Dáil debates

Thursday, 21 February 2019

Fourth Interim Report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes: Statements (Resumed)


2:55 pm

Photo of Joan BurtonJoan Burton (Dublin West, Labour)
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I am glad that the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Catherine Byrne, is present as she has a long-standing interest in this issue and much detailed knowledge of it.

There is a great deal of unhappiness at the fact that there is a further delay. Much of the delay is probably inevitable, but arrangements should be made to deal with a number of issues which I believe the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone, could address with some speed. She is not present for the discussion, but she must bear in mind that we now know that there are approximately 150,000 adoption files held by Tusla, of which 50,000 or more are since adoption was legally introduced in Ireland in 1952. I have been asking questions and campaigning on this issue for a long period and one of the problems is that in most cases many of the parents of the children are now deceased, while many of the children are much older. The unfortunate part is that the Minister is continuing to cling to a social worker-led model when people just want to receive their information. They want to receive information on the mother and baby homes, with their personal information and files.

Since we last discussed this matter, the information on burials at Sean Ross Abbey has come to light, with suggestions the number of children buried there is far more significant than previously believed. This is very distressing for all of the people connected with Sean Ross Abbey, but everybody was aware of the information. Certainly, my mother used to say to me when I was a child that children had died like flies in these institutions. They died from what are now treatable illnesses such as gastroenteritis. They also died from a range of other illnesses which nowadays can still take babies' lives such as meningitis. If there was an infection in a home, it appears that it spread like wildfire. I welcome the Minister's decision to have excavations carried out at Sean Ross Abbey.

The biggest mother and baby home in the Dublin area was St. Patrick's on the Navan Road. I was always told and people connected with the home have repeatedly said approximately 2,000 babies are buried in the Holy Angels plot at Glasnevin Cemetery. In fact, others have suggested the figure is higher. In addition, many people living in Dublin at the time, particularly poorer people, who lost a baby buried him or her in the Holy Angels plot. That issue must be addressed. It is part of a very sad history in Ireland, but the people affected deserve to have it addressed.

I have with me the reply I received from Tusla last June about the number of people who were seeking to trace their origins. The numbers are extremely high, but, more importantly, where the process is still ongoing, the number amounts to many thousands. Last year the Minister made a public announcement on the 126 files related to St. Patrick's Guild which ran a home on Temple Hill in Blackrock. I am aware of many people from St. Patrick's Guild who have been approached with a letter from the Minister and Tusla offering social worker services. People do not particularly need social worker services unless they ask for them. They are adults. The people referred to were born between the late 1940s and the late 1960s; therefore, almost everybody is well over 40 years old. Some might need counselling and the help of a social worker, but more than anything they need information.

My view is, given the way it is set up, Tusla will never be able to deal with more than 10% to 20% of the inquiries it faces. Before Christmas we received the news that St. Patrick's Guild which was one of the biggest adoption societies in Ireland had gone into liquidation. That means that almost 100 years of its history is gone. I believe Tusla has the records, as the Minister can confirm, but the position is far from satisfactory. I understand there were legal cases, some of which were in the public domain last year, and that the guild may have had to make legal redress to some of the people involved.

What is the current position? We are in the middle of a detailed mother and baby homes investigation which is being carried out by some eminent and trustworthy people, but the problem with the Government is that it is not prepared to expand its remit to address very important issues, some of which are relatively resolvable in the time that is left. I refer, first, to Bethany Home. After almost three years in office, the Government has not addressed the issues involved. Almost every Member is aware that the people from Bethany Home are now mainly of considerably advanced years and deserve to be addressed in a fair way. I ask the Minister of State to convey that message to her senior Minister colleagues.

