Thursday, 9 March 2017
Commission of Investigation Announcement on Tuam Mother and Baby Home: Statements
Acting Chairman, Deputies, experience tells us it can take time to shine a light on dark periods of our history. The truth is hidden; sometimes it is hidden in plain sight. It takes the brave testimony of survivors, long studies by historians and the dogged determination of investigative journalists to bring a spotlight to events which were previously only whispered about, in this case for generations.
It is now almost a week since the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes confirmed what we had all feared. Today I wish to place on the record of this House the commission’s update that a significant number of human remains are buried in the site of the old mother and baby home in Tuam. For survivors, loved ones and campaigners such as the tireless Catherine Corless it was a moment of vindication. After decades, and years of hard work, determination and unwavering commitment, the truth has been laid bare for all of us to see. This House and our entire State owe a debt of gratitude to Catherine Corless for her work. Many men and women alive today spent time in that institution, either as children or as young women. Today I offer them my personal solidarity and, as a citizen, my personal apology for the wrongs that were done to them.
Deputies will know that the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes continues its work. They will also know that calls have been made for the terms of reference of this commission to be reviewed. I acknowledge the calls made since Friday for an expansion of the terms of reference to cover all institutions, agencies and individuals that were involved with Ireland’s unmarried mothers and their children. I can commit to Deputies that a scoping exercise will be carried out to examine this. I will be announcing the detail of this exercise in the coming weeks. I will also be publishing the second interim report of the commission by the end of this month.
I am mindful that, by design, the commission is largely concerned with questions of legality, of legal liability, of compliance with the laws of the day and so on. These are important questions. They are, however, not the only issues which we should consider. What happened in Tuam is part of a larger picture. It is part of a tapestry of oppression, abuse and systematic human rights violations that took place all over this country for decades. As a modern, open society we must not treat these as isolated incidents but rather confront what was a dark period in an honest, mature and reflective way.
We must acknowledge that what was happening in these institutions was not unknown and was not without the support of many pillars in society. We must acknowledge that this very House debated legislation that allowed for those residing in institutions such as county homes to work for little or nothing in return for the so-called charity that was shown to them. Lest we contend that people did not know what was happening, let us remember that some Members of this House spoke out against it. In the finance committee debates on the Health Bill 1952, which took place in July 1953, Deputy Kyne condemned putting unmarried mothers in county homes to effectively involuntary labour as “having revenge on her”. Deputy Captain Cowan described as “absolute brutality” the fact that, as he described it, “they are not let out even”. Earlier than that, before our Constitution had been finalised, Members of the Oireachtas also raised questions about the ill-treatment of so-called illegitimate children. Thus, as I said, although this history may be dark, it was not entirely unknown.
We must acknowledge that sometimes it was fathers and mothers, brothers and uncles, who condemned their daughters, sisters, nieces and cousins and their children to these institutions - and that sometimes it was not. We must accept that between 1940 and 1965 a recorded 474 so-called “unclaimed infant remains” were transferred from mother and baby homes to medical schools in Irish universities. We must listen to, record and honour the truth of people’s experiences. We must commit to the best of our ability to recognising, recording and making reparations for the truth. Making these commitments and honouring them will not be easy, but we must do so, for those who suffered and also for future generations.
Establishing the truth is important for many reasons but not least to ensure that the darkness of the past will not return in the future. Irish women and Irish children must never have to endure such suffering again. As a feminist, as an Independent Minister and as an Irish woman I feel a moral and ethical compulsion to reach beyond the legal questions of what happened in Tuam and elsewhere. I feel a compulsion to try to arrive at this truth. It is only from acceptance of the truth that we can move past it, not by drawing a line under it but by highlighting it and recognising it as part of our history and part of our national story. We must commemorate and memorialise this truth and we must honour its victims. We must recognise the part that individuals, communities and institutions played. We must make sure that, while we still have time, we look to those who are still alive and accept their accounts of what was done to them, and of the wrongness of that.
In the coming days I will start a conversation with advocates, historians and scholars specialising in transitional justice. The United Nations defines transitional justice as the set of approaches a society uses "to try to come to terms with a range of large scale past abuses". Transitional justice puts survivors and victims at the heart of the process. It commits to pursuing justice through truth. It aims to achieve not only individual justice, but a wider societal transition from more repressive times, in order to move from one era to another. Taking a transitional justice approach means that we will find out and record the truth, ensure accountability, make reparation, undertake institutional reform and achieve reconciliation. I want to acknowledge the many people who have contacted me personally in recent days to tell me directly of their experiences. It is important also to ensure that we learn from international best practice in transitional justice, such as the museums of memory in Argentina and Chile, for example. There may also be lessons to be learned from processes used to establish the truth in other contexts and other countries.
Writing in the London Review of Bookslast year about the mother and baby home in Tuam and other matters, our laureate for Irish fiction, Anne Enright, stated:
The living can be disbelieved, dismissed, but the dead do not lie. We turn in death from witness to evidence, and this evidence is indelible, because it is mute.
Let us not disbelieve. Let us not dismiss. Let us commit to do justice not solely through law but through speaking and listening, and through believing what our eyes, our ears and our compatriots tell us.
I thank the Minister for her speech. I welcome all she has said this morning.
Deputy Micheál Martin is attending meetings of the ALDE group in regard to Brexit. He sends his apologies. He would have contributed to the debate this morning were he present.
Last Friday morning, 3 March, the Minister, Deputy Zappone, informed colleagues and Galway County Council that exploratory excavations at the site of the Bon Secours mother and baby home in Tuam, County Galway had confirmed that the remains found at the site were human remains. The remains dated from 1925 to 1961, the timeframe in which the Bon Secours home was in operation. They were found in two underground structures believed to have been built to deal with sewage.
The commission's remit includes investigating several specific areas of practice and procedures in the care, welfare, entry arrangements and exit pathways for the women and children who were residents of the 14 named institutions and representative sample of county homes identified by the commission.
In the 1970s, Tuam locals discovered what they believed were human remains at the site. Local historian Catherine Corless discovered death records for 796 babies and infants who did not have burial records. This indicated that the remains found on the site may have been buried by the mother and baby home. Without carbon dating and further investigation it was impossible to establish whether these remains were interred at the time of the mother and baby home's operation or at an earlier point such as the Great Irish Famine. Thanks to the work of the commission we now know that the remains were from children aged from 35 foetal weeks to two and a half years at the time of their deaths. It is not yet known how many remains are at the site although the Minister has confirmed there is a significant number. That is the phrase that reverberated around Tuam last Friday: significant number. That is when the clock struck 12. That is when silence dawned. That is when darkness came over the town of Tuam and the county of Galway. That part of history would not have been acknowledged were it not for the original works of Catherine Corless, the efforts of survivors and the work of members of my party, previous and current, who lobbied and pushed for this investigation. The commission of investigation has done a huge amount of work to get to this stage.
What happened in Tuam is an absolute tragedy and a disgrace. Although we have known for a long time that women and children had been treated in the most appalling manner in this country, the recent discoveries in Tuam are truly the stuff of nightmares. To know that a significant number of children and infants were buried there without rite or ritual chills me to the core. Now, as we have been too many times before, we are confronted by the sheer inhumanity that has been shown to these women, buried with not even a stone to mark their passage or their presence. These children were not accorded the symbols to represent the respect they deserve. They were born as no-ones. They were buried as no-ones.
The Department of Children and Youth Affairs is co-ordinating the commission. We must encourage the commission to expand its scope. I will be calling for that to happen. It is the very least we should do for all women who entered mother and baby homes and county homes. The life of a mother or a baby in Tuam is no different to the life of a mother or a baby anywhere else in this country. We must treat all of our mothers and babies equally. My concern, which I believe the House shares, is for the lack of respect for the fundamental dignity and humility of the mothers and children who spent time in the Bon Secours and other such institutions in this country.
