Dáil debates

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Third Interim Report from the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes: Statements

 

7:05 pm

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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I welcome the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone, to the House.

Photo of Katherine ZapponeKatherine Zappone (Dublin South West, Independent)
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I welcome the opportunity to update the House on the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes. In particular, I would like to update Deputies on the commission's third interim report and the measures I am progressing with Government colleagues to respond to the issues which have emerged so far from its work. I welcome the people in the Visitors Gallery who participated in influencing measures in this direction.

As Deputies will be aware, I published the third interim report from the commission in December last. In its report, the commission requested a one-year extension to the timeframe to submit its three final reports. The commission is of the opinion that all three reports, the confidential committee report, the investigative report and the social history module, are interlinked and should be presented together. Following careful consideration, the Government decided to grant this extension. The commission is now due to deliver all three reports by 17 February 2019. I know that many former residents have been eagerly awaiting the completion of the commission's work. I understand that many who contributed to the process and shared their information were disappointed and frustrated by this development. However, it is important that we do not underestimate the scale and complexity of the task that the commission has been set.

The commission is seeking to establish facts and make findings and recommendations. In outlining its reasoning for requesting an extension, the commission's third interim report states that the confidential committee has met a considerable number of former residents and others with connections to the institutions under investigation who wished to share their experiences. The commission asked for more time to allow those who had applied, and were still waiting to share their experiences with it, to be heard. Hearing these stories pays tribute to the memory of those who spent time in these places. The commission also stated that its wide terms of reference have necessitated the collection and analysis of a vast range of documentary material relating to the institutions under investigation. The analysis of all relevant records will not be completed until mid-2018. All of the information uncovered during the course of this investigation plays its part in painting as full a picture as possible of the events and experiences of the time.

I recognise the absolute importance of the commission's work and I support it as it continues to investigate the matters within its terms of reference. It is a comprehensive task and it needs time to complete its work. The commission concluded at the time of publishing the interim report that extending the terms of reference into any further matters was not in the public interest, and I agree with this approach. In recent days the commission has advertised nationally seeking to hear from anyone who has any personal knowledge, documentation or any other information concerning the burial arrangements of children who died in Bessborough mother and baby home in Cork. I would strongly encourage any person with relevant information to contact the commission directly to divulge what they know to aid the investigation.

Over the course of 2017, I held two facilitated meetings with former residents and their families, one in Dublin and one in Cork. More than 130 former residents of mother and baby homes and their advocates were in attendance. I thank all who attended these meetings and acknowledge the generosity, willingness and courage of all participants in contributing to the dialogue. One cannot but be moved by their stories. The key theme that emerged from these facilitated consultations was "nothing about us without us", the idea being that former residents want direct input into the decisions made on their behalf. I have adopted this as my mantra. The establishment of a collaborative forum is a progressive response to this idea. Participants will create and drive forward a process that they can support and trust and actively participate in, recommending actions and solutions to address their concerns.

I am pleased to announce that Mr. Gerry Kearney has accepted my invitation to chair the collaborative forum. Over the course of his career, Mr. Kearney has demonstrated a strong commitment to public service as former secretary general of the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. He was appointed chairman of the Moore Street consultative group established to consider views on the best way forward for Moore Street, a monumental task in diplomacy I think Deputies will agree. I strongly believe that gives him the expertise and management experience required to work with the forum. His experience will be of considerable benefit to the forum in developing proposals and framing its recommendations. I know that Mr. Kearney is looking forward to beginning what we hope is an extremely engaging and fruitful endeavour.

I have published a charter for the forum that will facilitate its work and that gives the blueprint for its methodology and demonstrates my commitment to innovative approaches to facilitate and empower former residents to contribute actively to decisions on matters that affect their lives. The forum will consist of 20 members. I am moving forward in identifying members for the selection panel that will establish the collaborative forum. Selection of the correct people is critical to the success of the project. The selection panel will include representation from the areas of human rights, former residents' advocate groups and academics with experience in this field. I have made contact with these organisations and individuals and I am now awaiting confirmation of their agreement to participate. I hope to announce the members of the panel shortly. I hope they will have held their first meeting by the end of February. I will then be advertising for members of the public and interested parties to express an interest formally in participating in the forum. The selection panel will select the members of the forum from these expressions of interest at its second meeting, which should take place in early March. I anticipate that the collaborative forum will meet on a monthly basis for a period of at least a year. If it reaches consensus on any issues before then, however, I will of course be happy to hear from it.

The forum will establish three sub-committees, which will cover a large range of issues of concern to former residents, such as terminology, identity and representation for former residents; health and well-being supports; memorialisation; and the recording of personal narratives. I thank the Government for its support in establishing the collaborative forum. I look forward to the beginning of its work.

I have previously relayed my commitment to the House to inviting the UN special rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence, Mr. Pablo de Greiff, to come to Ireland. I believe he can assist us in our endeavours to establish the truth and advise us on how best to move forward and deal with this part of our history. Arrangements are at an advanced stage and I expect an invitation to be issued to Mr. de Greiff in the coming days.

As we approach the anniversary of the tragic findings in Tuam in March 2017, I wish to update the House on the progress being made in responding to the discovery of the burial chambers. Deputies will know I commissioned a team of international experts to produce a technical report. It advises of five options, which are now available to us. The team was appointed to ensure that any action taken on the site is in line with international best practice. The report is a detailed technical document. It outlines the unique nature of the site and the vast technical challenges involved. The options range from memorialisation with no further excavations in option one to exhumation, forensic examination and further investigation of the wider site in options two to five. All options can include memorialisation and appropriate internment at the site.

Having visited the Tuam site several times, I am extremely conscious that this is a very sensitive and difficult matter for many former residents, their families and those living in the vicinity of the site. I want to ensure that everyone who wishes to contribute to the discussion on the future of the site has the opportunity to do so. I have asked Galway County Council to facilitate an independent consultation process on the five options as presented in the expert technical group's report. The contributions from these consultations will be used to produce a report that will inform the interdepartmental committee, which in turn will make proposals to me on these sensitive matters. I will bring these proposals to the Government for its final recommendation.

Galway County Council has asked interested parties to complete a questionnaire-type document to generate data to use as part of the consultation process. A number of families and representatives have contacted me to express their concerns about the approach and methodology used to gather information. It appears that some have likened it to a simplistic popular voting process. The process is far more comprehensive than that. I have raised these concerns with Galway County Council. I would like to assure the House that there is no intention to trivialise the memories or feelings of those wishing to partake in this process by using such a document. The key part of this process is to offer those with an interest to express their opinion and collate this information.

The consultation process has been designed to facilitate various parties while ensuring there is certainty in regard to the preferred course of action of each respondent. I expect Deputies will be asking me some questions or making comments on that. I look forward to coming back to this in my concluding remarks.

