Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Is it time for Pope Francis to apologise to the Irish people?

Remembering the Magdalene Laundry women with flowers

At an estimated cost of €20 million to the Irish people, the visit of Pope Francis to Ireland in August promises to be a very different affair from the emotional 1979 tour in which Pope John Paul II seemed to capture the hearts and minds of a generation.

Given how poorly the Vatican has dealt with a litany of scandals involving the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland, many people are now beginning to ask whether the current pontiff has a duty to offer a full apology to the Irish people.

Who should he meet and what should he say during his August visit to the island?

The Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, has told the Irish media that he would like to visit a prison during his August trip.

“He’d like to go to a prison,” Archbishop Martin said last December. “Everywhere he goes, he goes to a prison.”

The Papal visit looks set to be a pivotal moment for the Catholic Church, recovering lost trust after years of scandals involving clerical sex abuse, the enslavement of women in Magdalene Laundries and Mother and Baby Homes, and the imprisonment of children in industrial schools, in conjunction with the Irish State.

It is going to be a very different affair from the joyous 1979 tour of the country by Pope John Paul II when, as youngsters, we walked for miles in our thousands for huge communal celebrations in places like Galway Racecourse, Knock Shrine, and the Phoenix Park.

Those massive communal gatherings almost four decades ago took place in a different, far more innocent Ireland, in which the voices of victims had yet to emerge and so many appalling secrets were hidden away from public view.

A million people attended the Papal Mass at the Phoenix Park in Dublin and 250,000 of us got up at dawn to hear John Paul II profess his love for the youth of Ireland in Galway.

If Pope Francis is looking for a prison, we had more than one type here in Ireland.

Peter Mulryan at the grave his late mother shares
with other women from the Magdalene Laundry

Many of us who walked across Galway City for the huge gathering at Ballybrit would have passed by the Magdalene Laundry in the city centre, oblivious to the fact that young, middle aged, and older women were incarcerated inside.

Some of them spent three or four decades as slaves in this effective prison, just metres from Eyre Square and the pubs and shops in the heart of the city.

When Pope John Paul said “I love you” to the young people of Ireland the Magdalene Laundries were still in business, their vans driving around the cities and towns, picking up the dirty linen of the great and the good all over Ireland.

The Galway laundry only ceased operating as a business in 1984 and, as thousands walked to Ballybrit, the innocent Catholic children of the city had no idea of the hardships, the despair, and the loneliness hidden away behind those city centre walls.

It would be nice to think that Pope Francis, during his time in Ireland, would meet some of the women who were locked up behind those walls and those of many other laundries for so-called ‘fallen women’ across the land.

Such as Angela Fahy, a frail woman who walks with the aid of a stick now, who reminded us of the terrible cruelty of the place during an emotional memorial ceremony to remember the women who died inside the Galway laundry last month.

She reminded us of the terrible shame placed on Irish women for the ‘crime’ of having babies outside marriage, right up to the 1980s, or the way in which families and the State colluded with the Church to lock these innocent women away for decades.

Angela made it clear that it was not just the Church which was to blame.

She remembered one girl who managed to persuade a workman to sneak a letter out to her sister in Salthill, only for her sister to report her to the nuns and to tell the distraught slave that she never wanted to see her again.

The August visit to Ireland is a key moment for Pope Francis

The whole of Irish society was to blame, but the Catholic Church played a pivotal role in nation’s shame.

Angela and the thousands of other survivors like her have never really received a proper apology from the Vatican for the hardships they endured or compensation for all the years they slaved away washing clothes without any payment from the nuns.

If he comes to Galway, I would love to see Pope Francis meet Peter Mulryan (now 74), an amazing man whose mother spent more than 30 years in that same Magdalene Laundry.

It would be incredible if Peter could tell the Pope about the lack of hope in his mother’s eyes, the complete lack of spirit, when he finally tracked her down to the institution in the centre of my city. Life in the Magdalene Laundry had broken her and there was no joy in her life.

I would love for Peter to tell Pope Francis about his four year search for the little sister he never knew he had until 2014, as he told me while he stood beside her grave in Bohermore Cemetery.