Second, with regard to St. Patrick's Guild and the files on the 126 people mentioned, I introduced a Bill to deal with informal, false and illegally registered adoptions. It would provide people with a mechanism to approach the court to have their circumstances validated. There are a number of people who were registered as the natural children of their adoptive parents. I assume that the nun gave the happy parents the baby they were going to adopt and told them to register him or her. They probably never knew that they were doing anything untoward, but there must have been arrangements which facilitated it. An increasing number of cases came to my attention following publication of the Bill. Ms Anne O'Meara is a barrister who was adopted and whose birth certificate turned out to be illegal. She has spoken on the Sean O'Rourke radio programme and spoke at the launch of the Bill. She is quite clear that she was adopted by a very loving family who brought her up, with her siblings. However, when they were given her, they went and registered her as their natural born baby. Therefore, her birth certificate is invalid. In addition, she was born in Belfast. As in most cases, her adoptive parents always told her that she had been adopted. She was adopted in Belfast. She must have a remedy whereby she can go to court to have her life validated as it has been lived, in other words, that she was adopted by her parents. The registration of her birth was false and wrong and she needs a mechanism to resolve the issue.

I really plead with the Minister of State because I know she knows a lot about this issue, to get the Government to act on the legislation I have brought forward.

Regarding St. Patrick's Guild, we are told there are another 746 cases that are of concern, to use the words of the Minister. As St. Patrick's Guild is just one of many adoption societies, if one uses one's imagination one will know this affected many people. I have dealt in recent days with a case of someone whose original birth certificate, when they obtained it, had been utterly falsified. Again, there was something irregular about the birth certificate they got. However, there is no remedy whatever available to this individual, and what is more, they do not even know how they should have registered their children in terms of their children's parentage and their own identity.

There is a lot that could be done about this. I stress that we can work together on this and with the various organisations which have been lobbying on this issue. We can help people without having to say, as is inevitable, that they will have to wait three, five or seven years for a social worker. That is just neither a practical nor a realistic solution.

The Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection handles vast amounts of people's data, as do other Departments, such as the Department of Health. It is possible to have access to one's own data, and that is a human right, for information purposes. It is proposed, however, to put up a roadblock and say all data must go through some social worker model. The children who are young now and have difficulties are the people who need the social worker and the family support, whereas the Government just has to make a decision on the people who are more mature and want their information. The Minister, Deputy Zappone, was very vocal about this when she was a Senator. She supported me on a lot of legislation which was socially very advanced for the Ireland of the time, such as legislation providing for marriages to be celebrated by civil solemnisers and humanists and, similarly, legislation providing for transgender people to be allowed a birth certificate in their required gender.

3:05 pm

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Deputy needs to conclude.

Photo of Joan BurtonJoan Burton (Dublin West, Labour)
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Yes, I will. Where is the Minister's radicalism gone that she is leaving these thousands of people in no man's land? The commission will proceed; it will now be another year before it reports. Half the people affected will be dead before it ever does so.

Photo of Maureen O'SullivanMaureen O'Sullivan (Dublin Central, Independent)
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Going back to where we are to date, the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes and Certain Related Matters was established by the Government in February 2015 to provide a full account of what happened to women and children in those homes. Since then, we have had four interim reports: two in 2016, one in 2017 and one in 2018. The final report was due on 17 February last, but now this extension has been asked for. It further pushes out the process until February 2020. We are told it is to ensure there will be an accurate and comprehensive final report but the whole history of this matter has been one of delay after delay over many years. It is even a number of years now since the then Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, apologised to the ladies of the Magdalen laundries, who still face a number of outstanding issues. This is all related: the Magdalen laundries, the mother and baby homes and the industrial schools. It is the treatment of unmarried mothers that was inhumane. This included treatment by their families, the fathers of the babies of those unmarried mothers, many people in the clergy and many people in officialdom. They were not all unmarried mothers. One of the saddest stories I heard was of a lady I met who had been put into an institution by her father because his second wife did not want the children from the first wife living with them after that first wife had passed away. It is quite incredible to think Irish people could behave in such a cruel and inhumane way.