7:15 pm

Photo of Anne RabbitteAnne Rabbitte (Galway East, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Minister for her submission. Fianna Fáil welcomed the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation when it was established. We recognise the vital importance of the commission in delivering justice and accountability for all those affected by mother and baby homes in Ireland.

The third interim report of the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation makes a request to extend the deadline for its reports on its findings on the institutions being investigated. This would change the deadline to February 2019. It should be noted that this represents the third extension of the deadlines for these reports. While we appreciate that the commission is undertaking a complex and somewhat unpredictable task, Fianna Fáil is of the view that the commission must complete its work as quickly as possible as it is an important mode of investigation and recognition for the experiences of Irish women and their children in these homes. All three reports should be issued together.

We have always supported this commission as a means to bring justice to the victims of the homes and we remain supportive of it. Fianna Fáil welcomes the publication of the third interim report. While I would like us to be at the final stage now, we will stick with the process because we want to see it through. It is 12 months since I stood before the Minister on this matter and I believed we would be coming to the end of the process today. We will try, however, to reach the end as quickly as possible.

Given the UN comments about the current terms of reference being too narrow and feedback from survivor groups, we are supportive of these terms being expanded, as the Minister has outlined. Furthermore, Fianna Fáil supports the establishment of a forum for survivors to share their experiences and viewpoints in an open and safe environment.

The treatment of mother and children in these institutions is a dark chapter in our country's history and it is a complex issue. Questions still abound about the nature of justice and retribution for survivors and we must be thorough in our search for the best possible model of justice for survivors.

Now, as always in this process, we believe it must remain survivor focused. While I cannot critique the Minister's speech, I believe it is survivor focused.

I welcome the formation of the forum. I welcome the panel and the fact that survivors of the homes can engage in the process and have representation. I welcome the fact the forum will have human rights people.

The Minister referred in her speech to Galway. As spokesperson for children and youth affairs and coming from the constituency of Galway East, which includes Tuam, it would be very remiss of me not to focus a little on the experiences on the ground in Tuam. I spoke earlier this evening to Tommy, about whom I spoke this time last year, to receive an update on how he feels the process is progressing. He urged me yet again to stay with the process. He thanked the Minister for the work taking place. He had a number of concerns over Galway County Council, which the Minister has adequately addressed. While I do not mean to be critical, I wish to ask some questions that need to be teased out a little more.

There is a lack of clarity at present on the role of Galway County Council in respect of some voting that was taking place. The Minister explained it may have to do with the panels or selection criteria but those with whom I have been communicating do not know the exact role the council will play in the future. Will it spearhead the process or will an independent person do so for it, drill down deep and engage? That is one of the issues Tommy wanted addressed. I can understand that. Would the Minister believe people started to fill in the questionnaires only on Sunday night? It is in light of the fact that we are here on a Tuesday evening that the engagement was at that level.

The interim report states there is one institution for which records are probably not available and one whose records may be available but which are difficult to extract from a larger collection. Does the Minister know exactly the mother and baby homes on which there are missing data and whose records are hard to find?

It is clear there is extensive information available about certain aspects of the institution under investigation and that it will take some time to analyse it. Will the Minister indicate whether we have enough staff working on that and will they meet the deadline within the next 12 months? From what I can gather there is an awful lot of material to be scanned and examined. Are the staff adequately resourced to complete the work?

There is no doubt that this is a very human and live issue. People watching this debate wish to bring closure to this sensitive issue which is probably very raw for many people. The opportunity to come forward, engage and talk to people about their experience is in itself part of the healing process and that is something to be welcomed. The Minister also announced it last year. The kernel of the process that people can tell their experiences and share their stories. It is important that experts are available to sit down and engage with the people who come forward and that their voices are listened to and they feel their contribution is a valuable one, because that is the case. They are the people who will open the curtains on what was a very dark part of our past. We owe it to those people to afford them the opportunity to speak. Time is not on their side. If necessary, we must recruit more staff or provide more supports to ensure that in 12 months' time we will be able to provide a conclusion for them or that we will have reached the stage of having the three reports ready to be viewed.

A commitment was made to the survivors of the mother and baby home in Tuam that they would be notified prior to any press release on the home being issued by Galway County Council. It is important that they be made aware of what is going on so that they do not read about it first in the Tuam Heraldor The Connacht Tribune. It is important that such courtesy be shown to the survivors so that they are made aware in advance of what is being printed. If nothing else, it is a sign of respect for the survivors. I accept the Department has been working very closely with the survivors but it is also incumbent on Galway County Council to engage with those people.

In terms of the ongoing technical engagement, people welcome all the hard work that has been done. The issue is very sensitive and there are varying viewpoints but it is important that we have complete engagement from the residents of the mother and baby homes, those who worked there or those who lived in the area. I plead with people who have anything to contribute to providing a fuller picture to come forward and engage with the process the Minister has initiated. I wish the group well for the next 12 months and hope we will have a final report this time next year.

7:25 pm

Photo of Denise MitchellDenise Mitchell (Dublin Bay North, Sinn Fein)
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I welcome the opportunity to speak on this issue. First, I express my solidarity and pledge my party's ongoing support to the survivors, relatives and campaigners who are continuing their quest for truth and justice for those who died and those who were so cruelly mistreated in the institutions. What went on in mother and baby homes is a shameful part of the history of this State and one which was rooted in an appalling attitude to women.

I understand there have been many views on the reason for the delay in the production of the final report. Many people are very upset. The commission explained how the time-consuming work of digitising files and unearthing documents has been a major factor in the delay. Unfortunately, time is not on our side. Many fear they will not get the truth and justice they deserve. As we all know, justice delayed is justice denied, so I urge the Government to do all it can to ensure the commission has whatever resources it needs to complete its work in a timely fashion.

I want the Minister to outline her plan for redress for survivors of the Bethany Home and other homes who were wrongly excluded from the redress scheme in 2002. The second interim report was very clear in its recommendations on this issue. That report was a signpost to the findings of the final report and work is required to address the issue. It is not acceptable for the Government to tell the survivors that they will have to wait until after the publication of the final report before redress is even considered. The Bethany survivors group has described the delay as placing a "death sentence on justice and truth". I urge the Minister to begin working on a redress scheme immediately.

Part of the interim report notes the serious lack of information available when it comes to the burial sites of those who died at the homes. I understand the former Bessborough mother and baby home and large parts of the Shan Ross Abbey mother and baby home have been put up for sale by the nuns who ran them. We need to be absolutely sure there are no further burial sites on the grounds that are earmarked for development.

I welcome the announcement of the collaborative forum. That is something the previous Government should have done when it set up the commission of investigation in the first place. I also hope that when it comes to memorials that the survivors and relatives of those who died in the institutions will be widely consulted on the most appropriate way to go about it.

