Thursday, 25 November 2021
Mother and Baby Institutions: Statements
I thank the Business Committee for arranging this debate and allowing time for the Dáil to discuss the important work that is ongoing in dealing with Ireland's legacy of mother and baby and county home institutions. The keen interest Members have in these matters is very welcome and it is clear that survivors appreciate the level of support across the House. In speaking with survivors, I have heard countless stories of horrendous suffering. I cannot begin to imagine the bravery it takes to share those accounts. Many Members of this House have also shared survivors' stories, either in the Chamber or on a one-to-one basis with me. Everybody here appreciates the courage and strength of survivors in telling us of these deeply personal experiences.
At the outset, I reiterate that the Government is under no illusion that there is any financial payment or service provision that could make up for the immense pain and suffering endured by so many of our citizens whose lives have been impacted by the shameful legacy of mother and baby institutions. While there is some commonality of experience among survivors, there is also a unique impact on each person and the course of his or her life and those of his or her family members. As much as I know that we all wish it were possible, particularly survivors themselves, we cannot change the course of events that caused the hurt of which they speak. What we can do is offer support to all who need it and ensure that we learn and grow as a nation in order that such tragedies never happen again.
In An Action Plan for Survivors and Former Residents of Mother and Baby and County Home Institutions, the Government is seeking to provide an enduring response to the priority needs of all concerned. The plan covers a wide span of areas and allows for co-ordination to take place across government to drive and support the implementation of everything within it. I want to make clear this evening that the Government is committed to delivering an inclusive response to the extremely complex legacy that surrounds mother and baby institutions. No scheme could possibly account for everyone affected by the litany of shocking failures that have emerged and with which our country continues to grapple.
That is why the action plan has been developed. It is only through a comprehensive response that we can begin our attempt to provide the range of remedies required to properly address the needs of all of those who have been affected. Throughout the past year, during the consultation with survivors and our engagement with stakeholders on a previous redress scheme, it was clear that the response, in particular the payment scheme, had to be non-adversarial and had to encompass the breadth of survivor concerns. This is an action plan that is all-inclusive, not only in terms of survivors and their families but the entire wider community and society. We believe the plan responds to the diverse needs of those affected by the legacy of mother and baby institutions and provides an opportunity for all of us to learn, through the words of survivors, what took place in these institutions.
Survivors have waited for the payment scheme, in particular, and it is important to them as a measure of how the Government intends to provide redress. It is important that we do not look at the payment scheme in isolation because redress is a broad concept. The OAK Consulting report, which contains the finding of the consultation process carried out with survivors in respect of the scheme, shows the broad understanding of redress. It touched on a huge array of matters that are of concern to survivors. The Government has shown its readiness and willingness to keep listening and working on these most difficult issues.
On Tuesday evening, during the discussion on the motion on the mother and baby home payment scheme, I spoke about how the Government is an imperfect vehicle for righting the wrongs of the past. Things move slowly, and this is understandably really frustrating for those who have already waited such a long time for adequate responses. When legislation is moving through the House, either through the legislative process or pre-legislative scrutiny, the effect of the legislation cannot yet be felt and the benefits it confers cannot yet be enjoyed and that can compound the sense of frustration that survivors feel. However, on the issues of records, memorialisation, education and access to information, we have begun to make changes and ensure people can see the tangible results of these changes. I believe in the forthcoming months we will make significantly more changes on these issues.
I want to set out some of the changes that have already been made and where we are in terms of advancing all parts of the Government's action plan. It is clear to me that the State has to be more forthcoming about the information it holds being provided to survivors. They deserve to know about their early lives. In line with the action 8 of the action plan, I have established a dedicated unit in my Department to lead on this work, and a professional archivist has been appointed and is working within that unit to focus on the preservation of and public access to those records.
Action 5 of the action plan ensures general data protection regulation, GDPR, rights of access to the commission's archive. Since the archive was transferred to my Department, we have received 411 subject access requests and have processed 316 of them. I am aware that the current constraints on access to health data, in particular, contained in the commission's archive is causing very real stress to survivors. Their distress is absolutely understandable. We are acting on that. I have engaged with my colleague, the Minister for Health, Deputy Stephen Donnelly, on this issue and he is progressing new regulations which will address access to health information and will remove the requirement for consultation with a medical practitioner.
Next year, we will have legislation in place to finally ensure adopted people can hold in their hands the birth certificates they have so long been denied access to. The legislation will also address access to records containing birth and early life information, and will provide a statutory basis for a tracing service and safeguarding of relevant records.
We will have legislation in place to allow for the excavation, exhumation and identification of the remains at the site in Tuam. No one who has met survivors, their families and their advocates could have anything less than an absolute determination to see remedied the terrible injustice that the site represents.