I must mention the mixed-race people because I was very privileged to meet them and it is so good that they are involved. Two of them are chairing particular groups. Their stories are even more heartbreaking because of the additional pain, trauma and stigma they faced, being from a mixed-race background. I found it a very humbling experience to meet them and others I have met in my time here. They have survived with dignity and compassion, and I think we all benefit from that experience and from their insight.

We know there are survivors who are extremely angry about the way they have been treated, and that anger must be acknowledged and respected. Now, to add to the exasperation already being experienced, there is further delay to people getting information, as they found out through the media that an extension was being sought for another year. Will the commission be looking for another extension this time next year? Perhaps an extension is really needed in order that all the information be available, but surely it is just a matter of courtesy that those who are most affected, namely, the survivors, would hear first and in an appropriate way of any extension. It should not have happened the way it did. I know that on 13 February, the Minister did express her sympathy with survivors' concerns that their ages and health profiles mean there is an urgency to resolve this situation. I hope this means there will not be any more unnecessary delays. Dr. Shannon has been asked what can be done with the current legislative framework in respect of collecting biological samples and safeguarding those samples. Eight weeks from now, before Easter, we should have that report from Dr. Shannon.

I am aware that the commission had a very extensive body of work in meeting former residents and those connected to the institutions being investigated. We know there are more individuals awaiting hearings, and they must be heard. Then there is the analysis of the documentary evidence, the cross-referencing and the forensic excavation of the burial ground at the children's home in Tuam. We were told the Departments of Health and Children and Youth Affairs provided a lot of material, but why was some of it received so late by the commission, with possibly more material to come? It is almost like a drip-feeding of information to the commission. It is hard to understand all the requests for the extensions and why an exercise was not carried out at the start of the process that would have come up with realistic deadlines based on the amount of work that was to be done and the expectations involved. The deadlines were never going to be met and they are still not being met. With each missed deadline trust is being eroded, and with each delay confidence in the process of realising justice has been seriously undermined. Then there is a question of the cost of each delay. Is there a costing of where we are to date with the extra delays? Are there further costs for staff and for the premises being used?

I acknowledge the invaluable work of Catherine Corless, in the discovery of the remains of 796 children in 2014, and that figure could be conservative. It is really hard to comprehend and envisage almost 800 children buried in the one area.

The excavations yesterday at Sean Ross Abbey indicated there may be 269 buried there. How many more bodies are going to be found? The campaigners' research would indicate that as many as 800 children may have died there. In the case of Bessborough mother and baby home, the register shows 470 infants and ten women who died there between 1934 and 1953. Behind each body is a real person with an identity, but that identity has been eroded. Apart from not having a life, even in death these people did not get recognition in the form of a plaque, a monument or a stone with their name on it. We have been rightly horrified by the mass graves in Rwanda, Bosnia and Syria. It is just so ironic, so incredible, that we are looking at a similar situation, similar graves, here in Ireland.

The Tuam Home Survivors Network has said, "Results from our ageing and, in some cases, frail membership should be banked to eliminate any delay in returning human remains to identifiable relatives for dignified burials." Those human beings were not given any respect or dignity in life, so surely the request for dignity in death and burial can be expedited. We are all very disturbed by those who would deny the Holocaust, for example. It is important we do not do the same here and deny or try to hide behind what has happened. Again, Catherine Corless's point is that our history is never forgotten. The relatives and the survivors are entitled to comprehensive information, and if they do not get it, that means that the ill-treatment, the mistreatment and the abuse continue.

I have a positive view of restorative justice. I have seen its effectiveness in the healing process. However, for it to have a chance to help or to heal, information is vital, and the information must be available. The question then is, can justice be achieved if none of the information being sought by the survivors is forthcoming?