I commend the work being done by the commission, but I express my concerns at the delay. If the commission needs more resources to allow it to complete its work in a timely and efficient manner they should be provided. The last thing we want is to be back in this Chamber in 12 months' time to be told the report will be delayed yet again.

Photo of Donnchadh Ó LaoghaireDonnchadh Ó Laoghaire (Cork South Central, Sinn Fein)
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Great disappointment has been expressed to us at the delay in the publication of the current report. It is worth stating the process started in 2015 and arguably before that and almost four years will have elapsed by the time the commission completes its work. Many of the survivors of the institutions who had wrongs inflicted on them are reaching an advanced age and they may not be around when the commission concludes its work. That is a cause of concern for many. Some survivors have not had an opportunity to avail of any previous schemes relating to institutional abuse of any kind. I refer for example to residents of the Bethany Home, among others. Much concern is evident in that regard.

Much of the media commentary more so than debate in this House has focused on the mother and baby home in Tuam - with good reason - but it is vitally important that we examine all the sites. In my constituency, I am very conscious of the mother and baby home at Bessborough. It is vitally important that we ensure all sites where question marks remain are properly investigated.

The Minister made a point about the request for information. I heard such an advertisement yesterday. I welcome that initiative.

I do not have any information or evidence, but if we compare the numbers of children who died in that institution during the years, it was open with the official burial site, it is difficult to credit that all those dead children could be located on the site. That is simply an observation and I do not have any specific information on it. It is vital that all those sites be properly investigated.

There has been some discussion around the consultative forum. I wish to reflect on an observation made to me on many of the hearings. The consultative forum is a valuable initiative. It is essential in any discussions around any of these things that counsellors are on hand. The discussions may be traumatic and potentially difficult for those who were affected. That issue needs to be incorporated.

We had a debate on a proposal for a truth commission. The Minister did not necessarily agree on all the issues. One of the reasons I put forward the case for that commission was because there are connections between the mother and baby homes, county homes, industrial schools and so on. I took the view that it was important to explore these connections. I note the comments relating to Mr. de Greiff, but the details were announced some time ago and I am disappointed that there has been no further progress. I look forward to hearing more on the matter.

7:35 pm

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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The first words that I wish to say are "thank you" to the 346 former residents and others who have thus far come forward to provide what must have been difficult testimony to the commission. It is to be hoped the final report, when published, will shine an eternal light on one of the darkest and most disturbing and horrifying chapters of our troubled social history.

I record my disappointment and, I have no doubt, the utter disappointment of the former residents of these homes at the delay in completing and issuing the final report. The final report will not present until February next year instead of this month.

Having read the third interim report, I consider it of the utmost importance that immediate extra resources are provided to the investigation to ensure no further delays. It is clear from the report that the reason for the delay is the sheer volume of material that needs to be examined and, furthermore, the need to carry out further examinations of the religious orders and the health authorities to ensure all relevant material is uncovered and investigated. That will add to the workload.

Like other colleagues in the Chamber, my primary concern will always be the survivors. I welcome the collaborative forum to be set up following the publication of this interim report. I note that the forum will be comprised of interested persons. I recommend to the Minister that the majority of these interested persons should be former residents.

I deem it an absolute priority that the remaining 200 persons who have applied to have their testimony heard need that to happen. This is a further reason I call for more resources to be made available. There can be no more delays in moving towards the completion of this process and the publication of the final report. Further injustice is being heaped on the survivors by delay after delay. Many of these survivors are elderly and some are quite ill at this point in their lives. Many, I am sad to say, have passed away.

Those of us in Sinn Féin believe an interim redress scheme should be put in place in advance of the publishing of the final report to provide some immediate comfort and dignity for survivors. They have suffered so much. Such a scheme would ensure we do not see a situation where so many have passed away without even some gesture from the State. I urge the Minister to take that recommendation on board.

Photo of Joan BurtonJoan Burton (Dublin West, Labour)
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I will start by mentioning the name of Christine Buckley who may not be known to all those in the Chamber. She was one of the most important people in bringing out the story of what happened to people who were in institutions, including mother and baby homes. In Dublin there is a private small charity group called the Aislinn Education and Support Centre. The centre was established by Christine Buckley, among others. It caters for people who have been in institutions and want a place to meet. The centre caters in particular for people who were in mother and baby homes as children and who went on to bigger institutions as they grew older. Often, they were shown the door on their 16th or 18th birthday. If they had the money, many of them took the boat to England straightaway.

The Aislinn centre exists on a shoestring. It is provided with a small amount of HSE funding. All the fine talk in the Chamber is as nothing if there is insufficient funding for the older people who go to the centre. In the centre they can sit down, have a cup of tea and take part in art and drama classes. Basically, it is about helping them to feel empowered as people and pick up on parts of education that they did not get previously.

One of the things about children from orphanages who went to mainstream primary schools is that they were always at the back of the class. Many people who spent a good deal of their life in homes have serious problems with literacy, even at this stage. They never got opportunities for educational development.

I know that the Minister is a concerned person on this issue. I appeal to her to pick up the telephone or get her officials to pick up the telephone and call the Aislinn centre. She should ask the people there to tell her or her officials the current position of the centre. I know the Minister is going to tell me that it is not her responsibility and that it is not under her budget. It is really important that the centre continues its work for many of the people who are now growing older. I have had the privilege to be at the centre.

Some people joke that I am a graduate of Temple Hill, as are people like Sally Mulready. I spent the early part of my life there and in foster care. To be honest, what I care about most of all is the dignity of the people and of all the good lives that the people from there have made and led. Up to 20 or 30 years ago, it was not easy to be a child who was adopted in Ireland. Let us be frank about it, there was a lot of social distinction. It was not easy to be a birth mother either. I have met so many birth mothers who are carrying incredible grief in their hearts. They are now very much older and have no way of making contact. The Minister and I have spoken privately about this. She has been very decent in arranging to meet people who have approached her to tell her their story. We need to think about how we address this.

There is a situation in Tuam and in many other places, including Bessborough, that involves a set of family stories. What was a secret was in fact privately held knowledge among extended families. I am referring to when a girl went away. I use the word "girl" because that was the language of those days. the girl went away, had a baby and came back. Sometimes she came back to the family home and sometimes she went to England. Often the men held strong views and perhaps the mothers also. Reconciliation never happened. In fact, people got married and had children themselves and never told anyone about their experiences. Anyone who has had the privilege of meeting these people will know what I am talking about.

Aside from the Aislinn centre, there are other places in the country that try to look out for people and offer a helping hand. I do not mean any kind of charity but a real helping hand to people. I believe the Aislinn centre could do with more Government support and more funding to allow it to do its work. Costs are rising exponentially in Dublin city centre. Although there are some already, there is probably need for similar centres at different points around Ireland where people could make contact.