The Government's action plan is about responding to the place of mother and baby institutions in our history but it also has to be about what they say about our present. It is a testament to the generosity of spirit of survivors that they are so passionate in their advocacy for the protection and well-being of children today. In response to that, action 18 of the action plan involves creating a children's fund to honour the memory of the children who died in mother and baby institutions through the provision of supports to children who experience disadvantage in the present day.
Through our extensive engagement with survivors and former residents, memorialisation has been repeatedly raised as an issue of profound importance. In a further demonstration of the Government's commitment to not just acknowledging the failures of the past, but also learning from them, the Government has committed in action 7 to the creation of a national memorial and record centre. A group chaired by the Secretary to the Government will develop the overarching vision and proposed approach for the creation of this national centre. That will be brought to the Government for approval. Provision has been made in this year's and next year's Estimates for that group to begin scoping work on the creation of a national records and memorial centre.
We are also working to provide memorialisation at a local level. My Department is currently working on this with the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, as well as offering a commemorative grant scheme to support survivor-centred advocacy groups in organising commemorative events.
Memorialisation and commemoration is important in recognising the place of mother and baby institutions in our history but we must also inform. In recognising the importance of learning from the traumatic experience of the past generations, action 11 directs the Department of Education to inform future generations about their impact. Through the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, we are considering how best to support schools in enabling students to learn about and understand this important and sensitive aspect of Ireland's recent history. The Government has also created a number of postgraduate scholarships, in partnership with the Irish Research Council, in memory of the children who died in the institutions. These scholarships will focus on researching the area of childhood disadvantage.
Action 13 relates to how my Department has commissioned a team based in NUI Galway to conduct research on language, terminology and representation. The aim of the project is to highlight the stigmatising and labelling language that has been used in the past and to provide guidance on how to do better in the future. Those of us who have been present through the pre-legislative scrutiny on information and tracing legislation will know the importance of the language and terminology used. The outcome of the NUI Galway research will underpin and inform future projects. These actions are tangible demonstrations of the determination of the Government not to forget and repeat the past.
As the Government works to response the legacy of the mother and baby institutions, the past 18 months, in particular, have been difficult for survivors. It is important that I emphasise, and Deputies make their constituents aware, that counselling support for all former residents has been in place since the publication of the commission's report. The service has been strengthened with additional investment and an expanded out-of-hours service.
In addition, we are establishing a patient advocacy liaison support service for all survivors. The Department of Health, in partnership with the HSE, is currently working on establishing this service. I expect it to be in place early next year. When up and running, this service will have a dedicated team which can provide bespoke information and support for survivors on a confidential basis to assist them in accessing health services they may need. The Department of Health is also working with the Health Research Board on a research project as part of the TILDA programme to identify the health needs of survivors. This research will further inform health policy and service responses.
Having set out the comprehensive context in which the proposals for the mother and baby institutions payment scheme has been developed, I want to briefly speak about this scheme, which sits as one element of the entire redress package of supports and measures as set out in the action plan. The scheme will provide a financial payment to all mothers who spent time in one of the instructions. It will also provide a financial payment to those who were resident as children one of the institutions for more than six months. The payment is in recognition of the harsh conditions, emotional abuse and other forms of mistreatment, stigma and trauma experienced while resident in these institutions. The scheme will provide an enhanced medical card to mothers and children who were in one of the institutions for more than six months. These measures will benefit approximately 34,000 people at a value of €800 million.
In doing this, the scheme goes well beyond the recommendations of the commission of investigation and goes beyond the recommendations of the interdepartmental group that was established to develop proposals. In moving beyond the broad redress measures included in the action plan, the Government has also included in its proposals for the scheme women who spent time in the institutions after 1974, all children who spent more than six months in the institutions regardless of whether they were accompanied or unaccompanied, and all women regardless of the time they spent in an institution. We have given careful thought to how to balance the multiple competing views and priorities while delivering a scheme that is not over-complex and does not leave a burden again with survivors. Through the OAK-Ied consultation process and from my many engagements with survivors, they have made it clear that they want a scheme that is non-adversarial, simple and based on trust.
The requirement for a low burden of proof was also a key issue raised. This is what the mother and baby institutions payment scheme seeks to deliver. The approach to the payment was a matter of extensive deliberations. It was concluded that providing a general payment based on time spent, with no requirement to bring forward any evidence of abuse or harm, was the best way to ensure that this scheme causes no further trauma. While I appreciate that this approach is not perfect, it is notably less complex, lengthy and traumatising than one requiring an individualised assessment process where it could be very challenging for applicants to meet an evidential threshold to entitle them to an award and to have their evidence tested, for example, through oral hearings. This is particularly the case having regard to those who were young children. All of this creates significantly more uncertainty and unpredictability for applicants.
