9 April 2024


The Magdalene Laundries ... the treatment of Fallen Women ... what a cruel and depraved island Ireland was! Poor old De Valera ... Poor od Archbishop McQuaid ... what a corrupt, hate-filled society they ran!! Apologies ... Compensation ... but what good is all that? It is not much better than words.

The Times recently published a review of a new book. The Reviewer asked: "How surprised would you be to discover that a comparable system operated in Britain during the 20th century?A system that has not been acknowledged or apologised for, let alone compensated for?"

The book is The Undesirables The Law that locked away a a Generation, by Sarah Wise. It does for Britain what so many 'revelatory' books have done for Ireland. The British law concerned was not repealed until 1959.

Alice O'Keeffe, the Times Reviewer, enables us, in more ways than the merely statistical and legal, to understand the social arrangements in Britain and Ireland in their contexts. The origins of the British 1913 Mental Deficiecy Act Act "lay in the Eugenics movement of the ealy 20th century. Alarmed by the poverty in the slums of Britain's big cities, this group of keen social Darwinists decided that the best solution would be to prevent the poor from breeding ... As the eugenicist George Mudge put it: 'The stunted individuals are not the product of the one-room tenement, but the one-roomed tenement is an expression of [their] inherent incapacity'.

"The Eugenics Education Society was founded in 1907 and found a sympathetic ear in Winston Churchill, who once wrote that 'the improvement of the British breed is my aim in life'. Influenced by an American book called The Sterilisation of Degenerates, Churchill, when he was home secretatary in the Asquith government, advocated a simple surgical operation ... The working-class Labour MP Will Crooks observed that such people 'are almost like human vermin. They crawl about ... polluting and corrupting everything they touch.' ...

"As Leon Whitney of the American Eugenics Society observed: 'Many far-sighted men and women in both England and America have been working earnestly towards something very like wht Hitler has now made compulsory' ..." 

What thoroughly wicked old men De Valera and Churchill were to have lived in a culture different from ours!

And how about all those Metropolitan Archbishops, McQuaid in Dublin and, in England, Fisher and his successors? I spent nearly half a century in the ministry of the Church of England, and I know all about the phrase "Giving a man another chance". And my own ministry was overshadowed by a bishop called Peter Ball; because he was an alumnus of the College I worked in, he used to hang around it inviting the (male) students to "Give a year to Jesus". Another of his phrases was "Be strong for Jesus." This meant "Let me whip you." 

It was ... literally ... decades before he was finally convicted and locked up. "Cover ups", indeed!


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