Perhaps he could bring him to his mother’s grave, to see where she is buried in a communal plot with other “fallen women” whose crime was to give birth to beautiful people like him in a harsh and judgemental land.
Ciaran Tierney with Peter Mulryan at Bohermore Cemetery

Or he could bring Pope Francis 25 miles up the road, to Tuam, to a place which is now infamous all across the globe.

For Peter, the sewage pit and unmarked grave where up to 796 children may or may not be buried has a significance which will not go away.

Peter is a surviving “Tuam Baby”. He lived there before he was sent out to a family in which he endured many years of beatings and, now, after all these years, he wants the truth.

But he has never received an apology or any kind of explanation from the Bon Secours nuns as to why he was imprisoned in the Tuam Mother and Baby Home as a youngster and treated as a pariah in the local school.

Or why they destroyed the records from the site which might have helped him find out what happened to his little sister, whether she was in fact one of the “Tuam Babies” or whether she was sold off for adoption to a family in the United States or Canada.

Her life was so insignificant in the eyes of ‘Catholic Ireland’, it seemed, that nobody bothered to record her death. Perhaps Pope Francis could hear Peter talk, as he does so eloquently these days, about the pain of being stigmatised from birth.
Catherine Corless at the unmarked graves in Tuam

Peter and people like him are still experiencing a monstrous injustice in terms of their inability to find out what happened at Mother and Baby Homes all across the country or to receive a full and proper apology for the pain they endured.

It’s pretty hard to have a good shot at life when you are told you are “illegitimate” or a “bastard” from a very young age. Peter, like many other survivors, could teach Pope Francis so much about the resilience of the human spirit and how people who endured so much can still build amazing, if ordinary, lives.

Perhaps, after Tuam, Pope Francis could pop a few miles out the Dunmore road, to meet a quiet, unassuming woman whose tireless research has turned her into a national hero.

Catherine Corless is not looking for fame or fortune, but she might be able tell Pope Francis about the hostility and derision she came up against when she tried to find out what really happened at those unmarked, mass graves in Tuam.

She might outline how a professional PR person, hired by the Bon Secours order, ridiculed her research before Catherine was vindicated in full by the Irish Government last year.

Given that Pope Francis is attending the World Meeting of Families, in Dublin, there are quite a few people in Dublin he might care to meet as well.

For a man who has done so much for the poor and the marginalised, it might be of interest to Pope Francis to note the number of troubled people living on the streets who are trying to put memories of childhood abuse by the clergy behind them.

Before he boards the plane from Rome, he might take a look at the nine year old Murphy Report which found that four Dublin archbishops Dublin had responded to clerical child abuse with “denial, arrogance, and cover-up” in the words of the report.

He might talk to the families of people who grew up between the 1960s and 1980s, when serial abusers were moved around from one Dublin parish to another with no seeming regard for the welfare of future victims. Out of sight, out of mind.

The families want justice for the 796 "Tuam Babies"

He might visit the victims who never rebuilt their lives, those who live on the streets now or try to numb the brutal pain through alcohol or drug addiction. It won’t be hard to find them in our Irish prisons.

He might explain to them the concept of “mental reservation” which allowed senior members of the clergy to mislead Dublin families and the authorities without being seen as liars in the eyes of the Catholic Church.

In 1979, there was huge disappointment among the Catholics of Northern Ireland when Pope John Paul was unable to cross the border. Due to the Troubles, which were ripping Ireland apart at the time, he only made it as far as Drogheda.

North of the border, he might talk to the victims of the late Fr Brendan Smyth, a child abuser who was free to travel the land and find new victims even though the most senior cleric in Ireland, Cardinal Cathal Daly, was aware of the appalling allegations against him.

How those who were abused as small children would love to hear a full and frank apology for the inaction and cover-up which allowed Fr Smyth’s abuse to continue. Senior members of the clergy, by failing to notify colleagues, effectively facilitated this brutality against an estimated 140 Irish children.

From Dublin to Galway, and Belfast to Cork, there are people all over Ireland who are still suffering because of the terrible things they endured as children.

The damage done in the past cannot be undone.

