Dáil debates

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Mother and Baby Homes: Motion [Private Members]

 

1:55 pm

Photo of Clare DalyClare Daly (Dublin Fingal, Independent)
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I move:

That Dáil Éireann, having been made aware in recent times of the activities in Mother and Baby Homes that operated throughout Ireland in the twentieth century:

notes:

— the ill-treatment of the mothers and babies in these homes;

— the forced separation of single mothers and their babies from 1922 to 1998;

— the falsification of birth certificates and the subsequent mistreatment of survivors by the State; and

— that these practices were facilitated through official Government policy and by institutions, such as County Homes, public maternity hospitals and many adoption agencies;

further notes that:

— this has left a dark stain on our nation; and

— the State has refused the survivors justice to the present day, despite irrefutable and conclusive evidence being submitted by survivors and survivor groups; and

calls on the Government to:

— introduce, without delay, a Redress Scheme for the survivors of the Mother and Baby Homes, so as to provide some comfort for this ageing community; and

— set up a Commission of Investigation in relation to the very serious allegations emerging in recent times regarding the widespread and systematic falsification of birth certificates.

I am sharing time with Deputy Broughan.

We have had a number of discussions on the mother and baby interim reports. In that sense, it may seem odd that we are giving our limited Private Members' time to discuss this matter again. We do so at the request of the shrinking survivor community and on their behalf and because there is unfinished business in this area.

The motion calls on the Government to establish an inquiry into the serious evidence which has emerged in recent times regarding the falsification of documents, birth certificates, illegal registration and other irregularities regarding adoptions and forced adoptions that took place in this State. It is five years since the horrific story of the 800 burials in Tuam hit the headlines. At that time, the Government promised all matters in regard to the mother and baby homes would be examined. The then Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, said that if this matter was not handled properly Ireland's soul, like the babies of so many mothers, would lie in an unmarked grave. Five years on, the feeling of many of the survivors is that nothing much has changed, except many of their members have died. They feel they are being put down a cul-de-sac into a forum that they never requested, the report of which will not be published.

There needs to be a scrutiny of the illegal adoptions in particular, way beyond the limited scoping exercise to which the Minister, Deputy Zappone, has committed. Some 45,000 adoptions were registered in Ireland since it became illegal in 1952. At least the same number of illegal adoptions or arrangements have been made. Under the terms of our adoption legislation, adopted people do not have access to their birth information. To obtain that information, they must go through the Adoption Authority of Ireland. For those who were illegally adopted, the ability to trace their identity is thwarted even further by a cover-up of the illegal practices that went on over decades, facilitated through the mother and baby homes and other institutions with the knowledge and in collusion of religious orders, hospitals, doctors and State agencies. This is the great unfinished business of these types of scandals in our past.

When the scandal broke about the 126 irregular adoption files, there was shock and consternation but this had been well flagged since the 1930s. It was flagged by Mike Milotte and Catriona Crowe. I put it on the record many times since 2011. We know that altered records from Bessborough have been in the hands of the HSE since 2011. A HSE report in 2012 warned that death certificates were falsified at Bessborough, which potentially could have facilitated adoption under the radar. In 2013 the Adoption Authority Ireland acknowledged that it was aware of several hundred illegal registrations specific to St. Patrick's Guild.

3 o’clock

When the commission was set up we asked that illegal adoptions be included in the terms of reference. They were not included. This motion is again calling for them to be included because if they are not included, some of the survivors will have to take their cases to the United Nations. This would mean that, shamefully and yet again, survivors of abuse in this country have to look abroad in order to get access to justice. Those people should get access to justice at home. The Minister must provide an appropriate response on this issue, way beyond her countermotion, which will cause further problems for the community.

The fifth interim report indicates that there are children who are unaccounted for. We have that information, which is not a surprise. People do not know if their family member has died or was sold on to families in the United States. The report also makes it clear that Galway County Council not only knew about Tuam but was involved in covering it up, as the missing minutes from 1937 indicate. That is only one part of it. We have to be very clear that the scandal of the mother and baby homes is not limited to Tuam or the terms of reference of the commission. Those terms of reference only include 14 homes and a sample from the county homes. That will not get to the bottom of the illegal adoptions because approximately 300 private nursing homes were excluded from the commission. On top of that, an unknown number of private arrangements took place in other circumstances, for example, where birth certificates were falsified by adoptive parents registering as natural birth parents and passing the baby off as their own while avoiding State involvement through the adoption process. These cases are almost untraceable.

When the story of the 126 cases of illegal registrations broke I was contacted by a man - coincidentally, a constituent of mine - who, at the age of 38, after his parents had died, was told by a friend that he had been adopted. In his own words, he was a married man with four children who did not have a biological identity. He said it took him about a year to come to terms with that fact, saying that he felt that he did not exist, that he was not here and that he wondered about his birth. He was 70 when he contacted me, and said he searched at length throughout his life to find out who he was and where he came from. When the 126 cases of false registration emerged, he thought that perhaps he was one of those affected and it gave him an opportunity to find the answers he sought. However, he did not get an answer. He only got an answer when we put him in touch with Sharon Lawless, a wonderful person who has done so much work in this area, who helped him, via DNA testing, to find some answers and, happily, some other siblings, which was a tremendous story. That may not happen for everybody and we really need, as part of the redress scheme, practical steps and support for those who need access to DNA testing. However, the continued delays in the publication of the investigation's finding is pushing back the possibility of a redress on an ageing population which cannot wait. This is an incredibly time sensitive issue and it is highly regrettable that the Government has not heeded the commission's call for redress to be put in place.

Many of the unofficial arrangements were made in the maternity wards of our public hospitals where young women were forcibly separated from their babies through intimidation, deception and collusion between the hospitals and religious orders, and indeed some adoptive parents. We know that Cónal Ó Fátharta from The Irish Examiner has done heroic work in this area. He recently highlighted the case of Jackie Foley, who was 16 when she gave birth in Bessborough in 1974. She signed a consent form to have her son adopted but did not sign her own name. Instead, instructed by a nun and in the presence of a solicitor and her mother, she was forced to write a different name, that of Micheline Power, a woman who does not exist. The documentation was deliberately falsified. She signed the paper in a false name for a child that she had already registered under his own name, Dermot Foley, but he was given the bogus name of John Power. An adoption order issued by the State's regulatory body, the Adoption Board, was contracted on the basis of these false identities. Instead of acknowledging the wrong, the agencies involved did what they always do; they circled the wagons, delayed and denied. In responses to freedom of information requests, these cases are described as "possible illegal registration". That is why we have consistently called for the handing over of all files and records by all of the institutions and religious orders and the introduction of appropriate legislation to allow adopted persons full access to their records. That is the purpose of the motion before the House and the reason we called for these matters to be included in the commission before it was set up. It is also the reason we are calling for them to be included now.

The Minister's response, which mentions a limited audit, is not appropriate. We know there will be a review of around 1,500 files. That is just 1.5% of the 100,000 files in the hands of the Adoption Authority. The review is limited to looking for evidence of illegal registrations, not illegal adoptions. The issues around this are much broader than illegal registration and they are not currently being examined. I note that the Minister's amendment refers to her leadership in this matter in respect of sampling, among other things, but I have to stress that this is ignoring all of the other illegalities around this issue. On top of that, we were promised that the audit would be released by Easter. Has the Minister received it? If not, why not? When can we expect it to be published? It will inform some of the other areas of work that have to be dealt with.

