Dáil debates

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Third Interim Report from the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes: Statements


8:35 pm

Photo of Bríd SmithBríd Smith (Dublin South Central, People Before Profit Alliance) | Oireachtas source

I am sure the Minister read the article by Fintan O'Toole at the time the Tuam babies scandal broke last year in which he said:

The abusive relationship between church, State and society may, like the dead babies that have haunted us in recent weeks, be buried beneath the surface of our postmodern globalised reality. But its consequences still lurk in our bloodstream and until we understand them, the past will be our present and our future too.

I agree to the extent that I see the mother and baby homes not as a legacy of the dark past but as part of the uncontested control of the church. That marriage between church and State continues to pervade the education system, health services, the running of hospitals and schools and the debate on the reproductive health care of women. The interim report contains a number of striking things. I accept the Minister's bona fides. I also accept that the investigation has expanded and that more time is needed to complete the report. I accept that the widening of its remit and scope means that the commissioners need more time. We have to question the length of time required. It will be another year before conclusions are made. Survivor groups and advocates have pointed out that many of those directly affected, including the survivors, children and siblings of mothers who were incarcerated, are now elderly. There are many who have or will pass before the operation has been completed. We need a sense of urgency which I do not feel in the House. We need the sense of outrage and urgency that we felt last year when the story first broke. With it we need a strategy that will deal with this process much more quickly. Does the Minister believe she has sufficient resources to deal with it completely and properly and with a sense of urgency that allocates a sense of decency to the survivors who are left? Will she try to address that question? It is not really a concern about the delay in finding out the very intricate details of what bones were found, the dates or the evidence we can obtain from witnesses and beyond. It is also about retribution and the redress afforded to the victims. I do not understand why that cannot even partially be run in tandem. There should be a parallel operation in which the evidence is found at the same time as we look after the victims of such abuse.

There is a wider issue about the legacy of the past. The church ethos and rulings still affect the education curriculum in schools. The ethos and rules still affect a wider question about how we run schools and hospitals. There are cases of parents whose children's futures are uncertain because, for example, the Edmund Rice Schools Trust which owns lands on which schools are located is not willing to give long-term leases but has instead given leases to schools that will expire in a few years' time. Parents and entire families are fretting about the future of the education of the children. The State continues to contract out key services in health, education and housing to religious charities and religious groups when we have such a dreadful legacy.

Since the Woods deal in 2002, 16 years ago, there has been the possibility of having a shared retribution scheme to meet the cost of compensating the survivors. The church, in all its aspects, has completely fallen down in its duty to the State and the survivors. The figures mean that it would be paying back more than €750 million to the State in redress costs when, in fact, it has paid around €400 million. The Woods deal, done by the then Fianna Fáil Minister for Health, allowed the church to get away without indemnifying the legacy it had left. When I see the Edmund Rice Schools Trust taking legal action against the parents and the board of the Educate Together school in Clonkeen College or the uncertainty faced in my area because of the lack of a proper lease from the Edmund Rice Schools Trust, I see the legacy of the mother and baby homes in Tuam and elsewhere. I see the gross interference of the church in the education system which for it is all about profit, money and what it can extract most for itself. There is a lot of unfinished business. The survivors will never be truly compensated until we actually have a genuine separation of church and State and run schools and hospitals on a secular basis.

Does the Minister believe she has enough resources to deal with this process? Is there a way that, in tandem with the criminal investigation, we can compensate the victims who are still alive?


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