Irish Elites Deploy Adoptees, Academics As Shield Against Unwed Mothers

  • Ireland's political, bureaucratic and media elites are using adopted persons and academics to substitute for the mothers who witnessed genocidal, state-sanctioned practices in Mother and Baby Homes.
  • First Mothers group has filed a complaint against RTE with the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland. Here's why.
  • Philomena Lee - Does She Take Sugar?
  • RTE's Claire Byrne Buries the Genocide
  • RTE's Sean O'Rourke Keeps it in The Family
  • Six One News with Joe Little At Large
  • Examiner's Conall Ó Fátharta Buries the Lead
  • Katherine Zappone Stacks the Political Deck
  • Epilog

Philomena Lee and Kathy McMahon of Irish First Mothers

1)  Philomena Lee - Does She Take Sugar?

"U.K.‘s Radio 4 ran a series called “Does He Take Sugar?”, referring to when someone asks the carer about sugar, instead of directly asking the person..."
--Yvonne Rogers, Gary Marsden

Ms Philomena Lee, like most women from the Magdalen Laundries is by now in advanced years. On her most recent Late Late Show appearance she could be seen looking around for cues as to how to answer one of the questions put to her. It's fortunate then that she and other women of her era had activists to campaign on their behalf. 

But only around five percent of the Magdalens had anything to do with a Mother and Baby home. These institutions are the subject of a new and ongoing Irish government investigation. These much younger mothers belie the older stereotype and range in age from mid forties to late sixties. Irish First Mothers is their representative group. Just as modern black civil rights groups no longer need white activists, these modern women need no proxies to articulate their views. 

But that hasn't stopped seasoned activists from asserting a right to speak on their behalf. Which suits Irish political, media and bureaucratic elites just fine. They prefer to perpetuate the aged stereotype and use second hand accounts to shield them from the raw truth of these women's first hand experience. 

2)  RTE's Claire Byrne Buries the Genocide

On 5th March, 2017 Minister Katherine Zappone admitted what the Irish Government had denied ever since the 'Tuam Babies' story broke in international media. There were after all significant irregular infant remains on the site of the former unmarried mothers home.

Within 48 hrs Irish First Mothers raised the question of genocide with the Irish attorney general. The following Monday morning the pre-eminent Irish broadcaster, Pat Kenny led his national radio show with an exclusive interview with Kathy McMahon and reported that genocide claim.

Later that day, Kathy was invited to appear on the RTE TV show, Claire Byrne Live. Sitting among a specially invited audience with adopted persons before the show began, she told presenter Claire Byrne that she wanted to discuss the genocide claim. Byrne never responded and began the show by quizzing Kathy solely on her personal experience of unwed pregnancy. 

Byrne never came back to Kathy re genocide and she concluded the segment by means of an interview with an academic historian, Desmond Ferriter. Kathy had founded Ireland's largest and properly representative group of affected mothers. She should have been interviewed - not Ferriter. Genocide should have been their topic. 

But it is station practice to interview adopted persons; to feature adopted persons opinions; and to interview academics. The affected women are disallowed political expression. RTE is a state broadcaster and the state is hostile to such claims for fear of liability to redress.

Thus did Claire Byrne bury the genocide of Irish women

3)  RTE's Sean O'Rourke Keeps it In the Family

The national broadcast station's unwritten policy again ruled when the interim report of Judge Murphy's Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes was published. The mothers who are the inquiry's predominant focus were excluded from Sean O'Rourke's flagship morning radio show. 

Instead it was Susan Lohan of the Adoption Rights Alliance(ARA) -an adopted person who has been a member of the Labour Party's executive committee- who provided commentary and analysis. Lohan runs the ARA with academic Claire McGetrick. The pair have spawned a cottage industry of bodies from the Philomena Project to Justice for Magdalens Research(JFMR) and the Clann Project, in addition to the ARA.

On a point of information, Sean O'Rourke's daughter, Maeve is a long-time legal adviser to the ARA. Note also that O'Rourke wife, Caroline Murphy recently took up a role as media advisor to FG Justice Minister Charles Flanagan. It's impossible to write about this nexus without using the words cozy cartel. 

Such arrangements breed self-reinforcing ignorance, and that ignorance was on full display when O'Rourke subsequently interviewed Minister Zappone on the interim report -alone and again without the balancing participation of the affected mothers.

