Thursday, 25 November 2021
Mother and Baby Institutions: Statements
On 16 November 2021, the Government published An Action Plan for Survivors and Former Residents of Mother and Baby and County Home Institutions. I worked closely with the Minister on progressing this action plan and I welcome the redress part of it. However, I must raise immediately the need for an interim payment for those survivors who are older. Time is not on their side. They have suffered enough, so please look at an interim payment for those survivors now.
Justice is something the commission report denied survivors of this awful regime, and for us to try to mete out some justice, we must respond to the priority needs of those who spent time in these institutions. Yesterday, I went over the children's committee draft report on the birth information and tracing Bill. I am a firm believer that this is where we can give complete access to records to those who seek them, but access to records is not enough. I have raised with the Minister, as recently as the publication of the action plan, the need to include everyone. Providing approximately 34,000 former residents of the institutions with the financial payment and 19,000 with an enhanced medical card is welcome but, sadly, it is not enough. I am against the six-month rule whereby only children who spent six months or more in an institution and did not receive redress for that institution under the residential institution redress scheme are eligible for payment based on the length of stay and only mothers who spent six months or more are eligible for the medical card component. This is unfair and does not factor in all the family separation, the hurt and distress.
I am aware this scheme goes well beyond the recommendations of the final report of the commission of investigation. In terms of estimated beneficiaries, it will be the largest scheme of its type in the history of the State with a value of €800 million. However, I urge the Minister to reconsider the six-month rule and to look at the exclusion of those boarded out. There was a deep sense of shame and stigma for unmarried mothers. This was perpetuated and enforced by the State, the church and wider society. It is clear the State failed time and again for decades to protect some of its most vulnerable citizens. It is time to ask the church and its orders to contribute. The Minister should even write to the Vatican to ask for money to fund this redress. We must insist on its involvement here for true redress to happen, if the reason for the six-month rule is that it is too costly. That is why I supported this week's motion seeking recourse from religious orders and pharmaceutical companies to contribute to the scheme, including using the OAK report on the findings of the consultation with the survivors of mother and baby homes and the county homes, which is a start.
On the application process, I very much welcome that to qualify for this redress an applicant will qualify solely based on proof of residence in one of the homes without the need to provide any evidence of abuse or medical evidence. I am a member of the children's committee, for which I am honoured, and I work with survivors in Carlow. Having worked with the Minister, I know that he has spoken to survivors and is listening, and is committed to doing his best, but we need change here. I hope the Minister will visit the survivors' group in Carlow when we launch a big event shortly for survivors, which is a big thing. Working with the survivors and listening to their stories, all of us have changed and are honoured to listen to them and do what we can to make sure we make their lives better for them and their families. I constantly talk to the Minister about this. It is a priority for us to listen and do what we can. I am working with Carlow County Council to put up plaques on different buildings and in cemeteries. Having worked with the survivors, they feel that we are listening and are trying to right a wrong that should never have happened. These are things that we need to do.
While I welcome parts of this scheme, and I note the Minister is committed to doing his best, I ask that he reconsiders certain aspects of it and the interim payment, which is vital. Some of the survivors I speak to are getting older. This will never bring full closure for them but at least it might go some way to help them. We need to do that for them and we have a duty of care to do this for our survivors. I again ask the Minister to look at this.
Reference was made to counselling and redress, but we need to look at this again. One can never put money on the value of a life. While this money is really welcome, I ask the Minister to have another look at this scheme and see what we can do, because people have been hurt. We need to try to make it right as best we can as a Government.