Thursday, 25 November 2021
Mother and Baby Institutions: Statements
I am glad to have an opportunity to speak on this particularly important issue, having done so in the past. I concur with others in acknowledging the various people who have told their stories here tonight. It is important we hear the stories and listen to them carefully. They serve us in good stead in imbuing us with a new sense of purpose and a recognition of the need to respond to issues of this nature before it becomes an absolute necessity and a shame to the country.
We have a very poor record as a country on dealing with situations like these. We will say that this would not happen today. Then we look at the rest of Europe, where it happened as well. It was not unique to this country. It happened all over the globe. Amazing parallels are taking place as we speak. I refer, for instance, to the treatment of refugees, the people we have heard about in the past 24 hours, who were drowned while attempting to seek refuge in another country. Nobody stands up and says to them that we will have to do something solid for them or that we will deal with their plight now because some people do not want other people converging on what they see as their place. That gives us an excuse to remove ourselves from the debate and to conclude that we are doing enough, that we can do enough or that we will do more.
The fact of the matter is that society turns its back on people in such situations. It turned its back on the women and the babies at issue in this conversation. It turned its back many times over the years. People condemn the churches, and they were in some way, to a greater or lesser extent, involved, but I am of the age that lived during that time, and I assure the House that society was well and truly to blame for a lot of the things that happened by turning its back on its siblings, turning its back on its neighbours, turning its back on itself and turning its back on something that was obvious, that needed to be dealt with and about which everybody knew but for which nobody wanted to take responsibility or blame.
Many books have been written about this, and rightly so. Many stories have been told in this House. Many stories were written about the famous case in Kerry, where one person, a hackney driver at the time, had the courage to stand up and challenge what was happening because he did not think it was right. He brought the expectant mother from one hospital to another and was refused again and again admission into the hospitals in order that she could have her baby. She died, and permission for her to body to lie in the church was refused. That man stood his ground. Society can change and stand up when it is challenged, and he stood up. It was possible then. Not everybody did it, and there were many absentees, but when the challenge took place, that man won. The baby in question is still alive to this day and was in a mother and baby home and a laundry and lived through all that. All these things happened in our memory. It is not ancient history at all.
When we are shocked by the things that have happened, we should always remember that these things still happen around us. Atrocious things happen to vulnerable women and children, even as we speak. I refer to the trafficking in women and children that goes on all the time in a society that does not really raise a whole lot about it because it does not impinge directly on people's territory at the time. Because of that, we let it go. However, these things continue to happen. It is not something in respect of which we can cover ourselves in glory. It is a fact that all societies have their faults. We accept that. At all times we should challenge ourselves. We should acknowledge that these things can and will happen again if we do not do something about it. We are doing something about it retrospectively in this case.
I acknowledge the work the Minister has done. He is a sincere and genuine person. He has been given a difficult job to do. He has done a good job so far. I ask him not to leave anybody out. That is the message I have to give because that is always what happens. Even with the best things you ever do, if you leave somebody out, you will be remembered for what is left out - and by the people who are left out - rather than for all the good you did. I know that that is not the Minister's intention and I know that various cases will be made to rationalise leaving some out on the basis of one thing or another, whatever it may be. That is not a wise route to go. The danger in that kind of situation is that a very short time later people will come back and ask, "Why was that done?" They will say it was an injustice. There is no use in addressing one injustice and creating another one. That will also be remembered and will continue to affect and impact the people who are directly affected at that time and who may be affected by a similar situation at some time in the future.
I hope we have learnt a lot in the time that has gone by from all the stories we have been told and what we have known from our own experiences. We now very belatedly recognise the things that happened that should not have happened, the things that could have been averted and were not, the things that continued for a long time, repeating again and again the injustices and the hurt and further exacerbating the feelings of loneliness, isolation and desolation of both the mothers and the babies.
We should not allow ourselves, for whatever reason, in any way to avoid accepting in full the need to address the situation in its entirety. I ask the Minister to leave nobody out, to do the very best he can and to recognise that by creating a further injustice now, even though it may well be rationalised and may be justified in some quarters - whatever those quarters be - we need to be inclusive at this stage.
I am aware that some Members in the House regularly address Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, and everybody else who stands on the Government side of the House, as being harsh, right-wing and impervious to the feelings of others. I remind everybody, and for anyone who wants to read the history, that over the years Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, together with the Labour Party, produced and progressed some of the most innovative legislation ever in the State. They brought us a long way, and there was nobody else to do it at the time. They broke many moulds and got very little recognition. They were very often criticised for it but they did it. They did it because it was the right thing to do. I will conclude by appealing to the Minister to include in the scheme those who might be left out, according to what we have heard, but we hope it is not true.