"Where were the men?," jeered O'Rourke -referring to the alleged desertion of unwed mothers by males. He and feminist Zappone shared a short snigger over that. Had they a mother from Irish First Mothers in studio their raw stereotype might have been enlightened. In truth, many men were driven away by religious and bureaucrats. 

Many of those men loved their partners dearly and some -despite the interference of the state- went on to marry their beloved and have subsequent children together. Those couples had in effect been robbed of their first child by state-sanctioned forced adoption. Such cases are among the Irish First Mothers. 

Zappone was as ignorant as was O'Rourke, because incredible as it may seem, she has to this day never sat down with the First Mothers group. The pair's sneering, born of unprofessional nepotism and elitist authoritarianism badly let let those couples and all affected mothers on that day.

4)  RTE Six One News' with Joe Little At Large

Joe Little is RTE's religious affairs reporter at large on issues including Mother and Baby homes. He may be at large but if you spot him, let First Mothers know. They have never seen or heard from him. Correction, he did telephone McMahon once.  "Joe Little here," said he. Then: "Sorry..., call you right back." He never did. That was it.

So it will hardly surprise you that when then Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Dr. James Reilly announced the terms of reference of the now ongoing Commission of Investigation, it was again groups run by adopted people who appeared on Six One News to lavish praise on the Minister. Adopted persons, Paul Redmond and Susan Lohan headlined the news coverage and analysis. 

Redmond was also recently interviewed in depth by Miriam O'Callaghan for her radio show. He spent a total of 17 days in a Mother and Baby Home -as an infant. Hardly a searing experience and he likely wasn't kept awake by the constant sobbing of mothers grieving for their stolen newborn infants. 

Kathy McMahon was sleepless to that sound, as she told a Dail committee in 2015. But her account of that horror and indeed her entire testimony was omitted from the report sent to the Seanad by Chairperson, Mr. Jerry Buttimer, FG.

Nobody among the RTE shows mentioned replied to request for comment -except Joe Little, who offered to have an off-the-record chat in the RTE canteen because "I share your determination to ensure that the contributions of Irish First Mothers to public debate should be reported in more detail by RTÉ." I declined the offer.

5)  Examiner's Conall Ó Fátharta Buries the Lead 

Turning to print media, the picture is no less disturbing. The Examiner's Conall Ó Fátharta is the paper's main writer on the Commission of Investigation. Yet he has only once even telephoned Irish First Mothers, let alone interviewed any of the group. His invariable methodology is an email requesting comment, from which he plucks a sentence for his resulting article. Sometimes as much as two sentences.

A recent article highlights the problem. Journalists are taught to never 'bury the lead'. In other words: don't headline a story about apples, and then spend the first half of the piece writing about oranges. But Ó Fátharta -who has spent a decade reporting on Lohan and McGettrick's social justice campaigns- is a master at this error when it comes to Irish First Mothers.

His recent article "Baby home survivors denied public hearings" has the sub-heading "A number of requests by mother and baby home survivors to have their evidence heard in public have been refused by the Mother and Baby Homes Commission.".

Kathy McMahon, founder of Irish First Mothers had replied to an email from Ó Fátharta confirming that five women from the group were denied public hearing of their evidence. 

But his resulting article promoted the groups run by adoptees, Lohan and McGetrick, despite that they had not requested mothers be allowed public testimony. Their demand was that their own group testimony be public. The article carries quotes from all and sundry, but does not mention or quote his prime source for the piece: Kathy McMahon.

Another example is his 2017 article, again based on information provided by First Mothers: "Trio ready to give evidence at hearing". The sub-heading is: "Three women who lived in mother and baby homes have informed the commission they are prepared to give sworn evidence to a formal public hearing." That's where the substance ends, because the body of the article is instead all about issues around the Tuam home site.

Again and again in his reporting, Ó Fátharta manages to devote scant coverage to the affected mothers, rarely quotes them directly and gives prominence to adoptee groups. Mr. Ó Fátharta did not reply to a request for comment, but Examiner editor, Allan Prosser roundly defended his paper's coverage and threatened legal action to boot.

6)  Katherine Zappone Stacks the Political Deck

You can add Katherine Zappone to the list of those who have never met with First Mothers -despite the fact that her two ministerial predecessors in the Department had invited the group to consult over legislation and despite her political perspective as a feminist. No Irish feminist group has ever offered support, by the way. 