But meeting them, hearing them, and providing a full and frank apology for all the pain caused to the Irish people could turn the August 2018 Papal Visit into a pivotal moment for a Church which still has so much to do to regain the trust of a wounded people.

By putting the victims first, the visit of Pope Francis to Ireland could yet transpire to be a far more significant event than the 1979 papal visit which now looks like a dying kick of a more authoitarian, more austere, more judgemental, less honest, and less joyous Ireland.

Ciaran Tierney is a journalist, blogger, and digital storyteller, based in Galway, Ireland. Find him on Facebook at

To hire a content writer, journalist, or social media expert, check out Ciaran's website,

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

'Japa Ireland' and an appalling abuse of trust

Photo by Daria Shevtsova from

“Go to India,” they said, over and over again.

“It will change your life.”

With all we heard about the imprisonment of women in Magdalene Laundries, the appalling treatment of women and children in Mother and Baby homes, and the criminal cover-ups of sex abuse by members of the clergy, it was inevitable many members of my generation would turn our backs on the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland.

And yet there is such a huge spiritual side to our ‘Irishness’, so evident in the traditions and rituals which pre-date the arrival of Christianity to our island,  that many of us have set out in search of new outlets far removed from the Catholic traditions we grew up with.

But is it the case that in some cases we have swapped one group of abusers for another?

And that some people have turned a blind eye when alerted to abuse by colleagues or ‘teachers’, just as the Bishops used to move child rapists from one parish to another without any concern for the welfare of future victims?

This week, I was alerted to sexual abuse which has been going on in a meditation group for at least six years.

As well as being dismayed by reports circulating within the group, that at least 32 women have now come forward with testimonials of sexual abuse, I was struck by how swiftly the Galway ‘teacher’ or ‘teachers’ closed ranks when I alerted them to concerns three years ago.

How many women would have been spared sexual assault if those near the top of Japa Meditation Ireland had at least raised some serious questions about what was going on behind closed doors both in private ‘healings’ in Ireland and organised group trips to India?

Four years ago, I was invited to join a Japa Meditation group in Co Galway. I knew nothing about the group or the form of meditation they practised, which involved Hindu chanting, only that the teacher or leader was a respected psychotherapist who lived a ten minute drive from my home in Galway City.

The teacher gave me a warm welcome to the group, and told me that Japa had transformed her life and those of many people in the little circle of about 14 people. I was a little nervous at first, but they seemed like very nice people.

The timing was strange for me. I was just about to go through a summer of strife at work, leading to voluntary redundancy, and I picked up the MRSA bug at my local public hospital after injuring my shoulder in the Canary Islands.

At first, it was all a bit strange. Everyone in the group wore a scarf over his or her head and the teacher led us through about 30 minutes of chanting in a language I didn’t understand. I enjoyed the camaraderie in the group, the chats over cups of herbal tea afterwards, and the sense of community which built up during the weekly meetings.

Even though I was far more used to meditating in silence, I felt a sense of elation during the communal chanting and would practice alone by watching YouTube videos from India at home at night. My worries about the future, after leaving the job I had held for 22 years, seemed to evaporate for short periods during the meditation sessions.

Some things made me uncomfortable, such as the way my teacher referred to the leaders of Japa Meditation Ireland as her ‘Masters’. She made a big deal about their visit to our humble little weekly gathering, as though it was a massive honour for us just to meet them when they visited one Tuesday night.

The Japa Ireland website suddenly shut down this week

I began to get concerned that my teacher was too much under the influence of her ‘Masters’. She could not let a week go by without telling us how amazing they were, how her life had no meaning before she joined this particular group.

I knew this was simply not true.

By this stage, I had taken voluntary redundancy from my newspaper and was unemployed for the first time in my life, after being in the same job for 22 years. I had to visit a nurse every day for seven months to tend to the wound on my shoulder and I noticed that other members of my group had gone through or were going through tough times as well.

Some were very vulnerable or coping with tough situations in their personal lives. We took solace from confiding in and encouraging each other.

Every week, though, pressure was put on me and the mostly female members of my class to go on an organised group trip to India. They seemed to run at least two trips each year.