People talk about closure, but I dislike that word. It almost suggests that the door can be closed on the past and the pain, which I find disrespectful. The pain can be eased, however, and it can be released but the experience will live with people for ever. The release and relief will come when those affected have all the information. We seem to have a terrible fear of acknowledging, facing or coping with the truth, not only in Ireland but also in other places. I am reminded of another group with which I am involved, namely, Justice for the Forgotten, which represents the victims of those caught in the Dublin and Monaghan bombings and their relatives. They have waited 45 years for the truth, as are the families of those who were killed in other atrocities in the Troubles. Authorities have sat on the information and the truth, which is disrespectful, indifferent and callous to the pain and heartache of those affected, who are waiting on the truth. While apologies, redress and financial payments are important, the truth is paramount. Nevertheless, this continued secrecy remains, whether in the case of the mother and baby homes, the Magdalen laundries or Justice for the Forgotten. The secrecy and lack of access to information and truth continues the abuse.

We might reflect on the Holocaust and how it has been remembered through memorials and preservation, whether in the Holocaust museums in Berlin and Jerusalem or the concentration camps, all of which face the truth. All the information is available and the victims' names are printed in order that people can see. For the same reason, we need a repository for all the records and an appropriate, dignified memorial. The most effective redress is access to information, which means not being afraid of the truth. That leads us to the subject of access to birth and adoption records. Some of those who had been adopted did not know, for various reasons, that they had been, some did not know from where they had been adopted, while the parents of others passed away before the information could be passed on and, therefore, no records were left. I acknowledge the work produced by the Justice for Magdalenes, the Adoption Rights Alliance and the Clann Project following extensive interviews and conversations with people who sadly had been separated from their family members and communities through an appalling system, which took children into institutions such as mother and baby homes and enforced secret adoptions and disappearances. It was such a blight on Irish society.

In reply to a parliamentary question I tabled, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone, welcomed the Clann Project submission and the courage it took to provide the testimony. I had asked what would happen to the records and the Minister replied that it would be a matter for the prescribed Minister. She is supportive of transparency and the importance of the truth but those two words - "transparency" and "truth" - demand acknowledging the pain. That is more important than closure. It is an extremely dark aspect of our history and we cannot just close the door on it. We must acknowledge and recognise it. A suitable, appropriate memorial, which concerns the access to truth and everything that happened, would be fitting.

3:15 pm

Photo of Fiona O'LoughlinFiona O'Loughlin (Kildare South, Fianna Fail)
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My party, Fianna Fáil, welcomed the commission and its establishment as a vital recognition of the considerable harm that mothers and their children experienced in mother and baby homes throughout the country. We saw the commission as a means to bring justice to the victims of these homes. However, while the commission was established in February 2015, which was four years ago this month, to investigate the concerns related to the institutional care of unmarried mothers and their babies, we must recognise and acknowledge why it was set up. It was established on foot of disturbing reports that a significant number of human remains had been discovered at the site of the former Bon Secours mother and baby home in Tuam, County Galway. Like previous speakers, I pay tribute to Catherine Corless who did exemplary work to ensure that the story got out and that the victims would have the opportunity to be treated with dignity and so on.

The deeply saddening discovery of five years ago, the aftermath of which continues, underscores the importance of the ongoing commission of investigation into mother and baby homes throughout the country. The initial report of the commission was originally due in February 2018 but it was granted an extension. It is a little disappointing that the commission now has another year to publish its final report, which will now be available in 2020 at the earliest. The Government has stated, however, that it can make no decision on compensating the dwindling band of former residents until the commission has delivered its final report. Some survivors of these institutions who are in their later years are losing hope that they will ever see a report from the commission. Fianna Fáil is disappointed to see yet another extension to the commission of investigation's timeline, particularly for the survivors and their families, who have waited for the report for one year and will continue to do so for another year. The Government must do everything in its power to ensure the report is completed as soon as possible. I take on board Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan's point about closure. There will never be complete closure but there is a way to recognise what women and their children went through. We must try to acknowledge what happened and restore some dignity to the survivors. That is extremely important.