7 o’clock

I am not happy about Caranua. While I acknowledge that apologies were made, the comments made were incredibly demeaning of people who were in mother and baby homes. If the Minister has any influence over the Department of Education and Skills, she should use it in respect of the substantial fund operated by the Department to provide redress. Funding may be provided for individuals only, not for organisations. The Minister should speak to people who use Caranua's services. Some organisations and individuals have a good relationship with it, while others have a difficult and strained relationship with it. The current model needs to be overhauled. I acknowledge, however, that Caranua does not come within the remit of her Department.

On the issue of records and fostering, when I was Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection, I saw through the House a Bill to give people the right to trace, almost to its final Stages. As we heard, many of the individuals in question are getting older. Tracing is a lottery. Some people are successful because the organisation that arranged their adoption is still in operation and has a structure in place for dealing with tracing, while others are unable to trace their family. Increasingly, adopted persons want to trace their birth parents to find out about their medical history. Worldwide, more women than men trace their birth parents. However, after they have children, particularly in cases where medical issues arise, men often want to trace their birth parents to obtain their medical records. The Minister spoke about bringing forward a human rights commissioner, which is great, but she must implement legislation on tracing. I am not aware of any progress that has been made with the Bill I introduced. As Deputy Anne Rabbitte stated, this is a complicated issue involving different parties whose rights and interests must be respected. However, postponing the introduction of tracing legislation until the commission of inquiry has completed its investigation, as I believe the Government may have decided to do, would be wrong, given the age of many of the individuals in question.

Large numbers of adopted persons are repeatedly told by adoption organisations that they were an only child. This is patently not true because many of the people who gave up children for adoption were in long-term relationships. For one reason or another, including the prevailing mores at the time, they were unable to have an open relationship. Local busy bodies often pressed for their children to be placed in homes and made the necessary arrangements to do so, causing intense grief. Many people have siblings that they have not been able to trace and this issue must be addressed. It is possible to facilitate meetings and achieve some level of reconciliation among extended families. I have sat in many kitchens with elderly women who survived the mother and baby homes. They often ask why Ireland did this to them and why it was as it was. The reason is we had an incredibly powerful and autocratic Catholic Church which knew what was right.

The Minister faces a serious challenge in her brief on the commission of investigation, namely, to try to right a number of wrongs. The Catholic Church should come out and apologise, as should the Church of Ireland and other churches that operated homes on a smaller scale. Parish priests should ask their parishioners from the pulpit at Sunday mass to help people who come to the district seeking to trace relatives. I am not aware of any parish priest who has done this, yet in all my years of tracing I have met many priests who told me I was extremely lucky to have been adopted. I know that I was lucky and there is no doubt that the alternative of living permanently in an institution was the worst case scenario. I was also fantastically lucky in the family who adopted me. However, others were not so lucky and they want to know their story and obtain their papers.

The Minister can take certain initiatives and address some of the issues I have raised without waiting for the final report of the commission of investigation. She should not postpone taking action until the commission has concluded its work. It is important that the commission do its work properly and fully; I am not in favour of a quick report. Given that the commission is reporting in stages, will the Minister indicate whether she has addressed all of the recommendations made in the second interim report? I do not believe the Department has done so and will leave that to the record. I plead with the Minister to reach out to try to bring more humanity into this area.

7:45 pm

Photo of Ruth CoppingerRuth Coppinger (Dublin West, Solidarity)
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The third interim report was met with acute dissatisfaction by survivors and their families and supporters, people who had been failed by the State, the religious denominations and the entire establishment. For the lone parents, unmarried mothers and poor parents involved - in many cases, the only crime of those placed in county homes was being homeless or living in poverty - this is not an historic event but a lived reality. Mothers and children were institutionalised and families split up. The mother and baby homes were the product of a misogynist conservative establishment that ran the State for decades.

The extension of time by one year to allow the commission of investigation to make its final report is particularly difficult for survivors, most of whom are elderly and seeking answers to many questions. I am not dismissing or diminishing the problems and complexities the commission and its staff face. The commission has yet to meet many of the large number of people who have been contacting it to give their testimonies. The confidential committee has met hundreds of former residents here and in Britain. Attitudes have changed and more and more women believe they can come forward and speak about their treatment in the institutions. Many of them have still not met the commission.

The second reason given is that records are old, that many are paper files and that the location or existence of some is uncertain. The interim report outlines the major administrative task involved in processing and manually examining these records.

The third issue is that extensive information remains to be provided by the religious congregations and Departments which have been served with discovery orders. What level of non-co-operation has the commission of inquiry encountered from some religious institutions? This question must be answered because it would be disgraceful if a failure to co-operate was causing further delay in the process.

While I acknowledge these problems and issues facing the commission of inquiry, the position is still unsatisfactory for survivors, but steps can be taken in the interim. Survivors need to be given a comprehensive, well researched and definitive report at the end of the process. They must also receive an apology from the State and the religious denominations and this does not have to wait until the commission of inquiry has completed its work.

Many survivors have been wondering on social media and elsewhere why the State is paying for a visit by the Pope at a time when they have not received redress from the religious organisations that abused them or an apology from the church. This is a major issue which many people are raising.

It is estimated that €20 million will be spent by the State on the visit. That is according to the Archbishop of Dublin and I do not know if the church is coughing up for any of it. That amount is three times the budget reported for this commission, which is €7 million. It is legitimate to ask whether we can beef up the budget and take on more staff. I am sure there are students, historians and researchers of all kinds that would love to work on this project and give closure to many of the people in this position. Over the next year we must ensure the commission has further interim and progress reports, and if there are areas on which it can make conclusions, it should do so. I absolutely agree that a redress scheme could be set up for elderly people in particular to avail of. We do not want to be in a position next year, when the report is published, of seeing a delay in setting up a redress scheme. Moves can be made to do it now. Having made the point that societal attitudes are driving the correct call by survivors for redress and how women feel freer to speak, those who have been adopted should also feel free to speak about their experience and how the institutions have impacted on them.

Last week in this Chamber we spoke on the 100th anniversary of the right of women to vote being marked by the State. At the same time women were being granted the right to vote, they were having their rights taken away from them in other areas. There was a counter-revolution taking place against women's rights when the State was established. We saw women getting the right to vote but being taken off juries. We saw women getting the right to vote but being denied contraception until the 1970s. The right to a divorce was removed in this country and it was only won back in the 1990s. In the past 25 years, there has been a transformation in attitudes and the role of women in Irish society, much of it driven by the increased number of women in the workforce.

At the time when some of these mother and baby homes were still open, such as in 1973, only 15% of married women worked. Today that figure has increased significantly. The participation in the workplace by women has risen to 63%, and 34% of women have a third level qualification versus 28% of men. However, the pay gap has remained for women. The key point is that while we get redress for people in the mother and baby homes, the time is up for the oppression of women in this country in general. Mother and baby homes were sustained by a hostile attitude to women's sexuality and value in society, with the church and State colluding to have institutions as the sanction that would be taken against women who did not conform to the role models of the time and having children only within wedlock. Women were to be the providers of free domestic labour at this time, and we can see that in the institutions where their work was unpaid.