“Don’t worry about the money, the money will look after itself,” we were told on an almost weekly basis.

(I have since been told that some people have taken out expensive Credit Union loans, loans they could hardly afford, to undertake four, five or six of these group trips to India in recent years).

Then I was told that a guided ten day trip to India would cost €4,000, plus flights. When I heard that four people sometimes had to share a room in small budget hotels on these trips to meet the Indian ‘guru’, Shashi Dubey, I baulked at the idea of travelling.

Thankfully, my adventurous spirit has seen me travel all over the world, work as a scuba diver in Thailand, and visit countries like Cambodia, Jordan, and Egypt. I knew how far €4,000 could go on a trip to India.

Something did not seem right about these trips and my doubts were compounded when a female member of our group seemed very withdrawn, even upset, after returning home. Suddenly, out of the blue, she stopped coming to our weekly meditation sessions.

If you left the group, you were soon forgotten.

Before she left, she described sharing a room with four other women in a budget hotel in the Himalayas. She needed time to ‘process’ the journey and did not want to discuss it further.

The rich Irish spiritual tradition on the hill of Uisneach

Yet, as the months went by, I almost seemed to drift further into the group without even noticing. I was invited to a second weekly session for more regular meditators on Sunday night. I met people from other classes scattered throughout the West of Ireland. We were encouraged to nourish our “community”, to do business and support people within Japa Ireland, and we were told to refer to our teacher as our ‘Master’.

The hero-worshipping of the leaders did leave me cold at times, and I expressed reservations to my own teacher, but I felt I was benefitting from the regular meditation as I went through a tough period of change in my life.

I used to encourage friends of mine to join the group and then the wife of a good friend contacted me out of the blue one Thursday morning to say she had been alerted to a very troubling article by a lady called Freya Watson.

Freya had been to India on one of the group trips and had been shocked when she was subjected to an unwanted sexual advance during a private ‘healing’.

Her article did not specifically name Japa Meditation, but then by complete coincidence Freya met my friend at a wedding a few weeks later and she agreed to talk to me over the phone.

After a long conversation with Freya, I was left in no doubt that the assault had taken place on one of the Japa Ireland trips to India. She told me she had been made aware that a number of other women had undergone similar experiences.

As soon as I ended the call to Freya, I alerted my ‘teacher’ to the contents of her article and asked her whether she was aware of any concerns about the trips to India, or if she had any comment to make.
My teacher completely shut down and refused to engage with me. She sent me a short email with a smiley face.

Eventually, after I raised further concerns and sent her a link to the article, I received a short, brief message from her via email.

“I hope you find the confrontation you are looking for,” it said.       

I found the email after a search this week.

Irish people have been looking towards Asia for spirituality

Although I had no direct evidence that abuse had taken place, apart from my lengthy conversation with Freya, I was appalled by the cold and abrupt manner in which she ended our correspondence.

Especially as I knew there were vulnerable women in these groups, who were planning on joining the expensive trips to India.

Shocked by the response, and the way in which the teachers just seemed to close ranks after I raised my concerns, I vowed to leave the group immediately. I had no direct evidence of abuse taking place, but could not believe how swiftly my concerns had been dismissed out of hand.

Thankfully, by complete chance, three female members of our little class were also having misgivings about the group at around the exact same time. One of them called me just three days later, I sent her and the others copies of Freya’s online article, and we all agreed to leave Japa Meditation Ireland immediately.

We agreed to meet up the following weekend for a three hour talk in which we shared our concerns about bullying within the group. One woman, for example, was told she needed to move to a different class – at great inconvenience -  because she was not meditating enough at home!

We laughed, thanked our lucky stars we had gotten out before any damage was done, and then we just got on with our lives.

I joined another meditation group, based on the teachings of Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh, which did not have any hero-worshiping of ‘Master’ leaders or put pressure on people to take expensive trips to Asia.

And I almost forgot about Japa Meditation.                                       
Reports within the group suggest more than 30
woman have come forward to say they were abused
(Stock photo)

Until last October, when I was alerted to a report of a High Court case in which a woman in Tipperary had  taken a legal action against her husband after he fell under the influence of Japa Meditation Ireland.