Although we must try to reach some type of conclusion in supporting the survivors who have waited a long time and must establish some type of dignified memorial on the site, we are speaking about historical abuse of women and children. We cannot lose sight of women and children who are suffering today. Some 1,400 children are in direct provision, while almost 4,000 children are in emergency accommodation. While it is important that we look back on the wrong deeds that were done to the children of years past and a previous generation, there must be a renewed focus on supporting children who are currently in direct provision and emergency accommodation. I have no doubt that in 20, 30 or 40 years' time, Deputies will stand in the Chamber and discuss what was done and not done to help those children. A commission may be put in place at that point to investigate why more was not done for them.

I thank the Minister of State for listening. I have no doubt that she will convey our messages to the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs and the Cabinet.

Photo of Martin KennyMartin Kenny (Sligo-Leitrim, Sinn Fein)
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The issue is close to me because I know a number of women who were residents of the homes and who raised various issues with me. Their lives, as well as those of their families and others around them, were traumatised and they feel aggrieved that the situation has been pushed back again. They had expected and looked forward to the conclusion of the issue, not now but sooner. In the case of two women I have come to know well, their upbringing in the traumatic circumstances of the homes affected them, their relationships with their children and their relationships with others in their families. They believe the State has not provided for them and that it has instead turned its back and walked away. The situation has been allowed to continue and the commission has not achieved the results it was expected to achieve. While I understand many people have been interviewed and much work has been done, in reply to various parliamentary questions tabled by my party colleagues and others about whether everything was on stream, whether the report would be finished on time and whether the commission was working, we were assured at all times that everything was hunky-dory and that there was no problem.

At the 11th hour of the 11th day, it is postponed again for another year. Many of these people are of advanced years and failing health. It is not just about their physical health. Many of these people have had very traumatic lives of very poor mental health. Mental health issues are prevalent in many of these problems that many women involved have suffered.

I have been conscious of a number of people who were children who grew up in some of those homes over periods and have ended up out in the community. I spoke about it before. In decades gone by, many children who came from the homes were put out with families and farmers, and worked with farmers. In my area, they were known as home boys. While some of them were treated very well in some places, in many cases they were not and had very difficult lives. They grew up in an institution, had no experience of family life and no experience of how to interact in a community. In many cases, they were the butt of a joke, made fools of and were maligned in the community. My mother often talks about how, when she went and worked in England, she met them in the dance halls. They were equal there as with all Irish immigrants but it is the first place that they found equality. Many of those young men grew up and have a very bitter attitude towards the country that they came from.

I know many in my community. I remember there was an old man, when we were going to school, Eddie Whiffen, who had a big long beard, big long coat and a slight twang of an English accent. Everyone laughed and joked about poor Eddie but Eddie was one of those people who came from a home and suffered greatly throughout his life. There were many others throughout rural communities all over the country. Many of them were treated very badly. That was a reflection of the society that we lived in at that time. It was a cruel, difficult Ireland. We have an opportunity to acknowledge that, accept that significant wrongs were done and move forward.

Much of this is about the unfortunate children who did not survive in those homes and who died there, as we have seen in Tuam and many other places. While that has been exposed, most of us are aware that much more is to come with regard to all of that. It is clear that the Government has to step in and not just acknowledge what has happened but actually do something for them. The bodies of the victims in those situations need to be given proper, dignified burials. There needs to be acknowledgement of the wrong that was done to them, sometimes by religious institutions but also by the State. All of this has to happen in a way that reflects the new Ireland that we want to be and the future that we want to build. We have to leave that past behind and grow up out of it. If we are to grow up out of it, we need to make this happen very quickly.

Waiting and waiting is telling these people who are victims of it that they do not matter. I think they matter. They are equal citizens and have an equal right to a space in our society and community as everyone else does. They need to be acknowledged and the only way to acknowledge them is to lift them up. The issues that many of them faced are in their past but they still relive it. While they may never be able to get over it, the only way for us as a society to get over it is to do the right thing. Unfortunately, what we see happening here with this being pushed further out all the time and a lot of vagueness about where it will end is that many of these women come to the conclusion that they do not matter, that their lives do not matter and that the children they saw die in the homes do not matter.