We have to examine the issue of redress as a matter of critical importance. Members of the survivor community, some of whom have joined us in the Public Gallery, will be absolutely gutted to read the Government's response to our motion. The collaborative forum's recommendations, which have been unfairly published out of context and in the absence of the full report, asked for health and well-being packages and a programme of memorialisation. This is repeated in the Minister's amendment but it is not declared that this will be acted upon. The amendment calls for a co-ordinated approach from Government and for an analysis to be conducted. There is no actual implementation. Some five years on from Tuam, a health package is still at the developmental stage. How long will it take for survivors to get redress? They are suffering from trauma and ill health because of this, yet the Minister's response to our motion is that she will look at it. The same thing was said five years ago. The survivor community would have hoped to have perhaps been allocated a medical card as part of a redress scheme. The issue of redress begins when these people are believed and acknowledged. The Coalition of Mother and Baby Home Survivors, which represents the vast majority of survivors, has asked to meet the Taoiseach to discuss this, but so far he has refused to meet it. Why will he not meet it to hear, from the mouths of its members, what it means not to be acknowledged, properly recognised or believed, and the effect the lack of action is having on them? They do not need nice words but rather action to address the trauma that many of these people are experiencing.

We are calling for an urgent and comprehensive response to deal with the delays in the reports of the commission and the adoption audit, a package of basic supports for the remaining survivors to be rolled out without delay, a full audit of all the adoption files in the hands of the Adoption Authority and the illegally adopted to be included in the commission of investigation.

2:15 pm

Photo of Tommy BroughanTommy Broughan (Dublin Bay North, Independent)
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I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for the opportunity to speak on this important motion. I warmly commend Deputy Clare Daly and her staff on bringing it forward. The motion, which I have co-signed, notes the ill-treatment of women and babies in religious and State-run institutions, the forced separation of single mothers and their babies from 1922 to 1998, as well as the falsification of birth certificates and the subsequent mistreatment of survivors by the State. The motion further notes the dark stain this abuse has left on our nation and the refusal of the State to give the survivors justice to the present day, despite irrefutable and conclusive evidence being submitted by survivors and survivor groups.

Our motion calls on the Government to introduce without delay a redress scheme for the survivors of the mother and baby institutions to provide some comfort for this ageing community. It also calls on the Government to set up a commission of inquiry on the serious allegations which have emerged in recent times regarding the widespread and systematic falsification of birth certificates. Last May, the country was shocked again when it was confirmed that the St. Patrick’s Guild adoption agency illegally listed adoptive parents as birth parents between 1946 and 1969 in 126 cases. The Irish Examinerrevealed evidence of these illegal registrations in 2010, which led to the Adoption Authority of Ireland completing an audit and the Department of Children and Youth Affairs was notified in 2011. The review being undertaken by Ms Marion Reynolds into this illegal practice was due in October 2018 but has since been extended several times. The report was then due to the Minister before Easter. The second interim report was published at the end of January 2019 and completed at the end of November 2018. Has the Minister received the final report?

The review covers the period from 1953 to 1996, with the weighting of samples split between 1953 to 1976 and 1977 to 1996. Of the 30,000 records held by the Adoption Authority of Ireland, it identified 4,351 as relevant to the review. Just 459 of these were chosen as the sample. Tusla identified 70,000 and 1,082 of these were sampled. This means that out of a possible 100,000 records, just 1,541 were being reviewed. The actual examination of these records, according to the second interim report, was to begin at the start of December 2018 and should have been completed by the end of March 2019, allowing Ms Reynolds to submit her final report to the Minister before Easter.

This time last month, the Minister published the recommendations of the collaborative forum for former residents of mother and baby homes and related institutions. Those recommendations include that a health and well-being supports package be developed, that the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill be amended and that a memorialisation programme be put in place. Of course, we cannot see the full list of recommendations until after the commission of investigation completes its work. I welcome the ideas put forward for memorials, such as providing financial support to the survivor-led groups for commemoration events each year and the development of a national memorial. We must never forget what the State, one of two sectarian types of state established on this island in 1922 unfortunately, and the church did to women and children in the institutions where they were held.

The full commission is not due to report until February 2020. The fifth interim report was published in mid-April. It makes for grim reading and again brings to the forefront the questions that have to be asked of the religious institutions involved, the politicians who were in power at the time and the public representatives who were elected officials at the time in relevant local authorities. The findings in this report show the main issues around burials in Bessborough and Tuam. The report states:

More than 900 children died in Bessborough or in hospital after being transferred from Bessborough. Despite very extensive inquiries and searches, the commission has been able to establish the burial place of only 64 children.

The report also indicates that on several occasions the affidavits provided by some of the congregations involved were "in many respects, speculative, inaccurate and misleading" and how "The commission finds it very difficult to understand that no member of the congregation was able to say where the children who died in Bessborough are buried."

Bessborough Home, which was open from 1922 to 1998, transferred its records to the HSE in 2011. Tusla received the files in 2013. However, the records do not contain information about burials. More than 900 babies and children died in the home or in the Sacred Heart Maternity Hospital. The commission has also confirmed that informal adoptions were arranged from Bessborough through the Catholic Womens Aid Society, CWAS. The latter stated that its "records do not record where children who died in its care were buried." The commission was able to establish that 1,343 babies and children died in the period between 1922 and 1998, 771 in Bessborough, 552 at St. Finbarr’s Hospital Cork and 20 elsewhere, but has only been able to confirm where 64 of those children are buried. Up to 92% of the those children were born to public patients.

There was much media coverage of the burial practices uncovered in Tuam and people were understandably horrified and upset. I will not repeat the findings here but I encourage anyone with information to contact the commission before its final report. Section 8.14 of the report outlined Galway County Council records and the lack of minutes from 1937. The children’s home in Tuam was owned by the local authority. There is evidence that "awareness of the possible existence of a burial ground in the grounds of the Tuam children’s home dates from the 1970s". It beggars belief that proper investigations were not undertaken at that stage. This was a time when some of these institutions were still in operation. The Sisters of Bon Secours continued to live and work in Tuam until 2001. They must have been aware of the building works that were carried out on the children’s home site in the 1970s. The commission considered that there must be people in Tuam and the surrounding area who know more about the burial arrangements but who did not come forward with the information.

The matter of the illegal registrations of adoptions as births requires examination by a full commission of inquiry. It is unacceptable that babies were allegedly taken from their mothers in such circumstances and that the truth may never have been known to the people involved. We can all agree that what went on in these mother and baby institutions, following this report and the commission, is a dark stain on our history. Those who suffered should be properly given justice and peace. Accordingly, I will be supporting this motion.

