VICTORIA WHITE: Let’s learn the lesson by restoring full payments to lone parents

Was it by chance or by design that the apologies to Joanne Hayes came just as the campaign to repeal the Eighth Amendment began in earnest,? asks Victoria White.

Chance, probably.

We don’t know why the gardaí developed a new interest in the unsolved case of the murder of the Caherciveen baby but we can hardly suspect political interference.

However, the Taoiseach has emphasised the narrative of a shameful past versus a tolerant present in his apologies to Hayes, in my view to subtly further the cause of repeal.

Hayes was used and abused in many ways by the force charged with keeping us safe, but she has also been used and abused as a symbol of resistance by commentators, activists and politicians, when the truth is, she is not a symbol, she is a person. All attempts to make her symbolic abuse her.

There was such intelligence and humanity in the closing paragraph of Nell McCafferty’s brilliant article on the Hayes case in the Sunday Business Post at the weekend, which cautions that Hayes “may again be the anvil on which the public debate about legalising abortion will be hammered out” and adds, ‘May Jesus break her second fall, that of her family and daughter, and those children also born within marriage to the lately widowed Jeremiah Locke’.

Joanne Hayes has nothing to do with the repealing the Eighth. The insertion of that clause was not the simple expression of the patriarchy’s desire to contain women. The apologies, and hopefully compensation for Joanne Hayes, do not signify the defeat of that patriarchy.

There has never been any indication that if a liberal abortion regime had existed in Ireland at the time of Joanne Hayes’s ill-fated third pregnancy, she would have chosen to terminate the pregnancy.

By contrast, she seemed to welcome the pregnancy in the context of what she believed was a relationship with a future. She only seems to have lost that hope when she was already four months “gone” on learning that Locke’s wife Mary was also pregnant, which gave the lie to her belief that he would leave his marriage and be a father to his two children by Hayes.

Joanne Hayes is not a transgressive figure who symbolises the end of Catholic Ireland.

We don’t know what Hayes’s relationship with religion is, except that she had a miraculous medal in her fingers during much of her appalling five days of questioning in the inquisition which was the Kerry Babies Tribunal.

Let’s learn the lesson by restoring full payments to lone parents

I reject, in any case, the theory evinced by writers such as Diarmuid Ferriter and Tom Inglis, that Ireland constructed its independent identity around a concept of sexual purity which Joanne Hayes transgressed. The mistreatment of lone parents has always been about money.

This has been the same virtually everywhere in the developed world but Ireland was poorer for longer and sought harder to contain the numbers of infants who had no providers to look after them.

We took this so seriously that in the early to mid-20th Century, we severely limited the babies we had, with only a quarter of 40-somethings having married.

I bring this back to the Famine and the legacy of extreme poverty which affected even those who were never poor.

A version of Catholic morals became the excuse for the sexual starvation described in a poem like Kavanagh’s The Great Hunger.

The version of morality was not exclusively Catholic, however. Protestants policed their pregnancies with at least equal vigour and had the same reluctance to marry in Ireland.

It was not the collapse of the Catholic Church in Ireland which began to erode the horrible stigma single mothers endured.

It was money. The profound understanding led by Labour’s Frank Cluskey that it was the State’s duty to provide for children who had no fathers to provide for them. Between 1970 and 1974, new allowances were paid to deserted wives, unmarried mothers, and prisoners’ wives.

With the money, the stigma began to disappear and in 1987, the status of “illegitimacy” was abolished.

Let’s learn the lesson by restoring full payments to lone parents

As late as 2002, the Department of Social Welfare’s report into the status of lone parents says it should “support and encourage lone parents to consider employment as an alternative to long term welfare dependency, while at the same time supporting them to remain in the home if that is their wish.”

It records the feeling of lone parents that “their primary role was that of parent.”

Then look what happened a mere 10 years later: the re-emergence of the culture of blame for lone parents under the cuts to the One Parent Family Payment introduced by that same Labour Party under Joan Burton, and the resurrection of the idea that lone mothers could redeem themselves by engaging in paid work once their youngest child turned seven.

At that point, they would be contacted by a “case officer” and “activated”.

Note the use of the term “passive” by Kevin Humphreys as a Labour junior minister to discredit the operation of the One Parent Family Payment. Humphreys will disagree with my reading of the term, but to me the word “passive” conjures up fear of the sensuous indolence of the fertile female body.

Our single mothers must be dug out of their homes, separated from their children and made to work.

This policy, ostensibly brought in to save our lone mothers from themselves, has made more than half of them poorer when their children’s poverty rate was already 230% higher than most children’s.

Few seem to care about this, the true legacy of the kind of attitudes which caused Joanne Hayes to give birth to her second child on her farm. These attitudes still pervade society and that would not change if the Catholic Church were abolished by law tomorrow.

They are rooted in a fear which goes deeper than most peoples’ adherence to any religious convictions: the fear that they will have less if babies are born with no fathers to look after them.

Restoring to lone parents their full payments would cost a fortune; the measures have saved the State €45m so far.

This would dwarf the millions which it is projected the State may pay Joanne Hayes for the willful taking of her reputation in an attempt to shore up an incompetent police force.

But it would say, finally, that the lesson has been learned: that no pregnancy need ever again be concealed, and that if we repeal the Eighth, no healthy baby need ever be aborted by a healthy woman because she is poor.

(It would say) no pregnancy need ever again be concealed, and that if we repeal the Eighth, no healthy baby need ever be aborted by a healthy woman because she is poor


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