What are the atrocities of our time?


Every period of history spits out its horror stories in retrospect: the murder of six million Jews, the abuse of children at the hands of priests and the institutionalisation of political dissenters. We’ve got used to documentaries exposing the trauma of war, neglect and corruption. We expect them like we do the next episode of a soap. It’s a sign of progress of course – though it makes me think about the abuses of today that will make it into the documentaries of tomorrow.

Today it was revealed that a criminal gang in Bedfordshire has been operating a twenty-four men slave work camp at a caravan park. According to British media reports, victims were lured from soup kitchens, benefit offices and hostels. Nine of them (presumably those of slightly higher standing or those suffering from Stockholm Syndrome) have refused to co-operate with police investigations. According to the Guardian, one traveller said that “Plenty of men who were here wanted to be here and they were getting paid”. As if the volition of plenty justified the slavery of a single other.

Last week the abuses of Iraqi prisoners by British army officials was relived in grotesque detail with the publication of the full report.

Tonight the second part of the RTE investigation into the practices going on behind closed doors in state mental institutions was broadcast.

I work in a not-very-nice area of town. Sometimes I see the faces of future documentaries gazing blankly past me, as they cower terrified at the knees of abusive parents, or bend their weary, wizened faces over pint glasses at 8 am, when the early license pubs are ready for their next order.

Last week I watched two families staggering about on the luas platform. Dirty beer cans in hand, the parents drunk and drugged, yelled at each other as they stumbled against empty buggies from which their toddlers wandered aimlessly away. One little boy with huge brown eyes looked at me and I stared back at him, knowing my inevitable complicity was failing him.

The luas doors opened and his parents endeavoured, with clumsy futility to secrete their multiple beer cans at the bottom of their buggy. The injustice of bad parenting – and the audacity to pass judgement on the nuclear family unit – this I believe is the stuff of next generation’s documentaries.

What else, from where you’re standing?

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