Photo of Katherine ZapponeKatherine Zappone (Dublin South West, Independent)
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I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after “Dáil Éireann” and substitute the following:"acknowledges the lived experiences of Irish women and children who were in former mother and baby institutions in the last century and stands in solidarity with all former residents, and their loved ones;

recognises that the Government established the Commission of Investigation (Mother and Baby Homes and certain related Matters) in February 2015, to provide an objective account of what happened to vulnerable women and children in these institutions during the period 1922 to 1998;

also acknowledges that the current statutory investigation was established following a motion passed by Dáil Éireann on 28th January, 2015, to approve the draft Government Order for the establishment of the Commission, including, its terms of reference;

also recognises that the Commission has a focused remit to examine areas of practice and procedure in the care, welfare, entry arrangements and exit pathways for the women and children who were residents of named institutions and a representative sample of County Homes;

endorses the important work to date by the independent statutory Commission, including the submission of five interim reports which reflect the sheer depth and complexity of the work being undertaken in comprehensively investigating these matters at a level never before possible; and

further acknowledges that many former residents and their families understand the scale of this statutory investigation, and recognises this unique opportunity to bring greater clarity and enhance national understanding of the most difficult experiences endured by vulnerable mothers and children;

further recognises that:

— a significant focus of the Commission’s work is to investigate institutional patterns of referral and relationships with intermediaries involved in the placement of children who did not remain with their parents, with scope to examine whether the child’s parentage was concealed, either by omission or by illegal means;

— when the Commission’s cross-referencing of records is complete it should provide as comprehensive an account as is possible of the pathways of the children concerned;

— the Commission has the legal authority to address crucial questions to the fullest extent possible in seeking to provide the answers to which former residents are entitled, and the scope to make any recommendations to the Government which the Commission deems appropriate;

— the interests of former residents, their families and the wider public, are best served by facilitating the Commission to conclude all relevant lines of inquiry, including the social history and Confidential Committee modules, in accordance with the legal framework under which it was established;

— the Commission has not made findings to date regarding abuse or neglect within these institutions;

— it is crucially important for the Oireachtas to avoid pre-empting or otherwise encroaching upon the independent Commission’s work;

— the Commission’s final report, which is due for completion by February 2020, is absolutely necessary to inform the State’s response to these matters; and

— the Government has committed to a comprehensive, timely and appropriate response to the full conclusions of the Commission, but it is not feasible to consider matters as complex as redress in advance of the Commission’s final report;

welcomes:

— the Government’s compassion for the dignity of the deceased and the legislative work being progressed to provide a statutory basis for the forensic-standard excavation, exhumation and identification of juvenile human remains discovered at the site of the former Mother and Baby Home at Tuam, Co. Galway;

— the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs’ efforts to be open and transparent regarding the discovery of illegal birth registrations, evidenced by the decision that Tusla would make contact with all those affected by illegal registrations discovered in the St Patrick’s Guild files;

— the sensitivity being exercised in contacting those affected, the social work and counselling assistance that is in place to help; and

— the leadership of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs in directing that a review of a sample of files be undertaken, overseen by an independent reviewer, to ascertain whether any similar evidence of illegal birth registrations is evident on files of other bodies involved in adoption; and

further again recognises and affirms:

— the resilience and agency of former residents, their families and supporters in seeking justice and truth in relation to these events and their experiences;

— the new and innovative approaches by the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs to engagement with former residents and their families, in particular through the establishment of the Collaborative Forum on Mother and Baby Homes, which has facilitated former residents to identify, discuss and prioritise the issues of concern to them and their families;

— that former residents are equal stakeholders in this participant-centred work, which the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs believes can have a lasting and positive impact; and

— the coordinated approach by Government to conduct a comprehensive analysis of the Collaborative Forum’s published recommendations, together with a specific process and timeline for developing a package of health and well-being supports and a series of initial measures, including:

— the development of a programme of memorialisation;

— the commissioning of research on language and terminology; and

— continued action to improve access to birth information through reforms of adoption legislation."

I thank the Deputies for bringing forward this motion to allow these serious issues to be discussed openly and with full respect for those affected, many of whom have joined us in the Gallery. We passed the 20th anniversary of apology of the then Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, to victims of child abuse last Saturday. Next Monday will mark the tenth anniversary of the publication of the Ryan report. These issues and those relating to mother and baby homes have indeed left a stain on our nation. We must continue to confront these uncomfortable and difficult chapters of our history. It is only by accepting and confronting the truth that we can ensure no woman and no child will have to go through such ordeals again.

A commission of investigation into mother and baby homes was established in response to significant concerns about death rates in Tuam, as well as concerns around conditions which existed at similar institutions. These matters had never been examined in this forensic way before. The scope of the investigation includes questions on the care, welfare, entry and exit pathways for the women and children who were residents of these institutions between 1922 and 1998. Notably, a specific focus of the commission’s work is to investigate institutional patterns of referral and relationships with adoption societies and other intermediaries involved in the placement of children.

The Government is satisfied that this independent commission has sufficient power and scope to examine and make a determination on a broad range of relevant concerns. Five interim reports have been prepared to date, all of which I have published. The commission makes no definitive findings of abuse or neglect in these reports. Its final report is due by February 2020. The House approved the establishment of the commission. We should not prejudge or encroach upon its work. The Government will be in a position to respond to its findings and recommendations when the final report is submitted. The Government has extended the timeframe for the inquiry in response to its sheer scale and complexity.

The most recent report provided us with significant information on burial practices.It aids the work to prepare legislation to facilitate excavations at the site in Tuam. The second interim report dealt with some of the issues raised by Deputies in their motion, namely, access to a specific redress scheme for former residents and external calls to broaden the terms of reference, in this instance into illegal registrations. Since this work commenced there have been calls for redress for this group of survivors. Some believe they were unfairly excluded from these schemes and do not see it as necessary that the present commission completes its work before these issues are dealt with.

Following detailed analysis of the commission’s suggestion, the Government decided not to extend the scheme or develop an alternative. Consideration of such complex matters requires greater clarity on these events and details on the precise role and influence of the State and other parties.

Previous financial redress schemes were complex to administer, costly and often difficult for applicants. The Ombudsman, and previously the Comptroller and Auditor General, recommended the development of central guidance in respect of restorative justice or redress schemes to ensure lessons learned can be applied where necessary. This work is being advanced across relevant Departments. Instead, the Government committed to exploring alternative means of supporting the needs of those former residents. In making this decision, the Government was conscious that the commission had made no findings about how residents in these institutions had been treated.

I have met the survivors of the institutions on many occasions and some of our conversations have been difficult. Many survivors and their loved ones are deeply frustrated. They want their concerns addressed. I understand and accept their impatience. They have waited a long time. I know too that many fear they could go to the grave with unanswered questions and not knowing what happened to their loved ones. In order to address some of these concerns I established an inclusive and representative collaborative forum where former residents can directly engage on the issues of concern to them and their families. The focus is on assistance that can be offered in advance of the commission completing its work, while being careful not to pre-empt its findings. The forum’s work has produced a comprehensive and diverse list of recommendations, which I published last month. In line with our transitional justice approach to engaging with former residents, the Government committed to a comprehensive analysis of all recommendations by relevant Departments. A specific process and timeline for developing an appropriate package of health and well-being measures, which is currently being implemented, the development of a memorialisation programme, the commissioning of research on language and terminology, and continued action to reform adoption legislation, are being progressed.