Ahead of the final report of the Commission of Investigation, Minister Katherine Zappone announced the formation of a consensus-based Collaborative Forum -supposedly to involve those affected in shaping the Government response prior to the Commission's final report due before February, 2019. A selection panel would pick the members of the Forum. 

Yet again, adopted persons and academics formed the majority of the selection panel: 

Ms Clodagh Malone  Coalition of Mother and Baby Homes Survivors 
Ms Mari Steed           Adoption Rights Alliance (based in USA) 
Dr James Gallen        Dublin City University 
Prof Patricia Lundy    Ulster University

Ms Teresa Blake SC Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission 
Mr Fintan Dunne         Irish First Mothers

Ms Malone and Ms Steed are adopted persons. I was a sole voice for mothers interests. By the second meeting of the panel, the offer of consensus had turned into an inflexible government agenda and debate was shut down. I resigned forthwith at the start of the second meeting. 

If legislators and bureaucrats were better informed they might realize that adopted people are often conflicted in their attitudes to First Mothers -exhibiting either conscious or unconscious hostility arising from feelings of abandonment. Inclusion of adopted persons in state structures overseeing the welfare of so-called birth mothers is therefore ill advised. But such a level of nuanced understanding by a department of government is rare. Especially if they refuse to meet with those at the coal face who are better informed.

Susan Lohan in my presence, after Kathy McMahon had spoken of the need for redress for mothers remarked: "what would mothers want redress for?" One can only speculate on the reasons underlying that remark. But it might be a class bias. Because another wrinkle is that adopted infants went quite disproportionately into wealthier families; whereas the victims of forced adoption were easier prey if from a lower social class. Many of the illegally taken infants went to judges, lawyers, doctors, business leaders and others socially advantaged. The groups with power in society today.

To directly answer Ms Lohan, mothers might want redress for illegal incarceration; forced removal of infants; lifelong trauma; ongoing PTSD and diminished life potential. 

But, rather ominously Judge Murphy's interim report made no finding of harm in respect of mothers. As if harm to the mothers can only be adjudged in the limited form of physical abuse or neglect in the homes under scrutiny. Perhaps a judge a score years younger would have been a better choice to lead this Commission.


Propaganda often relies on adjusting the words we use to reframe an issue. There is and was no such thing as a Mother and Baby home. They were called Unmarried Mothers homes. Places where unmarried mothers were socially imprisoned -overseen by the state.

Years ago when this deliberately protracted and constructively ineffective state examination of these issues began, Kathy McMahon was invited to consult with then Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Mr. Charles Flanagan, FG. She told him that she wanted a prosecutions arm to any investigation to uncover unreported rapes of women and sexual abuse of minors.

Minister Flanagan dismissed the idea curtly. "There are Garda stations in every town -some of them are even open 24 hours. Any crimes should be reported there".

What Mr Flanagan cared little to know about, the listeners to LMFM were enthralled to hear, when McMahon later went on air with Deirdre Hurley to recount the appalling multiple rape of "Angela" a woman with the mental capacity of a seven-year-old. She was then 37 years old, in St. Patrick's Unmarried Mothers home, Navan Rd., Dublin and on her fourth pregnancy. 

By any prudent calculation of the crimes of a careful abuser, Angela must have been raped well over 200 times. She later gave birth to her fourth child while sitting on a toilet in St. James' hospital. Fourth time around, she literally didn't know what being pregnant was. Most other women in First Mothers have similar tales of pregnant minors. What kind of evil regime oversaw such repeated abuse? What kind of evil regime fails to investigate this?

On LMFM, Kathy McMahon recounted how when the women would sneak out for a cigarette, Angela would tell them about the prize she had won for being the sugar plum fairy. And she in her betrayed innocence would dance the sugar plum fairy dance for the other mothers. It's an image I can't shake, and I can't write about without shaking, right now.

You won't hear about that on RTE. It might cost the state money. But don't take my word for it. I'm just a male journalist and supporter. These women are outspoken on Irish regional radio shows and elsewhere. I'm a messenger. These women are the message.

So it's better that you hear from the women themselves. Theirs is the authentic voice which our elites would rather silence. If you think you already know about Unmarried Mothers homes, you don't.

They do. Go listen. That LMFM interview about Angela is here.

My interviews with seven of the women are on a webpage here.

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