I was struck by Deputy Bacik's contribution on Tuesday evening when she pointed to her experience as a barrister of the difficulties of applicants to the residential institutions redress scheme in terms of the re-traumatising nature of how that scheme was designed. The simplicity of the approach adopted in this scheme has been acknowledged. It has been designed with a focus on survivors and a genuine intent to make it as easy as possible for them to access it. The approach we are proposing will also allow for the scheme to be established more quickly and it means that the process of assessing applications can be quicker as well. These considerations have also been expressed as vital by survivors. It is important to note that once the scheme is established, it is very much the intention that elderly survivors and potentially other vulnerable people will be prioritised.
As I said earlier, the Government's action plan provides a response to the priority needs of children who spent short periods in the institutions as babies by way of the birth information and tracing Bill and the investment that has been made available to support the implementation of this legislation. This is the overwhelming need which has been expressed by people who as children were adopted or otherwise separated from their birth families. In terms of the situation of boarded-out children, I agree with the sentiments expressed in this House regarding the horrific abuse suffered by those who were boarded out. This scheme has been designed to provide a response to those who were resident in mother and baby and county home institutions. A general payment scheme is, unfortunately, not the appropriate vehicle for responding to the very varied circumstances by which children were boarded out and to their individual experiences. I emphasise that the action plan includes other measures that will provide support and assistance to those who were boarded out as children, including access to birth and early life information as part of the birth information and early life information, inclusion in the memorialisation initiatives and the provision of an ex gratiapayment to anyone who was boarded out and had to pay inheritance tax on land that they inherited from their family. I have also stated that we will be making provision for a dedicated counselling service for individuals who were boarded out and were subject to physical or sexual abuse.
In terms of my engagement with the religious congregations involved in operating the institutions, the Government has heard and fully understands the widespread view that they must provide a significant contribution to the scheme. I will be meeting a number of the congregations in the coming weeks and it is my intention to seek exactly that from them.
On the subject of the waiver that is included in the proposals for the scheme, it is important to stress that the legal waiver would only be signed at the point where the applicant accepts an offer of a financial payment made under the scheme. An applicant will have full understanding of what offer is being made to him or her before signing. Until the point at which an offer is accepted, an applicant has every right to pursue legal action, if that is what the applicant chooses to do. All applicants who decide they want to take the payment and sign the waiver will be entitled to financial support so they can get independent legal advice on the consequences for them of signing that waiver. Importantly, signing a waiver will not mean that survivors cannot discuss their experience of engaging with the scheme or the payment they may have received so, unlike previous schemes, there will be no gagging of survivors.
The path we seek, to try to reconcile with the scale of the terrible wrongs committed in our past, is not an easy one. We owe such an enormous debt to those who were so cruelly let down by the State and the church, into whose care these women and children were left. Those traumas are living memories for many thousands of people. Thousands of others, their families and their friends live with the consequences of those acts. The action plan I have developed, including the payment scheme and access to information, seeks to address the wrongs in as open and far-ranging a manner as we know. It is an ongoing and evolving process and one that I am committed to implementing as Minister for as long as I am in this office.
I conclude by thanking the House for providing this opportunity to discuss the significant work that has taken place in this area. I thank the survivors and all those who support them for sharing their experiences with us, and I look forward to hearing the contributions of Members.
I thank the Minister. I am glad we have the opportunity to discuss this again. It is helpful to have these statements after Tuesday. I will divide my contribution into three sections. The first is to refer to specific stories that people have brought to my attention since Tuesday. I am always surprised that every time this subject is raised, somebody new gets in contact with me. They are people who felt that they were somehow forgotten, so I will briefly mention them so they know that a tiny section of their stories was told on the record of the Dáil. After that, I have one or two questions I wish to put to the Minister. He will not have time to answer them this evening but perhaps he could take them on board.
The first person is Jim who is 54 years old and, by his own admission, has lived a decent life. He owns his home and had a good career. His health has not been great of late but he does not let that get him down. He was born in a county home and was immediately boarded out. He desperately wants to know more about his family. He wrote to thank me and others for standing up for people like him. He describes himself as marginalised.
Then there is Mary's mother who was sent to a mother and baby institution in London run by the Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary in Cork. After Mary's birth, she and her mother were sent back to Ireland. Mary was sent on to St. Patrick's orphanage to be put up for adoption. She feels she has been ignored.
Patrick is a survivor who is excluded from the scheme. He wrote to thank me and others who have raised this issue. He said that listening to the situation brought him to tears.