She said that he had removed €300,000 from the company and a company pension fund to the detriment of the employees, owners, and creditors of the company. Members of staff were alarmed by changes he had made since joining the Japa group.

The alarm bells rang, but I read no evidence of sexual abuse in the court report. I did contact the person who wrote the article, a former newspaper colleague, to tell him about my experiences with Japa Ireland in Galway.

Then I went away to Nicaragua for a month and forgot about Japa again.

Until last Friday, when a man I had not spoken to in three years got in touch out of the blue. I had warned him and his wife about my concerns three years ago, but they felt they were benefitting from the experience and decided to stay. He wanted to tell me that I had been right and that Japa Ireland was imploding.

He showed me an email, circulating widely within the group, in which it was confirmed that 32 women had come forward with allegations of sexual abuse and inappropriate behaviour in both Ireland and India.

It now seems that vulnerable women, who were offered private ‘healings’, had been abused in both countries over the past six years.

So why am I writing this blog post now?

Well, before this I had no proof, apart from what I read and heard from Freya. Freya's article was actually published in February 2014, just before I joined the group:

I guess my desire is to see justice for these women, in the hope that they will have the strength to go to the Gardai and make statements about the abuse they experienced.

There should be no compulsion on victims to make statements if they do not feel strong enough to do so, but they should know that there is support available at their nearest Rape Crisis Centre.

There is support available at the National 24-Hour Helpline on 1800 77 8888.

The HSE has people who can help through the Protection of Vulnerable Adults service. Details are available at:

Dialogue Ireland, who have been exposing cults in Ireland for four decades, advise that any therapist who was involved in Japa Ireland should immediately withdraw from gathering names or approaching victims.

Boundaries are “completely confused”, especially if they are with people who were deeply involved in the organisation, they say.

Dialogue Ireland has been publishing information about Japa Meditation Ireland since first being alerted to the group via the High Court case in October.

You can find information about the group and efforts to uncover the truth at this link

There is also a facility to post comments anonymously on the site if you have been affected by the issues raised.

I have no direct evidence that the leaders of the group had any knowledge of the extent of the sexual abuse which is currently being unravelled at Japa Ireland.

But, at the very least, the way in which they ‘stonewalled’ me after I raised concerns in March and April 2015 means that they surely have questions to answer.

If my teacher did not pass on my concerns, why not? And if she did, why did they suddenly close ranks and reply with the briefest of hostile text messages?

How many vulnerable women would have been spared these trips to India if hard questions had been asked, and the truth had been uncovered, three years ago?

And maybe it’s time for Irish people to ask why, in our haste to leave the Catholic Church behind, we can still be so trusting of abusers in the guise of spiritual ‘gurus’.

UPDATE: Since writing this, I have gone through my old email account and managed to locate ALL of my correspondence with my former Japa Meditation teacher from 2015. I now have proof that I sent stark warnings in March and June 2016. Instead of trying to 'cover the asses', as many Japa teachers now seem to be intent on doing (shutting down websites and deleting Facebook pages and posts, denying all knowledge) it is about time they admitted their role in this fiasco. They should also contact vulnerable women who were 'procured' for these trips to India, tell them of the abuse which is now known, and encourage them to get the help they may require from people who have no connection with Japa Ireland. People may not have the strength to go to the Gardai, but those who recruited them into this 'cult' surely have a duty of care.

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Monday, March 12, 2018

For Peter and the families, it's personal ...

Peter Mulyran stands at his mother's shared grave in
Galway during the 'Flowers for the Magdalenes' ceremony

Imagine you are 70 years old. Throughout your life you have dealt with the stigma of being branded as ‘illegitimate’ and your long quest to find your birth mother had ended in a Magdalene Laundry, where she had lived for over 30 years.

You used to visit her every fortnight, after managing to track her down, although the nuns warned you to pretend that she was your aunt. They told you they would prevent you from visiting if you told the other inmates the truth about your relationship with your own mother and it used to pain you to see the defeat, the lack of sparkle, in her eyes.