As the House is aware, I decided last summer that those affected by the illegal birth registrations discovered in the files of St. Patrick's Guild should be informed as soon as possible. The number of illegal registrations discovered has now risen from 126 to 148 and it is clear is that this is an evolving process. Tusla is continuing this complex and sensitive work. All those informed by Tusla of their birth status, and who wish to engage with their services, have been offered a full social work service and specialised counselling support. As a result of the discovery, I also directed that a scoping exercise be undertaken, overseen by an independent reviewer, to ascertain whether any similar evidence exists on files of other bodies involved in adoption. I am expecting this report by the end of May, and will then decide on any next steps. However, I am also mindful there will be overlap between this process and the work of the commission.

The Government’s compassion for the dignity of the deceased is evident in the legislative work being progressed for the forensic-standard excavation, exhumation and identification of the juvenile remains discovered in Tuam, and commencing this project as soon as possible is a priority. Former residents of these institutions deserve answers. These answers are coming. I know this population is ageing.

Justice demands that our actions are properly informed, proportionate and appropriate. When the commission makes its findings we can address the complex task of responding to these issues. In the interim I remain committed to sustained engagement to advance measures in response to the identified needs of the men and women who as adults and children spent time in these institutions, even though they had committed no wrong. I am listening and I know their daily struggles.

The motion before us is well-intentioned. However, responding to these events and experiences is not as straightforward as the Deputies suggest. If it were, we would not have required an independent statutory inquiry. At the outset, I outlined the importance in establishing the truth so we can accept it and learn from it. The best way - in fact, the only way - to establish that truth is to let the commission complete this important work. The Government's countermotion recognises that this is a complex process and highlight some of the positive developments overlooked in the Deputies' motion.

2:25 pm

Photo of Fiona O'LoughlinFiona O'Loughlin (Kildare South, Fianna Fail)
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I am glad of the opportunity to address this motion. Undoubtedly, the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes is investigating one of the darkest periods in Irish history. Mother and baby homes represent some of the worst aspects of our collective history and our humanity. Their existence was underpinned by a complex web of culpability and responsibility. Since it was first established in 2015, the commission, chaired by Judge Yvonne Murphy has worked to gain a deeper understanding of the practices and experiences in these institutions. It has required the commission to conduct an great amount of document discovery work and the conducting of interviews with survivors, workers and authorities from these institutions. Although the commission was initially scheduled to make its final report by February 2018, the deadline has been extended twice. The full report is now anticipated in February 2020.

As part of its remit the commission is free to make any recommendation that it considers appropriate. It is vital that the commission is permitted to finish its task before further action is taken. To do otherwise would undermine the commission's work and only weaken its role.

The commission has been in the forefront of all our minds. The shocking details from this shameful chapter in our history is seared in all our memories. We all share a determination to do what is right for the survivors. It is vital that we give them confidence in the process and that they are reassured that the commission is working tirelessly on their behalf to investigate and document all the ongoing discovery work. It was regrettable that the final report could not be delivered early last year but we look forward - I use that phrase advisedly - to see its completion in February next year.

It is important to acknowledge that this postponement is deeply distressing and disappointing for elderly survivors especially but it is in the best interest of all survivors that the commission be given sufficient time to finish its work before making any recommendations on redress. We in Fianna Fáil are hopeful and positive that a redress scheme will be established but we stand by the commission's priority to complete the report. We are calling on the Minister to do everything necessary to expedite the completion of the commission's work.

It is important in the context of the motion to mention the specific focus of the work to investigate institutional patterns of referral and relationships with adoption societies and other intermediaries involved in the placement of children and of illegal registration. That has been referred to in the second interim report.

It is also important to note, as always, the courage of the survivors and the help of a brave local historian and committed journalist, Ms Catherine Corless. It is thanks to her courage and hard work that we can bear witness to the considerable harms experienced by mothers and their children in one of the darkest periods of Irish history.

2:35 pm

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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I call on Deputy Denise Mitchell, who may be sharing.

Photo of Denise MitchellDenise Mitchell (Dublin Bay North, Sinn Fein)
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I will be sharing with Deputy Buckley. I welcome this motion and I acknowledge and welcome the survivors and relatives in the Gallery.

The treatment of women and children in these homes, which was overseen by this State, is deeply shameful. The fact that so many children died in these homes and that their remains were disposed of in such an undignified and inhumane manner in Tuam is utterly disgraceful. The fact that so many children were taken away from their mothers, were illegally adopted, essentially trafficked to the US, Britain and elsewhere, and that those adopted children were then lied to, ignored and forgotten about by this State for decades is shocking. The State was supposed to safeguard the well-being of all our citizens. Instead, it facilitated and oversaw the ill-treatment, neglect and abuse of vulnerable women and their children.

As the Minister will be aware, there is a growing frustration among the survivor community over the failure of the Government to deal with the issue of redress. This has been compounded by the consistent delays to the final report of the commission and the insistence that redress will only be considered after the final report is published.

I again raise the case of the survivors of the Bethany Home who found themselves wrongfully excluded from the previous redress scheme. The Minister is well aware that this group of survivors is small and quite elderly. The Government must do the right thing and ensure that these survivors receive appropriate redress for the hurt they suffered. So far, their pleas have fallen on deaf ears. I again call on the Government to reconsider its decision to refuse to allow this particular small group of survivors to access the redress scheme and I will continue to do so.

In terms of the adoption scandal, the confirmation of this policy, which was essentially child trafficking, highlights the need for a comprehensive and properly resourced investigation and that means all the agencies, individuals and homes involved in adoption in this State.

To remind people, the 126 cases of illegal adoption that were initially identified last year account for only one organisation involved in adoptions. There were an estimated 182 such organisations operating in this State. This is potentially only the tip of the iceberg.

Recently I was dealing with an elderly lady who was informed that she was illegally adopted. She had absolutely no idea about it. Can the Minister imagine how a grandmother must feel to be told she is adopted, to know she can never be able to ask her parents about the circumstances because they have passed on, and not to know whether she has siblings? This is incredibly upsetting and shocking to find out.

It is so wrong that there are people the length and breadth of Ireland and abroad who have no way of knowing their history and identity. They do not know their medical history. We cannot move on from this issue until we deal with its effects in a comprehensive and open way because it is not in the past. For the woman I just referenced, this is brand new information. It is in the here and now. It is in the here and now for those people who do not know what happened to their loved ones.

In recent times, we have seen relatives lodge missing person cases with the Garda because, despite decades of questions, they still do not know the fate of their loved ones. To those people, this is not in the past. It is in the here and now.

We need to see justice. We need to get to the truth. We need to see accountability. Too many have gone to their graves without justice or redress and the Government must show that it is willing to do all it can to right the wrongs of previous Governments.

Photo of Pat BuckleyPat Buckley (Cork East, Sinn Fein)
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I too welcome the opportunity to speak. I commend the Independents 4 Change for bringing this motion forward. We will be supporting it. It is ironic we were here only last week on a Topical Issue on the same matter.

I listened to many of those who contributed to the debate today. They covered many of the issues, for example, the immediate redress scheme because many of these survivors-victims are elderly. The issue of medical cards has been raised with me. Even dental treatment for the elderly has been raised. It is not being provided to these survivors at present.

A while ago, the Minister mentioned adoptees and illegal adoptees. Some children were lucky to find their parents. They have got back together after 40, 42 or 43 years - I raised it last week - but still cannot get a passport because they are not recognised. It is ludicrous.

