Another dark saga from the past: Reminder of why we had to change

Another dark saga from the past: Reminder of why we had to change
Majella Moynihan, 1988.

We cannot, it seems, escape our sordid, ultra-judgemental past. Even in a country that today routinely endorses liberalising amendments to our Constitution it intrudes, it puts its hand up to remind us of what a dark country this was and, almost perversely, how very far we have come.

Majella Moynihan’s story of how she was, as a young member of An Garda Síochána, threatened with dismissal in 1984 because she had a baby with a colleague while single is another example of how this society was so gripped by Catholicism’s strictures.

She was 22 when she was charged with having pre-marital sex with a colleague — would the charge have been different had he been a plumber? Or another woman? She was charged with giving “birth to a child outside wedlock”, a child that was then adopted after pressure from Garda officers.

Her case was, incredibly, the subject of correspondence between Commissioner Larry Wren and the Archbishop of Dublin Kevin McNamara who was concerned that if she were treated severely it might encourage others to consider abortion.

Anyone who imagines the “aggressive line of questioning by officers, scrutinising the young woman’s sexual history, and her use of contraceptives” was exceptional should remember that as she was being grilled the Kerry Babies’ scandal, in which some gardaí imagined themselves guardians of public morality, was unfolding.

Sadly, her difficulties were part of a pattern. Two years earlier, Wexford teacher, the late Eileen Flynn, was dismissed because she was unmarried and had a baby son and was living with the baby’s father, a separated man.

That, in 1985, the High Court ruled this did not constitute unfair dismissal describes a society unimaginable — and thankfully unacceptable — today.

Those events are historical but one element of the saga links it to today. Ms Moynihan has been told her personal Garda files are missing. Up to 300 pages were released to her with “around 50%” of the material redacted so her understanding of her ordeal remains incomplete. This continues what can only be described as a sinister theme as evidence entrusted to garda care has all too frequently gone missing.

The McCabe, the du Plantier, the Margiotta cases and evidence sought by the Smithwick tribunal on Garda collusion with an RUC man’s murder — Garda HQ phones too — all fall into this category. It might be naive to imagine that there are not other examples. This facet of the case will particularly concern Commissioner Drew Harris who, along with Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan, has apologised for the treatment meted out to Ms Moynihan all those years ago.

It might be tempting to dismiss this sorry episode as just another relic from the past but that would be wrong. It would also be a grave disservice to Ms Moynihan who, like so many other whistleblowers, bravely confronted the demons lurking in our past.

Her story has a particular relevance to next month’s meeting between Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and church leaders where the relationship between church and state, especially in the area of education, will be discussed. That opportunity must be used to underline the reality that this is a republic no longer framed by religions’ aspirations.

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