There is a significant responsibility on the Government to do the right thing here. The direction it has gone so far makes many wonder whether Government is really committed to doing the right thing. The sooner we can get to a conclusion, the better. Pushing it out for another year without any sense of delivery is not the way forward. That has to be acknowledged by the Minister. Having said that, we in Sinn Féin want to support anything that can be done to drive this forward, but the right thing needs to be done and it can no longer be hidden.

3:25 pm

Photo of Mick WallaceMick Wallace (Wexford, Independent)
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Retraumatisation is a conscious or unconscious reminder of past trauma that results in a re-experiencing of the initial trauma event. It can be triggered by a situation, an attitude or expression, or by certain environments that replicate the dynamics and the loss of power, control and safety of the original trauma. Not being believed or listened to is another factor in trauma and retrauma. The whole issue of the experiences of people who were incarcerated, locked away and hidden behind the walls of the so-called mother and baby homes is only one part of a legacy of incarceration that is an open wound in this country. It is a wound that we continue to leave untreated because the State has consciously avoided it and is now conducting a tactic of delay until they die.

The most recent delay has caused a great deal of distress for those survivors and their families who are still waiting for acknowledgment, for an apology and for redress. To be clear, redress is not just about financial compensation. It is also about acknowledging what happened, accepting responsibility and someone being held accountable. Until we do that, the State continues to drag people through more traumas and cruelty every day. We saw the awful way in which a small group of Magdalen survivors were wrongfully excluded from the redress scheme and the Government was heavily criticised by the Ombudsman for that exclusion. It was unjustifiable and, in a similar way, the exclusion of a tiny group of survivors from the Protestant Bethany Home should also be heavily criticised. The latest delay by the commission has a consequence of continuing that exclusion for that small group of people. There is no legitimate reason for them to have been left out in the first place and it is absolutely shameful that the Government is not intervening now. There is ample evidence of cruelty and neglect of children and babies at the Bethany Home. There is also evidence of the State's involvement in placing children in this home, of funding this home and of concerns flagged about the conditions there.

In 1939, the clerk of the Rathdown Board of Assistance wrote to the secretary of local government, raising concerns about a child in poor health and rickety condition, and specifically asked that provision is made for inspection of the Bethany Home. In 1940, a request directly to the medical inspector of local government asked that the matter be inquired into as several children have been sent to the nurse in the district from time to time from this home suffering from rickets. Between 1922 and 1949, 223 children from the Bethany Home were buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery in unmarked graves. Some 175 were between four weeks and two years old, 25 were aged from a few hours to four weeks old, and 19 were stillborn. The causes of death recorded tell a story of neglect, with 54 from convulsions, 26 from malnutrition, 12 from delicacy, seven from pneumonia, and 19 with no cause given. That the State played a role in the use of the Bethany Home structure is undeniable. Correspondence in 1946 from the secretary of Monaghan County Council states:

I am directed by the Minister for Local Government and Public Health to refer to the County Manager’s Order (no. 4711) and to state that he will not object to payment being made at the rate of 15 shillings per week in respect of patients maintained in Bethany home Rathgar.

Last week, a survivor, Joyce McSharry, got in touch with us. She sent her story. She also sent it to the Minister in the hope that it would be read and viewed with some empathy as it deserves to be. The response from the Minister's office was, sadly, a typical bureaucratic reply that did not acknowledge the story that Joyce went to great lengths to write and explain that it had actually been read. I have no doubt that it was a very difficult and traumatic thing for Joyce to have to put down in writing.