I am conscious that there are hidden layers and complexities to the issue before us. No-one knows this better than the parties directly affected by the discovery in Tuam. First and foremost are the mothers and the babies who survived from these homes, be they adopted or fostered. Their relatives and friends have been left anguished by the thoughts of what has happened to their loved ones. What these women and children experienced as a result of being forced into mother and baby homes was cruel and inhumane.
As a people, we should feel great shame that this has unfolded before our eyes, eyes that watch carefully for a person upon whom to cast judgment, to blame and to castigate. Those same eyes turned away from the immense suffering and tragedy that was visited upon these women and their children. This wilful hypocrisy and contradiction are among the most troubling aspects of this case. To experience the cruelty that these women and children experienced is a deep wound. To come out to be met with widespread denial and stonewalling is yet another. We cannot have justice for survivors until we know what they have survived.
Last Friday I rang Tommy Warde, from Kylebrack, Loughrea, County Galway. He was on the front page of The Irish Timeslast Saturday. Last night, he described himself as one of the lucky ones. He was fostered. There has been little discussion about the children fostered from the mother and baby homes. Tommy was five and a half years of age when he was put in a van and brought to his new foster parents. Today he reflects on the sadness of what has emerged because he sees those babies as his brothers and sisters. They were his family. That was the institution Tommy lived in until he was five and a half years old. He never saw a cow or a sheep until he moved to Woodford. He knew no form of love or appreciation until he went to Woodford.
When we reflect back on society and Government and on who had a role, we should realise that we all had a role. Tommy was fostered and an allowance was paid for him. Who paid the allowance? Tommy's foster home had inspections, of which they knew in advance. However, who carried out the inspections? Where are the records? There are records. We have an allowance and records of inspections. When Tommy hit 18 years of age, he was given the price of a bicycle.
Who gave him that? The bicycle was to allow him to take up an apprenticeship. Fortunately for him, he said he did not like carpentry and he was looked favourably upon and allowed to become a mechanic. Tommy is one of the lucky ones. He has advocated for years for the issue to be dealt with. He thanks the Minister and commission for highlighting the issue - for the first time in his life his voice has been heard and for that he is grateful.
We have to write our history. We must also think about children on waiting lists, in homeless accommodation or with disabilities who do not get the appropriate services they need. In 100 years' time I do not want it to be said that I failed. That is why it is important that we dovetail history. While we think of the past, we must also think of the present because I do not want to be part of the future history that stood by and talked about children with disabilities or those on waiting lists because we will be remembered in the same way. They are the people who need a voice and that is what is expected of us.
We on this side of the House will support the Minister. We need to expand the scope of the work and for all of the people who have had horrific lives to come forward. We need to examine the scope of the commission's work. Let us make it inclusive and ensure that when women come forward they do not sit at a table across from six people who are investigating them. Let us make sure that the women concerned have support going into a room because they are vulnerable and we have to encourage them to come forward and engage with the commission. Without their engagement, we will leave a big, black, dark hole in Irish history. We need everybody to engage with the commission.
To date, the residents of Tuam have not engaged with the commission. I encourage them to come forward. I represent the people of Tuam and my heart goes out to them. However, we also have to think about the building works currently taking place at the grove site in Tuam.
Yesterday was International Women’s Day, a day which celebrates women and their role in society and when we advocate for the empowerment and the equality of women. It is a day when we recognise our respect for women and demands for equality.
On Sunday fortnight, we also have another day that celebrates women, namely mother’s day. Children show thanks for the tender loving care they have received over their lifetime. The bond between a mother and her children is like no other, and one that should always be cherished. Unfortunately, we have learned all too tragically that for some that bond was ripped apart at the seams. The tragic circumstances surrounding Tuam have touched everyone’s hearts, and for those survivors of Tuam and homes like it it must be a difficult day dogged by horrible memories and a longing for closure. They are longing for a bond and relationship that most of us are lucky enough to take for granted. For many mothers, there is uncertainty as to what happened to their children. An tseachtain seo caite, nuair a fuaireas amach an scéal seo ón dTuaim, bhraitheas tinn.
To most who have been following this story for some time, the confirmation came as no great surprise. Yet, the news did not lose its impact, potency or ability to shock and appal. In death, as in life, these people were left to be forgotten and were hidden away from sight of the Irish people as though they were a source of shame. Ach a mhalairt atá ann mar is ar an Stát agus ar an tír seo atá an náire don am sin.
In so many ways, the State has not yet faced up to what has happened. I acknowledge what the Minister said today. However, the Taoiseach, Deputy Kenny, continuously spoke about the families who rejected these women and their children. I agree that society has to carry its share of the blame, but the State should not be written out. It funded, referred people to and facilitated these places. The State knew what was happening and was complicit, and it will continue to be complicit if it cannot provide the truth to survivors.
On the 15 February last in Geneva, at a hearing of the United Nations, a representative from the Department of Justice and Equality stated that while the Taoiseach made an apology to the survivors of the Magdalen laundries, he did so despite the fact that in the McAleese report there was no finding of liability. The Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, has stated the same on the Dáil record. This entirely disregards that about a quarter of referrals made to these homes was by the State. The State is still not facing up to its responsibility for these events. Despite the attempts to wash our hands, the stains will remain unless we deal with them.
As has been stated, there are many concerns about other homes. What happened to the children in those homes? The story told by death records given to the HSE in 2011 and reported by Conall Ó Fátharta of the Irish Examiner, do not ease anyone's fears. The register of deaths given to the HSE for Bessborough, in my constituency in Cork, reflects that 273 deaths were recorded between 1939 and 1944. However, the order reported 353 deaths to State inspectors during this period, which is a significant disparity and raises some very worrying questions. Did deaths happen which were unreported to the authorities or were false records created? If neither frightening possibility is the case, then what happened?
In Sean Ross Abbey, the death register lists a total of 269 deaths between 1934 and 1967, but some of those buried in the plot there are not listed on the register. It is also deeply shocking and appalling to learn that the main cause of death in the case of some 20% of the deaths in Bessborough was marasmus or severe malnutrition - in other words, death by hunger was happening in the 1940s and 1950s in Cork. At a minimum, we need to expand drastically the terms of reference of the commission of investigation into mother and baby homes.
While the Minister was not in government at the time, her colleagues signed off on the terms of reference despite the fact that people across the Chamber and outside were telling the Government that the terms of reference did not take account of enough matters and that the process and the number of homes included was not adequate.
The commission is simply not fit for purpose. I welcome the words of the Minister when she said she will consider various processes. That is vitally important, because the current process is not adequate to examine the plethora of issues it is to investigate and various related matters coming down the line.
There are other issues connected to the commission. Women will pour out their hearts and go through traumatic hearings, yet will come out without a counsellor to meet them. Things like that need to be rectified.
I very much welcome the statement of the Minister that she will publish the report. It has already been far too long; some six months have elapsed. Many were becoming concerned about the cause of the delay and the response of State authorities while the report was sitting on the desk of the Minister. I welcome that commitment and look forward to reading the report.
Several years ago, a commitment was made to build a memorial at Sean McDermott Street laundry to honour the victims of the Magdalen laundries and the mother and baby homes. There has been no progress on that since. The least we can do is to memorialise these women and their children and give them the dignity in death that they did not have in life.
Tá mé buíoch as an deis labhairt ar an ábhar millteanach tábhachtach seo.
I wish the Minister well in her endeavours.
Last Friday, the commission of investigation confirmed the worst fears of many of us here when it announced that a significant quantity of human remains had been discovered at the site of the former mother and baby home in Tuam. The remains are those of almost 800 children and babies who were buried in a septic tank with no explanation so far for the cause of their deaths. Mar a dúirt an Piarsach:
Sine mé ná an Chailleach Bhéarra ...
