Dáil debates

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Other Questions

Mother and Baby Homes Inquiries

4:05 pm

Photo of Maureen O'SullivanMaureen O'Sullivan (Dublin Central, Independent)
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66. To ask the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if he will include Magdalen laundries in the Government inquiry into mother and baby homes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27896/14]

Photo of Maureen O'SullivanMaureen O'Sullivan (Dublin Central, Independent)
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My question is to ask the Minister if he will include Magdalen laundries in the Government inquiry into the mother and baby homes.

Photo of Charles FlanaganCharles Flanagan (Minister, Department of Children and Youth Affairs; Laois-Offaly, Fine Gael)
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The Government has undertaken to establish a commission of investigation into the issues relating to mother and baby homes. While I have confirmed that the intended scope of this investigation will go beyond the home operated by the Sisters of Bon Secours in Tuam, County Galway, the process to develop specific terms of reference is being advanced in collaboration with relevant colleagues across Government. Significant progress is being made in this task which is being supported by a high level cross-departmental review committee involving representatives of eight Departments, the Office of Public Works and the National Archives.

Following the decision to establish a commission of investigation, there have been calls for the inclusion of a range of other institutions, including the Magdalen laundries and related concerns, and those are being given consideration as part of the process under way. The position as outlined by my colleague, the Minister for Justice and Equality, in response to a recent parliamentary question on the issue may be of interest to Deputy O'Sullivan. The Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, advised the House that the facts available regarding Magdalen laundries have been set out in detail in the McAleese report which exceeds 1,000 pages. The women concerned have received an apology from the Taoiseach, had the opportunity to relate their stories to both former Senator McAleese and Mr. Justice Quirke, and are entitled to receive a capital sum of up to €100,000 depending on duration of stay as well as life-long pension top-up payments and access to medical services.

The McAleese report examined the links between mother and baby homes and Magdalen laundries. His statistical analysis of the known entry routes into Magdalen laundries for the period 1920 onwards showed that 4% of entries were from mother and baby homes and adoption societies.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

In the light of the above, the Minister suggested that there was a valid question as to how inclusion of the Magdalen laundries within the terms of reference of another inquiry would be in the interest of or be of benefit to the women in question. I do not wish to prejudge the outcome of the Government's deliberations on the commission to investigate mother and baby homes. I assure the Deputy that the question she has raised will be reflected upon and considered carefully by Government in the context of setting the terms of reference for the commission of investigation. All of the matters raised publicly and submitted to my Department with regard to the proposed commission's terms of reference will be given consideration in arriving at an overall scope for the commission which is workable and effective.

Photo of Maureen O'SullivanMaureen O'Sullivan (Dublin Central, Independent)
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I welcome the Minister's statement that the inclusion of Magdalen laundries in the terms of reference of the commission of inquiry is under consideration. People who have taken oral testimonies from some of the ladies in the Magdalen laundries did say that babies were born and nursed at the Magdalen laundry in Sean MacDermott Street in Dublin. The biennial reports that were found in the Department of Health archives contained information relating to 26 children in the mother and baby home in Tuam between 1953 and 1958 for whom the whereabouts of parents was listed as a Magdalen laundry. It was stated also that the children were "maintained" in Tuam by both Galway and Mayo county councils. It was still policy in 1933 that unmarried mothers who had given birth a second time would also be transferred to a Magdalen laundry. A quote from the interdepartmental committee report- the McAleese report - shows that it was inadequate.

As the HSE was unable to provide the names and other relevant details ... before the publication date of this Report ... [consequently] it was not possible for the Committee to track these cases in the records of the Religious Congregations ... or to determine what became of the women after their referral to a Magdalen Laundry.
There are gaps in what has happened to date and that is the reason I would urge that the laundries would be included.

Photo of Charles FlanaganCharles Flanagan (Minister, Department of Children and Youth Affairs; Laois-Offaly, Fine Gael)
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It is not my intention to prejudge the outcome of the Government's deliberation on the commission to investigate mother and baby homes. I hope the detailed terms of reference could be formulated in the coming weeks.

It is my intention that the commission will commence work during the summer and that prior to 17 July, the last Dáil sitting day, the formal terms of reference will be agreed. However, I must advise the Deputy that the McAleese report examined links between mother and baby homes, in particular the institution in Tuam, and Magdalen laundries.

My colleague, the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, asked a valid question relating to how the inclusion of Magdalen laundries in the terms of reference of another inquiry will interest and benefit the women in question. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan may be in a position to advise me on such issues but I assure her the question she raised is being considered. Given the scale of the issue and the scope of investigations already under way, I do not wish to reopen issues that have been dealt with in many respects.

4:15 pm

Photo of Maureen O'SullivanMaureen O'Sullivan (Dublin Central, Independent)
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The Irish Human Rights Commission and the Committee Against Torture of the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights have raised the continuing failure to investigate abuse in Magdalen laundries. There are many connections between mother and baby homes, industrial schools and Magdalen laundries. Justice for Magdalenes is an organisation that works with survivors of the Magdalen laundries and it submitted 793 pages of survivor testimony to the McAleese committee. However, none of this appeared in the report because the committee's terms of reference related to State involvement with the institutions. As the Minister pointed out, the committee did this but unanswered questions remain. We now have an opportunity to collate the evidence and testimonies and get things right in order that there can be real closure.

The investigations will require experts in archival work and historians. Having conducted investigations, some county councils said certain material did not exist but the material was subsequently found by historians. I thank the Minister and hope he gives this serious consideration.

Photo of Charles FlanaganCharles Flanagan (Minister, Department of Children and Youth Affairs; Laois-Offaly, Fine Gael)
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I acknowledge the Deputy's contribution on this. As I said earlier, there is a wide range of documentation before the interdepartmental committee. I agree that a social historian or archivist should be involved to ensure all documentation is appropriately logged. Issues exist relating to burial arrangements and high mortality rates at mother and baby homes. There are other issues too, such as clinical trials, domestic and international adoptions, the circumstances of mothers and the manner in which homes were run generally. It has already been suggested that an important North-South dimension must be examined.

If the Deputy has further documentation that could be of use to the Department or the commission of investigation, she should forward copies to me. I have already received over 100 written submissions and they will all feed into the process. It is expected that the Government will agree appropriate terms of reference in the coming weeks prior to the Dáil's recess on 17 July. I want an historic all-party agreement on this issue and I ask Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan, in conjunction with her colleagues on the Independent benches, to make submissions and engage in the process. I am anxious that full and detailed consideration be given to all aspects of this matter.