The grim revelations that have been forcing themselves slowly to the surface of public consciousness for decades once again show our politicians only act with speed when it is in their interest to do so.
Even calling the Tuam establishment a “home” feels wrong, as Independent TD Catherine Murphy demanded the grave be labelled a crime scene.
“We are hearing references to ‘burials’, when, in fact we are talking about bodies being disposed of in a septic tank. Clearly, these were not respectful burials — they were disposals, as though these children were subhuman. It is stomach-churning. If this septic tank was discovered anywhere else in the country other than beside a religious institution, it would already have been declared a crime scene. It begs the question of why, in fact, it has not been declared as such, which it should and must be,” Ms Murphy told the Dáil.
And in response we got the usual platitudes of pity and pious shock from the Government front bench, but precious little else.
In his first test as Children’s Minister Charlie Flanagan flailed around badly, getting off to a poor start with group think, jargon-speak about looking at creating an “inter-departmental process” to deal with the situation which should see a response within a month, so the Government can decide what to do next. Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald has also been extraordinarily slow in intervening.
Contrast that with the Government’s frenetic scrambling to try and get control back over the Oireachtas inquiry into the banking collapse after its own incompetence saw it lose, at least temporarily, its self-imposed majority on the probe.
Shambolic scenes at a Seanad committee left Coalition no-shows ensuring Fianna Fáil could push their own Marc MacSharry through as one of the two members from the upper house on the nine-person inquiry along with Independent Trinity economist Sean Barrett.
Within hours Fine Gael’s leader of the Seanad, Maurice Cummins, was throwing vague accusations around the upper house, insisting MacSharry had “a conflict of interest”, before being forced to withdraw them.
The clear indication is the Government is determined to get its majority back on the probe — and will use its numbers in the Seanad to do so if needed — despite all the talk about how the inquiry will be stridently non-partisan and only interested in seeking the truth.
Leaving aside the fact an Oireachtas investigation was the wrong forum to investigate the financial crash as it cannot apportion blame — a short, sharp judge-led inquiry would have been better — the shabby little row in the Seanad badly damages Coalition claims that the whole enterprise is not just an excuse to kick Fianna Fáil around the place in the run-up to the slated 2016 general election.
And what happens in 2016, or indeed, whether the Coalition can stumble along to the end of its full term at all, is the only reason ministers have finally acted over the shameful mass withdrawal of medical cards from children with terminal illnesses, Down’s Syndrome, and so many other conditions that should elicit sympathy and help from the State, not money-grabbing calculations and official contempt.
As some 30.000 discretionary cards were withdrawn family by family, the Government did nothing as Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Health Minister James Reilly insisted they had no idea what these people were moaning about.
Labour health minister and now leadership contender Alex White also looked the other way, insisting again and again that there was no such thing as a “discretionary” card at all.
It took a shock trip out of the Leinster House bubble as they begged for votes on the doorstep last month to inflict a wake-up reality call on the Coalition. Then followed a sudden reversal of policy, and hand-wringing for all the anguish they had caused.
But ministers could not even get this right and initially refused to return the snatched cards before being forced into yet another clumsy climb-down.
The politicians acted on medical cards because they feared losing votes: they acted on the banking inquiry because they feared losing votes: but no one acted on the shocking infant mortality rates at the mother and babies “homes” because there were no votes in it.
As early as 1934 the Dáil debated the fact babies were five times more likely to die in these institutions than elsewhere, but nothing was done.
But how times change, now we have the results of an “inter-departmental process” to look forward to at some point to sort it all out.
Funny how Mr Kenny acted with such speed to bring in the inquiry into Garda phone-tapping in March, but is now stone-walling on one into the appalling events in Tuam, and similar situations around the country.
As Sinn Féin’s Sandra McLellan told the Dáil:
“We simply do not know how many of these mass graves might exist. Church and State cannot be allowed to abdicate responsibility in this matter.”
From the other end of the political spectrum to Ms Murphy and Sinn Féin, former Fine Gael minister Lucinda Creighton also called for an immediate criminal investigation into what went on at Tuam as she criticised garda remarks that there had been no “impropriety” as premature.
“There is an abundance of evidence to suggest that there was impropriety and I think it is important there is also a Garda criminal investigation into activities there,” Ms Creighton said.
Far from having widespread implications, the Garda phone taping situation only seems to have impacted on the Ian Bailey case, and the urgency Mr Kenny moved with caused some to believe setting up the Fennelly probe was just an exercise in distraction intended to paper over deep Cabinet cracks and make one last attempt to save Alan Shatter.
Now, seemingly largely thanks to the interest of the foreign media into the grim goings on in Tuam, we have the usual solemn concern from the Taoiseach — but no action.
The 796 babies discarded in a septic tank deserve better.