This was originally about the survivors who wanted to tell the truth and who wanted their story out in the public domain so that the reaction would be that it would never happen again. I have often said one of the hardest things to do in this country is to tell the truth because one is persecuted for it.

This brings me on to what I was worried about. First, I make two points on the opening speech of the Minister, Deputy Zappone. The Minister stated, "The forum's work has produced a comprehensive and diverse list of recommendations, which I published last month." It is 20 years and we are still going on about recommendations. We have not seen any of them, nor have any of the people in the Gallery, and it is worrying.

Second, the Minister stated, "At the outset I outlined the importance in establishing the truth so we can accept it and learn from it." That is absolutely spot on. That is what the people wanted, but they wanted it out in the public domain. I refer to the domain we are looking at here. While we are all debating here and there are other Bills and business going through, I am worried about the Retention of Records Bill 2019 which I have raised previously. I thank the Library and Research Service because if one uses the service, it will provide information. I quote this so that people will know what will happen here if this Bill goes through, despite all the work that has been done. The Bill Digest states, "The purpose of retention is to assign these records as Departmental records so they can be transferred to the National Archives for a sealing period of 75 years, after which time they will be made available for public inspection." What is wrong with telling the truth now? This stuff happened 50 years ago.

In conclusion, and here is something the Minister might go back and check because she always uses these nitty-gritty issues in law, there is also merit for the argument that this Bill denies citizens access to their own records under the Freedom of Information Acts.

By doing so, those who relay their stories of abuse are prevented from accessing information pertaining to them. There is not an ounce of truth in this Bill from beginning to end. Unfortunately, when all this work is done, it will be the Irish way and we will shut everything down and put it away. Three generations of families have been affected by this and we must inscribe the story in stone to keep it alive. This atrocious abuse was supported by the State, church and other agencies and affected 3,573 people. Nobody has considered the human suffering these parents felt and the suffering of the children - the adoptees. There are many who do not even know. I go to Bessborough every year and each time I find that somebody is missing. They have not been adopted by someone else. They have been adopted by God because they are dead. There has not been an ounce of an apology or anything else. We should not let this happen to the remaining survivors. I appeal to the Minister to support this motion. Let us do things that are positive and give these people the utmost respect. What they deserve is a bit of peace, decency and respect in their later lives. I commend the motion.

2:45 pm

Photo of Joan BurtonJoan Burton (Dublin West, Labour)
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When I read the Government amendment to the motion, I felt that the Minister had been sat on by her Cabinet colleagues who have about three pages of printed legalese that essentially continues to deny people the right to their information. Regarding the scandal of the illegal birth registrations, I think the Minister acknowledged that the number of cases in the Department's records had increased from more than 120 to more than 140. She said previously that over 700 cases in St. Patrick's Guild alone are of concern. St. Patrick's Guild is only one organisation.

I find the Government amendment to be insulting to many people, although I am sure that is not her intention. She welcomes the Government's compassion for the dignity of the deceased. Self-praise is no praise. It is the job of the Government and all Governments to keep addressing this until we give some of the succour people need at this point. As is pointed out in the amendment several times, the people affected are very elderly. Most of the birth parents are dead because, as we know, adoption as a practice decreased significantly before dying out during the late 1970s and 1980s. The Government refers to being open and transparent regarding the discovery of illegal birth registrations.

It is local and European election time at the moment and, like everybody else here, I meet people all the time while canvassing. Many approach me to talk about the stories in their families. They want to share them, probably with somebody who has been adopted. People have been left stupefied by the lack of emotional intelligence in the Government's response to this issue.

I put forward a very simple, short and confined Private Members' Bill to allow people whose births were illegally registered to go to the District or Circuit Family Court and have their birth registration properly addressed as they wish. Some people will want their adoption birth certificate verified and regulated, while others may choose a different path. It is within the Government's powers to that immediately but, instead, it is pushing everything out beyond 2020. The Minister must not come in here and say she cannot offer us some solutions. In one part of the amendment, she seems to have moved to a redress scheme. She needs to address Bethany Home. I can remember being in a minority of one in a previous Government arguing about Bethany Home and what people in the home suffered. Despite this, addressing this issue has been postponed, which is wrong.

The Minister was in my place when I addressed the Seanad, as Minister, on the issue of allowing solemnisation of marriages in places like hotels, which had not been allowed up to then. I could have listened to all the conservative advice I received indicating that having a civil marriage celebrated by a humanist could not be done and the sky would fall in. The Minister is being told that the sky will fall in if she addresses the wrongs she acknowledges have happened. I also received advice that transgender people could not have a birth certificate showing their acquired or preferred gender. The Minister, when she was a Senator, was a great advocate on that subject. Can she recover that feeling and sense of advocacy for those who want to sort this out? The commission is doing great work. It is discovering a lot of things. For example, there have been requests for inquests. I do not think we have heard what the Minister has to say on that but she could recognise that an inquest would be appropriate because it would recognise the dignity of the person with regard to burials in different locations.

The Minister and her colleagues must give more thought to how they acknowledge dignity and respect because that is at the heart of what was not there. That is why children who were adopted or who lived in homes were very often the subject of an innate discrimination. They were considered to be lesser people because of the circumstances of their birth. I think that, broadly, Irish society has moved way beyond that and it is time the Government moved way beyond it too by addressing a legacy that was deeply conservative. The Minister should read the debates on adoption in Ireland in this very House and the Seanad going back to the period between the 1930s to the 1950s. Many people did not want adoption because they felt it would allow strangers to come and take family property that did not belong them or take farms to which they had no legal right. The country has continuously learned and moved on. Writers, musicians and artists have been able to address it down the years. It is 20 years since the late Mary Raftery and others in RTÉ produced "States of Fear". What seems to be wrong with this Government is fear because in some ways, it has inherited and taken on itself the fear that this involved. What was it about? It was about fear of women who acted outside the convention of relationships at the time. It was about fear of sex because these women exercised their sexuality in ways that were outside the conventions of their time. It was fear around property rights and that, as a consequence of the women's sexuality and women loving people outside marriage or having affairs outside marriage, property would be undermined. The Minister has written a great deal of analysis from time to time. Can we recognise some of it?

The 75-year ban on the release of materials happened in a particular context but is now wrong and the Minister should move on it. The issue is not addressed in the amendment. It should have been addressed by the Government and an acknowledgement made. I ask the Government to please start addressing the issues of the long-term campaigners while they are still alive.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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I thank Deputy Clare Daly and Independents 4 Change for bringing forward this motion.

I commend Deputy Clare Daly in particular on being very persistent in championing the matters addressed in this motion and those who have been affected, including survivors, relatives and others impacted by the very dark history of this country's treatment of many women and their children over many decades. Over most of the history of this State, there was awful and often abusive treatment of women and children.

As someone who was adopted, I am particularly conscious of the importance of getting these matters resolved and having truth and justice established for people affected by them. I am lucky as in my case things largely worked out well for me but I am very conscious that for many people, they did not, and in this history really terrible suffering was endured. The most extreme horror was visible in the case of the Tuam babies but we also saw stigmatisation of women, with victims being blamed for their own treatment and identities, histories and heritage being stolen. The medical heritage of these people, which is so vital, was stolen and denied to them. There is a failure to fully acknowledge this and of the State to make redress for the suffering and hardship that people endured. Insofar as there have been any moves towards redress, the shining of a light on all these matters and beginning to bring about the necessary changes, it is down to the fantastic campaigning of many people, some of whom I know are here today. These are organisations like the Coalition of Mother and Baby Homes Survivors and many others that have continued to fight for justice, truth and redress.

