Dáil debates

Thursday, 25 November 2021

Mother and Baby Institutions: Statements


5:30 pm

Photo of Holly CairnsHolly Cairns (Cork South West, Social Democrats) | Oireachtas source

This redress scheme comes after years of shocking headlines and devastating revelations. It comes after countless survivors bravely telling their stories, incredible work by journalists and researchers, a deeply flawed commission of investigation and a consultation process run by the current Minister. After all of that, it is simply unbelievable that the scheme does not do survivors justice. After everything they have been through, the very least they deserve is a comprehensive scheme that properly compensates them for the State's violation of their human rights. It should include all survivors and properly recognise years of trauma with a dignified payment process. It should strengthen people's right to seek justice and provide a clear path to hold individuals, religious orders and pharmaceutical companies to account. I cannot comprehend why the Minister's scheme is so deficient. It is exclusionary, insufficient and contrary to the findings of the Minister's own consultation. Earlier this week, I raised the significant issues of the exclusion of survivors based on an arbitrary six-month barrier, the limitation to certain institutions, the requirement for survivors to sign a legal waiver and the lack of accountability. There are several matters I did not get to raise properly on Tuesday. I will address these now.

The first matter is that of the payment rates. The Government's documents state that it is not possible to monetise the suffering or the losses experienced and that the financial payment represents a contribution acknowledging the hurt and the suffering. The reality is that any scheme of this nature will involve monetary amounts but these rates are, quite frankly, disgraceful. There is to be €5,000 for mothers - and it is only mothers - who spent less than three months in an institution. It is hard to comprehend this number when the courts award individuals multiples of that amount for slips and falls. There is no rationale for this amount. The interdepartmental group's report gives some context and then the figures just appear. How were the figures reached? Is there any explanation for that? Despite the gravity of the crimes committed and the trauma and suffering that resulted, only €5,000 is being offered. Furthermore, the scheme makes no mention of pensions. There is also nothing about periodic payments and, most pressingly, immediate interim payments. The report by OAK Consulting commissioned by the Minister has been completely disregarded in this respect.

Speaking on Tuesday and again today, the Minister referenced the consultation, but only when it suited him. He asked survivors to engage with the process and to share again details of their abuse. Some 561 individuals participated in good faith, of whom 62% were children when in these institutions and 25% were mothers. They called for an immediate interim payment and an enhanced pension or periodic payments, particularly for those who would not qualify for a contributory pension due to their life circumstances. They also called for assessment of additional sums based on separate categories of harm suffered by individuals and free genetic testing and health screening to compensate for the lack of family medical history. None of these features in the scheme. Instead, there is to be a general payment and a separate category for a work payment, which is very narrowly defined and which does not reflect the scale of the labour mothers and children were forced into.

In the Minister's closing statement, will he please outline why he has chosen to ignore these aspects of the OAK Consulting report? Why were survivors put through another emotionally and psychologically stressful process, only to be disregarded? Why did the Minister even decide to carry out a consultation if he was going to ignore its findings?

My second point also relates to how the Government and Civil Service understand or, more accurately, misunderstand reparation schemes. The Minister has explained to us that this will be the largest scheme of its kind in the history of the State in terms of the number of beneficiaries. This suggests that the scheme is implicitly good because of its scale but let us be clear; the scheme is the largest of its kind because of the number of people involved and because of the wrongs perpetrated by this State in conjunction with religious orders against young mothers, especially the more vulnerable, and children. This is not supposed to be an act of kindness. It is supposed to be an act of justice. The Government is not giving the survivors compensation but providing them with what is owed to them. Unfortunately, it is falling very short of what is right.

Part of the justification for the scheme and its low payments is that survivors will not be subject to an adversarial system. The Minister keeps saying this. The interdepartmental group's report reveals the mindset that still pervades the Civil Service and which the Government seems happy to go along with. They can only conceive of two options. People are expected either to take a small set amount or to go through an adversarial process. In other words, if seeking justice for human rights abuse, family separation, forced labour or racial or ethnic abuse, you will have to prove it. There is no mention of a system whereby reparations are based on believing survivors and accepting the trauma and abuse they suffered. We all know what happened in those institutions. Of course, we believe them now. We should trust them to give an honest account and be compensated accordingly. Why is that option for redress not considered? There are no words.

While this scheme is disgraceful and glaringly ignores the perspectives of survivors on specific issues, it is still only a draft. The Minister has indicated a willingness to improve the scheme before the legislation is presented. Will he today commit to the following for the sake of the thousands of survivors and their families, many of whom are watching these proceedings very carefully? Will he remove the outrageous requirement for individuals to have spent at least six months as a child in an institution? Will he remove the legal waiver and allow survivors the right to both a small amount of money and the right to seek proper legal redress? Will he allow individuals from all known mother and baby and county institutions to be eligible? Will he commit to increasing the set payment and providing a non-adversarial process for individuals to receive additional amounts to reflect the abuse and harm they suffered, immediately bring in interim non-conditional payments and commit to holding the religious orders and pharmaceutical companies to account?


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