Michael watched proceedings from America. He was born in Sean Ross Abbey mother and baby home and was then sent to Temple Hill. He got to meet his mother three and a half years ago and was heartbroken to learn about the brutal treatment she received in Sean Ross Abbey. He referred to her as his mother throughout. He said she diligently paid her supposed debt to the nuns. When Michael told her the date he had arrived in America she looked surprised. He later discovered she continued to pay this debt, as it was described, for many years after his adoption. He promised her at their last visit that he would never contact her children, as he was respecting her wishes in this regard. Even though he has written to her several times, he thinks now that she may have passed away as he has not received any response. He finished his email by saying that he was happy she went on to have a happy life. Again, he thanked me and others for speaking on his and his mother's behalf, people who do not speak up but silently carry this hidden sadness.
Mark was treated sadistically by the family to whom he was boarded out from a mother and baby institution. He will not qualify for the redress scheme.
A lady called Tricia told me her tragic story of forced adoption. She mourns the loss of a relationship with her mother and she mourns the horrific treatment her mother suffered in the mother and baby institution. The mother qualifies for €5,000 and Tricia does not qualify for anything. She feels that the dishonesty and cruelty of the nuns running these institutions on behalf of the State is sometimes too confronting to read.
She thanked us for recognising the trauma, which is still very real for her.
I want to briefly mention a lady who is in a very difficult situation. I will send the full details to the Minister afterwards. She was born in a mother and baby institution, was boarded out to a very abusive family, was removed and then ended up in an industrial school. She has had serious difficulties, has never been able to maintain employment and is in receipt of disability benefit. She has been on the housing list in Cork for 12 and a half years. She has received an eviction notice from a property she is renting through the housing assistance payment, HAP, scheme. This is through no fault of her own. As with many other people, she has received a notice to quit. She is having a very difficult time with Cork City Council. I think we can all agree how difficult it is to be on a housing waiting list for 12 and a half years, particularly for someone who has suffered so much trauma. Our Deputies and councillors in the area have obviously raised the issue. I will also send the details on to the Minister, given the situation.
It is very welcome that the motion on Tuesday night was accepted. However, I wonder if that means the Government will make changes. For example, will it include all institutions and will it include everybody, regardless of the timeframe? Will the enhanced medical card be for everybody, regardless of the timeframe? Does the Government expect these changes to be made during the pre-legislative scrutiny process? On Tuesday night, a number of Deputies spoke about the interim payments. Could interim payments be made while the legislation is making its passage through the Houses? I hope we will see some changes before the committee deals with pre-legislative scrutiny. The Government accepted our motion in good faith and it was very much appreciated. We hope that some of those changes will now be made. I would appreciate if the Minister could come back on some of those points later.
We have had this debate for years. Even in the last Dáil we had similar debates about mother and baby institutions. I use the word "institutions" because they certainly were not homes for the women who ended up there. This week, I spoke to a woman who told me about her mother who, as a 15-year-old, was bought by her father and the parish priest in a horse and trap to one of these institutions. After she had the baby, she was not allowed home and she went to England. Her child was adopted, ended up in America and through some fortune ended up back here in Ireland. She traced her mother but found that her mother had died. She discovered that her mother had had a really hard and difficult life in London. She ended up with addiction and alcohol problems.
When she inquired further of neighbours who had been around - in rural Ireland everyone knows everyone else - she found that that particular household had what they used to call at the time a "home boy", a person was boarded out from one of the institutions, and he was blamed for getting the child pregnant. No one is sure whether he did. He was also banished and no one knows where he ended up or what happened to him. It was a cruel, horrible society that did all of this to so many people. The church gets a lot of bad press because it ran the institutions. However, it ran them on behalf of the State and the State is complicit in that.
As I listened to this woman's story, I was struck about the parish priest bringing the child to the institution. Not only did the church run the institutions but it also created that sense of a horrible society where the sinner had to be punished by isolating people who in its eyes had done something wrong. The church must carry the blame not just for running the institutions but also for the kind of society it created.
I acknowledge the Minister accepted the motion on Tuesday evening and accepted what we are trying to achieve in respect of that. It is inappropriate for the Government to retraumatise these people by setting up a hierarchy of victims based on time spent in an institution. Let us consider someone convicted of a crime where it was later found that they were innocent and were wrongly convicted. If they took the State to court, it would not be right for a judge to say, "You only spent six months in jail. Sure, that is not enough. If it was seven, we'd do something for you." That clearly would not be the case. A wrong is a wrong. Everyone in this House and elsewhere accepts that these people were completely innocent and what was done to them was terrible and wrong. They all need to get justice from this. I appeal to the Minister and his Government colleagues not to continue down that path.
Anybody who has seen any of the debates or has had contact with people affected will know how desperately hurt people have been over this. I know it is extremely difficult to come up with something that will address all the issues but we need to try. They have asked us to ask the Minister some questions about the proposed scheme. We have all received emails on them in recent days. Some of the main issues people have raised have already been mentioned on Tuesday and were covered in the Minister's speech.