I do not have time to read it all but here is a selection from her letter:

My birth mother Emily Sheppey was born in Islington in London in 1928 she was a member of the Church of England. She gave birth to me in 1951 in the Protestant Bethany home in Dublin where I remained with my mother until the following December, at which time I underwent a peculiar irregular adoption. Over the last thirteen years I pieced together my roots with some success. I have two life stories, one told to me and one I discovered. I am unable to obtain a long version of my birth certificate, as the state has only an irregular version of my details. My adoptive parents informed me that my mother died in 1951. They said that a social worker visited a flat in which a woman was found dead in her bed from TB. I was reportedly discovered in the bed beside her. I was brought to St Ultan's hospital and then to the Bethany Home. These details were elaborated upon as I grew. The story is a lie. I was shocked to discover in 2013 that my Parents always knew it to be a lie. My mother Emily did die in a flat, but aged 48, lonely and alone, apart from her pet dog, a poodle, in Weston Super Mare, UK, in August 1976. My second Presbyterian baptism was designed to erase the fact that my mother, Emily Sheppy, resided in the Bethany Home and was not dead. In 2013 and 2014 I obtained adoption documents from PACT (formerly the Protestant Adoption Society) One of them was an 'agreement' from 1951. Its content is deeply upsetting. It indicates that my mother was probably pressured into giving me up. My adoptive parents participated in this charade and were therefore aware that my mother was alive. I may have been told the ‘death-of-TB-in-a flat’ story in an effort to prevent me from searching for my mother, and the document may have been designed to frighten my mother into not seeking me out. Besides stipulating that I was to be brought up Protestant, the penniless Emily was threatened in the 'agreement' that should she attempt to contact her daughter, she would be liable retrospectively for £26 minimum per annum (valued at €913.25 in 2013), plus educational, medical, clothing and other costs. An owner of the solicitor firm who drew up the documents was appointed as my mother’s 'attorney', but not to represent Emily's interests. It was designed so as to avoid contacting Emily under anticipated Adoption Act legislation. This was explicitly stated. This man (Ralph Walker) was a nephew of Bethany Home Residential Secretary, Hettie Walker, who also signed the 'agreement' ..... Thirteen years ago, In January 2002, I began attempting to trace my roots by contacting PACT (Protestant Adoption and Counselling Trust), which holds Bethany Home records. For a €100 fee, they first gave me a copy of a single line in a register and, in May 2003, my first cousin Pam's UK telephone number. I therefore rang Pam cold. She was astonished to hear this strange lrishwoman, about whom she had recently learned. What astonished me was that Pam knew my mother, who was alive for the first 25 years of my life. I did not know in 2002 that my (by now deceased) adoptive parents also knew. Finding out in this way made me start to question all I thought I knew. I was emotionally drained and extremely upset. In fact I became very ill ..... I contacted Pam again in 2013. We spent months talking on the phone getting to know each other. It was decided I would go over to London to meet her and the family. I had also contacted my mother’s other brother, Fran, who lived in Shrewsbury. I told him I was coming over and would like to meet him ..... Uncle Fran was always aware of my existence. Fran gave me a very special and to this day treasured gift from my mother, 12 photographs of me from my Christening to six months old. It was the first time I had seen photographs from this part of my life. Fran kept them perfectly preserved after my mother died nearly forty years earlier in 1976. She kept them all of her life.

Joyce concludes her letter by saying how she would "love to contact any other mothers who were present in Bethany between April and November 1951. It may help me to better understand the awful circumstances my mother endured there." The heartbreak of her story, the damage of forced separation, the lies and cover-ups, the dodgy arrangements around illegal adoptions, are all connected back to mother and baby homes, and the Bethany Home behaved in the same manner as the other homes, the pain is no less for the survivors because they were Protestant rather than Catholic. It is long overdue that we call a halt to this cruel exclusion of the survivors of the Bethany Home from redress. I ask the Minister of State to read Joyce's letter in full and give her a good response.

3:35 pm

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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I thank Deputy Wallace for telling us Joyce's story.

Photo of Catherine ByrneCatherine Byrne (Dublin South Central, Fine Gael)
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I might say a few words before reading the response from the Minister's office. I thank Deputies Burton, Maureen O'Sullivan, O'Loughlin, Martin Kenny and Wallace. I am sorry if I left anybody out.

