'They have died and did not receive a penny' - Ireland continues to fail Magdalene Laundry survivors
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'They have died and did not receive a penny' - Ireland continues to fail Magdalene Laundry survivors

IT was quite fitting this week that the current Taoiseach was facing up to having to disband his €5million communications unit.

The unit has been seen as a PR spin department for the government since it was launched and it was found recently to be paying for its sponsored newspaper content to be printed to look like news reports.

Genuine fake news, if you like.

Of course we can all see that Leo Varadkar is a Taoiseach focused very much on style over substance.

He likes to wear silly socks to show us how human he is and, emulating someone no one should ever seek to emulate, likes to let us all know what he’s up to via Twitter.

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The furore over taxpayers money being spent on a department that clearly focuses on promoting just the government, that is to say just Fine Gael, was brought in to clear focus though by a far more serious matter.

This matter too made clear how much we are victims of a superficial political culture. It made clear how much the wider culture of celebrity worship and vacuous reality TV stars now infects something as vital as our government, our Dail and our politics.

It is as if Vogue Williams was to be employed to advise us all on Irish political philosophy.

The serious matter that brought all of this in to stark focus was the revelation that seven Magdalene Laundry survivors have died since they were publicly granted redress payments.

They have died and they did not receive a penny of that redress before they did so.

The Justice for Magdalenes group said it was “devastated”.

Behind them there are another seventeen survivors who have also yet to receive any payment at all. It has also been revealed that seventy five Magdalene women had to face further interviews as the government claimed it could find no record of them having been admitted to the laundries.

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Sixteen women survivors have received less than they claimed for.

On the interviews the Justice for Magdalene group said “it is completely unacceptable to subject vulnerable women to interviews such as these without first supplying them with full details and ensuring they have access to legal advice”.

The state Ombudsman stated that the government’s treatment of these women meant that they had been “effectively forgotten’”and that it was “inexcusable”.

The Ombudsman went on to say that in his ten years in the job he had never come across “such an intransigent attitude” from a government department.

He said the government department, in this case the Department of Justice, had “absolutely and categorically refused to engage” with any of his recommendations.

Why this brought into focus the seriousness of government and political superficiality is because of a memorable day in the Dail in 2013.

On that day the then Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, stood up and in front of the survivors visiting our national parliament and apologised on behalf of the nation.

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He spoke of the abuse they had endured and the terrible burden they had had to carry.

Then he said: “But from this moment on you need carry it no more. Because today we take it back. Today we acknowledge the role of the State in your ordeal.”

He said, when we put away these women “we put away our conscience”.

He apologised unreservedly.

It was deeply moving stuff, especially for those survivors in the Dail listening to him.

How utterly saddening it is then to see that those words might be hollow after all.

That Enda’s performance might just turn out to have been a piece of political theatre.

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In an age of spin and Facebook likes and political leadership counted in terms of how many retweets are achieved, can we believe there is any concern with the truth at all.

If Ireland can publicly make such a performance of making amends to those women, for instance, and yet in private let them die without redress, what does that say about us?

Leo Varadkar looks as if he might have to abolish his ‘spin’ unit and has seemed in the Dail annoyed that he might have to do so.

For Leo political relevance and modernity is all about twitter and all about sleek communication.

In that way he might just be reflecting contemporary culture.

Politics is more important than that though, and the last time we had a Taoiseach solely focused on how he appeared to the public we had Bertie Ahern’s ordinary man schtick.

And we all know how that turned out.

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