We are approaching a referendum that will primarily deal with the rights of women over their bodies. Parties and individuals should be consistent. There is a link. For example, we should end the shaming of women's sexuality and recognise that women with crisis pregnancies should be allowed to make their own decisions, which they were not at this time. It relates to the referendum that is about to take place on abortion. In 2013, for example, it is quite amazing that the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland was given the power to sign off on regulations where the personal moral standards of a pharmacist could result in a women being denied emergency contraception. This case was highlighted only last week. In the past four years a 14-year jail sentence was introduced as a sanction for use of the abortion pill or having an abortion. Just last year the Government saw fit to turn over the ownership of the National Maternity Hospital to one of the religious institutions facing accusations and which is responsible for institutional abuse. That decision was only reversed because of a major public backlash and we still have politicians extremely far behind on these matters.

Today we have a transformed attitude to women and one in four families is now a one-parent family. It is absolutely time for this redress to be given to all those who are victims of this repressive attitude of the church and State towards women. Everything should be done in terms of resources to ensure the process is done by next year. If there is any delay, it will cause outcry and be a huge kick in the teeth to people already victimised by the State.

7:55 pm

Photo of Clare DalyClare Daly (Dublin Fingal, Independent)
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I am really getting weary with the delay and, in some ways, the excuses. If I feel like that, God only knows what the survivors and those for whom this is a lived experience are feeling. We must ask ourselves why were these delays not anticipated and what are we doing to put the resources in place to ensure there are no further delays. Over the past period there have been many nice statements, announcements and speak of consultation, but are we really hearing what people are saying? Are we really addressing the basic needs on which some people have sought redress, such as access to basic housing, health issues and access to records? It has not been there for many people.

One of the critical matters we must register today is the genuine fear with respect to the age of some of the survivors and how they cannot take a further delay beyond next year. We need an assurance that it will not happen. We must also be cognisant of the very sharp criticism of the Ombudsman recently on the State's application in the Magdalen redress scheme. He was extremely critical of the way in which women's real experiences were not listened to, an over-reliance on documentation, not hearing people out and overly complicating processes. I wonder if that is what we are doing. Some of records element is complicated but other parts are less so.

We must have a starting point in saying that much of the information is not new. I do not mean this in a disrespectful way but it is more than five years ago that an internal Health Service Executive document in 2012 revealed what it called a wholly epidemic level of child death in Bessborough, with 472 children recorded as dying between 1934 and 1953. We know from the excellent work of Mr. Conall Ó Fátharta at the Irish Examinerthat the HSE was given files in 2011 containing the names of 800 children who died in Bessborough and Sean Ross Abbey. Incidentally, both of those sites are for sale currently. We know from the campaigning work of people like Mr. Derek Leinster the figures and names of children who died in the Bethany Home. These facts were established before Ms Catherine Corless did her Trojan work in Tuam but nothing was done. There was no investigation until Tuam took the headlines. In some ways we are playing catch-up but we must very clearly say that this is not about one site and there are multiple sites. There is an experience of people that cannot be divorced from the treatment of women in society.

I received an email from one of the babies - he is not a baby any more - who was born in one of these institutions. He describes the mother and baby homes as generally a cross between a maternity hospital with no doctors and nurses and a low to medium security prison. That is what they were and society knew about that. We have major responsibilities to address these outstanding matters. We have very limited time but the lack of sensitivity in some ways of dealing with these cases beggars belief. Galway County Council approached consultation with the survivors and their families by giving out a tick-box form; it brings a whole new meaning to a tick-box exercise. As it concerned dead babies, it was horrifically insensitive and at the very least, survivors need to be spoken to directly. I am concerned by the possibility raised by the commission that it may not get to meet everybody. I would like to hear that this could be addressed by extra resources or whatever it takes.

I would like to know what the level of co-operation is. There is the point about the order for discovery and the giving of some information. Was other information left out? Are we satisfied with the amount of documents made available? Critically, we need to factor in, if one likes, the lived and oral testimonies. We cannot lose sight of the fact that no one has been held to account for what happened to the children, many of whom died through neglect, while others were illegally adopted. That the issue of illegal adoptions is not included is regrettable. People who are getting older are looking for the truth and the identities of their loved ones, as well as justice and compensation, which cannot come too quickly. Will the Minister provide an assurance that they will receive whatever they need to get the job done without further delay?

8:05 pm

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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As I have five minutes only, I will direct and make my comments in a focused manner.

As the Minister can imagine, trust is essential. As has been acknowledged, she received a letter on 16 January about basic issues, one of which is access to records. An individual has been to the High Court eight times to gain access to records on his sister. Another issue is the provision of a dedicated counselling service. There are also issues about care, the provision of medical cards and housing. If these basic needs cannot be met in a speedy and efficient manner, talking about the United Nations, human rights and a consultative forum is absolute nonsense. I do not wish to be unduly critical, but, as someone who comes from Galway, I have both personal and professional experience of the home and read every document on it.

Let me put this issue in perspective. In 2012, during the course of the work of the interdepartmental working group, issues in relation to mother and baby homes, in particular, those in Bessborough and Tuam, were highlighted in an internal memorandum. I raised the issue with the Minister months ago. It stated there were serious concerns about patient safety, medical care, accounting irregularities and possible interference with birth and death certificates, etc. There were two briefing documents on a scandal that will dwarf all others. There was also correspondence from major figures in the Catholic Church looking for babies to be sent to America. Notwithstanding the good men who signed their names and said there must be action, the memorandum was ignored and not acted on. There was no follow-up action. Then we had the good work of the journalist Conall Ó Fátharta and a local historian, Catherine Corless, who between 2011 and 2013, after that work, highlighted 796 names. She paid €4 for each death certificate. She outlined that there had been newborn babies and children up to nine years of age and that one child had died every fortnight. Not only was there silence there was also outright denial. On behalf of the Bons Secours Sisters, Ms Terry Prone responded to a documentary maker by saying:

If you come here, you'll find no mass grave, no evidence that children were ever so buried and a local police force casting their eyes to heaven and saying "Yeah, a few bones were found - but this was an area where Famine victims were buried. So?"

That was the official response given through a communications firm.

The commission was set up in February 2015 and the Government was shamed into setting it up. It had a number of targets that were not met and we hear today that it wants a further extension. Serious questions must be asked. Why were sufficient resources not provided? Why was there not a scoping exercise of sufficient strength and scope to allow this detailed and necessary work to be done within the time allocated? It will now enter its fourth year.

In terms of trust, each and every report has been delayed, with the exception of the first interim report which simply asked for an extension of time. The second was received by the Minister in September 2016 and published in April 2017. The commission felt the necessity to publish a report to highlight the fact that the manner in which unaccompanied children in mother and baby homes had been excluded from the redress system or an alternative redress system defied logic. There was no answer from the Government. The commission was simply ignored.