I very much support the objectives of this motion. I understand it is a complex and large-scale undertaking to get to the truth for the issues we are talking about but I do not see why the important and time-consuming work involved in the commission's efforts prevents us doing certain things in the here and now and having a position where justice, truth and redress are delayed, for many to a point where it is just too late. We must do everything we can in the here and now, notwithstanding the need for final or comprehensive solutions. The key is to listen to the people involved, hear their concerns and be directed by what they are asking. I accept that the Minister has set up a collaborative forum but it is very telling that the mother and baby homes coalition asked for a meeting with the Taoiseach but it was denied. There is an element in the Government that just wants to do the absolute minimum because they are worried about cost and implications; these people are thinking about matters politically or financially, or both, instead of thinking about the human beings involved, the injustice they have suffered and the urgency required in getting redress, truth and justice. It is the point of the motion and I do not really see how the Government can make excuses for failing to do what is being asked here. It is about having an investigation into the falsification of adoptions and having even an interim redress scheme that could be made available to survivors and those affected by all this.

There is also the issue of testimonies and archive material being inaccessible for 75 years, which is crazy. A lovely woman who was in a mother and baby home comes into my clinic almost every week. She gave testimony and she does not understand why there is now a 75-year restriction. I do not understand it. If there are particular elements of these testimonies and archives that must redacted to preserve people's anonymity and so on, it can be done. There is every reason this information should be accessible and part of the public history. It is about opening up to the truth of what happened and shining a light on that dark history precisely to ensure it never happens again. The Government should withdraw its amendment to the motion and do what is being asked, notwithstanding the fact that not everything can be done or completed now. We all understand that, and I am sure those watching in the Gallery and elsewhere also understand that not everything can be done immediately. However, we must do more to move towards what is being asked by the survivors and affected victims.

So much of this was about the State outsourcing responsibility for the care of vulnerable people - women and children - to religious institutions and not taking direct responsibility. It was politically convenient to control society while not taking responsibility for the State's own policies. Amazingly, this still goes on in a number of areas in new forms. For example, there is direct provision and the continued control of the church over many aspects of health and education in this country. Even today, when we question Ministers about abuses, suffering, allegations, complaints or events happening right now, they say they are not responsible and it has been outsourced to somebody else. We are still creating the conditions for abuse, neglect and mistreatment of women, children and other vulnerable people in our society. This will necessitate future tribunals and investigations. All this will happen again. We still have not fully learned the lessons from the question of separating church and State or ending the outsourcing of the responsibility of care that the State should have for vulnerable people in society. That must be done immediately.

2:55 pm

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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Cuirim fáilte roimh an deis labhairt ar an rún seo. Tá sé deacair orm labhairt faoi, i ndáiríre, ós rud é go bhfuil mé bainteach agus ceangailte leis an scéal seo go pearsanta agus go proifisiúnta, ach déanfaidh mé mo dhícheall.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this motion today. I find it difficult on many levels as both professionally and personally I have had involvement with this matter for many years. There is a recent image of a 103 year old woman, Elizabeth, meeting her 81 year old daughter, Eileen, in Scotland. Eileen was a resident in the Bethany Home. Surely that image alone might have prodded the Minister into making a different speech today. In no way do I mean to be personal and I have the greatest respect for the Minister but all I can think is that she has been taken captive by her Department. It is difficult to understand as the most important aspect in all this is trust. I appreciate that the Minister inherited a terrible situation and she is trying to deal with a difficult matter but trust is very important.

The speech made today was disingenuous in parts, and I use that word very reluctantly. The Minister said there would be no redress at this point because we must wait until the commission completes its work. I really find it difficult to hide my frustration.

4 o’clock

The second interim report clearly identifies the need for the Government to look at a redress scheme. It does not state that the Government must wait until publication of the final report. Paragraph 4.29 states, "Accordingly, the Commission considers that the exclusion of the named Mother and Baby Homes ... needs to be [examined]." It goes on to state, "Children who were resident in these institutions without their mothers would seem to have been in the same position as children resident in the institutions which were eligible for redress." It goes on to appeal to the Government - the Minister is the face of the Government today - to look at a redress scheme because there was no justification for distinguishing between those who received compensation from the industrial schools and those children who were in mother and baby homes. The commission makes a distinction in respect of those who were unaccompanied. I will not go into that distinction today but I do not accept it.

I wish the Minister's speech-writer - I do not know if she wrote her speech herself - had read the various reports. I have taken the trouble to read them all so I am briefed on the matter before I speak. I cannot understand how the Minister can fail to agree to at least the first section of the motion, which calls for a redress scheme for those who spent time in mother and baby homes. She referred to there being no abuses identified. Going back to the original redress scheme, with which I was involved in a professional capacity, former residents had to show medical reports to the effect that they had suffered. It was not a question of liability or blame at that point, although blame certainly was apportioned separately from the Ryan report. The most appalling part of this is that if I say what these people got, I would still be committing an offence and liable to a penalty or imprisonment. That would also be the case if those who received awards under the redress scheme disclosed any information. This is the background, which continued right into the 21st century. Here we are today appealing to the Government to do the decent and right thing and set up a redress scheme, and the Minister responds with a speech of this nature that is simply unacceptable.

I have repeatedly quoted the memos that were given to the Government in 2012 on the Tuam and Bessborough mother and baby homes. It was quite clear that there were significant volumes of information. I will come back to the fifth interim report if I have time. I refer to an absence of information. The draft briefing paper was published in 2012. I have quoted from it before. Has the Minister read these briefing papers? Have they been brought to the attention of the commission? They refer to a wealth of information on Bessborough and Tuam. They state that the records relating to Tuam were "detailed and extensive" and would require time to comb through. They go on finally to refer to irregularities, areas of concern regarding patient safety and, with relevance to this debate, "possible interference with birth and death certification" requiring further investigation. These are the briefing papers that were brought to Government in 2012 by means of Martin McAleese's report on the Magdalen laundries. That report clarified that the committee could not investigate but wanted to ensure that the matter would be investigated. It was not, and here we are today. That was 2012, it is now 2019 and we are still appealing for a basic redress scheme for those who spent time in mother and baby homes, where, to put it mildly, they suffered the most appalling neglect. I am very often critical of social workers but I pay tribute to the social worker referred to in these briefing notes, who did a tremendous amount of work at the time in the west of Ireland to highlight the scandal on her own time and in the evenings.

The Minister is nodding, but perhaps she will nod to indicate that she will withdraw her amendment. When we look at the fifth interim report, which I have read in detail, what jumps out, and the more difficult question to answer, is why the children were buried in such an inappropriate manner. I refer specifically to Tuam, where 798 children died. The report explores whether the burial sites were used as sewage tanks. This question is the only slight divergence. The burial sites would seem to have been used for a certain length of time as sewage tanks. They certainly were not burial chambers. The commission goes on to highlight the role of the county council and its failure to supply information, co-operate, comment on the draft report sent to it and so on. This is the very county council that was put in charge of the consultation process. Can the Minister imagine that? The interim report highlights the county council's inadequacies, to put it mildly, and this is the very body that the Government put in charge of a consultation process. I recall being in Tuam at the same time as the Minister, and fair play to her for attending. The Tánaiste, Deputy Coveney, who was Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government at the time, was also present. The Minister referred to bringing closure. She fundamentally missed the point. It is about bringing openness, not closure, and stopping the buried secrets. We have not just buried bodies in sewage chambers, but also buried secrets, and unless we realise this and go forward, we will not learn.

