Dáil debates

Thursday, 25 November 2021

Mother and Baby Institutions: Statements


6:00 pm

Photo of Peadar TóibínPeadar Tóibín (Meath West, Aontú) | Oireachtas source

I pay tribute to Deputy Gino Kenny on his speech. He always speaks from the heart. He made a very important contribution to the record of the Chamber today.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an deis labhairt ar an ábhar seo. I, like most Deputies, have received emails and telephone calls from survivors, including people born in a mother and baby home and women who gave birth in one.

I want to discuss the issue of redress, but before I do I want to focus on what is perhaps a more important issue, that is, the issue of access to records. Survivors of mother and baby homes are growing older. Those who are still searching for their biological mothers are acutely aware that their chances of finding them are reducing and passing by the day. All that the survivors I have spoken to want is their files. To them, access to the files is more important than redress in many cases. I understand there are concerns over EU GDPR rules but, for God’s sake, people in our country want access to their birth certificates and medical records. We are being told the problem is an EU law. If so, it is a serious legislative overreach by the European Union in Ireland. We should be investigating legal ways to challenge the European law on this matter to make sure people get what we know is the right thing: their own records.

To apportion redress to survivors based on the length of time they spent in an institution is cruel in many ways. It is especially and doubly cruel to those who do not have the records, do not know when they left the home they were in and therefore do not know exactly how long they were there for.

Before I get into the details of my concern over redress, I want to talk briefly about Bessborough. What I am about to share may sound strange. A woman contacted me in the past year and asked me whether I was aware that a mother and baby home still operates in Ireland. I was sceptical but knew I had a responsibility to carry out further research. When we talk about Bessborough mother and baby, we do so as if it existed in the past. I urge Deputies to do some research on this, however. There is today a Bessborough Centre, supported by the State. It takes in women, mostly unmarried, on a residential basis for parental assessment. The State determines, after observation, whether these women get to keep their babies. This happens today and it is paid for by the State. The building, which can be seen on Google Maps, looks identical to the mother and baby home. State intervention often kicks in when the woman is pregnant. I found this really hard to believe when I did the research. Last year, Tusla confirmed to me that there were 127 unborn children on the child protection notification scheme. It is an unbelievable fact that there are unborn children under child protection in this State today. I do not need to impugn any of the people who work in the modern-day Bessborough Centre and do not know enough about the organisation to make any judgment. There are many at the coalface of social work in this State doing really good and often impossible work of value to help people, but the echoes from the past in the Bessborough case are startling. Does the Minister not agree?

I raised today on Leaders’ Questions the issue that 200 children known to child-protection services in this State have died in the past decade.

We need an urgent debate on that issue. There is a shocking rate of mortality among children currently in State care.

Going back to the issue of redress, an Aontú representative for Tuam, Luke Silke, has done a good bit of research on the Glenamaddy home. Earlier today he showed me an article referenced in the commission's report. It is from The Connacht Tribunein 1924 and it describes the home and the children. The language is upsetting. The article states:

There are walls which reek with damp in winter, that have not seen the mason's trowel or the painter's brush for years. There are long, narrow, and gloomy corridors. Water has to be carried for the children's ablutions. There is not a single permanent bath, and the babies have to be bathed in portable fixtures.

The article states in an earlier passage:

They are the waifs and strays, the orphans and the abandoned, the nameless little ones of the county. ... Under the care of Bon Secour nuns, who have been charged with the task of lifting the blight from their young lives and sending them into the world cleansed and self-respecting members of society, they are to grow up in happiness and peace.

However, many of them did not grow up in happiness and peace. Every single one of them, regardless of the length of time they spent in that home, deserve compensation. The best most of these babies could have hoped for was to be sent out to families. Many who were sent out to families were abused and forced to perform labour and housework. The children's home in Glenamaddy, Galway, was operated by the same organisation that later operated the Tuam home. It was in operation only from 1922 to 1924, but during that time 50 babies died in the home. The Minister's redress scheme offers nothing, not a single red cent, to the survivors of mother and baby homes who were farmed out as children into families and in some cases treated appallingly. His redress package does nothing for them. Neither he nor I can attempt to comprehend how much some of these people must have suffered. Yet what his package does is place an economic value on their experience and tells them their experience is without value and without cost to them in their lives.

The commission makes one very striking point about these children in the final report. It states: "Such a child would have been especially unwelcome in a farm house where the marriage of the inheriting son depended on clearing the home of non-inheriting siblings." That gives us an idea of some of the motivations behind the relationships that existed in these places. I urge the Minister not to forget these children.


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