Mór mo náir.
Women were denied their rights and they were treated as slaves. Some babies were treated as guinea pigs in medical experiments and many were forcibly and illegally adopted. These citizens were treated like this because they were born or they gave birth outside of wedlock. It was a conservative, mean-spirited, narrow-minded political elite in this State in alliance with the church hierarchies that allowed these anti-women practices to penetrate every facet of Irish life. The system under which this abuse happened was supported, approved and inspected by the State. It happened with the clear sanction and connivance of many who sat in this Chamber. Many of the practices which now give rise to our moral outrage were legislated for in this Chamber. I appeal again for a formal State apology to the victims and survivors of mother and baby homes and other institutions.
The terms of reference relating to the work of investigating all this have to deal with all the issues involved. When Sinn Féin moved a Private Members' motion in June 2014 seeking an investigation into claims about babies buried in Tuam, especially those resulting from the work of Catherine Corless, we said, as did others, that the Government's response was inadequate, and this is now evident. The UN, among others, has said the current investigation does not meet international standards. Tuam was part of a vast network which systematically violated the rights of women and their children and there were upwards of 180 institutions of this kind throughout the State and more in the North. It is imperative that the terms of reference be extended to include all institutions and that the victims and survivors are at the heart of whatever processes we establish. The people of this island owe a huge debt of gratitude to the campaigners, archivists, historians and some journalists who did so much to unearth the horrors, but I especially, most of all, would like to commend the survivors.
I do not have the time to elaborate on this but we continue to fail women and children in this State. We continue to fail to protect women with crisis pregnancies while the Government continues to cut funding for rape crisis and family refuge centres. Some day, we may well have another inquiry into the treatment of people, including children, in direct provision centres, into the failure to provide proper resources or into protection of children with disabilities or mental health issues or into those who are homeless or on hospital waiting lists.
I welcome the Minister's commitment to publish the second interim report of the commission, which examines all the issues, but I would also an explanation as to why it has not been published thus far. Why is there is no Garda investigation? What is happening?
Many of the scandals that have surfaced in recent times have two things in common. They mostly involve disadvantaged or poor people and the Government and the establishment always had to be pulled kicking and screaming to deal reluctantly with the issues involved.
I welcome the fact that the Minister has indicated she will publish the report. I agree with Deputy Adams that we need an explanation as to why that has taken so long. There does not seem to be any reason it should have taken this time but I welcome the fact that it will be published. I also welcome the Minister's commitment to carrying out a scoping exercise to examine extending the terms of reference of the commission of inquiry. However, much more than a scoping exercise is needed and I sincerely hope at the end of it that she will announce an extension of the terms of reference because the commission of inquiry will only examine a sample of 14 mother and baby homes and four county homes. For example, none in the county I live in will be examined. Eighteen homes is clearly not enough and many people are excluded who were either born in a mother and baby home or a county home or were placed in one of them or had relatives who were placed in them. They have been following the horrific news in respect of Tuam over the past week or two. They cannot be left out of the exercise that will be carried out and, therefore, it must be ensured that a comprehensive investigation is carried out because this is a scandal of huge proportions.
Many of us knew about this because Catherine Corless had many times outlined the horrible work she had to do in Tuam but this was absolutely clarified when we received the information that human remains had been found on the site in awful burial chambers underground. They were meant to be septic tanks and sewerage facilities but they contained the bodies of we do not know how many babies. The death certificates indicate almost 800 babies were buried there. Catherine Corless is an extraordinary woman. My understanding is that she had to fight hard to get this information and she paid €4 for every one of those death certificates. She has done an enormous service for this country and, I hope, for a more enlightened country than the picture that has been painted of the past.
Bessborough is another example of a home where the percentage of children aged under four who died was way higher than the average for that age cohort in the State at the time. Deputy Ó Laoghaire said that malnutrition was one of the main causes of death in the Bessborough home. The question must be asked as to why children died in these homes. One of the answers is they died because they were undernourished and were not fed properly, yet their mothers were still put in these homes by the State, their families, and other institutions that were in a position of power and authority in our society. It is an absolute stain on all of us who were aware over time that these terrible things were happening.
Issues such as vaccine trials, illegal adoptions and babies being sent to America without anybody knowing they were being sent will rightly be covered by the commission because all the facts must be unearthed. We also have the Grace case as well, about which all of us have had an opportunity to speak about over the past few days. I came into the House in 1998 around the time the then Taoiseach made an apology on behalf of the Irish people in respect of the children who were abused in residential institutions. The commission to inquire into child abuse was established and the Residential Institutions Redress Act 2002 which set up the Residential Institutions Redress Board was also passed. I recall hearing about golden circles in our society where rich and powerful people, whether they were developers, bankers, politicians and so on had extraordinary power and influence. At the same time, there was what others and I described as a "grey circle". This referred to the grey walls around many institutions where those who were not considered to be important were placed. We knew many of them had been put into residential institutions that were mainly run by religious orders but the State was involved as well.
We have known for some time also that the mother and baby homes were likely to be equally shameful in terms of what was going on at that time. We did not have as much information at the time about mother and baby homes as we have now, and as we will have in the immediate future but we must get to a point where we uncover all of the uncomfortable and shameful truths because until we do, we will not have the foundations to build the kind of caring, inclusive and equal society we all want to achieve. It is really important in all of this that we get to the truth. It is also important that we do not leave any stone unturned and that we are unafraid to open things up, whether it is under the ground or in registers of births and deaths or wherever else. There is an onus on all of us to ensure that happens.
I welcome the fact the Minister has made an apology but I note it was a personal apology. I presume there is an apology on behalf of the State. I agree with those who have said there is a need for memorials and a conversation. I acknowledge that in her contribution the Minister said she intends to engage with people who are directly affected. Memorials in themselves are important but it is far more important to establish the truth about the lives of the people who are affected. It we could achieve that it would be a much more meaningful memorial.
I welcome the progress that is being made and more progress remains to be made. Unfortunately, there is much more shameful information about the past of this country, and some of it in the present as well and as representatives of the people in this Chamber we all have an obligation to ensure that we find out the full truth and that we face the consequences in that regard.
In 2011 the Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus discontinued its adoption service and gave the registers from its mother and baby home at Bessborough in Cork to the HSE. In 2012 senior HSE personnel who were concerned at what was contained therein sent a report to the Department of Health and the Department of Children and Youth Affairs on the number of deaths that had occurred at Bessborough. The registers showed that in the years between 1934 and 1953 the deaths had occurred at Bessborough of 470 infants and ten women.
According to a former chief medical officer of the State, James Deeny, in his autobiography, To Cure and to Care, in one year alone, of the 180 children born in the home 100 died. One in five of those who died in the 1934 to 1953 period died of marasmus, that is, severe malnutrition. June Goulding, a midwife at Bessborough in the early 1950s, is another witness. In her book, The Light in the Window, she told of a house of pain where mothers in childbirth were denied pain relief and women who suffered vaginal tearing in childbirth were refused stitching as punishment for their sins. She and others told of the Americans who arrived at the home to purchase healthy babies from the nuns.
Some years ago I was contacted by a survivor who was born at Bessborough and I visited him in his home. He expressed to me his strong opinion that not all of the babies were buried in the tiny angels burial plot at the home. He believed the decision not to give babies who were buried a gravestone or a white cross was a business one. Simply put, the Americans rolling up the driveway at the end of their journey from Shannon Airport would be less likely to buy their baby from the nuns if they were to look out of the car window and see a small forest of white crosses on the grounds of the home. He asked me to call for an excavation at the home. I have previously done so and I am doing so again today.
