Senator Black welcomes commitment from government to offer support to residents in mother and baby homes

May 17, 2017

 

I am very pleased this debate is taking place today as it is long overdue. I welcome the commitments to offer support and services to people who were resident in the homes, in particular in the areas of health and well-being. It is vital that the State has a clear duty in that regard, and we need to ensure proper support is provided. I commend the commission for carrying out its work in a sensitive manner, and the Minister for pushing the issue forward.

As has been noted, there was a delay in the publication of the report which was completed in September and presented to the Minister until it was finally made available to the wider public seven months later. Given the highly sensitive nature of the issue and the great importance of the commission's work to so many lives, such a level of delay is unacceptable. We cannot leave people in the dark.

 

In terms of the delay, the line from the Department is that the Government spent this time discussing the legal and financial implications of the report. That seems to have amounted to seven months worrying about the potential cost of a redress scheme for people who were resident in the homes, before the announcement last month that redress would not be offered at this time. That is deeply concerning. The report itself is clear that "children who were resident" at the homes "have a real cause for grievance" at having been excluded from redress schemes to date. The report is clearer still in stating that, "logically, children who were resident in the Mother and Baby Homes and all County Homes should be eligible to apply for redress in the same way and under the same conditions", as children covered by previous redress processes relating to the industrial schools and orphanages. In essence, the report is saying that the State should own up for the abuse carried out in the institutions, as it has had to do in previous decades. I do not think that is a very controversial proposal.

We are aware that at this point the commission is in the middle of its work and has not yet produced findings of abuse or neglect in the mother and baby homes. It is on that basis that the Government has stalled on redress, but it seems deeply unfair and unsympathetic to respond by simply quoting the cost of previous schemes and, essentially, pouring cold water on people's hopes that a fair and just redress scheme can be rolled out if the final report is clear on instances of abuse.

 

The Minister told Dáil Éireann last month that the Government "has not closed off redress" as an option, but there is a big difference between quoting the costs of redress and not ruling such a scheme out, and offering a compelling, humane commitment that the State will do right by the survivors of the institutions once the final report is published, including a potential redress scheme. This is not simply about cost, this is about justice for people who have been subjected to horrific mistreatment. Beyond that, survivors and former residents groups have been clear in that they want the Government to step up here, to take ownership of what happened, to acknowledge the State's role in the institutions, its failure to provide the proper care for mothers and children, and to formally apologise. We should not underestimate how important such an apology could be for so many people, and I urge the Government to ensure the State does right by them in that regard.

 

The commission's final report is due in February. Before then, two clear commitments must be made. First, survivors and past residents groups will be adequately engaged and listened to, and their voices will be heard when requested. Second, that there will be adherence to the agreed timetable. As has been noted, the delay in publishing the interim report caused a significant deal of stress for many people and I ask the Minister to commit to preventing further delays and ensuring that the commission's findings will be published on schedule.

 

The organisation Irish First Mothers has set up its own inquiry in order to gather the testimonies of women who were in the homes. I wish to highlight in this Chamber some of the voices of the women who have offered their testimonies during the process. One woman described her experience of having an episiotomy at the age of 14, without professional medical attention and denied pain relief during a labour that lasted more than three days. It is incredible that she physically survived such an experience. Having run away to London, determined to find a way to keep her child, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, she was tracked down and forced to sign adoption papers to give up her child. Reflecting on her experiences, including the years where she suffered the weight of shame and judgment and the desire to find her son, she said she often thinks if she had committed murder she would not have got such a sentence. That is only one of the testimonies. It is time now for serious and dramatic change.

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© 2016-2018 Senator Frances Black