Art Of Protest
I have no problem admitting my lack of expertise regarding art. I just don’t get it. I can gaze at a masterpiece for ages without the foggiest idea of the message being conveyed. During a trip to the Louvre in 2010 I stood with the throngs in front of the Mona Lisa and wondered what all the fuss is about. My initial reaction to the Venus de Milo was what nasty habits must she have had that necessitated the removal of her arms. The Raft of Medusa fascinated me for two reasons; the sheer enormity of it and that it was parodied in 1985 on the cover of Rum, Sodomy and the Lash, the second album by The Pogues which I’ll always hold dear as it was the first time I’d ever heard an expletive in a song. But I know when I look at something whether I like it or not.
Taking all of the above into account, I decided to attend the ‘Art of Protest’ exhibition in Kenny’s Gallery, Galway after seeing it advertised recently in the Tuam Herald. It runs until August 25th. All of the regulars were represented; Che Guevara, Bobby Sands, the Palestinian Intifada, Bloody Sunday and Repeal the 8th to name but a few. One item on display will haunt me forever. Olga Magliocco’s Tuam Babies, A Memorial is a 22ft x 6ft cotton sheet with the names and ages of the 796 children who perished at the Tuam Mother and Babies home between 1925 and 1960. The youngest victim lived for 10 minutes. The oldest survived for nine years.
The event was officially launched by local historian Catherine Corless. During her address this unassuming, indomitable and inspirational woman spoke of her frustration at the indifference shown to her and the victims by some in positions of influence and their absolute unwillingness to support the campaign. This frustration and despair was reinforced further when Mrs Corless spoke after the meeting in Tuam last Monday (23/7) at which Minister for Children, Katherine Zappone, was present: “….I do believe her (Mrs Zappone) heart is in the right place and if she can get the backing of the cabinet, that they will go ahead with the exhumation.” That Mrs Corless felt compelled to use the term ‘if’ speaks volumes.
Let us remind ourselves of what Mrs Corless’ campaign is seeking: Long overdue recognition and justice for 796 children who died of neglect while in the ostensible ‘care’ of the Bon Secours Sisters at Tuam Mother and Baby home, a veritable concentration camp. 796 children who were subsequently deemed subhuman and unworthy of a Christian burial whose remains were dumped in a sewer.
In a little over 3 weeks, the current CEO of the profit-obsessed company responsible for this holocaust, Jorge Bergoglio (aka Pope Francis) will arrive in Ireland to a trumpet fanfare. His stay will be just shy of 36 hours. He won’t be here long enough to warrant packing his toothbrush yet this glorified refueling stopover will cost the Irish taxpayer an estimated €20m.
Surely, this money could be put to better use? The hospital trolley crisis immediately springs to mind.
Arrangements are already underway to stage a peaceful protest during the visit. The “Say Nope to the Pope” campaign has been described by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar as “wrong, petty and mean-spirited….” and “…not a legitimate protest.” Leo’s lapdog, Micheal Martin went a step further by referring to those intending to exercise their democratic right as “…petty, intolerant and certainly the opposite of progressive.”
What adjectives, I wonder, would Leo and Micheal use to describe an organization that tolerates its’ employees raping and torturing children, protects the assailants, demonizes the victims, orchestrates cover-ups and obstructs subsequent criminal investigations? “Mean-spirited” doesn’t quite cover it.
Professor of Irish Studies at Concordia University and regular Irish Times contributor Dr Emer O’Toole crunched some very depressing numbers in an article for The Guardian recently. With the Irish taxpayer picking up the exorbitant tab (the Ryan report alone cost €82m), the Ferns (2005), Ryan (2009), Murphy (2009), Cloyne (2011) and Raphoe (2011) reports all revealed a plethora of cover-ups of sexual and physical abuse in state-funded, church-run institutions. Each report confirmed protecting church assets by far superseded child welfare. For example, Cloyne found that Bishop John Magee was ordered by Rome to deliberately mislead the authorities investigating his handling of sexual abuse allegations. He didn’t need much persuading.
Established in 2002, the redress scheme for victims of clerical abuse was set at €1.5b. The state had hoped to split the costs of the scheme with the church 50/50 but as of April 2017 the church had only contributed €96m, roughly 6% of the redress, prompting Minister for Education, Richard Bruton to comment; “…it is disappointing the organizations responsible for protecting children, which managed the institutions in which these horrendous acts took place, would apparently place so little value on their responsibility." (Irish Independent 4/4/17) Since then, according to Dr O’Toole, the church has only stumped up a further €100m to compensate those it tortured for decades.
I hope anyone considering waving a yellow flag in Knock on Sunday August 26th will chew on this before loading up the car.
I’m sure there are those amongst us more than willing to go to bat for the church. I hope they do. I welcome debate. And I’d be very interested to hear a positive spin put on genocide, child rape, torture, slavery and human trafficking.
➽Paul Kelly is a Tuam based writer.