We heard from Carmel Cantwell, whose brother William died in the home in the early 1960s. She does not know for sure where her brother is buried - perhaps in the angels plot but perhaps not. How many more babies such as William are buried there and where are their graves? Where can their relatives go to pay their respects? It is not good enough just to point to a tiny plot and say "He is in there, somewhere". Do William's sister and his elderly mother not deserve better than that?
The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, said the other day that before we go ahead with such decisions it is important to establish whether we have any evidence which might prompt such excavations. What more evidence does the Minister need? There should be excavations at Bessborough and all of the other sites too.
Religious institutions no longer run mother and baby homes in this country. However, the mother and baby homes were the product of a society which refused to separate the church from the State. To this day, church and State remain unseparated and religious orders still have control of schools and hospitals. The Roman Catholic Church still finds its teachings reflected in the laws of the land.
The ghosts of the women who were refused pain relief in the mother and baby homes in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s watch over their granddaughters and great-granddaughters who are sent to England in secrecy and shame for the abortions the State refuses to carry out here. Ending scandals of this kind is entirely linked with ending the scandal of a conjoined church and State sanctioned through the decades by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael alike. We should separate the church from the State now.
In recent days many people have been talking about nothing else other than the details of Tuam but we also all have a collective memory of having grown up and attended Catholic schools and lived in a Catholic-ridden State. I was talking to a friend who recalled how the nuns in her school used regularly to beat everybody but especially the Traveller girls, who were pulled down corridors by the hair. She never forgot the face on those Traveller girls as they were beaten and dragged through the school. The woman who recalled those incidents is younger than me and she has a vivid memory of what happened. If we search our memories we will all find evidence of the same kind of incidents.
Without being too dramatic I wish to refer to one extract from a journalist called Donal O’Keeffe. It is really incredible. It says everything about the church and in particular the Bon Secours order. He related that a healthy little boy called John Desmond Dolan was born in 1946 in the Tuam home. He died on Wednesday, 11 June 1947, when he was a year and three months old. He was described on his death certificate in the cruel language of the day as "a congenital idiot". In an inspection in April 1947 it was reported that he was "a miserable, emaciated child with voracious appetite and no control over bodily functions, probably mentally defective". That says it all about what we are dealing with here, namely, the legacy of the church and its handling of what at the time were described as unmarried mothers but what we consider a family today. A mother and her children, without a partner, are considered a family. That said, we do not treat them as equals because the statistics are startling and show that lone parents are more likely to live in poverty and suffer from homelessness than families with both a mother and father. There is a legacy still to be dealt with in terms of how we view women who try to rear their children on their own.
No matter how much we recoil over the historical facts, we must remind ourselves that we will be judged not by what we say but what we do.
I nearly fell out of my chair yesterday morning when I heard Deputy Micheál Martin calling for two hospitals, the Mater and St. Vincent's, to be taken back into the control of the State because he has had a Damascene conversion and now believes church and State should be separated. I want to remind the world that it was Archbishop John Charles McQuaid and Eamon de Valera who established the Constitution that gave the Catholic Church the right to do what it did. It also gave the moral authority to everybody to see only the married family as central and sacrosanct and enshrined it in our Constitution.
We have to start making a change. That is why I will repeat my call that the Bon Secours order should disband and reconsider its position, just like Fianna Fáil should reconsider its position. There are historical legacies dealt with here. Until the church and the political parties complicit in all of this put their hands up and say it was their fault, they played a huge role in it and begin to take measures to deal with that, then we are only codding ourselves. I am not here to talk the talk, I want to walk the walk. I am calling on people to walk with me tomorrow and then stand outside the Bon Secours hospitals, silent and dignified, remembering these mothers and children. The demand will be that it should reconsider its position in this country and disband its organisation.
Interestingly, in the same interview yesterday, Deputy Micheál Martin did not mention the Bon Secours order because private enterprise makes lots of money and the latter is the biggest private medical care provider in this country. The god is profit, money and private enterprise. Accordingly, one does not criticises them, talk about them or challenge them. I want to challenge them, as do thousands of people in this country who are sickened by this memory and the fact that today we are not dealing with that legacy, either politically or morally.
When we look at our history and talk about change, yesterday, the streets were full of tens of thousands of young women and young men. They are demanding a different kind of Ireland. If we do not listen to them, we will be brushed aside by history itself and by the next generation. Thanks be to God for those young people because their determination is to utterly change this society. The next generation is demanding that the church get out of our schools, as Deputy Barry said, out of our hospitals, out of our beds and out of our lives. We are elected and we should begin that process to work with the young people to change the world.
We meet so many people, individuals and groups in our political lives, and there will always be some who will make a significant impact on us. For me, some of those people are the women I met from the Magdalen laundries and from the Association of Mixed Race Irish . I met the latter group several times over the years and with them I met the then Minister, Senator James Reilly. For me, it was the additional burdens, heartbreak and pain for those in these institutions who were of mixed race. I know Rosemary Adaser has been speaking in the media about her experiences, which are very similar to the others from the group whom I met. The commission of investigation is specifically examining if any group was systematically treated differently on any grounds, including race. The association is satisfied that this has been included. However, this has to be included in the terms of reference drawn up for any investigation involving children or institutions. There is also a need for suitably-qualified people to assist in investigations into race. The Association of Mixed Race Irish has wanted to see the interim report to examine if its members' issues are being adequately addressed.
Their admission files to mother and baby homes listed their colour under the section "Defects". Regrettably, the Ryan report did not deal directly with race. The group also wants to know the numbers of mixed-race infants who passed through all of the mother and baby homes, particularly St. Patrick's mother and baby home on the Navan Road. All these questions have to be answered and all these issues addressed. This means the terms of reference have to be wide and flexible enough, particularly with sensitive handling from trained professionals. I know some people will want to speak in public, but others will want to do so in private. Both have to be respected. Following requests from survivors who objected to the word "home" being used as they find it offensive, we had a discussion with the Minister. I know from that exchange that she was aware of the emotional impact of using that word to describe an institution of horror.
Under the Equality Act, any investigation with children in institutions has to include race. If there is a need for a criminal investigation, then it should happen. Will the terms of reference do? What is necessary to get to the truth to get justice for everybody involved? At times when we feel that is the worst we can hear, something else emerges much worse. One of members of the Association of Mixed Race Irish has stated:
The Dublin health authority’s mother and baby home made many references to my colour in reports for no obvious reason other than to note or highlight racial bias. For example, two psychiatrists’ reports in 1967 referred to me as "dark-skinned" in the first one and "coloured" in the second. The question is: what relevance did this have in a medical report? The admissions ledger at the industrial school had "coloured" in one of the columns and also in the heading "admissions reform". [That did not apply to children, say, with red hair or white skin.]
The last point the person made was "I don't know how I survived this place" and then "After spending four years at St. Patrick's home, I was sent to an industrial school." The members of the association are remarkable people in the context of what they have come through and the way in which they have survived. We owe an awful lot to them to get to the truth.
Why has the interim report not been published? If we are going to learn anything, it is to show respect. The Minister spoke about respect and dignity and I appreciate her bona fides. However, she published a report about the Tuam home last Friday without talking to any of the survivor organisations. No explanation has been given as to why this interim report, which the Minister has had since last September, has not been published. If we are going to create confidence, that will be the first step.
The second step is that I want an assurance that the site in Tuam will be properly and forensically sealed off, as well as the full details given on this. I want an assurance that the date for applications will now be extended because quite clearly more survivors, workers and concerned people will come forward in view of the discoveries so far.
We must look at expanding the terms of reference. That can only be done, however, when we see the contents of the interim report. That is why it is essential we see what has been learned so far, rather than having us ask questions as to what is being hidden. That is not my style but when an interim report is not published, then it begs the question as to why.