Many things jump off the pages of the fifth interim report. In a sense they are not relevant to today's debate, but I could not let one or two of them go without mention. There is the sale of infant bodies, at a cost of ten shillings each, to the medical faculty in Galway Central Hospital, as it was then called. Some bodies may have come from the mother and baby home. This jumps off page 55. The affidavits also jump off the pages of the report. The affidavit in this case happens to relate to the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary. Its affidavit was "speculative, inaccurate and misleading".

I sat here and listened to the Minister's contribution and then to that on behalf of Fianna Fáil. I have the greatest respect for Deputy O'Loughlin, but when she talks about waiting until the commission does its work, I do not think Fianna Fáil Deputies have read the report or realise that the commission clearly called on the Government to consider establishing a redress scheme. Furthermore, these dark secrets are not in the past but very much in the present. As long as the Minister is a member of the Government, she is a part of the secrets continuing to be covered up and the language being used about truth, love and honesty while all the time there is no uncovering of the terrible deeds that were done.

On the previous occasion I quoted Oliver St. John Gogarty and it is worth doing so again. Some 91 years ago he stated, "It is high time that the people of this country find some other way of loving God than by hating women." Things have dramatically changed for the better for women, but that underlying ideology, whereby bad was attributed particularly to single mothers, remains. That is how society dealt with this. We have an obligation to take that burden off women's shoulders. They did not deserve that guilt or that burden, and it is our duty to apologise. The Government must apologise and then put in place a practical scheme to provide the most basic redress. The difficulties with a redress scheme are operational. The cost of the scheme is reflective of the involvement of the legal profession and many other aspects, primarily the failure to get the various congregations to pay what they should have paid. These are not arguments to prevent a redress scheme being set up now. We are talking about a limited number of people.

I will finish with the image I started with, namely, a woman who is over 80 years of age travelling to meet her 104 year old mother for the first time after six decades searching. I ask Members to keep that image in mind and then ask themselves, can we stand here and not do our duty?

3:05 pm

Photo of Michael D'ArcyMichael D'Arcy (Wexford, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Ceann Comhairle for the opportunity to speak about these important matters. I believe that the amendment tabled by the Minister highlights in no uncertain terms the seriousness with which the Government treats this matter and the actions it has taken to date.

The Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes and Certain Related Matters was established in 2015 as part of a process of reckoning with this nation's dark past of institutionalisation. It was established to examine in great detail how this country treated unmarried mothers and their children and to report back to us the unvarnished truth.

I understand that many people are frustrated by the amount of time the commission has taken to carry out this investigation. I also understand that many of the people most affected by these issues are in advancing years and long to see the conclusion of the investigation. We recognise that the time the commission is taking to conduct its inquiries is in line with the mammoth task it has been set. The commission's terms of reference are extensive. It is directly examining 18 institutions that collectively housed thousands of women and children over a period of 76 years. The terms of reference are robust and it is this robustness, along with its significant amendment motion, the interests of the former residents, their families and the wider public are best served by facilitating the commission to conclude all relevant lines of inquiry, including the social history and confidential committee modules, in accordance with the legal framework under which it was established.

There have been numerous calls for the Government to implement a system of financial redress for former residents. The Government is dedicated to supporting former residents but it must await the findings of the commission before it can respond. To establish redress without full knowledge of the facts would be reckless, especially with the commission's final report so near. There were calls for redress following the publication of the commission’s second interim report in 2017, specifically in respect of former residents of Bethany Home and their ability to apply to the Residential Institutions Redress Board. There were a number of calls for the redress scheme to be extended to include additional institutions, including the Bethany Home, when the Ryan report was published in 2009. The Bethany Home is one of the 14 named mother and baby homes currently being examined by the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes and Certain Related Matters. Mother and baby homes, and related institutions, have never before been the focus of a statutory investigation. The decision regarding extending the scheme has been reviewed on a number of occasions by this Government and that which preceded it. There has been no change in the decision made not to extend the scheme.

Deputies may wish to note that the Minister is scheduled to meet former residents of the Bethany Home at the end of this month. As the amendment states, the commission has not made findings to date regarding abuse or neglect within these institutions and it is crucially important for the Oireachtas to avoid pre-empting or otherwise encroaching upon the work of the independent commission. That is not to state, however, that the Government is sitting idly by while awaiting this report. In the interim, the Government is progressing a number of initiatives informed by the principles of transitional justice for former residents of these institutions.

In 2018, the Minister established the collaborative forum of former residents of mother and baby homes. The forum is an innovative approach by the Minister to engagement with former residents and their families to facilitate them in identifying, discussing and prioritising the issues of concern. The forum was tasked with producing a report recommending actions and solutions to address the specific concerns expressed by the former residents and their families. A report was produced and its recommendations were published in April of this year, after much hard work by the forum.

In response to these recommendations, the Government has made a number of significant commitments. These include the development of proposals for a package of health and well-being supports, research into language and terminology, amendments to the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill 2016 and funding for memorialisation. On 23 October 2018, the Government decided that a phased forensic standard excavation and exhumation should be carried out at the site of the former mother and baby home in Tuam. The Government’s decision was informed by detailed technical advice on international best practice and by compassion and respect for the rights and dignity of the children interred at the site. Work is under way on the scoping of the required legislation and no effort will be spared in ensuring that the children buried at the site in Tuam will be given the respectful burial they deserve. In parallel to the legislative project, consideration is also being given to the procurement and management of the excavation process and related forensic-level analysis.

Regarding the discovery of false registrations in the files of St. Patrick's Guild, the Minister has acted thoroughly and decisively. As a result of that discovery, the Minister directed that an initial scoping exercise be undertaken and be overseen by an independent reviewer. It is expected that the subsequent report will be submitted by the end of this month. Crucially, any decision taken must not impede the ongoing work of the commission. As the amendment states, a significant focus of the commission’s work is to investigate institutional patterns of referral and relationships with intermediaries involved in the placement of children who did not remain with their parents. Scope has been included to examine whether the child’s parentage was concealed, either by omission or by illegal means. The amendment reaffirms the extensive action taken by the Government to date to address these complex, challenging and important issues.

I understand the frustration felt at the time being taken but these important issues deserve robust responses. The current commission of investigation is the proper vehicle for doing this and must be supported as it undertakes these vital works. The Government has committed to a comprehensive, timely and appropriate response to the full conclusions of the commission. To respond to Deputy Connolly's earlier question, the records in question were handed over to Tusla, which made all relevant files available to the commission.

