Magdalene Laundries: The Waning of a Culture of Control

4 02 2013


This intriguing post, by the always wonderful Sibling of Daedalus prompted a quick response ahead of the release of Martin McAleese‘s report on state involvement the Magdalene Laundries. Mr. McAleese announced yesterday that he intends to step down from the Seanad, leading to understandable speculation as to the contents of the report, which is due to be unveiled tomorrow.

What is beyond question is that, both before and after independence, a combination of church (both Catholic and Protestant) and state power operated to confine and control “problem” populations: women who fell pregnant out of wedlock, illegitimate children, the poor and the mentally ill.

The human cost of this regime is hard to imagine, with many women spending years essentially working as slaves, with customers of the laundries including the Department for Defence, Áras an Uachtarán (the Preident’s residence), other emanations of the State, and pillars of the establishment. There is  something distinctly unnerving about this description, from 1939, of the Laundries as “spiritual lifeboats”.

The exhumation of a mass grave at a Dublin institution in 1993, containing the remains of 155 women, many of whose deaths went unregistered, brought the issue to public attention as never before. The last Magdalene Laundry closing its doors in 1996, but the stories of the women who lived and suffered in these institutions are still only beginning to be told.

Leading criminologist Ian O’Donnell and sociologist Eoin O’Sullivan have worked to bring this system into focus and understand its context. While it’s often taken as a truism in criminological circles that the latter half of the 20th century saw a dramatic rise in punitiveness and a nascent culture of control, O’Donnell and O’Sullivan show that, for Ireland, the opposite is true.

While there was undoubtedly an expansion of the formal criminal justice system, with its associated politico-juridicial discourses, checks and balances, a separate and regime, based on religious discourse, for the disciplining other forms of perceived “deviance” was on the wane. It’s a shocking fact that in 1951, a full 1% of the Irish population was in some kind of coercive confinement, more than the rate of imprisonment in the US at the peak of mass incarceration.

O’Donnell and O’Sullivan’s meticulous efforts cast light on the harsh and often conveniently neglected world of prisioners, prisoners and penitents, and its place in the technologies of social control prevalent in 20th century Ireland, and the extent of both elite and public knowledge, acquiescence and acceptance of these practices (review here, via Differential Association).

While there’s some comfort to be had in the fact that Ireland is beginning to come to terms with this inglorious history, many of the victims of this regime are still suffering, not least because their slave labour wasn’t sufficient to earn them a state pension.  I can only hope that the release of Mr. McAleese’s report will be the next step towards justice for the Magdalene victims, and towards Ireland’s finally coming to terms with the authoritarian cruelty in our past.


Hasbara: Beyond the State of Denial – Condemning the Condemners

30 01 2013

Just a very brief post in response to some of allegations that have been going around of widespread anti-Semitism in Ireland, primarily from Sarah Honig in the Jerusalem Post, with (mais, bien sûr) Ruth Dudley Edwards throwing in her 2c in the Telegraph. Long story short, Trócaire, Kerry teachers and schoolchildren are accused of expressing anti-Semitic views, based on tenuous, quite possibly non-existent evidence. The school in question has issued a full rebuttal on their site.

There’s been an increasing aggressiveness to Israeli PR in the hasbara era, probably a product of the fact that, if you outsource your propaganda campaign to the world at large, who knows what kind of nutjobs will jump on board. Although, let’s be fair, the Israeli Embassy in Dublin aren’t exactly shy with their hasbara, either.

But this incident, in particular, has gotten right under my skin. I honestly believe that the school, the teacher, and the parents of the children pictured should sue the Jerusalem Post and Ruth Dudley Edwards for defamation.

It seems that Israel regards Ireland as such fallow territory that we’re all to be dismissed as a bunch of Jew haters,  (the most anti-Semitic country in Europe according to Ynet) and left at that. The odd thing is that I can never recall having witnessed an anti-Semitic incident in Ireland, either in person or online.

Further, I don’t recall any Irish newspaper welcoming the Israeli ambassador “with an article titled, ‘Welcome to hell.'” as Ynet claimed. Curious that they didn’t link to it or name the paper … it’s almost as if they’re just making it up.

Again and again over  the past few months, this line of argument has been put forward, with ever increasing vehemence. Which, of course, has nothing at all to do with Ireland’s recent appointment the UN Human Rights Council.

On a broader basis, when looking at hasbara, I can’t help but be reminded of the late, lamented Stanley Cohen, a former participant in the Zionist project, who became disillusioned when the reality proved more sordid than his noble aspirations. A great mind, possessed of a rare empathy and humanity, ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis (may he rest in peace).