The technical report was on the Minister's desk in June 2017. Certainly, the options were on her desk. The full report was on it in September 2017 and published on 5 December 2017. Again, there was a significant delay. There is a four page document - a note - that does absolutely nothing in the report to set the context at that stage, more than two years after it had been set up. It is a descriptive note that places nothing in context and makes no provisional conclusions.

The discovery by the commission in March in 20 chambers, partially examined, of human remains caused international headlines. What is important for us, survivors and the families is what happened in the excavation. Where is it at? What about the role of the coroner? Under law the coroner has a serious statutory role to play. Where is the report on his role? What inquests have been carried out? When were they carried out? If none was carried out, why not?

There was talk tonight of consultation and collaboration which was welcomed by Deputies. That is their business and they may well see the need for it, but I see the need for honesty, open communication with survivors and their families and respect and dignity that are absolutely lacking. I am not speaking about the Minister in a personal capacity; I am talking about the delays. When I examine page 56 of the technical report and the five options to which I will come back if the Acting Chairman will allow me-----

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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The Acting Chairman might not allow it.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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What concerns me in the summary is the line, "The potential to identify individuals interred in Tuam is one that poses many challenges". I can understand that. It then goes on to state one of the challenges is the "potential damage to relations between the public, the Church and the Government". What kind of challenge is that? Why should it be identified? That tells us something about where we are going. On the five options, it is a decision for the Government and this House to make in the best informed manner they can. However, the Minister has given it over to a county council which does not have enough staff to repair the roads and which at 9 p.m. will be looking at the deficiencies. It is engaging in a box ticking exercise. It is asking residents and neighbours to tick boxes. That should be done in this House after meaningful consultation.

While I understand the Minister has a difficult role, at the very least I expect reports, with the dates on them, to be published immediately.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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I will be sharing a few minutes of my time with Deputy Michael Healy-Rae if he arrives.

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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Is that agreed? Agreed.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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I am happy to speak briefly about this issue. When the Minister, Deputy Katherine Zappone, published the third interim report of the commission of investigation into the mother and baby homes in December last year, she made it quite clear that the Government had agreed to a request from the commission for an extension of one year to allow it to complete its fact-finding and information gathering process. The additional time will ensure the investigation can comprehensively address the wide range of public concerns referred to it. The Minister also announced that she would establish a collaborative forum to support former residents to develop solutions to issues of concern to them. That is also welcome. I must admit, however, that I was surprised to hear the Minister had felt it necessary to invite the UN special rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence to visit Ireland to assist with the project. By any yardstick, I do not share her high regard for the United Nations' so-called human rights institutions. In my experience, these institutions are riddled with moral hypocrisy and have a skewed view of what constitute human rights, as well as a history of gross interference with the sovereign rights of nations to control their own laws; nor do I see why the investigation cannot be overseen by the statutory authorities of the State. While it is an argument for another day, will the Minister explain why it is so important to involve the United Nations?

To return to the interim report, I note that it is proving difficult to find the records of some health authorities. It is not clear if they have been lost or destroyed, or if it is simply the case that no one knows where they are.

The report indicates that this may be due to the change in structures during the years of local authorities, boards of guardians, boards of public assistance to the health boards and then the HSE and, in some cases, the Child and Family Agency. The commission is continuing its efforts to find the material. I wish it well in that regard. We all need the clearest picture possible, including the families.

I am disturbed to read that while there are detailed death records available, there are significant gaps in the information on the burials of babies who died in a number of the institutions under investigation. The commission notes that while it is continuing to make inquiries about burials and burial records, it appears that it is an area in which it will be difficult to establish the full facts. That is something that must be continually borne in mind as we move forward as it will help us to avoid any summary rush to judgment in the clear absence of the facts.

This is also an opportune time to discuss some of the current failures in child protection. This will help us to realise that while the mother and baby homes issue is historical, the failure of the State to protect children is ongoing and very real. We can come into the House and pontificate and lash out about what happened in the dark days of the past, but we have very real failures occurring this very minute and hour all over the land. I want the Minister to acknowledge this and try to deal with the issue. Last year she gave me a breakdown of the number of children under the age of one year who had been in State care from 31 December 2011 to 2015. In 2011 the number was 136; in 2012, 148; in 2013, 136; in 2014, 139; and in 2015, 121. The numbers are truly astonishing. They show that we still have a desperate situation in the treatment of mothers and babies in the State. That is to say nothing of the number of children who died in State care in recent years, a matter I have raised previously with the Minister. However, it bears repeating that there were also 56,000 reports of child abuse in the past three years across all categories of neglect and abuse, which is a shocking figure. Will the Minister also be calling in the UN special rapporteur on truth to investigate these matters and, if not, why not? The figures provided for me by her Department show that there were 19,407 reports of physical, sexual and emotional abuse, as well as neglect, received in 2013 alone, again a shocking figure in just one year. In 2014 the number of cases reported in the same categories was 18,676. In 2015, the number was 18,235. In total, in 2015 there were 43,596 referrals to Tusla under the Minister's Department, a staggering figure.

I refer to recent history and history in the making which is not good. It does not make good reading and it is not goof for the memory in the context of future investigations and tribunals. The statistics point to an alarming undercurrent of violence and neglect that is still being perpetrated on innocent children in our society. Will Minister show the same diligence in dealing with this matter that she is showing in dealing with the mother and baby scandals? We can write and talk about what happened in the dark days of the past and can blame the Catholic Church and everybody else. However, this is happening under our watch with all of the education that is now supposed to be available, with of all the equality legislation that is supposed to be in place and with all of the powers of investigation that Tusla and the HSE continue to have. I ask why is this happening. I hope the media will focus on it also because if we learn nothing from the past, we are capable of repeating the same problems and we are, in spite of all the millions being pumped into dealing with them. Two weeks ago we had a debate on child care. It is both shocking and staggering. I know of cases, about which I have been on to the Minister. The minute a person is onto Tusla, it is totally taboo and not possible to inquire. Tusla has a lot of questions to answer. I had it in my county and otherwise about the way it did and did not get involved, but we should have seen the mistakes. However, what did we do? We set up Tusla and hived off a huge number of staff. There is interference from the side and I am being distracted. The staff were just moved into other positions. There are bound to be teething problems, but in this instance, they were more than teething problems. They are continuing and serious. I meet gardaí every weekend in my constituency, as others do in their constituencies, if they were to be honest. They receive calls at 3.20 p.m. and 4.20 p.m. on a Friday evening. I am referring to calls about problem in families with children. Gardaí are told they are in charge and can deal with the problem over the weekend. That is not good enough. It is not fair to members of An Garda Síochána. They are busy and have to police a lot of areas, but this happens continually. Calls are landed on their desks shortly after lunch on a Friday because there are not enough social workers on duty. I am not knocking all social workers and all that they do, but there are lots of problems and I referred to the figures earlier. That is no way to treat a problem by handing it over to members of An Garda Síochána who much of the time are ill equipped and untrained to deal with it. To where will they bring children in question and their families? Will they bring them into the Garda station and try to find a foster home for them? I salute the foster carers that make their houses and homes available. However, there are lots of problems under the Minister's watch. It is important that we also bring in the United Nations special rapporteur to deal with this issue. I can tell the Minister that there will be investigations into what happened in 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018 under our watch, for which we will have to be accountable and come up with ideas. We cannot blame all religious institutions and whoever else we feel like blaming for what happened in bygone days when we were always told we were backward and this and that. We have all of the education we need and are still letting the same thing to happen right under our noses on an hourly basis.