It is wrong to have a payments scheme that excludes people who, as infants, spent less than six months in a mother and baby institution or a county home. I have listened to people on the radio who have said even though they were in a particular place for less than six months, this has affected them for their entire lives. It is deeply hurtful to exclude them because they were there for less than six months and they feel that they are not being acknowledged.
They believe the recommendations and views survivors shared through the consultation process conducted by OAK Consulting have been largely ignored. The boarded-out children have been completely excluded from the payments scheme and enhanced medical card. As many people have said, the scheme has created a hierarchy of suffering and excludes anyone who was the survivor of a mother and baby institution or county home not listed in Appendix A or Appendix B.
Like everybody else, I got an email from the Clann Project. It is important that their voices are continually heard on this. They are the experts on their lives and their experiences. They state that the records are of paramount importance to adopted people. Mothers, relatives and others were affected by the gross and systematic human rights abuses perpetrated in Ireland's institutional and family separation system. As I said in the previous debate, I know from personal experience how important it is for people to be acknowledged. The rights to your life, your story and your experience is of critical importance. It is not just the piece of paper. Somebody speaking on the radio said when they get their birth certificate, they get a different birth certificate from everybody else, which is wrong and needs to be changed.
I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak on this issue. I am very proud to be part of Sinn Féin, which introduced a Private Members' motion on the issue earlier this week. That was in an attempt to improve the terms and conditions of the scheme.
How did we get here? I will never be able to fathom the conclusion that trauma lasting less than six months is undeserving of any financial redress under the scheme when all the empirical research, the academic expertise and the personal stories and testimonies state otherwise. The scheme has unfortunately created a hierarchy of trauma. It has reduced the suffering of mothers and babies down to an equation that completely denies the material fact that forced separation and institutional incarceration of one week, three months or even five months and 27 days could have a negative effect either on the baby ripped from their mother or on the mother robbed of her infant. Devaluing these experiences is inhumane.
In Clare, there was a nursery in Kilrush but the word "nursery" may have disguised the nature of that institution. It was the County Clare mother and baby home and it was open between 1922 and 1932. A total of 182 babies died in this home. I commend the great work done by Ms Rita McCarthy, who has provided a really comprehensive research and insight into the operation of this home. If it was not for her, we would not have this knowledge today. It was not run by the church but co-ordinated between the county council and the Department of Local Government and Public Health as it was then known.
One of the survivors celebrated his 90th birthday recently so it is clear that to have any form of justice delivered for this generation, a scheme is immediately required. I cannot help but notice how partial it is. What about adopted children? The adoptee community is crying out in anguish at its exclusion from the scheme. There is no formal recognition of their hurt or pain or mention of those who were fostered. Why was there any exclusion whatever if this was to be part of a process of healing?
On a final note, I found the Minister's comments on the rationale for excluding babies who had been in a home for less than six months particularly crushing. It was particularly ignorant and insensitive to say these babies will not remember that time and I found that appalling. I know there has been a backlash against this, so I wonder if the Minister will retract the dismissive comments he made last week.
I welcome the second opportunity this week to speak for the Labour Party on this really important matter. It is helpful to come back a second time in the same week to discuss this matter and engage with the Minister. First, I express my sincere sympathies on behalf of my Labour Party colleagues to all survivors and their families. All Oireachtas Members have received a great deal of communication and have had engagement with and met many survivors and affected persons. I thank all who have been so generous as to get in touch with us and express their personal experiences. I pay tribute again to them and to all those who demonstrated such courage on programmes like "Who am I?", which aired on RTÉ earlier this year.
We are all conscious that this debate and the publicity and news around the scheme will have triggered many painful memories and difficult experiences for many. We need to discuss in a respectful and dignified manner the detail of the scheme. We are also conscious that the publication of the report generated a national conversation on the practices of illegal and forced adoption, coerced labour and institutionalisation of vulnerable populations of women and children. In my new role as Chair of the Special Committee on Gender Equality I am conscious we will address the 45 recommendations of the Citizens' Assembly, many of which address the legacy of shameful treatment of women and children through so many decades of our history. We are conscious, in debating mother and baby homes, that women and children were incarcerated in those homes until as recently as 1998 and that many thousands of women passed through the institutions right to the end of the past century.
On the terms of the scheme itself, I was glad to speak to the cross-party motion and I welcomed that the Government did not oppose its passage last night. It was a very positive action. I also welcomed many aspects of the scheme, as the Minister referenced in his address, particularly the learning from Residential Institutions Redress Board scheme and that this scheme will not require evidence of abuse or harm. Instead, it will be a more straightforward and accessible process, which is very welcome. I also welcome that it will be a non-adversarial process.
It is good to hear the Minister's clarity on the waiver and the assurance that survivors will be entitled to financial support for independent legal advice prior to signing a waiver, which is crucial. It is also important there will be no gagging clause, which was a painful aspect for survivors of the residential institutions before the redress board was established.