Together with the other inmates, she washed and cleaned the clothes of the great and the good around the city and county. For years, she never ventured outside the laundry walls even though she was just minutes from the heart of the city.

But you kept the relationship going, and enthused about how her spirit lifted just a little after you married and she met her first grandchild. You saw flickers of her spirit on occasional weekend visits to the seaside, when the nuns finally started to allow her out of the laundry for a few hours.

She was buried  in 1989, in a grave she shared with other women from the laundry.  You hoped that she was resting in peace after a tough life and you got on with your life.

And then, four years ago, your life was turned upside down once again. Historian Catherine Corless, who has since become a good friend, was on the other end of the phone. She told you the startling news that you had a little sister nobody had ever told you about.

She was one of the 796 ‘Tuam Babies’, who were making headlines all across the globe.

Catherine’s painstaking research had placed one of the little babies in the tiny townland in your mother’s rural community. When you asked around, you discovered it was true. Your mother had given birth to a second child before being locked up again for years.

Ciaran Tierney with Peter Mulryan at Bohermore Graveyard

For all you knew, that little girl was buried in that infamous septic tank in Tuam. But, that’s the thing. You didn’t know. For all you know now, too, she was adopted by a loving family in the US or the UK, because nobody has any records of your little sis and what became of her after being born in that now notorious Mother and Baby Home. 

That’s what happened to Peter Mulryan, a remarkable man whose quest for justice for his little sister goes on. 

Now aged 74, he has been stonewalled by the authorities. He’s concerned that they will mark the site with a memorial, before he ever finds out what happened to her and whether or not she ended up in that terrible place in Tuam. 

On Sunday, he spoke movingly about giving a voice to the voiceless and the need to heal the hurt caused to generations of Irish women and their ‘illegitimate’ children. 

A year ago, he brought a graveyard to tears when he spoke about his quest for justice, to find out the truth about the sister he never knew he had.

He returned to that graveyard on Mother’s Day, to pay tribute to his mother and all the other mothers who had been locked up in Magdalene Laundries across Ireland. 

It is believed there were 10,000 of these women locked up in institutions throughout Ireland right up until the 1980s. Many, but not all, were single mothers who were taken away from their families to hide their ‘shame’. 

And now Peter Mulryan, like the other survivors, is wondering what is going to become of their loved-ones. They believe the Tuam site should be examined and the bodies of the infants exhumed.

Remembering the Magdalene Laundry women at a dignified
ceremony at their shared graves on Mother's Day 

They want DNA testing to be carried out on the little ones, but they are concerned now that the Irish authorities will cover up the site and just put in a memorial plaque on the unofficial burial ground. 

Galway County Council is currently seeking submissions from members of the public regarding what to do with the site. The deadline for submissions is this Thursday, March 16.

Family members like Peter are concerned that the local authority may decide to put a memorial in place at the site of the former septic tank rather than the more costly option of a thorough examination. 

The council has listed five options for the site.                             
Campaigners want justice for the 796 'Tuam Babies'

 “I’m still looking for my sister. I want her file, to see what happened to her. The council are only adding more pain and hardship to the families. I would like to ask the officials how they would feel if they had a family member in the septic tank there. That’s what I ask them when I meet them and they just go cold,” he said, following a memorial service for the women of the Magdalene Laundry in Galway on Sunday afternoon.

“Those children could not be baptised. That ground was never consecrated. The authorities won’t tell us that they are sorry or admit that they were wrong. We never did anything wrong, but they are keeping us down by denying us justice for our loved-ones. If somebody was murdered a hundred years ago they would just go in and analyse what’s there.”

Mr Mulryan said he could not accept the argument that a full forensic examination of the Tuam site would cost too much at this stage. Speaking beside his own mother's shared grave, he pointed out that many of the mothers worked for free after being incarcerated in the Magdalene Laundries for decades. 

“When you think of the money which was made out of these women, slaving for free in these laundries, it’s unbelievable the way they are still treating us,” he said.

Breeda Murphy of the Tuam Home Survivors’ Network said the Government should have declared the site a crime scene after Catherine Corless’ research was vindicated this time last year. 

