Past and present crimes

magdaleneA strange paradox emerges in the posture struck by the political and media establishment in response to two major issues dominating the news over the past two weeks – the treatment of women in the Magdalen Laundries and the continuation of the saga of the former Anglo Irish Bank.

Since the foundation of the Irish State in 1922, ten thousand girls and women went through the doors of the Magdalen institutions. The McAleese report into their operation published two weeks ago reveals that the State was directly responsible for about one quarter of entrants, through referral from courts upon remand or conviction for usually petty offences, or by social services where children needed accommodation away from abusive or neglectful backgrounds. Many others finished up in these places because they ‘were poor and homeless’ or had ‘psychiatric illnesses and were referred from psychiatric hospitals.’

The industrial scale laundries attached to the institutions constituted, says the report, ‘a harsh and physically demanding environment.’ Desperately hard work in unhealthy conditions was rewarded with no pay. They were prisons without an official designation as such. Without being overdramatic, they could be seen as an Irish variant of the gulags of Russia.

The Ireland of the 1920s to the 1960s groaned under the weight of oppressive moral strictures and the suffocating power of the Catholic Church but we now know from the revelations of institutional abuse including that of the Magdalen women, that at the rotten heart of its establishment, there was no morality. Right wing politicians, religious and media all colluded in maintaining the obscurantist dark age that helped to secure their control over a poverty ridden State whose hard pressed citizens might otherwise have risen in revolt.

The leaders of today’s establishment profess themselves horrified over what transpired in the Ireland dominated by their predecessors. They make a good fist of being outraged about the past although they were badly let down by the babbling semi coherence with which Taoiseach Enda Kenny initially responded to calls for an official apology to the Magdalen women. His moral indignation diminished somewhat as the realisation dawned that acknowledging the culpability of the State might imply belated financial compensation in the present day.

Now here’s the paradox. In the same week that the political and media establishment empathised eloquently with the oppression of the innocents of the past, they did not hesitate to weigh down millions of innocents yet unborn with the crushing burden of the gambling debts of the rapacious speculators that were part of Anglo Irish Bank’s operations. Acknowledging the moral vacuum that allowed forced labour and child abuse flourish in Irish institutions in the past, they are blind to the immorality of their own institutionalisation of private greed and of imposing enormous suffering on large numbers of ordinary people in order to salvage a financial system based on the overreaching greed and profit lust of a tiny elite.

It really does beggar belief that it would be trumpeted as a victory that the Irish State officially took on as sovereign debt the €28 billion paid out to the private bondholders who gambled on Anglo’s property dealings during the bubble years in the expectation of reaping obscene profits. It could be expected that the hapless backbench deputies from the Fine Gael and Labour parties would repeat the claims of the government that some kind of major victory had been achieved by spinning out repayment of these debts over forty years rather than ten as originally arranged. Having obediently voted for all the austerity measures that strike cruelly at the lives and livelihoods of ordinary people they were desperate to cover abject capitulation with a claim of victory. But what excuse is there for virtually every segment of the capitalist press joining in this crude propaganda?

What we have here of course is the imperative of the establishment to preserve the financial markets system on which the capitalist economy is based and from which flows the power, privileges and profits of the big business backers of the right wing political parties which include wealthy proprietors of the news media also. Sometimes major newspapers appear schizophrenic in that they devote banner headlines to try to express the anger of their readers over this or that cut or tax rise but in their editorials unfailingly back the savage austerity that is causing havoc in society to pay for the bailout of the system they support.

The barrage of propaganda is not convincing the big majority of ordinary citizens. It merely adds to their cynicism and compounds their anger. Next month, when every household receives a letter demanding hundreds of Euros in the new property tax to pay for the banker/bondholder bailout, that anger is likely to become very visible in a major boycott of the process and mass resistance on many fronts.

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