Without a doubt, Tuam cannot be seen in isolation but as part of an overall system. When we have a Taoiseach talking about no nuns breaking into our homes in the middle of night, the Minister might agree that this is missing the point. These mother and baby homes were set up in total collusion with the State and successive Governments. Reluctantly, I will take this opportunity to quote a man. It is a good quote. Oliver St. John Gogarty summed up the situation well in 1928 when he declared to the Seanad, "It is high time the people of this country find some other way of loving God other than by hating women."
On many levels, we have continued in that vein, namely, of loving a God by demonising other people, in this case women. We have a history of doing that. The question of morality, fallen women and all of this terrible terminology was used to hide the pervasive poverty and class distinction. We have to be honest. Poor women were taken away. While the nuns themselves did not come in the middle of the night - it is not my job to demonise nuns - the State was utterly complicit in what the nuns did. If they did not come in the middle of the night, the system made it that these women did go. Separately from that, what has been ignored utterly is how many women were subject to rape and assault and ended up in these homes, adding insult to injury.
I accept the Minister’s bona fides but let us see it in action. Let us take on the practical suggestions I have given her and have the interim report published immediately.
It is hard to overstate the devastation felt by citizens the length and breadth of this country as a result of the findings at Tuam. Their horror and shock are very real. It is completely hypocritical, however, for the State to feign shock at that discovery.
The knowledge has been well known - our dirty hidden secret that many people, and certainly officialdom, knew about. We know that Catriona Crowe at the National Archives found records in 1996 showing illegal birth certificates and illegal passports for illegally adopted children. We know of the internal report revealed by former senior official at the HSE, Philip Garland, regarding the reports that were there about the epidemic levels of deaths in Bessborough, reports in the hands of the Department in respect of which there was no action or no inquiries for years. It is true to say these are real horrors but they are systematic of a society and a culture which demonised women and a deliberate policy of shame and stigma around fallen women. These were detention centres for pregnant women and it is apt that we are discussing these matters the day after International Women's Day and in the context of other discussions that are taking place around this issue now.
Without making light of it, I thought the headline, "Taoiseach's Speech On Tuam To Be Followed By Decade Of Delaying Investigations", that appeared on the Waterford Whispers News website yesterday best captured the situation in which we find ourselves. However, that is not what we want. Since June 2011 when I asked the then Minister, Senator James Reilly, about the 42 mother and baby homes, the illegal adoptions and so on, this issue has been kicked around form Department to Department. I have had interaction with six Ministers, delays, excuses and inaction. I am not targeting this Minister or anything like that. That has been the systemic approach to these issues. I would point to the heroic work of the likes of Paul Redmond, Claire McGettrick and Conall Ó Fátharta of the Irish Examiner, who since 2010 has been forensic in his examination of what was actually known in the State system about this horror. We have had repeated questions and passing of the buck on many of these matters.
What needs to be done now is what the survivor groups have asked us to do, namely, acknowledge the State's role and hold those responsible to account. The Government needs to stop running from fear of compensation. There is no way to compensate people for what has been done but let us get the truth out there. They at least deserve that. The handing over of the records held in the homes and a full audit to identify all the children is utterly necessary but critically, we cannot go to the next stage unless we see the interim report. I could plaster my walls with the amount of requests I have made for it. This must be the starting block of the expansion of the terms of reference and all those people, some living, some dead, whose history and identity were stolen and whose lives were ruined by this State. We need all survivors included. There cannot be a hierarchy, none are more important than others.
I will speak first, if that is in order. There are only two of us sharing this timeslot myself and Deputy Mattie McGrath and we will each take five minutes.
I thank the Minister for bringing this subject to the floor of the Dáil. There is so much that can be said about this issue and we must all hang our heads in shame. As Deputy Clare Daly said, these facts have been known for years but it again required a whistleblower, a women who investigated tirelessly, to bring this matter to public attention.
We are deemed to be the land of saints and scholars. That is what I was taught in school but it appears from many revelations in recent years that it was only the land of saints and scholars for the privileged and for those who were compliant with the Catholic Church. If one deviated in any way, one was condemned. At the age of seven I learned right from wrong in school. Everybody in Ireland learned right from wrong or at least they should have. It is a natural instinct. We should know what is correct and what is not correct. What we are dealing with here is are moral, legal and ethical issues. Moral judgments were made on these women and children by the church but also by their families in society, who placed, encouraged or forced these women into these institutions. The State also judged them on moral grounds. These were fallen women who had sinned and were to be hidden away and their children were stained with the label of illegitimacy and they were judged to be less than human. Women perhaps were abused for a second time as a result of their pregnancy by being put into these institutions and perhaps repeatedly ended up being pregnant and being put into these institutions again. They disappeared from their home, village and townland only to return a year or two later with gossip and rumour surrounding them. Many had to emigrate to England and some died as a result of their pregnancy. They died of shame because they were pregnant and we must remember those as well. Yet the fathers of these children escaped without stain or without public scrutiny and we must also bear the shame of that.
Children were neglected to the extent that they died but not only did they die, they were discarded without ceremony or without dignity. That is a very difficult thing to understand, that a Catholic institution would discard a baby, his or her human remains, without any ceremony, dignity or recognition that he or she had lived in this world.
The Catholic Church stands in the glare of exposure and investigation yet again. It only takes good men to do nothing for evil to thrive and that is exactly what happened here. The State has also very serious questions to answer in this regard in that it sponsored these institutions. When we look back at the Kerry babies controversy, this is the Kerry babies multiplied by hundreds upon hundreds upon hundreds. The medical profession must also have questions to answer in this regard. How could so many children have died in these institutions? How could questions not have been asked about how these young children died? Again, it was swept under the carpet without those children having any dignity or recognition.
Ireland has failed these women and children. This only happened one generation ago. It is not as if it happened 100 or 50 years ago. It was happening up until the 1990s. It is absolutely unbelievable. It is disgrace and a dreadful indictment of Irish society.
We have commemorated the Famine for the past 160 odd years. We have viewed it as the darkest blot in our history. We have examined the Famine and blamed it on others but this situation is equivalent to the Famine and we have nobody to blame but ourselves. We are responsible for what happened. We are responsible in that we allowed the Catholic Church to allow this happen and we allowed the State to sponsor it. It is a disgrace and I hope the inquiry will get to the truth of this matter. I do not believe we can expect people to be brought to justice but we need to expose our institutions and ensure that this never happens again.
This week, all of us have been deeply disturbed by the events in Tuam. Our hearts have been touched by the thought that so many children could have ended their lives in an environment that may have neglected or abandoned them when they were most in need of help. There is no defending or excusing away what is absolutely indefensible. It is a source of shame that so many of our nation’s children died in this way, and, indeed, continue to die through various forms of abuse. The State is complicit in the deaths and maltreatment of these children and their families but this is not yesterday’s problem. It is not a problem we have left behind. We continue to practice, with horrifying regularity, the betrayal of children and their families. After all, it was not 85 years ago, it was not 55 years ago, it was not even 25 years ago, that a report was produced that reviewed the deaths of almost 200 children who died either in the care of the State or who were known to the State’s care services . It was five years ago. Let us think about the number involved. Almost 200 children in the care of the modern Irish state died while in that State’s so-called care from 2002 to 2012, a mere ten years. That is shocking. Almost 200 children died in ten years.
Tuam horrifies us. It causes us all dismay and bewilderment as to how such practices could be carried out. Where was the accountability? It was not there. Where is the accountability now for that matter? Has anyone in the HSE or Tusla been held responsible for the neglect that led to the death of 200 children - unnatural deaths - from 2002 to 2012? This happened in the current period.
My colleague has just said he does not expect anyone to be prosecuted for Tuam at this stage, but this is going on now. I welcomed the Minister, wished her well on her appointment and complimented her two weeks ago in this Chamber when she came to bring truth to the untruthfulness that had been going on. I said it was refreshing. I wish her well in her portfolio - it is not an easy one - but we need the truth and we need action.