Ms Corless also faced hostility or indifference from the authorities when she researched what happened to the babies who died at the Tuam home. 

The Magdalene Laundry women were not
given the dignity of being buried with
their own families. Peter's mother was locked
up in Galway city centre for more than 30 years. 

“The people who have family members at the Tuam site want to bring them home and give them a proper burial. There’s nothing dignified in concealing children in a structure which was first built to contain sewage or human waste. You can never get away from that, regardless of the time period or saying that that was how things were done back then,” said Ms Murphy on Sunday. 

“The way in which the Magdalene Laundry women are being treated is probably a reflection of how the Mother and Baby home survivors will be treated down the road. So I don’t see justice coming at all. I am totally disillusioned.”

A survivor of the Magdalene Laundry in Galway, Angela Fahy, said families also had to take responsibility for their role in the incarceration of women in the Magdalene Laundries. 

She said there were 110 women in the Galway home when she was locked up there at just 14 years of age.

“These women were put there in secret, died there in secret, and buried there in secret,” she said. “Their neighbours in Forster Street did not even know them. These women washed and cleaned the clothes of this entire province. Many of them never came out of there alive.

“We cannot just put this down to religion. Quite a lot of it comes down to their own families, people who denied their own flesh and blood if they had a child outside of marriage. These women had no voice for so many years, but they have now thanks to events like this.”

A year has passed since confirmation that the bodies of babies who died at the home between 1925 and 1961 were found at the site of the former Tuam Mother and Baby Home, which was run by the Bon Secours order of nuns.

Campaigners, who want the babies to be given proper burials in consecrated ground, have been inundated with messages of support from across North America over the past year. 

They are insisting that cost should not be the main concern as they seek justice for the 796 ‘Tuam Babies’. 

Historian Catherine Corless, whose painstaking research
revealed the scandal of the 796 'Tuam Babies' to the world

Galway County Council is facilitating a full public consultation process about what to do with the site where the 'Tuam Babies' were found, with submissions accepted until this Friday, March 16. Members of the public can email or telephone +353 (0)91 509561 if they have any queries regarding the full public consultation process.

Ciaran Tierney is a journalist, blogger, and digital storyteller, based in Galway, Ireland. Find him on Facebook here

Monday, March 5, 2018

When pro-Government 'spin' erodes trust in our media

How much do you trust the news you read?
Leo Varadkar's communications strategy raises questions
over media impartiality in the Republic of Ireland

Do you trust the newspaper you buy or website you visit for the latest updates to tell you the truth and hold the powerful to account?

Do you expect journalists to report accurately, to investigate the truth behind the news, and sometimes to annoy those in power in the course of carrying out their duties?

Or have you become disillusioned or cynical about what you read in your news feed?

Laughing at 'fake news'

In Ireland last year, we laughed with bewilderment at President Donald J. Trump and his obsession with “fake news”.

Already shocked by his election the previous November, we were fascinated by the dispute which arose over the size of the crowd at his inauguration in January 2017.

How did something so trivial, so unimportant, become headline news for days? Why did it become such a bone of contention with the new leader?

It was amazing to see the new President of the United States claim that the crowd went “all the way back to the Washington Monument” when photographs taken at the moment he took the oath showed that was clearly not the case.

Journalists used to joke that the facts should never get in the way of a good story, but here was the most powerful man on the planet discounting evidence the entire world had seen with their own eyes.

No matter how much Trump protested, the photos showed that there was a much bigger crowd at the inauguration of Barack Obama.

Irish people laughed at Donald Trump's "alternative facts" ...
 now we have questionable media coverage of our own

We felt sorry for Trump’s former spokesman, Irish-American Sean Spicer, when he was forced to tell the White House press corps that the event had attracted “the largest crowd ever to attend an inauguration” and laughed when senior aide Kellyanne Conway managed to describe Trump’s falsehoods as “alternative facts”.

Alternative facts? Really! How absurd!

We learned that President Trump seemed to get all his updates from watching the partisan Fox News, as he repeatedly denigrated the work of more respected journalists at CNN, The Washington Post, and The New York Times.