Of particular note, I think, is Cohen’s application, in States of Denial (pdf summary), of Sykes and Matza’s “techniques of neutralisation” to the case of state crimes. States of Denial was written in 1992, and Sykes and Matza were talking about “delinquent” youth, but I think the categorisations have hasbara in 2013 down to a tee – particularly, in this instance, the fourth category:

  • Denial of injury – they exaggerate, they don’t feel it, they are used to violence, see what they do to each other.
  • Denial of victim – they started it, look at what they’ve done to us; they are the terrorists, we are just defending ourselves, we are the real victims.
  • Denial of responsibility – here, instead of the criminal versions of psychological incapacity or diminished responsibility (I didn’t know what I was doing. I blacked out, etc.) we find a denial of individual moral responsibility on the grounds of obedience: I was following orders, only doing my duty, just a cog in the machine. (For individual offenders like the ordinary soldier, this is the most pervasive and powerful of all denial systems).
  • Condemnation of the condemners – here, the politics are obviously more explicit than in the original delinquency context. Instead of condemning the police for being corrupt and biased or teachers for being hypocrites, we have the vast discourse of official denial used by the modern state to protect its public image: the whole world is picking on us; they are using double standards to judge us; it’s worse elsewhere (Syria, Iraq, Guatemala or wherever is convenient to name); they are condemning us only because of their anti-semitism (the Israeli version); their hostility to Islam (the Arab version), their racism and cultural imperialism in imposing Western values (all Third World tyrannies).
  • Appeal to higher loyalty – the original  subdued ‘ideology’ is now total and  self-righteous justification. The appeal to the army, the nation, the  volk, the sacred mission, the higher cause – whether the revolution, ‘history’, the purity of Islam, Zionism, the defence of the free world or state security. […]

Somewhat pressed for time, and really just posting to vent, so I’ll wrap up there. There’s a more comprehensive rebuttal on the facts here. More to follow.

Adventures of Tim Worstall and the Backward Paddies

9 01 2013

Tim Worstall of the Adam Smith Institute, Forbes, Telegraph et al, recently posted a piece on the NNI links licensing debacle here in Ireland, under the charming headline “It Would Have To Be The Irish NewsPapers Trying Something Insanely Stupid Like Charging For Links To Websites“.

There’s a clue to the content in the headline, suffice it to say that it involved a rehashing of tired old ethnic stereotypes and, yes, Paddy jokes.

Needless to say, some of us thought that this was somewhat offensive. Tim thought otherwise, and responded in the comments. A further piece was published on bemoaning the “old Irish chip” towards our neighbours, or words to that effect, with Tim again weighing in on the comments, seemingly blind to how his little piece of knockabout fun on Forbes could possibly offend anyone. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to get any joy out of that particular site this evening, so I’m posting my response here:

Tim, it’s quite simple. You gratuitously introduced a spurious ethnic/national/racial element to a story where none belonged. It’s a story about old media failing to adapt to the online era. Nothing more.

Wouldn’t your word count have been better spent getting into the meat of the issue? You know, email Simon McGarr or others who have been served with NNI’s ridiculous licensing notices for comment, a few post around here if you’re interested? Contact the grand old lady formerly of D’Olier Street or NNI for the other side? Look at the legal framework, which clearly doesn’t support the claimed right?

You know, journalism.

Maybe even have a look at the comparative legal position – funnily enough, the Court of Appeal of England and Wales have explicitly recognised copyright vesting in web links, in the case of Newspaper Licensing Agency & Ors. v. Meltwater Holding BV & Ors, a 2011 decision, which was the main authority relied upon by NNI for their utterly ludicrous position …. at least, it’s ludicrous in Irish law … a quick google search would have found it for you.

Instead, your article amounted to “I know it’s not PC to guffaw at backward Paddies, but … har har har, backward Paddies”.

Comedy gold.

I did err in the football hooligans analogy, I’ll admit that much, it would be more like referring to the Sinclair C5 by saying “well that was a flop, typical Brit … that’s what caning and rounders at boarding school, followed by years of sexual repression will do”. Simply gratuitous, incongruous, irrelevant and frankly embarrassing.

To be fair to you, as we backward Paddies are prone to say, it could well be a generational thing – for my peers and I, people are people first and foremost, reducing an individual, or an institution for that matter, to its national origin as primary defining characteristic is simply not acceptable. You see, even behind closed doors, “typical Irish/black/Brit/Yank (etc. ad nauseum)” simply does not wash any more, not as humour, not as anything. But I have met men of the colonial generation who are simply incapable of adapting to this reality, which is probably why they run in increasingly small and frightened numbers around the clubs outside Nairobi. Maybe you just can’t see.

In summary, either lazy journalism or an expression of more deep rooted xenophobia. In either case, unacceptable. Hopefully in future you’ll stick to wibbling on about the actual issues rather than touting to be picked up by the Bernard Manning school of comedy.

I hope to revive this blog in the not too distant – I note that Tim also has some enlightened views on the recent lead and crime controversy, which may be a good place to start.

16 09 2010

Tabloid Fury … Facts Strictly Optional

23 08 2010

So the Daily Star publishes spurious stories without “any attempt to check [their] accuracy“. Can’t quite explain why I’m surprised by this, there must be residual youthful idealism still knocking about my system. Via tabloidwatch.

The Batman School of Crimefighting

21 08 2010
The Super Wizard Stardust

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