Tuam reminds us of the dreadful and pain-filled reality that characterised the lives of so many families. We stand condemned for our neglect and our resistance to hold those in power to account. We have sided with the powerful over the powerless; we still side with the powerful over the powerless. Tuam must lead us finally to break this cycle.
I thank the Minister for instructing her officials to reply to the parliamentary question I tabled that was being prevaricated over. I asked her the number of reports of abuse of children across the categories of abuse received in each of the past three years. I also raised this question yesterday with the Taoiseach. The Minister's reply is quite staggering. The figures show that a total of 19,407 cases of physical, sexual and emotional abuse as well as abuse related to neglect were received in 2013, a few years ago. For 2014, the number of abuse cases reported across all these categories was 18,676. For 2015, the year we were preparing in a gung-ho way to commemorate 1916, the number was 18,235. However, the total number of referrals to Tusla for 2015, inclusive of the 2015 abuse figures, is a staggering 43,596. That answers it all. We can wring our hands, speak about this and be aghast and horrified, but it is still going on under our noses and under our eyes. While we only have figures per category available for 2013-14, they still show an increase of almost 1,000 reports of children being emotionally abused over that time. It is clear from this reply that we as a society still have profound challenges to face in genuinely safeguarding the interests of children who suffer the most appalling abuse. This abuse does not all occur in State homes; much of it occurs in family homes. The figures highlight a very stark reality: that we cannot parcel off the widespread abuse of children as a legacy issue from a dark and disturbing past. It still lurks with us, it is on our shoulders, it is around us and it is here.
These cases continue to happen by the tens of thousands right under our noses and under the responsibility of a State agency, namely, Tusla, that is lurching from one crisis to another. I must ask the Minister to do something about Tusla because I receive complaints about it weekly. There is no accountability in Tusla, and how could there be? Some 4,000 staff were hived off, pushed off or whatever from the HSE with a budget and there is no accountability where they came from. They were trained and conditioned in a culture of a lack of accountability and now they are carrying on the same in Tusla.
Yesterday evening in this House with my secretary I met a lady from Tipperary who now lives in Kildare. I was weak after standing with her and her brother's file showing the abuse he suffered as well as the non-engagement, lack of transparency, lack of investigation and prevarication on the part of An Garda Síochána and the HSE. Her brother is disabled and in a home - one in my county, unfortunately. Now the State is doing its best to make him a ward of court, get him away from everyone and bury his case further. There are many cans of worms to be opened. This is not 40, 50, 60 or 80 years ago; it is current, it is live and it is here with us. A huge responsibility rests on the shoulders of the Minister and her Department.
I have just come from a meeting of the Business Committee, the members of which were very confused as to where we stand as regards the case of Grace. Quite honestly - I am not blaming the Minister of State, Deputy McGrath, whom I thank for withdrawing the terms of reference yesterday - a mess has been made of this by senior officials in the Departments. Either they do not know what they are doing or they are engaged in subterfuge. I do not know how the Business Committee meeting ended because I had to leave to come here, but we cannot continue like this. There are officials who are either covering up matters, hiding or ducking and diving, and it is just not acceptable. This is going on right across the HSE and Tusla, and they should be dragged out kicking and screaming. We are accountable to the people, and rightly so, but they are accountable to nobody. Deputy Harty has referred to this. There is no accountability and we must do something to get it, or else the HSE must be disbanded and the rotten sickness - I will not use the word I would like to use - treated so that we can have an accountable service that will provide some solace for parents and families who still have loved ones in institutions. Then there is the culture of HSE officials setting up companies before retiring in order to go into private care and sell care to these people, and abuse is carrying on there again. It stinks to high heaven. Legislation must be brought in to the effect that they cannot plan their retirements in this way, setting up private businesses and getting lucrative contracts. Money is their interest, not the care of children. I, together with former Senator Mary Ann O'Brien and others here, have raised such cases and got no accountability. I ask the Minister, in the name of our children and of future generations, please to continue with her refreshing stance and try to root this out.
When I first raised this issue in the House in 2014, following my reading of newspaper reports based on the research done by Catherine Corless at the time, I called for the site at Tuam to be immediately declared a crime scene. I called for the site to be sealed and for forensic anthropologists and anything else needed to be made available in order to uncover this atrocity, and make no mistake it was and is an atrocity, a mass grave of 796 tiny bodies discarded like trash.
I listened to the Taoiseach's speech on Tuesday about the culpability of the State and society, but the State is not some anonymous set of officials. The vast majority of the time since the foundation of the State it was led or governed by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. They were the ones who presided over debates on this matter in this Chamber and they were the ones who handed over and outsourced the responsibility for these women and children to a church they knew to be merciless at best. Therefore, when we talk about the culpability of the State and society, it is not some Joe or Josephine Soap we are talking about who condemned these women to a life of shame and condemned children to premature deaths or export. This happened mainly under the watch of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, which led the State for most of those years, and the abdication of responsibility was obvious. The attitudes which prevailed were perpetuated by every arm of the State - the Garda, the medical profession and the political system - thus allowing the church to run free with its campaign of terror and castigation of women for some perceived sin. How utterly and tragically ironic that those same nuns who labelled these women as immoral saw nothing immoral about neglecting a child to the point of early death then disposing of their bodies in a septic tank, or exporting them to another country. These are not the dark ages we are talking about. The legacy of these acts are current for some generations, and they are at best one generation removed. The relatives of these women and children are still alive. In 1995, when children playing on the site discovered skulls, it was not the police that was called for; it was a priest. He was called to bless the site. It seems that everybody went about their business as usual afterwards. The State once again turned a blind eye.
The horrors of the mother and baby homes cannot be properly put into words. The rumours of clinical drug trials have not been properly addressed, including in the terms of reference of the last commission of investigation. The former Minister of State, Kathleen Lynch, called for the terms of reference to include vaccine trials. I have been talking to somebody from Tuam who, as a child, played around the site. This person uncovered on an ongoing basis discarded vials, which would suggest that there is at least something that should be investigated.
Here we are, collectively wringing our hands, two years after it was first suggested publicly that there may be a mass grave in Tuam. The fact remains that the horrors of Tuam and other mother and baby homes existed because the State permitted the church to control some of our most fundamental institutions. The sad fact is that not everything has changed in this regard even today. We must take the church out of our schools, hospitals, medical care and politics. It is unacceptable that children are regularly discriminated against in our education system based on religion; it is unacceptable that religious orders can hold any influence over medical institutions and the health care they provide, particularly to women; it is unacceptable that the Dáil begins every day with a prayer that is not representative of all elected Members or citizens; and it is unacceptable that our national broadcaster, funded by the State, subjects citizens of all faiths and none to the Angelus bells twice daily.
These are relics of a bygone era. If Tuam has shown us anything, it is that the State must take responsibility for its citizens and the church has no legitimacy in the health care or education of these citizens. We must grow up and separate church from State.
Our history shows that unfortunately we have always engaged in infanticide or left unwanted babies and children to die of neglect. Ordnance Survey maps of the island show lisín cemeteries for babies abandoned or killed. This is not just an Irish phenomenon. If one reads Oliver Twistby Charles Dickens one sees similar organisations set up to deal with that reality and the same occurred. There was a 90% mortality rate for the babies and children in those foundling institutions in the centre of London, Covent Garden and elsewhere. Sadly and savagely, that experience may have continued longer into the 20th century in Ireland than in other countries. I would argue that is because of the shadow of the Famine and the fear of having a child who may not have had a father to provide for it. The poverty in this State in the 20th century created a particular culture such that families, and fathers – and men are at the centre of this – told a girl who got pregnant that she must take the boat, have a shotgun wedding or have the baby and put it into a home. As a people we are all part of that culture, it goes back to our grandparents and great grandparents. It was the exact same in Bethany, a Protestant home, as in Bessborough, a Catholic home. Families in Irish society of every church and none told a young woman they could not afford for her to have a child because they could not stand over the shame of the illegitimacy and the poverty. That was totally wrong.
