While referring to all citizens of the Republic, the oft-cited reference to the 1916 Proclamation and ‘cherishing all the children of the nation equally’ holds much relevance when discussing the institutionalisation of women and children in poverty and precariousness in Ireland. Yet I would argue more important was the Democratic Programme of the First Dáil in 1919, which stated:
‘It shall be the first duty of the Government of the Republic to make provision for the physical, mental and spiritual well-being of the children, to secure that no child shall suffer hunger or cold from lack of food, clothing, or shelter, but that all shall be provided with the means and facilities requisite for their proper education and training as Citizens of a Free and Gaelic Ireland’.
This article will discuss the context in which women and children in poverty were placed in industrial schools, reformatories, mother and baby homes, Magdalene laundries and psychiatric facilities. It will demonstrate how gendered and class-based legislation was used to facilitate incarceration, and distract from the realities of poverty and destitution. This involved compliance from not only the Catholic Church and the State, but a myriad of other agencies and sections of society.