Dáil debates

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Death and Burial of Children in Mother and Baby Homes: Motion (Resumed) [Private Members]


7:45 pm

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Dublin Central, Sinn Fein) | Oireachtas source

It is appropriate to begin my remarks by applauding the women and men who have campaigned for many long years to achieve recognition of what happened in institutions across this country - recognition of the abusive and degrading treatment suffered by women and their children in mother and baby homes, county homes, children's homes, orphanages, Magdalen laundries and beyond. The idea of punishing a woman for her pregnancy is frankly abhorrent. Yet that is what happened in our country. Generations of unmarried pregnant women faced not only isolation, stigmatisation and cruelty but also the ultimate inhumane sanction of having their babies taken from them. It is hard to fathom all of this. I struggle to understand or grasp such an intensely vindictive act as to take a child from its frightened, vulnerable mother. Yet that is what happened in thousands of cases.

Many women who lived through this trauma are still around to tell the tale. Some of them have done so very bravely and publicly. A woman spoke at a gathering in Sean Ross Abbey in Roscrea in County Tipperary about two weeks ago. I had the honour of being in that gathering. She had her baby in that institution. She left without her baby. She suspects her baby is buried somewhere under the ground where we stood, but she cannot be sure. Her story is sadly echoed in cases the length and breadth of this country. Now is the moment when we face up to that. It was Catherine Corless who painstakingly and faithfully discovered the names of the almost 800 infants and children who died at the Bon Secours institution in Tuam. Catherine Corless, Teresa Killeen-Kelly and their mother and babies committee deserve much credit, as do those campaigners who have worked and fought for recognition. It has been a long road and I want to welcome many of them to the public gallery this evening.

Tuam was not an isolated case. Our motion this evening makes clear that the investigation into events at the Bon Secours institution must be replicated in mother and baby homes and other institutions. It is essential that this commission is not selective in its approach. It would be a glaring contradiction and a profound injustice to include some survivors and exclude others. It would be a farce to pretend that any investigation of women and children in mother and baby institutions could be carried out without including the Magdalen laundries. The McAleese report did not and could not establish the full story of women and children's experiences in the laundries. It could not and did not establish the relationship, the traffic and the interplay between the laundries and the mother and baby homes. It is impossible to get to the bottom of the mother and baby home story without understanding and finally and fully confronting what happened in the laundries. It is therefore essential that the scope of the inquiry includes the Magdalen laundries. I would like the Minister and Government to commit to their inclusion this evening.

It is also essential that institutions that have been ignored or set aside are included. Many of these were Protestant in ethos, such as the Ovoca Manor and Westbank orphanages located in County Wicklow, and the Church of Ireland Magdalen home based in Dublin.

I welcome the fact that finally the Government has recognised the survivors of the Bethany Home. Their inclusion is long overdue. The role of sadness and death in that home in Rathgar is engraved on a memorial stone in Mount Jerome cemetery where just last April the forgotten, lost children of the home were given the dignity of their names at their final resting place. That dignity of recognition and identity and of being named must be afforded to every infant and child that lies in an unmarked plot or grave. Survivors at this stage have made it abundantly clear that they desire memorial stones for all these infants and children and their wish should be respected and accommodated at the earliest opportunity.

Despite protestations to the contrary, this abuse happened in clear view of society. We, undoubtedly, as a society have questions to answer and lessons to learn from our negligence and cruelty, our fear of authority and our compliance with things that, on reflection, none of us would stand over. That such organised systematic abuse happened with the active involvement of the religious and churches is an utter perversion of anything that anyone might reasonably call Christian. Church leaders and religious orders must step forward and measure up to their responsibility, co-operate, apologise and make reparations.

The State alibi until recently has been that these awful abusive events happened in private institutions and somehow, therefore, it was not, and is not, accountable or liable for the violations of women's and children's rights. I am sure the Minister will agree this is patent nonsense. This abuse happened with the clear sanction and connivance of the State and this is the most devastating reality of all. It is important that we establish the full facts of what happened behind institutional walls and gates and of what happened to women and children in these institutions and beyond.

We demand an explanation for the infant and child mortality rates and the vaccine trials and we want answers around the forced illegal adoptions from these institutions. In other words, we want the terms of reference of this inquiry to be comprehensive and we expect Government to honour its commitment to consult the Opposition parties and, above all, the survivors and their advocates. We will not accept from Government any attempt to cherry-pick institutions to be included with others excluded. Victims and survivors, mothers and their babies were grievously wronged by society, the churches and the State. They were deserving of, and entitled to, their human rights and dignity. There are no excuses or alibis and there is nowhere for anyone to hide. They deserve, and they must receive, a full and wholesome apology. None of them was ever, to use the awful phrase, "illegitimate". The State, the churches and society acted illegitimately and broke every rule and boundary of decency, morality and the rule of the law.

The Government has an opportunity because of the courage and perseverance of survivors and campaigners to put things right. The Minister should not throw this opportunity away. The challenge is for Government to match the fierce dignity and courage of those who have stepped forward to demand justice for mothers and their babies. The motion is about the past but, in a profound way, all this is about the here and now. It is about us asserting the kind of Ireland in which we live, the manner in which we value our women and children and the extent to which we are prepared to recognise wrongs and to apologise and own up to them. Time is of the essence. Survivors and victims need recognition, support and redress now. I would like to quote the words of a survivor. He said:

It would be best to come clean now. This problem is partly due to governments in the past selecting who gets justice and who in their eyes does not deserve the truth. The abuse continues until all the homes are included. The issue is not going to go away because the brave souls who survived to testify their experience aren't going away.
A wise Minister and a wise Government would heed these words.


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