8:15 pm

Photo of Anne RabbitteAnne Rabbitte (Galway East, Fianna Fail)
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Come on; this is about mother and baby homes.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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Excuse me. May I have freedom to address the Chair without interruption, please?

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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Is the Deputy almost finished?

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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I am, but there were mutterings in between also. Perhaps Deputy Anne Rabbitte is on another journey from somewhere else.

Photo of Seán CanneySeán Canney (Galway East, Independent)
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I welcome the opportunity to speak about mother and baby homes. I compliment the Minister on her endeavours in dealing with this sensitive issue. Earlier we listened to how Galway County Council was dealing with the issue in Tuam. I come from Tuam and was educated there. I have met a lot of people, some of whom are in the Visitors Gallery, who have been affected in one way or another. I refer to survivors or family members of people who passed away. It is a sensitive issue and we have to make sure we deal with it in a way that we will satisfaction for those who have been affected by this terrible tragedy.

One of the things I find in speaking to survivors is that they find themselves in a position where they are beginning to talk about their experiences. They are talking to one another about them. They are talking in groups and beginning to find some consolation in the fact that they are meeting others who have had the same experiences. Over a long period of time, from the time they were babies until they started to talk about it, they were holding it as a dark a secret as if there was something wrong with them. At this stage what we have to do as a state is to make sure we find the truth for them and make reparation.

As Deputy Mattie McGrath mentioned, we must be as vigilant as possible to ensure it will never happen again in this country or elsewhere.

I met the group in Tuam before Christmas. We went to the site, said some prayers, read some poems and sang some hymns. There was reverence. It must also be taken into account that the lives of those who live in close proximity to the site have been affected. Even though they are innocent and had no part to play in anything that happened, there has been an intrusion in their area and lives. We must respect them as well and ensure they get the support they need in terms of counselling, advice and information on what is happening.

Questions arise as to how to go about this work and ensure everyone is treated fairly. At the end of the day, decisions will have to be made. The Minister is in the consultation process. It is important that everyone get a fair crack at stating his or her case. However, time is an issue. Personally, I do not mind delays if we find the truth, but some people will be frustrated by how the timeframe keeps lengthening and by the delays in the process. We must be sensitive to this issue and spare no effort in doing everything that we can as humanly and as quickly as possible. I have great confidence that the Minister will do so. She will treat this situation with the compassion it deserves. We are not proud of it as a society, but we must deal with it.

It is not widely known that counselling services are available to the victims. Barnardos is running a service whereby it takes appointments and sees people in the new primary care centre in Tuam. More information on this service needs to get out in order that people know about it.

I wish to make another point. It is a comment rather than a complaint. When people telephone for advice, there might not be someone on the other end of the line, meaning that they have to telephone time and again. Someone might not revert to them for a number of days. We must ensure that, when people telephone, someone responds to them. Otherwise, people will become even more frustrated.

We will have to make tough decisions on what to do, not only in Tuam, but at other sites. Whatever we do, we must ensure we get to the truth and that those who have been affected receive reparation. In modern society, we must be vigilant against anything like this happening again.

8:25 pm

Photo of Niamh SmythNiamh Smyth (Cavan-Monaghan, Fianna Fail)
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We in Fianna Fáil welcomed the commission of investigation into mother and baby homes when it was established. We recognised the importance of the commission in delivering justice and accountability for all those affected by mother and baby homes.

The commission's third interim report makes a request to extend the deadline for its reports on its findings on the institutions being investigated. This will add a further year to the timeframe. It should be noted that this represents the third extension of the deadlines for these reports. While we appreciate that the commission is undertaking a complex and somewhat unpredictable task, Fianna Fáil is of the view that the commission must complete its work as quickly as possible, as it is an important mode of investigation and recognition of the experiences of Irish women and their children in these homes.

Given the United Nations' comments on the terms of reference being too narrow and feedback from survivor groups, we are supportive of the terms being expanded. Furthermore, we will be engaging with survivor groups to discuss and consider how their input can best be integrated into this report.

The treatment of mothers and children in these institutions is a dark chapter in our country's history and a complex issue. Questions still abound about the nature of justice and retribution for survivors. We must be thorough in our search for the best possible model of justice for them. Our hope is that this investigation, under the direction of Judge Yvonne Murphy, can contribute in a meaningful way to that process. We welcome the publication of this report as an important step towards the final report and as an important milestone for survivors. Many survivors of mother and baby homes are reaching their later years. For this reason, it is imperative that justice and recognition be delivered to them as quickly as possible.

We have always supported the commission as a means of bringing justice to the victims of these homes and we remain supportive of the process of the commission.

Furthermore, in recognition of the immense and widespread suffering that survivors experienced in the institutions excluded from the current terms, and given the United Nations' assessment of the terms of reference being too narrow, Fianna Fáil fully supports the broadening of the terms of reference. We also support the establishment of a forum for survivors to share their experiences and viewpoints in an open and safe environment. It is crucial that we record as much information and as many experiences as we can at this juncture. Given how difficult it is for many survivors to discuss their experiences, however, it would be easier and more appropriate for them to do so in a setting that is non-legalistic and does not imply guilt or blame on their part.

These changes must be concurrent with broader discussions of justice for survivors of mother and baby homes. We must examine international best practice and other examples to find the best possible process for justice to be delivered to the survivors. Now, and as always in this process, we believe that it must remain survivor focused. To that end, we welcome the Minister's decision to seek public consultation on further action and to investigate the possibility of expanding the scope of the inquiry.

Photo of Louise O'ReillyLouise O'Reilly (Dublin Fingal, Sinn Fein)
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I wish to share time with Deputy Martin Kenny.

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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Is that agreed? Agreed.

