Dáil debates

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Commission of Investigation Announcement on Tuam Mother and Baby Home: Statements


11:15 am

Photo of Catherine MurphyCatherine Murphy (Kildare North, Social Democrats) | Oireachtas source

When I first raised this issue in the House in 2014, following my reading of newspaper reports based on the research done by Catherine Corless at the time, I called for the site at Tuam to be immediately declared a crime scene. I called for the site to be sealed and for forensic anthropologists and anything else needed to be made available in order to uncover this atrocity, and make no mistake it was and is an atrocity, a mass grave of 796 tiny bodies discarded like trash.

I listened to the Taoiseach's speech on Tuesday about the culpability of the State and society, but the State is not some anonymous set of officials. The vast majority of the time since the foundation of the State it was led or governed by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. They were the ones who presided over debates on this matter in this Chamber and they were the ones who handed over and outsourced the responsibility for these women and children to a church they knew to be merciless at best. Therefore, when we talk about the culpability of the State and society, it is not some Joe or Josephine Soap we are talking about who condemned these women to a life of shame and condemned children to premature deaths or export. This happened mainly under the watch of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, which led the State for most of those years, and the abdication of responsibility was obvious. The attitudes which prevailed were perpetuated by every arm of the State - the Garda, the medical profession and the political system - thus allowing the church to run free with its campaign of terror and castigation of women for some perceived sin. How utterly and tragically ironic that those same nuns who labelled these women as immoral saw nothing immoral about neglecting a child to the point of early death then disposing of their bodies in a septic tank, or exporting them to another country. These are not the dark ages we are talking about. The legacy of these acts are current for some generations, and they are at best one generation removed. The relatives of these women and children are still alive. In 1995, when children playing on the site discovered skulls, it was not the police that was called for; it was a priest. He was called to bless the site. It seems that everybody went about their business as usual afterwards. The State once again turned a blind eye.

The horrors of the mother and baby homes cannot be properly put into words. The rumours of clinical drug trials have not been properly addressed, including in the terms of reference of the last commission of investigation. The former Minister of State, Kathleen Lynch, called for the terms of reference to include vaccine trials. I have been talking to somebody from Tuam who, as a child, played around the site. This person uncovered on an ongoing basis discarded vials, which would suggest that there is at least something that should be investigated.

Here we are, collectively wringing our hands, two years after it was first suggested publicly that there may be a mass grave in Tuam. The fact remains that the horrors of Tuam and other mother and baby homes existed because the State permitted the church to control some of our most fundamental institutions. The sad fact is that not everything has changed in this regard even today. We must take the church out of our schools, hospitals, medical care and politics. It is unacceptable that children are regularly discriminated against in our education system based on religion; it is unacceptable that religious orders can hold any influence over medical institutions and the health care they provide, particularly to women; it is unacceptable that the Dáil begins every day with a prayer that is not representative of all elected Members or citizens; and it is unacceptable that our national broadcaster, funded by the State, subjects citizens of all faiths and none to the Angelus bells twice daily.

These are relics of a bygone era. If Tuam has shown us anything, it is that the State must take responsibility for its citizens and the church has no legitimacy in the health care or education of these citizens. We must grow up and separate church from State.


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