3:15 pm

Photo of Joan CollinsJoan Collins (Dublin South Central, Independent)
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I thank Deputy Clare Daly for bringing about a debate on this issue. I welcome the survivors who are here to listen to the debate. This motion is being supported by the Coalition of the Mother and Baby Homes Survivors. We did not put forward this motion because it had dropped out of a clear blue sky. It is clear that the records held by Tusla in respect of Bessborough mother and baby home contain information concerning seriously questionable adoption practices. As the Minister of State is aware, the HSE said as much as long ago as 2009. As the Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, the order that owned Bessborough, prepared to cease operating the institution as an adoption agency throughout 2009 and 2010 and transfer more than 15,000 files to the HSE, the latter was determined to secure indemnity against legal action in respect of any records it received. An updated memo of a meeting the HSE held with the management group from the religious order noted its desire to manage liability for past Bessborough responsibility and ongoing legal activities as an adoption agency, when and if that might arise. In a letter, dated 8 February 2010, to the solicitors representing the religious order, the childcare manager for the HSE south region stated that the executive needed that assurance because it had reason to believe that the past practices of the agency had, as the manage stated, "not always been exemplary". The following year, a HSE social worker revealed that files from Bessborough contained information on the quasi-illegal deportation to and adoption of children in the United States, Britain and Australia. In a business plan prepared in 2011 by a principal social worker in the HSE south Lee region during preparations for the HSE's takeover of the records, it was pointed out that the natural mothers and adopted children had been “badly treated, rebuffed, misled, and in many cases dishonestly misdirected” when seeking information.

As Deputy Clare Daly mentioned earlier, Ms Jackie Foley is one of those women badly treated by the nuns and the State right up to the present day. She is still being treated very badly. Her treatment by various State agencies as an adult has been no better. Let us take Tusla as an example. It now holds the records which reveal what happened to Ms Foley as a teenager. Staff handling Ms Foley's case were instructed in an email last year to not refer to situations like hers as “illegal” but instead as “possible illegal registrations”. Reference was also made to having to “hold our powder” because “that stuff is FOI’able ... and it could be used against us if someone takes a case”. Staff were also told that the Adoption Authority of Ireland was the only body that could make a determination as to the legality of an adoption.

Ms Foley's son is now 44.

If he had access to his original birth certificate, he would spend years searching for his mother under the wrong name. He would be looking for Micheline Power, a woman who does not exist. It is horrendous to be in that situation. Another woman, Ann Crowe, aged 58, had her first baby, Roger Declan, at Bessborough mother and baby home in Cork in February 1979. Her experience at the home run by the Sacred Heart Sisters was horrendous. She said "We were dirt to the nuns". Ms Crowe says she delivered her baby on 23 February and had him for 48 hours. She says he was a fine, healthy baby and that after she had fed him, one of the nuns told her to go to the laundry on a message. Ms Crowe says she was gone for a few hours and that when she came back, the child was gone. Ms Crowe says she was screaming and roaring and in a panic and that a nun slapped her right across the face. Ms Crowe calmed down and said "Where is he then? Let me see him". The nun said he was already buried "out there somewhere in the fields". Ms Crowe says she has never been shown a grave and has a birth but not a death certificate. She says:

He was stolen from me. He was a healthy baby. He couldn't have died.

As has been pointed out, this is from just one adoption agency whereas it is possible over 182 adoption agencies could also have dealt with these cases. I appeal to the Minister to take on board what my colleague, Deputy Connolly, has said about the second interim report. The recommendation at paragraph 4.29 of the interim report says the Minister does not have to wait for the completion of the full report to provide redress. We should be implementing that as needed, in particular for the elderly who are waiting for this report, and also include the falsification of birth certificates. It is absolutely crucial that we do this. We cannot ignore these women. They need respect, acknowledgement and to be listened to. It is not us who are asking for this, it is them.

3:25 pm

Photo of Clare DalyClare Daly (Dublin Fingal, Independent)
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It will be no surprise to the Minister that her response to our motion has undoubtedly added to the pain and trauma of the survivors of these institutions. Her response is completely and utterly unacceptable to this side of the House. It can be summed up as follows. It is asserted first that this is an incredibly complicated process which needs a great deal of time to work out and second that the Government is great and is dealing with it. We hear a bit of backslapping going on about how the Minister is demonstrating great leadership in dealing with this issue and in how she has responded thoroughly and decisively to the issue of illegal adoptions and so on. That tells me two things. It tells me the Department may be trying to silence the Minister or provide her with platitudes whereas it is in fact a cover for inactivity. We would not have moved this motion if everything was going well. We have moved the motion on behalf of people who survived this. They know how complicated their lives are and they know what the solution is. In her speech, the Minister said the second interim report dealt with some of the issues raised by Deputies on this side of the House in their motion. That is precisely why we moved it. That report issued almost three years ago. It is not just us calling for redress. The second interim report to which the Minister says she wishes to listen already says she should be doing this. The Government turns around and rehashes the collaborative forum's demand for a health and wellbeing programme, a proper system of memorialisation and so on as if it is something wonderful that it has thought to look into. For these people, the Government has been looking into it for years. There is no impediment whatsoever to putting a redress scheme in place now. In fact, the Government's failure to deal with it is a retraumatisation of the people involved.

In her response, the Minister said that since work had commenced, there had been calls for redress. She said some believed they were unfairly excluded from the schemes and do not see it as necessary that the current commission completes its work. The commission itself believes those people were unfairly excluded and has already said there is an incredibly strong case for the inclusion of Bethany Home, for example. As such, the commission has completed that part of its work and said Bethany Home should have been included and, further, that redress should be provided. The purpose of our motion is not to get another rehash of how complicated the whole thing is. It is to get action on that area. For the Government to hide behind previous financial redress schemes being complex and costly to administer and difficult for applicants is incredibly disrespectful for those involved. It suggests it is just about money, that they would not understand it anyway and that it would make it hard for them. It is the same paternalistic approach and looking down on people that was adopted in respect of these people and their mothers in the institutions themselves. It is gut wrenching to listen to it. In the remaining few days before we vote on this, I ask the Government to withdraw from that stance. I ask Fianna Fáil not to support the Government's amendment to our motion.

The other key part that is missing here is the issue we dealt with in the opening remarks on illegal adoptions. It is a simple reality that the experience of tens of thousands of our citizens who were illegally adopted is not being investigated properly in any forum as we stand here. The sampling exercise involves only 1.5% of the 100,000 records held by the Adoption Authority. It does not even scratch the surface. What we need to see and what we have demanded for years is a full audit of all adoption files. We need a package of basic supports for the remaining survivors which could be rolled out with ease. It is not rocket science and it is not complex or costly. We need the broader issues of the illegally adopted to be included in the commission of investigation because they are not going to go away. It may be the case that many of these survivors have, tragically, lost their lives since the commission was established, but to delay any further makes that situation even worse. I cannot understand the lack of feeling in the contributions from the Government benches. We often say here that no one has a monopoly on compassion. We all know that and I have always been one to accept it. What we have seen today, however, is a demonstrable lack of compassion which those who survived these institutions will find not at all helpful. I appeal to every grouping in the House to ensure that our motion is carried and that collectively, we bring pressure to bear. After listening to the arguments tonight, however, it appears that those involved will have to take the road to the United Nations, to litigation and to seeking answers outside the State, which is a terrible indictment of the Government.

Amendment put.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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In accordance with Standing Order 70(2), the division is postponed until the weekly division time on Thursday, 16 May 2019.