James Deeny, the Chief Medical Officer in 1944, saw what was happening in Bessborough and brought it to a halt. He said it was a disgrace and had to stop. The assistant secretary in the Department of Health, Joseph Robins, catalogued that history in real detail. The centre of our State recorded what had happened. We have to admit, and it is difficult to admit, that we were so neglectful, so willing to ignore the reality of those thousands of deaths of babies who were neglected although they were put into care. We need to examine every one of those homes to recognise the reality and learn the lessons from the lack of care in our society.
This raises wider questions about today. Are we blind to the reality of a woman being pregnant in her early 20s? She cannot afford a home. Are we creating an economy or society that allows a 21 or 22 year old woman easily raise a child? Among lone parents 58% are at risk of poverty. Let us look at ourselves, our society and economy and ask whether we really value mothers and stand up for babies and children. We are better in that we could not now turn a blind eye to deaths of babies on that scale. We live in a more transparent, honest and less poor society. We need to strive to record that and learn the lessons from it. This week has been remarkably difficult and harrowing. Grace's story makes us ask whether we have really learnt the lessons, whether we are really providing due care. We must look after those who are still alive and bear the scars of that system, but we must also try to create a different system which values motherhood and babies and creates the conditions in which if one does have a child, whatever the circumstances, it is cared for, celebrated and supported and which, instead of being driven solely by economic interests, might centre on the needs of the child.
As a public representative from Tuam and a Minister of State I can say the past week has been pretty sad for the people of Tuam. It is a milestone in this saga that the evidence is now coming forward which verifies what we have all been told about. I thank the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone, for saying the commission will be reconsidered and its terms of reference scoped to see what more can be done. I salute the tenacity and determination of Catherine Corless who first brought these horrific facts to light. We owe her a great debt of thanks for what she has done for our society.
It is clear the events that happened in Ireland were covered up and not spoken about for years. The result is that innocent victims, mothers and babies were outcasts. I have listened to the stories of people who survived and family members, not only in Tuam but throughout the country, and they are not pretty.
I was educated in Tuam and it is a fantastic town. The people are fantastic. I am very proud to know so many people in Tuam and to represent the town. I am also mindful of any negativity that might attach to the town. We also have to take into account the sadness visited on the people who live in proximity to this grave and the site of this home and how they have been put under the spotlight in recent years and days. We are reaching the stage where the truth will come out.
I have listened intently to every speaker here this morning and heard the words "the truth", "we have questions to answer", and "let us get the truth out". By chance I met a man in Dublin last Sunday who is a survivor of the Tuam mother and baby home. He spent five years there and was then fostered and survived a tough time as a boy. Today he lives in Dublin with his wife and has two children and, I think, three grandchildren. We had a good discussion. Before we finished I asked him what he wants now. He said all he wanted was to hear people say to him that they are sorry for what they did to him and to his mother who is now deceased.
It is very simple. We public representatives need to leave no stone unturned to find the truth and I have every confidence in the Government and this Minister that we will find it. We will do this together. We owe it to the children. Let us make sure their deaths and the circumstances in which they died were not in vain. I pray that from the desperate discoveries will come hope and a determination in our society never to tolerate or repeat these atrocities.
Nuair a bhí mé ag déanamh na hardteistiméireachta, d'fhoglaim mé píosa filíochta a d'fhoilsigh Pádraig Mac Piarais, dár teideal "Ochón, a Dhonncha". Deputies might remember the poem, which begins:
Ochón, a Dhonncha, mo mhíle cogarnach, fén bhfód seo sínte
Fód an doichill ina luí ar do cholainn bhig, mo loma-sceimhle!
Dá mbeadh an codladh so i gCill na Dromad ort nó in uaigh san Iarthar
Mo bhrón do bhogfadh, cé gur mhór mo dhochar, ní bheinn id' dhiaidh ort.
The poem is about a father's loss of his child and the burial of that child in a foreign land. I think it brings out the pathos, suffering, pain and loss of a father who loved his son and knew he could probably never visit him again. I mention the poem to make a comparison with the loss, pain and suffering that the mothers and fathers of the children in Tuam went through for all of their lives, never to be forgotten by them and never to be remembered by others. Those families had to face an appalling vista. While I accept and acknowledge that the Minister, Deputy Zappone, is doing the work she has to do in this regard, and I have no problem with that, I cannot stress enough that we have to allow for the proper respect for the families. The poem I have quoted outlines the heartbreak and hurt suffered by parents when they lose a child in any circumstances. In the case of Tuam, we are talking about the most appalling, outrageous, disgusting and disgraceful way for a child to be separated from his or her mother and father.
When a press release a couple of years ago indicated that "yeah, a few bones were found", this seemed to suggest that the people who were buried on this site died hundreds of years ago, or perhaps that they were not even human remains at all. It is appalling that the bodies of these children were placed in a sewage pit or container. What an appalling vista. I believe in the Christian message of "suffer little children to come unto me". I am sure some of those involved in the Tuam home must have believed in it as well but to place the bodies of human beings in such a location was the supreme uncivilised insult that could be visited on anyone. Like everyone else, I have very strong feelings and concerns about this matter. Was there no voice in the church? Was there no nun, priest or bishop to speak up, to inquire into this affair or to look into this religious congregation? Was there no teacher in the local school to raise a question? Did anybody raise a concern? We believe the death rate among these children was twice the national average. Children in this care home were twice as likely to die as children nationally in this age cohort. This fundamental question must be resolved. We must get at the truth of this. I ask the church and the sisters, as a voluntary admission of wrong here, to place all of their records in the domain of the commission so that we can look into the hearts and minds of those people. I cannot believe in my heart that no nun, priest, work person or parent asked what the hell was going on in the home. Were they all mute? Were they all silent? I do not believe they would have been. I think we need to hear those voices to give us some semblance of the nightmare of death that befell these tragic families.
I welcome the work of the commission. My final point is that the disturbing and concerning suffering of children that we are debating, which I am sure is keeping families awake at night, is continuing in a different form in the modern Ireland of 2017. Hundreds of homeless people in this city have nowhere decent to lay their heads. Children are walking the streets. Families have been split up and are unable to live as families. It is entirely unacceptable that children with disabilities cannot get speech therapy and physiotherapy or the decent and proper schools they need. When I contact a most caring medical person in my constituency, it is most annoying to have to ask why children with intellectual disabilities who need special dental care and have been suffering continuous pain for years cannot get the mouth operations under anaesthetic that they need. I am told the question that needs to be asked about such children is not whether they are banging their heads against the wall, but which children are banging their heads against the wall most often each day. These kinds of services are not being provided by the State to the children in our society who are must vulnerable and most in need. We need to change the way we do things in this country. All of us must step up to the mark, regardless of our politics. The shameful and appalling vista of the past is visiting us in a different way today. We must stand up for the rights of the most disadvantaged people in our society. They are being trampled on by the system, by the HSE and by the political and institutional response to these issues. I do not mean to be personal when I say that. In my view, we are not treating people as proper human beings.
I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Canney, for sharing time with me. I do not think there is a person in Ireland who has not been touched by the story that has emerged from Tuam in recent days. Those of us who come from the local area are aware that this has been said for a number of years. As the Minister of State said, Catherine Corless deserves to be commended on persisting with this and keeping it going when questions were being asked. I think the people of Tuam will get together. They deserve the truth and they need clarification. As others have said, the truth needs to come out. I think the State needs to apologise for the horrendous things that went on in previous years. We need to make sure the people of Tuam are treated fairly. I commend the Minister, Deputy Zappone, on what she has done so far. I advise her to stay with this issue rather than letting her officials who are not really at the coalface deal with it.