And so the term “fake news” crossed the Atlantic to become one of the most popular slogans of 2017.

Only in America, we laughed. It’s going to be some soap opera keeping an eye on goings-on at the White House for the next four years, we figured. It wouldn't happen over here!

Only, last week, we discovered in Ireland that we have been getting, if not quite “fake news”, well, at least “alternative facts” of our own from some of our regional and national newspapers.

Thanks to brave reporting by Ellen Coyne, of The Times’ Irish edition, we learned that the Irish Government had spent €1.5 million on an awareness campaign in which pro-Government “advertorials” were disguised as legitimate news stories.             
Malcolm X had a pretty jaundiced view of the role
of newspapers as far back as the 1960s

In promoting Project Ireland 2040, a nationwide development plan, both national and regional newspapers were urged to try to pass off paid for Government press releases as ‘normal’ articles written by their own staff journalists.

The agency hired by the Government, using taxpayers’ money, specifically requested that the material should read just like legitimate news stories, rather than material supplied and funded by the Irish State.

With a few noble exceptions, the articles, accompanied by photographs of members of the ruling Fine Gael party and future general election candidates, were indistinguishable from ‘normal’ news stories in the national and regional titles.

In contrast to some national titles, and despite the clear instructions from the agency acting on behalf of the Government, my old newspaper, the Connacht Tribune, clearly labelled its two page spread about the Ireland 2040 launch as 'Advertising'.

A small number of newspapers, including the Tribune, insisted on stipulating that the articles were paid for by the Government, despite requests not to do so.

Others were quite happy to publish the supplied material as though it had been written by an in-house member of staff.

Instructions sent to a newspaper editor, as uncovered
following an investigation by The Times' Ireland edition

Christy Dignam, lead singer of rock band Aslan, expressed disgust that he had no idea he was being used for pro-Government “propaganda” when he was asked by a journalist to give a quote for one of the articles.

He said that strong criticism of the Government contained in the interview was completely left out of the resulting article. He would not have given the interview had he known.

In true Donald Trump style, Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at first claimed that The Times’ reportage was inaccurate.

He had already faced huge criticism for pumping €5 million into a Strategic Communications Unit (SCU), now known by many people as the ‘Department of Spin’, which is charged with promoting the Government in as positive a light as possible.

Serious questions have been raised by the controversy

Eventually, under strong pressure and mounting criticism from opposition politicians, Varadkar ordered a general review of the SCU.

So now he has senior civil servants undertaking a review of a unit which they set up themselves under his direction.

Meanwhile, some newspaper journalists are counting the cost of a scandal which has called their impartiality into question. If they are taking ready-made "spin" from the Government in relation to one issue, what's to stop them from doing so again in the future?

Opposition politicians have claimed the Project Ireland 2040 campaign has blurred the lines between journalism and advertising, diminishing trust in the Irish media.

The controversy has erupted at a time when the Irish print media, just like their counterparts in the United States, are struggling with falling circulation and advertising figures.

In the current difficult climate, what editor can afford to say “no” to an agency acting on behalf of the Government which offers cash as well as paid-for ready-written articles?

Even if the supplied articles come with the stipulation that they cannot be described as “advertising”?

Opposition politicians have expressed outrage that public money was being used to promote the main government party and that "advertising" for the government is now being purchased under the guise of real "news" stories.

It might not quite be “alternative facts” on the scale of Kellyanne Conway attempting to cover up blatant lies about the size of the crowd at President Trump’s inauguration.

But what chance have independent newspapers of retaining the trust of loyal readers if they force them to read paid-for pro-Government articles which are disguised as legitimate news stories?

Readers need to know that the "news" they are reading is written by real, unbiased journalists, and not by a PR company acting on behalf of the Irish Government.

Journalists who are prepared to challenge those in authority, ask the tough questions, and hold them to account.

Otherwise, the toxic mistrust of mainstream media which has become such a feature of political life in the United States could take a giant foothold in Ireland.

Ciaran Tierney is a journalist, blogger, and digital storyteller, based in Galway, Ireland. Find Ciaran on Facebook at

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