The scheme should be made more inclusive, however, and I spoke on Tuesday on the need in particular for the Government to accept the amendment proposed by my Labour Party colleague, Deputy Sherlock, in February and which passed the House with unanimous support. That would give an entitlement to an enhanced medical card to women and children who spent any period in an institution. That would be without the six-month criterion. I heard just today from a survivor who described her experience of forced labour and forced adoption in a mother and baby home in which she spent less than six months. She had a feeling of hurt on being excluded from the enhanced medical card scheme. I ask again that the Minister brings in those who spent less than six months in institutions into the enhanced medical card scheme. I do not see the reason for the restriction, which is unfortunate given that the Minister has been more inclusive in the terms than the commission recommended, which is also welcome. The six-month restriction will not apply for redress to mothers, although it will for children. Again, that seems an unnecessary restriction, given so many babies would have spent less than six months in the home and yet would deal with the lifelong trauma as a result of their time incarcerated in homes. They were then adopted or fostered.
I also mention the timing of the scheme. The Minister stated on Tuesday night there would be legislation before this House in the new year to give a statutory underpinning to the scheme, and that will clearly give all of us more opportunity to engage constructively. I welcome that. However, it suggests the timing of delivery of redress will be further delayed, so I ask again that the Minister might contemplate making an interim payment scheme available, particularly to those who he says are being prioritised because they are older or particularly vulnerable. It would be a welcome reassurance to many survivors who are very anxious about the practical application of what we are debating tonight.
I addressed the question of who will pay on Tuesday night, as others have done, and all of us are very conscious that religious orders and church authorities are and were highly culpable in the running of these institutions. Through their religious instruction and dogma, along with the dominance they continue to have in our schooling system, they set the context within which so many women were effectively coerced into these homes or certainly institutionalised in the homes. We are all conscious, again from the experience with the previous redress scheme, that religious authorities have not always paid their fair share. I am very glad to hear the Minister will meet the religious orders in the coming weeks and I hope the engagement will be fruitful.
We have seen ongoing issues, however, with what I have described as the "developer's wife syndrome", where religious orders have all too often transferred their assets into the ownership of lay-run trusts, which have no liability to the State in terms of unpaid redress. The religious orders, which retain the legal liability, would then have no assets, as the Minister is well aware, which is a major question that may well have to be addressed in this scheme's context too. I am conscious that on Tuesday we also heard from a senior counsel, Mr. Stephen Dodd, who gave us a very detailed legal opinion as to why the State should compulsorily purchase the national maternity hospital site rather than enabling religious orders to retain it in their ongoing ownership. These are very much current matters around religious orders, land ownership and asset transfer. We must be mindful of that.
I will also address the practice of forced or illegal adoption. I am conscious the system of adoption broadly was not within the remit of the commission and outside its terms of reference. We in the Labour Party have called for a comprehensive review of the entire system of secret adoption and family separation, falsified birth certificates and the practices that went on that are alluded to and referenced, particularly in the confidential committee section of the report. Women spoke of having babies snatched from their arms before final adoption papers were completed. We must hear more on that and it is a longer-term project.
Like other colleagues I put on record my sympathy for the survivors of mother and baby homes and county home institutions. The Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, has engaged extensively and very often on a one-to-one basis with survivors of mother and baby homes and these county home institutions. He did this, listening with empathy and compassion, to ensure he and his officials could gain greater understanding of the lived experience of former residents before designing an action plan and payments scheme that was inclusive, easy to access and could encompass as many people as possible.
It was also clear that, universally, survivors and former residents wanted access to information about their origins, the mother who gave birth to them and their background. This commitment puts the issue of archives, archiving and access to archives to the fore in importance. Almost 100 years ago, in 1922, county councils assumed responsibility for the administration of aid to the poor and vulnerable in our society when they assumed responsibility of the 19th century board of guardians and poor law unions. The workhouses became county homes and county homes were used to accommodate the elderly, those with disabilities, abandoned children, mothers and babies.
Almost every county had such a home and, additionally, three counties had dedicated homes for mothers and babies in Tuam in Galway, Kilrush in Clare and Pelletstown in County Dublin. Furthermore, special homes were run independently of local authorities, generally by religious orders. These included Bessborough, Sean Ross Abbey and Castlepollard, as well as the lay-run Bethany home for the Protestant community. In virtually all cases, women were funded by the county council from which they originated. The point of difference is that local authorities were directly responsible for the welfare of the occupants of the county homes but not directly responsible for the residents of external homes.
The details of the management of these homes are kept in local authority archives. These archives comprise records of the administration of welfare for each county, for example, the admission registers of each county home, the records of the decision-making bodies, such as the board of health, minute books and county council minute books, as well as burial records. Collectively, these records contain irreplaceable information on local life in Ireland stretching back to before the Famine.
