

My friend Noelle Harrison, wrote in her new novel (The Adulteress) that to be loved is to be treasured. How many Irish children went to sleep last night feeling treasured? I’ll tell you – not enough. Not nearly enough.