We all know about the unbelievable cruelty that happened in this country in the past and is probably still happening in some places and the loss of those children's lives and the loss for the parents of being able to hold their babies and of having their babies taken away from them. As most speakers said, time is running out and it is up to us in government and elsewhere to make sure these people have the answers they deserve before they depart this world. Deputy Wallace's contribution uncovers a story that most of us have sadly seen on television in the past year, where people are united not only with their parents but with siblings they did not know they had. When watching programmes like that, I realise how lucky I was as a child to have the parents I had and to have known them as I did. For many children, sadly, that did not happen. I have taken some notes - I hope I can read my bad writing. I thank the Deputies for their honesty and their in-depth knowledge of what happened and the discovery of the unbelievable records that we have and do not have and about the fact that so many children and mothers are buried in unmarked graves. That is a real darkness that hangs over the country and all of us, as politicians and as members of society. I assure all the speakers that I will bring some of the matters raised back to the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone, when I have had a chance to read my notes and put them in an email to her.

I will read the prepared statement, but as I have only two minutes, I will not read it all. On behalf of the Government, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs has asked me to thank the Deputies who made contributions to the debate this afternoon and previously on 7 February. Unfortunately, she cannot be here, which she regrets.

The Government understands and shares the frustration and disappointment felt at the extension to the commission's timeframe. The commission's work is a key step in our determination to establish, confront and accept the truth about this dark chapter in our recent history. By remaining committed to this statutory investigation and by allowing an additional year for the commission to complete its work, we can achieve the necessary holistic understanding of what went wrong in the country. As a country and a society, we shy away from establishing these deep truths at our peril.

The options facing the Government were either to insist on the timeline and accept incomplete reports next month or allow the important work to be finalised. The Government believed the public interest was best served by facilitating the commission to complete its important work.

However, the Minister sought and received assurances that work which was completed in the meantime would be published. A significant step in that regard will be the publication of a burials report in March. It will give not only more background information on the site in Tuam but also on other sites of former mother and baby homes. It would be wrong to predict or speculate on what the report will state on any particular site, but it is a significant piece of work as we continue towards establishing the truth about that period of our history. The Minister has committed to bringing the report to the Government as soon as possible after it has been received, with a view to publishing it with Government approval.

The terms of reference for the inquiry were rightly ambitious in terms of their scope and timeframe. Nobody thought it would be easy or quick. Let us not forget that the commission is seeking to investigate circumstances and practices which, in some cases, were deliberately hidden and certainly not subject to intensive scrutiny at the time. There are no short cuts to establishing the truth. The Minister has asked the commission to make every effort to deliver its reports as soon as is practicable and in advance of February 2020, if possible. In considering the time required to conclude its reports we must acknowledge the volume and complexity of the work before the commission.

In its report the commission acknowledges the extensive material provided by the Department of Health and the Department of Children and Youth Affairs. While the report states the first tranche of discovery was delivered in March 2017, the commission has acknowledged that this is incorrect and that, in fact, the discovery of records commenced in February 2016.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

The delivery consisted of more than 200 files that had been selected by the commission as a matter of priority. The joint discovery process between the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and the Department of Health is now complete. In respect of the discovery of records from the HSE or any third party to the commission, it is important to state this is not something in which the Minister or her Department has a role. The Minister is, however, satisfied that the commission has all of the necessary legal powers to obtain the records and testimony it needs to inform its investigation.

In response to the recent requests to begin collecting DNA samples of survivors and relatives the Minister has asked Dr. Geoffrey Shannon to examine whether it is possible to meet this request within the current legislative framework. The examination will be carried out in the context of what is scientifically possible. The terms of reference for the examination are available to view on the website of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs.

Deputies have noted that there was upset among the survivor community as a result of finding out through the media about the commission's request for an extension. For survivors to find out this upsetting news through the media was not what anyone wanted. I have been assured that the information did not issue from the Minister's Department. Communicating with former residents is a key concern of the Minister and the Government.