The Mother and Baby Home Commission of Investigation may be seeking evidence for the allegation that unmarried motherhood was considered akin to a criminal act.
If so, they need look no further than 1984 and the case of Garda Majella Moynihan. She was charged under garda regulations with having premarital sex with another garda and “give[ing] birth to a child outside wedlock”. The charge and its relentless, cruel, imposition had devastating personal consequences, as RTÉ radio’s Documentary on One so chillingly detailed.
Ms Moynihan was saved from dismissal only because the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Dublin told Garda Commissioner Larry Wren that sacking her would encourage abortions in England, after termination became unconstitutional in Ireland in 1983. Nevertheless, Majella Moynihan was successfully pressurised from all sides to give up her wanted son for adoption. Her child was, in effect, stolen.
In the Bethany mother and baby home in Rathgar, unmarried mothers and women who were sent there by the courts for crimes ranging from theft to infanticide were classed as “inmates”. All were there to be punished.
The Government has argued, falsely, that mother and baby homes were purely private institutions. Evidence demonstrates that the state played a significant role in promoting their existence, harsh practices, neglect and exceptionally high infant mortality.
Originally, banishing women into mother and baby homes prevented embarrassment to male leaders of church and state. Women were otherwise giving birth in England and were tagged “PFI”, pregnant from Ireland. Eventually, the institutions passed their sell-by-date, in 1967 when abortion became available in Britain.
Punitive official attitudes lingered in An Garda Siochána, that persecuted a dedicated new recruit for the ‘crime’ of having sex and giving birth outside wedlock.
The current Garda commissioner has been asked to apologise in person to Majella Moynihan. The Taoiseach should simultaneously apologise to all persecuted unmarried pregnant women, whose children were stolen from them.
Dr Niall Meehan
Faculty Head, Journalism & Media
This reader's opinion was originally published in the letters page of the Irish Examiner print edition on June 20, 2019.