Photo of Louise O'ReillyLouise O'Reilly (Dublin Fingal, Sinn Fein)
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While the announcement of a delay to the commission of investigation's report is disappointing, the reasons for the delay - the sheer amount of documentary evidence - cannot, and should not, be disputed. I would have preferred it if additional resources had been requested when the scale of the documentary evidence became apparent in order for the report to be published on time. I accept the Minister's bona fides on this issue. It concerns her greatly and she does not want to add her name to the list of people in power who have let the women in question, their families and the survivors down. It is regrettable that we are not here to discuss the report in full. The survivors of mother and baby homes have waited so long. Some of them are no longer with us and, unfortunately, others may not see another year. Extending the report's finalisation date by a year should have been a last resort. Nevertheless, the preference of almost all of the survivors is that there be an acknowledgement of the horror of the mother and baby homes, an official apology to the survivor community and an interim redress payment to the elderly and dying survivor community. We do not need a report to instruct the Government that this should be done.

It is important that the report reflects the horror that the victims suffered and the role of successive Governments in facilitating these homes to operate their abuse. We should not shy away from this. Therefore, if there is a request for a further year, it is important that it be made in order to study documents and relay the truth and not be part of some whitewashing or dilution of the true horror that these survivors experienced.

I welcome the Minister's announcement, including on the establishment of a collaborative forum to support former residents in developing solutions to the issues of concern to them. Unlike one of the previous speakers, I welcome the decision to invite the UN special rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence to Ireland.

I must finish by saying the survivors from institutions included in the commission of investigation deserve justice as soon as possible. They do not deserve further delay.

8:35 pm

Photo of Martin KennyMartin Kenny (Sligo-Leitrim, Sinn Fein)
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Many of the people involved are getting older and facing ill-health. About a month ago I spoke to a woman who had been in the home in Tuam where she had gone through a very difficult time. The extension of time really concerns her. Where will it end? People need to be given an absolute assurance that we will come to a conclusion of this process very soon. It has altered their lives and those of their families and everyone around them.

It is almost six months since we debated this issue. A couple of weeks after the last debate I met a man who told me that his brother had worked in one of the homes in the 1950s and later emigrated. The reason he had emigrated was that he had worked there for about four or five months and had been shocked by the attitude the people who ran the place had towards whom he described as the inmates. It had been like a prison. It had brought the person concerned to a situation where he felt he could no longer stay in Ireland and had to leave. It was not for financial reasons, the reason most people emigrated, but because of what he had experienced and the type of country he thought it was.

We need to recognise that our past is something we cannot change. We have to be careful about how we talk about it and what we do about it. None of us in this House is responsible for what happened in the past, but we are responsible for how we deal with it. That is what this is about. It is about how we deal with the consequences of the wrongs done in the past. We really need to focus on this issue. How we deal with this will be a reflection on us and the part we played for future generations. The Minister is genuine and the Government wants to try to do the right thing. However, a lot of people are fearful that it is playing for time. It needs to be acknowledged that it is not playing for time and that we are trying to find a solution. There is a need for a solution that is wholesome for the people involved and society in order that everyone will feel he or she has a stake in this process. What happened in the mother and baby homes is a poor reflection on our past. We now have an opportunity to change it.

Photo of Bríd SmithBríd Smith (Dublin South Central, People Before Profit Alliance)
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I am sure the Minister read the article by Fintan O'Toole at the time the Tuam babies scandal broke last year in which he said:

The abusive relationship between church, State and society may, like the dead babies that have haunted us in recent weeks, be buried beneath the surface of our postmodern globalised reality. But its consequences still lurk in our bloodstream and until we understand them, the past will be our present and our future too.

I agree to the extent that I see the mother and baby homes not as a legacy of the dark past but as part of the uncontested control of the church. That marriage between church and State continues to pervade the education system, health services, the running of hospitals and schools and the debate on the reproductive health care of women. The interim report contains a number of striking things. I accept the Minister's bona fides. I also accept that the investigation has expanded and that more time is needed to complete the report. I accept that the widening of its remit and scope means that the commissioners need more time. We have to question the length of time required. It will be another year before conclusions are made. Survivor groups and advocates have pointed out that many of those directly affected, including the survivors, children and siblings of mothers who were incarcerated, are now elderly. There are many who have or will pass before the operation has been completed. We need a sense of urgency which I do not feel in the House. We need the sense of outrage and urgency that we felt last year when the story first broke. With it we need a strategy that will deal with this process much more quickly. Does the Minister believe she has sufficient resources to deal with it completely and properly and with a sense of urgency that allocates a sense of decency to the survivors who are left? Will she try to address that question? It is not really a concern about the delay in finding out the very intricate details of what bones were found, the dates or the evidence we can obtain from witnesses and beyond. It is also about retribution and the redress afforded to the victims. I do not understand why that cannot even partially be run in tandem. There should be a parallel operation in which the evidence is found at the same time as we look after the victims of such abuse.

There is a wider issue about the legacy of the past. The church ethos and rulings still affect the education curriculum in schools. The ethos and rules still affect a wider question about how we run schools and hospitals. There are cases of parents whose children's futures are uncertain because, for example, the Edmund Rice Schools Trust which owns lands on which schools are located is not willing to give long-term leases but has instead given leases to schools that will expire in a few years' time. Parents and entire families are fretting about the future of the education of the children. The State continues to contract out key services in health, education and housing to religious charities and religious groups when we have such a dreadful legacy.

Since the Woods deal in 2002, 16 years ago, there has been the possibility of having a shared retribution scheme to meet the cost of compensating the survivors. The church, in all its aspects, has completely fallen down in its duty to the State and the survivors. The figures mean that it would be paying back more than €750 million to the State in redress costs when, in fact, it has paid around €400 million. The Woods deal, done by the then Fianna Fáil Minister for Health, allowed the church to get away without indemnifying the legacy it had left. When I see the Edmund Rice Schools Trust taking legal action against the parents and the board of the Educate Together school in Clonkeen College or the uncertainty faced in my area because of the lack of a proper lease from the Edmund Rice Schools Trust, I see the legacy of the mother and baby homes in Tuam and elsewhere. I see the gross interference of the church in the education system which for it is all about profit, money and what it can extract most for itself. There is a lot of unfinished business. The survivors will never be truly compensated until we actually have a genuine separation of church and State and run schools and hospitals on a secular basis.

Does the Minister believe she has enough resources to deal with this process? Is there a way that, in tandem with the criminal investigation, we can compensate the victims who are still alive?

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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We have limited time available. I call Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan who can start her statement and continue it tomorrow.

Photo of Maureen O'SullivanMaureen O'Sullivan (Dublin Central, Independent)
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The issue of institutions, whether it be mother and baby homes, industrial schools or Magdalen laundries, is harrowing and very sad when we think of the lives lost and destroyed, not to mention the physical conditions and brutality experienced by so many. Few survivors have spoken about the care they received in the institutions. It is very difficult to comprehend how adults in the so-called caring professions could have been so callous, repressive, cruel and judgmental. In many cases, they were like that with children. The families of survivors also have to share the blame because they, in many cases, were the ones who put their own members into the institutions.