Many years ago, we lived in an Ireland where gardaí, priests and teachers were looked up to as gods. Unfortunately, these things happened in Tuam and in other places. Somebody told me yesterday evening he would have been in the same circumstances only for his grandfather. When the local priest came to the house after his mother gave birth to him, his grandfather said "he will be all right, father; we will look after them". The parish priest landed a few days later. They wanted to take his mother away. It is very easy to stand up here and blame the State for everything. The actions of the orders in Tuam at the time were totally outrageous, to be frank. Deputy O'Dowd referred to the role of local teachers and neighbours in the Ireland we used to live in. During that era, people were worried about what the neighbours would say. I think the parents of those people also need to reflect on what they did. They should have made sure those people were not put into these situations. I heard a woman saying in a radio interview yesterday that she was not allowed to say goodbye to her child, which is totally beyond belief. Although what went on at that time was totally wrong, there is a need for balance. Previous speakers basically said that the religious did nothing right at all.
I can say I was educated in a school it set up and it was sound. What was done wrong was very wrong but not every single thing was wrong. There was a comment about saying a prayer in here. I am no holy Joe but if one does not want to go in for it, do not go in for it; if one wants to stay out, stay out; if one wants to say the prayer, stay in. These debacles are going on all the time.
The Minister has done well over recent days in difficult circumstances. The whole State apologised and every Deputy here is united on the matter. I ask the Minister to work with the people of Tuam and listen to the people who have been affected. She should listen to the harrowing stories, bring her face to it and work with those people. Whatever needs to be done to resolve the matter should be accomplished in a compassionate and fair manner for those people. This has been hanging over them for years and we need finality and the truth. We must ensure that what has been done wrong will never happen again.
We can consider areas like Ballaghaderreen, which has refugees coming next week but the required services will not be in place. This is a problem for a child psychologist. A person came to me 18 years ago when the priests were at the crack of saying children had not been reared correctly. Years ago anybody who committed suicide could not be brought to a church, and that has not even been spoken about in here. We should be ashamed of those actions and remember the affected people today, as well as what went on in Tuam. Not everybody in the orders or society then was bad but we must learn from our mistakes and make things right. I ask the Minister to treat those people with compassion.
Before making my substantive contribution I take issue with Deputy Bríd Smith's comment earlier on Deputy Micheál Martin's apparent "road to Damascus". His reaction and comments are genuine, as are those of every other Deputy on the issue.
We still do not know the full extent of these horrors but we know the remains of small babies and infants were found, numbering in their hundreds, in septic tanks at the site of the Bon Secours mother and baby home in Tuam. I have heard the term "buried" used in regard to these infants but I take issue with it, as the use of the word "burial" suggests some level of decency. There was no decency here and these children were disregarded as human waste and something to be got rid of, reduced and dehumanised. What a disgusting black mark on our society. Can we imagine the fear, forced shame, stigma, isolation and loneliness of these women? That is what our State and church inflicted on our women, and where were the men in all of this? There was no responsibility laid at their door and it was as if these women impregnated themselves and the babies only had one parent.
We have come a long way in this regard but not far enough. Women still bear most of the responsibility for children and there is still a stigma on single mothers, who experience shame, isolation and loneliness. We can look to the budget from a couple of years ago which saw cuts for lone parents, carer's allowance and child benefit in one fell swoop. It is worth reflecting on how we, as a society, continue to treat our women poorly, particularly those who are single mothers.
What was uncovered in Tuam is only the tip of the iceberg. We do not know exactly how these babies died and it seems likely they were left to starve or die in the cold, as the mortality rate is too high to suggest otherwise. It sends a shiver through me to think of the mothers who gave birth in these facilities. We can think of the lack of care, the unsafe procedures, the lack of aftercare and the fact the babies were stolen and sold afterwards. We must take our search further as it is very unlikely this only happened in Tuam. It is likely other mother and baby homes will uncover a similar horror. It gives me no pleasure to say it but we must uncover the full extent of these horrors in order that we, as a country, can begin to heal.
The church and the Bon Secours nuns have much to answer for. Society was complicit in this but why was that? The church instilled fear in people and demanded that people conform to its way. If they did not, they were excommunicated. It was the church and the nuns who decided these mothers and babies were not deserving of humane treatment, love and kindness or, ultimately, life. I am sure the irony of this is not lost on people today in the context of the current debate. No religion advocates for the abuse, torture and murder of women and children. I am not particularly religious but if the church and nuns believe what they were doing was required by their religion, it came from their skewed interpretation of Catholicism and Christianity. The State does not get off scot free with this as it was complicit in every way and funded these horrific facilities and, to use the Taoiseach's own words, the "chambers of horror".
I support the call from other Deputies to see a separation of church and State and I want to see real engagement by the Bon Secours nuns and the church in a full investigation. There should be full co-operation at every juncture. If they are truly sorry for the pain and suffering they inflicted, the very least they can do is apologise unreservedly and compensate the surviving victims, using the substantial funds we all know they possess. We cannot now in any way seek to bury the sins of the church and the Bon Secours nuns simply because we do not want to talk about it. I fail to see how An Garda Síochána could not be involved and, if appropriate, prosecutions should be brought on anyone who may have committed a crime against women and children in these facilities.
This is a very dark but recent past and people are still living with the effects today. Lives were lost or destroyed and families and communities were devastated. We need a formal State apology and a formal apology from the church and Bon Secours orders. There must be a full and proper investigation in Tuam and further afield, prosecutions where appropriate and compensation to victims with the church and Bon Secours order meeting their responsibilities appropriately. This must be done as speedily as possible and with the utmost sensitivity to the remaining survivors and their families.
The 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic promised to cherish all children of the nation equally. Historians continue to debate whether the word "children" should be ascribed to a literal or figurative meaning, whether children or citizens in general. Whichever is favoured, there is no doubt that children in Ireland were often second class citizens. The shame of Tuam casts a dark shadow over how Irish society treated the most vulnerable of its citizens, children and women in institutions.
The harrowing and gut-wrenching stories of women in Tuam should not have surprised us. After all, many children growing up in the 1960s and 1970s were told that if they did not behave, they would be relegated to sit with the children of sin. Irish society knew or at least was aware of the hell on Earth being inflicted on defenceless, highly vulnerable children and women in institutions. What was their crime only to be born to an unmarried mother or an impoverished family? Poverty is an underlying factor that continues to propel some children into State care. Circumstances of birth resulted in many children from single parent families or lower socioeconomic backgrounds being received into care. An alarming number of these children were systematically abused and exploited.
The legacy of shameful indifference is graphically illustrated in the Ryan report, and the scale and plight of women in Tuam implicates all of Irish society. A chilling feature of the accounts of the plight of what were referred to as "fallen women" has now emerged, along with the unquestioned and apparently unquestionable moral authority of so-called Christian care providers, which had a reckless disregard for vulnerable women and child welfare. We will have another inquiry to follow many reports that prove generations of children were exposed to endemic abuse in institutions run by the State or by religious orders for the State. In 1993, Ms Justice Catherine McGuinness set out the horror of family life for a young girl in the Kilkenny incest case and recommended constitutional change. Regrettably, it took two decades before a proposal to amend the Constitution to protect children was put to the people. In 2009, the commission to inquire into child abuse published its long-awaited report and in 2011 we had the report into the Magdalen laundries. Despite all these reports and inquiries, certain recommendations remain unimplemented. Children remain vulnerable in our society today. There are an insufficient number of social welfare workers for vulnerable children and an insufficient number of people to speak out for children who cannot speak for themselves today.