Dáil debates

Thursday, 25 November 2021

Mother and Baby Institutions: Statements


5:20 pm

Photo of Réada CroninRéada Cronin (Kildare North, Sinn Fein) | Oireachtas source

What we see in this proposed redress scheme is the presence of too many experts but not enough expertise. In the context of what the State did to mothers and babies, it is unthinkable that this Government would task anybody with formulating this scheme without applying the necessary expertise on the effects of abandonment, separation and removal. The work of psychologist, John Bowlby, on attachment would be a good place to start, not to mention Nancy Verrier's writings on adoption and the separation in The Primal Wound. I expect the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth would be awash with psychologists' advice as the horrors of the mother and baby homes institutions, the laundries and the trafficking of children to better Catholicism or America have been unearthed.

As a woman, mother and female politician, I cannot overstate that intimate knowledge of the effects of the detention and the effect of abandonment and removal of newborns and young children should be a prerequisite for any of this kind of work with the Department, especially given the psychic wounds they inflict on the mother and the child and on later generations of that family. Anybody who has even a nodding acquaintance with these issues would not have produced does this travesty. This is not redress. The odious, six-month rule makes this a complete rejection; another insult; another humiliation; another cruelty; another denial of suffering and wrongdoing; more downplaying; and more loss.

That loss is ours, as citizens, because this is being presented in our name to women and children whose humanity was denied and whose most integral relationship, that most sacred relationship between the mother and child, was minimised and severed. Sometimes it was severed for money and other times for ease but mostly it was done for respectability and because of the patriarchal idea that motherhood was only valid for those with husbands and that no woman should have the cheek or the chance to rear a child on her own. This patriarchy was not peculiar to us on this island but ours was holy and loved to be holier than thou.

Last week, a woman contacted me about the scheme. Her name is Mary. I wrote back to her to say we would, of course, reject it. Mary then wrote again to tell me her secret, which she has not yet told her partner or any of her friends. This secret is that she was born in Bessborough and was there for several months. She has been following the mother and baby home horror show but the first time she actually cried was when she heard the Minister on RTÉ last week. She told me that, all her life, she has been plagued by a recurring dream of a building with high windows. She wakes upset from this dream. She only realised in recent days that it is a memory of Bessborough. The redress scheme tells Mary that she was too young to remember and that her suffering does not matter. She matters to us. People want to know who they are and where they came from. It is a basic primal need. They want their history, identity and story as an established right rather than a favour granted. They reject the implication that human life starts at six months. Earlier this year, I told the Minister that it was a manipulative and noxious act by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael to lay this damning and toxic legacy at his feet and to put him in charge of the skeletons in their shared closet.

Mary asked me to ask a question of an tAire. She said that, if the Minister is okay with babies under six months being abused and receiving no redress, it follows that babies under six months old in the septic tanks mean nothing to him either. She asked me to ask him whether that was the case. I will ask him that but I will go one step further. If the Minister does not believe babies under six months old suffer trauma, is it his intention to leave the skeletal remains of the Tuam babies aged under six months in the septic tank? Will he be removing only those children aged six months and over? Are only they worthy of a decent burial? Will all those aged under six months be left behind in the septic tank of a convent and the sewerage of a rotten state? The Minister should think about that because the answer to whether he should accept this is to be found in that question.


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