Maeve O'Rourke
5 min readFeb 21, 2021

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A Letter to Patsy McGarry, Joe Humphries and Sarah Carey

21 February 2021

[From a woman who wishes to maintain her anonymity]

To Patsy McGarry, Joe Humphreys (both Irish Times), Sarah Carey (Irish Independent) and any other media nay-sayers whose contributions on Twitter are far from enlightened and are contaminating an already failed investigation into truth telling:

Who among you has experienced life as an “unmarried” mother (the incriminating terminology used for decades by the Irish State) in 1970s or 1980s Ireland?

Which one of you has personal experience of being forced to traffic your own child?

Which one of you went through pregnancy for 9 months, knowing for every day and night throughout that pregnancy that, following birth, your flesh and blood would be taken from you by a nun in an Irish hospital?

What do you know of any of this, other than what you think you understand through the words of others?

Does any one of you have personal experience of being forced to live in an institution, in order to hide away from society (deemed your punishment by the Irish State as, being pregnant, you were an undesirable)?

Let us know, if you will, of your knowledge of all of this. Pray do enlighten us!

What gives you the right to pontificate regarding something you label a “post-truth” path, Joe Humphreys? What is your evidence for such accusation?

To what “expertise” do you refer, Joe Humphreys: are any of the Commissioners experts in trauma – are any of them psychologists/psychotherapists with extensive training in the myriad complications pertaining to Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder (the proven chronic debilitating effects on war victims, on war veterans, on mothers forced to separate from their children by experts in the field) – are any of these adjudicators emotionally and intellectually cognisant of the life-long effects of forced separation of mother and child? Do you think being trained in law / history / economics some forty years ago qualifies for this understanding? Do you imagine the understanding of trauma and of human rights abuses in the field of legal studies has evolved somehow in the intervening almost-half century?

Let’s consider some other survivors – those of Nazi Germany 1939–1945… Do we disregard the witness accounts of those survivors as “post-truth” misinformation – or do we denigrate the evidence given by lawyers who advocate on their behalf? Do we question the veracity of their evidence, and is the evidence written-out of records, and hidden away for 75 years? Do we allow them speak of the horrors they endured, or do we insist upon their silence, yet again, in a time removed from the crimes, when education has also evolved to understand that future generations should learn to respect the lived experience of those brave enough to finally speak of the unspeakable horrors they endured? Make no mistake: the forced separation of mothers and their children has been classified by world-renowned experts in the field of trauma as one of the worst life-long sufferings which exist. The mourning, the loss, never ends. There is no closure. Wounds are not healed. Have you ever seen an animal mourn its missing young? Can you feel empathy for that animal? Then begin to think about the torture experienced by mothers… and perhaps refrain and consider that you are not in a position to suggest that there are “post-truth” paths.

Do Irish journalists condemn the Argentinian Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo – those who suffered the disappearance of their children – the desaparecidos, the “disappeared” – do you journalists ignore their pleas for justice, to find where their sons and daughters ended their lives… do you wish to silence the voices of those mothers who protested in the Plaza de Mayo for decades, as “wilful misrepresentation” of lived experiences – hey there Sarah Carey ?

You’re damn right, Joe Humphreys, when you state that you “can’t walk in their shoes” perhaps you should just stop right there and think about those words: “I can’t walk in their shoes”… maybe you should leave it there, and dare to show some respect for the women forced to follow in the footsteps of thousands of women before them, for decade upon decade in a State which dictated to women – to girls, from birth – that they would be shunned by society because the law of the land deemed that the issue of their pregnancy would be “illegitimate” – thereby having no legitimacy to exist… Maybe you should just back off, and learn to know your place – that it is not for you to make judgment, or suggest that “a false choice is being set up – drummed up irresponsibly by certain politicians”.

Those politicians who finally speak on behalf of us mothers are women and men who have the courage of lions to finally put an end to this demonising of mothers and their children – who were adopted, thus separated from their mothers, their family – for life. Life. A lifetime. An eternity. Beyond the grave.

Perhaps you, Joe Humphreys, should take responsibility for the words you write on twitter.

You are way out of line, all of you, and your words have consequences.

You are damn right: you haven’t walked in our shoes – any of you.

You know absolutely nothing of the torture of little children – the suffering of little children forced to grow up in those hellholes of institutions. Let us all remember – to name but one – the suffering of young Joseph Pike RIP.

Let us put an end to the denying of truth in Ireland.

Let us stop the bullying and the game playing.

Let us – instead of condemning those who condemn these violent crimes – the lawyers, the activists, the advocates speaking on behalf of us mothers and of the children we lost – let us instead LEARN to grow up, to face up to the wrongs, the truth of the wrongs done by Ireland to its women, its children.

Let us stop minimising the criminality. Let us stop pretending that women were not forced to give up their children when every shred of evidence from every mother who ever was separated from her child tells of a country which terrorised and shamed women – which made them outcasts – which forced them into penury and exile – and stop, stop with your denial and your suggestions that women survivors and their now-adult children are “vulnerable victims” who are unable to speak for themselves, who are not capable of telling the truth and of demanding justice be finally made. Let us be the judges of who to trust, who to ask to speak out on our behalf, who to represent us as legal representatives to ensure that Justice be no longer denied to us for what was done to us by the Irish State. We have had enough. We do not need further disrespect.

Stop the false narrative now. You have not walked in our shoes – you know not of what you speak.

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Maeve O'Rourke

Lecturer in Human Rights, Irish Centre for Human Rights, University of Galway