Thursday, 25 November 2021
Mother and Baby Institutions: Statements
We have had this debate for years. Even in the last Dáil we had similar debates about mother and baby institutions. I use the word "institutions" because they certainly were not homes for the women who ended up there. This week, I spoke to a woman who told me about her mother who, as a 15-year-old, was bought by her father and the parish priest in a horse and trap to one of these institutions. After she had the baby, she was not allowed home and she went to England. Her child was adopted, ended up in America and through some fortune ended up back here in Ireland. She traced her mother but found that her mother had died. She discovered that her mother had had a really hard and difficult life in London. She ended up with addiction and alcohol problems.
When she inquired further of neighbours who had been around - in rural Ireland everyone knows everyone else - she found that that particular household had what they used to call at the time a "home boy", a person was boarded out from one of the institutions, and he was blamed for getting the child pregnant. No one is sure whether he did. He was also banished and no one knows where he ended up or what happened to him. It was a cruel, horrible society that did all of this to so many people. The church gets a lot of bad press because it ran the institutions. However, it ran them on behalf of the State and the State is complicit in that.
As I listened to this woman's story, I was struck about the parish priest bringing the child to the institution. Not only did the church run the institutions but it also created that sense of a horrible society where the sinner had to be punished by isolating people who in its eyes had done something wrong. The church must carry the blame not just for running the institutions but also for the kind of society it created.
I acknowledge the Minister accepted the motion on Tuesday evening and accepted what we are trying to achieve in respect of that. It is inappropriate for the Government to retraumatise these people by setting up a hierarchy of victims based on time spent in an institution. Let us consider someone convicted of a crime where it was later found that they were innocent and were wrongly convicted. If they took the State to court, it would not be right for a judge to say, "You only spent six months in jail. Sure, that is not enough. If it was seven, we'd do something for you." That clearly would not be the case. A wrong is a wrong. Everyone in this House and elsewhere accepts that these people were completely innocent and what was done to them was terrible and wrong. They all need to get justice from this. I appeal to the Minister and his Government colleagues not to continue down that path.