Irish Examiner View: An opportunity to lead real change

Irish Examiner View: An opportunity to lead real change

Boris Johnson and his Brexit-enthusiastic colleagues may spend the rest of this year discovering how very hard it is to rebuild a working relationship with jilted allies.

That challenge could well overwhelm Johnson’s envoys, once they realise they no longer enjoy the powers of old and that the Queen cannot order a bristling gunboat to a nearby harbour to intimidate defiantly Bolshie natives.

Britain’s changing, but still important, relationship with the EU mirrors, in many ways, this society’s new, still ever evolving relationship with the reduced institutions and organisations of Irish Catholicism.

The crozier is now as impotent as the gunboat. Where power was once concentrated, jealously guarded, and absolute, today there is a very different dynamic for those whose faith has weathered decades of scandal and darkest hypocrisy.

Catholicism’s relationship with the rest of society (those who no longer subscribe to the faith of their fathers) has changed utterly and unalterably.

Those changes are epitomised by today’s announcement that the Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary are “gifting” to the State, through the HSE, Cork’s Bessborough campus buildings, which are used by family support services.

The nuns, who are based in London, have not been directly involved in Bessborough for nearly a decade.

When, late last year, the order announced that it would end its relationship with the centre and would sell off 40 acres attached to it, the proposal was met with hostility, especially around the threat to services.

Yesterday’s announcement seems to lay to rest fears around services, though experience suggests it may be prudent to reserve judgement.

It, however, may not be prudent to adopt a passive attitude towards the proposed sale of lands.

Irish Examiner View: An opportunity to lead real change

Any discussion about these lands must be coloured by the findings of the Mother and Baby Homes Commission that some 900 children died in Bessborough, or in hospital after being transferred from the home.

That commission could only establish the burial place of some 64 children, who died between 1922 and 1928.

This means the burial place of an estimated 840 children who died at Bessborough is unknown.

It may be convenient, and a vain attempt at face-saving, too, to blame dead nuns for this outrage, but they were proxies of a society indifferent to the fate of those children and their mothers.

It was a dark episode, so any opportunity to let a redemptive light shine should be grasped.

Those 40 acres seem tailor-made for a Cork City Council compulsory purchase order, so that affordable and social housing might be built to ease the city’s housing crisis.

The usual voices will, undoubtedly, voice the usual concerns, but so many issues come together at Bessborough that it is difficult — and probably wrong — to dismiss the idea.

The outcome of today’s election is expected to be a demand for huge change.

Using a CPO to secure this opportunity would show an openness and determination to confront one of the issues bedevilling this society.

It could symbolise the put-people-first change all of society longs for.

More on this topic

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Government will do 'anything reasonable within its power' to secure Bessborough services and jobsGovernment will do 'anything reasonable within its power' to secure Bessborough services and jobs

Staff call on state to intervene as Bessborough family services face closureStaff call on state to intervene as Bessborough family services face closure

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