While local authority archives are critical records, they cannot provide answers to all the questions posed by the families of those in residential care. I have been told, sadly, that many records were lost or destroyed over the years and there were uneven patterns of record-keeping and sometimes none at all. Despite these drawbacks, local authorities should fulfil their statutory obligations under the Local Government Acts and make their records relating to the running of county homes and the administration of relief available to the public, subject to withholding or redacting where this is provided for in legislation. This will require local authorities to employ professional archivists. In 2021, there are only 18 professional archivists employed by 31 local authorities. Professional archivists are uniquely trained to appraise information and develop systems to make it accessible in an appropriate legal and person-centred way. Archival experience elsewhere, such as in Australia, demonstrates how a professionally managed person-centred archival approach can go some way to address many of the issues facing our citizens seeking the truth of their identity. Consideration should be given to engaging with the network of county archivists to help ensure the robustness of local access to archives of county home institutions and mother and baby homes.
Theme four of the action plan for survivors and former residents of mother and baby and county institutions focuses on archives and databases. The birth information and tracing legislation does not provide for mandatory centralisation of records. Rather, it places an onus on the holders of relevant records to safeguard and preserve them. Offaly archives is an excellent exemplar of how such critically important records can be conserved, digitised and made available in a sympathetic way. Prior to making such records centrally available, via a national memorial record centre, it is the Minister's intention that records should be accessible immediately once legislation is enacted.
I commend the work of my colleague, the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, on both the action plan and the payment scheme. His actions have at all times been based on compassion and empathy, and with the voices of survivors and former residence foremost in his thoughts. We cannot undo the past, but we can certainly help with the healing.
On 16 November 2021, the Government published An Action Plan for Survivors and Former Residents of Mother and Baby and County Home Institutions. I worked closely with the Minister on progressing this action plan and I welcome the redress part of it. However, I must raise immediately the need for an interim payment for those survivors who are older. Time is not on their side. They have suffered enough, so please look at an interim payment for those survivors now.
Justice is something the commission report denied survivors of this awful regime, and for us to try to mete out some justice, we must respond to the priority needs of those who spent time in these institutions. Yesterday, I went over the children's committee draft report on the birth information and tracing Bill. I am a firm believer that this is where we can give complete access to records to those who seek them, but access to records is not enough. I have raised with the Minister, as recently as the publication of the action plan, the need to include everyone. Providing approximately 34,000 former residents of the institutions with the financial payment and 19,000 with an enhanced medical card is welcome but, sadly, it is not enough. I am against the six-month rule whereby only children who spent six months or more in an institution and did not receive redress for that institution under the residential institution redress scheme are eligible for payment based on the length of stay and only mothers who spent six months or more are eligible for the medical card component. This is unfair and does not factor in all the family separation, the hurt and distress.
I am aware this scheme goes well beyond the recommendations of the final report of the commission of investigation. In terms of estimated beneficiaries, it will be the largest scheme of its type in the history of the State with a value of €800 million. However, I urge the Minister to reconsider the six-month rule and to look at the exclusion of those boarded out. There was a deep sense of shame and stigma for unmarried mothers. This was perpetuated and enforced by the State, the church and wider society. It is clear the State failed time and again for decades to protect some of its most vulnerable citizens. It is time to ask the church and its orders to contribute. The Minister should even write to the Vatican to ask for money to fund this redress. We must insist on its involvement here for true redress to happen, if the reason for the six-month rule is that it is too costly. That is why I supported this week's motion seeking recourse from religious orders and pharmaceutical companies to contribute to the scheme, including using the OAK report on the findings of the consultation with the survivors of mother and baby homes and the county homes, which is a start.
On the application process, I very much welcome that to qualify for this redress an applicant will qualify solely based on proof of residence in one of the homes without the need to provide any evidence of abuse or medical evidence. I am a member of the children's committee, for which I am honoured, and I work with survivors in Carlow. Having worked with the Minister, I know that he has spoken to survivors and is listening, and is committed to doing his best, but we need change here. I hope the Minister will visit the survivors' group in Carlow when we launch a big event shortly for survivors, which is a big thing. Working with the survivors and listening to their stories, all of us have changed and are honoured to listen to them and do what we can to make sure we make their lives better for them and their families. I constantly talk to the Minister about this. It is a priority for us to listen and do what we can. I am working with Carlow County Council to put up plaques on different buildings and in cemeteries. Having worked with the survivors, they feel that we are listening and are trying to right a wrong that should never have happened. These are things that we need to do.
While I welcome parts of this scheme, and I note the Minister is committed to doing his best, I ask that he reconsiders certain aspects of it and the interim payment, which is vital. Some of the survivors I speak to are getting older. This will never bring full closure for them but at least it might go some way to help them. We need to do that for them and we have a duty of care to do this for our survivors. I again ask the Minister to look at this.
Reference was made to counselling and redress, but we need to look at this again. One can never put money on the value of a life. While this money is really welcome, I ask the Minister to have another look at this scheme and see what we can do, because people have been hurt. We need to try to make it right as best we can as a Government.
What we see in this proposed redress scheme is the presence of too many experts but not enough expertise. In the context of what the State did to mothers and babies, it is unthinkable that this Government would task anybody with formulating this scheme without applying the necessary expertise on the effects of abandonment, separation and removal. The work of psychologist, John Bowlby, on attachment would be a good place to start, not to mention Nancy Verrier's writings on adoption and the separation in The Primal Wound. I expect the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth would be awash with psychologists' advice as the horrors of the mother and baby homes institutions, the laundries and the trafficking of children to better Catholicism or America have been unearthed.
As a woman, mother and female politician, I cannot overstate that intimate knowledge of the effects of the detention and the effect of abandonment and removal of newborns and young children should be a prerequisite for any of this kind of work with the Department, especially given the psychic wounds they inflict on the mother and the child and on later generations of that family. Anybody who has even a nodding acquaintance with these issues would not have produced does this travesty. This is not redress. The odious, six-month rule makes this a complete rejection; another insult; another humiliation; another cruelty; another denial of suffering and wrongdoing; more downplaying; and more loss.
That loss is ours, as citizens, because this is being presented in our name to women and children whose humanity was denied and whose most integral relationship, that most sacred relationship between the mother and child, was minimised and severed. Sometimes it was severed for money and other times for ease but mostly it was done for respectability and because of the patriarchal idea that motherhood was only valid for those with husbands and that no woman should have the cheek or the chance to rear a child on her own. This patriarchy was not peculiar to us on this island but ours was holy and loved to be holier than thou.
Last week, a woman contacted me about the scheme. Her name is Mary. I wrote back to her to say we would, of course, reject it. Mary then wrote again to tell me her secret, which she has not yet told her partner or any of her friends. This secret is that she was born in Bessborough and was there for several months. She has been following the mother and baby home horror show but the first time she actually cried was when she heard the Minister on RTÉ last week. She told me that, all her life, she has been plagued by a recurring dream of a building with high windows. She wakes upset from this dream. She only realised in recent days that it is a memory of Bessborough. The redress scheme tells Mary that she was too young to remember and that her suffering does not matter. She matters to us. People want to know who they are and where they came from. It is a basic primal need. They want their history, identity and story as an established right rather than a favour granted. They reject the implication that human life starts at six months. Earlier this year, I told the Minister that it was a manipulative and noxious act by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael to lay this damning and toxic legacy at his feet and to put him in charge of the skeletons in their shared closet.
Mary asked me to ask a question of an tAire. She said that, if the Minister is okay with babies under six months being abused and receiving no redress, it follows that babies under six months old in the septic tanks mean nothing to him either. She asked me to ask him whether that was the case. I will ask him that but I will go one step further. If the Minister does not believe babies under six months old suffer trauma, is it his intention to leave the skeletal remains of the Tuam babies aged under six months in the septic tank? Will he be removing only those children aged six months and over? Are only they worthy of a decent burial? Will all those aged under six months be left behind in the septic tank of a convent and the sewerage of a rotten state? The Minister should think about that because the answer to whether he should accept this is to be found in that question.
This redress scheme comes after years of shocking headlines and devastating revelations. It comes after countless survivors bravely telling their stories, incredible work by journalists and researchers, a deeply flawed commission of investigation and a consultation process run by the current Minister. After all of that, it is simply unbelievable that the scheme does not do survivors justice. After everything they have been through, the very least they deserve is a comprehensive scheme that properly compensates them for the State's violation of their human rights. It should include all survivors and properly recognise years of trauma with a dignified payment process. It should strengthen people's right to seek justice and provide a clear path to hold individuals, religious orders and pharmaceutical companies to account. I cannot comprehend why the Minister's scheme is so deficient. It is exclusionary, insufficient and contrary to the findings of the Minister's own consultation. Earlier this week, I raised the significant issues of the exclusion of survivors based on an arbitrary six-month barrier, the limitation to certain institutions, the requirement for survivors to sign a legal waiver and the lack of accountability. There are several matters I did not get to raise properly on Tuesday. I will address these now.
The first matter is that of the payment rates. The Government's documents state that it is not possible to monetise the suffering or the losses experienced and that the financial payment represents a contribution acknowledging the hurt and the suffering. The reality is that any scheme of this nature will involve monetary amounts but these rates are, quite frankly, disgraceful. There is to be €5,000 for mothers - and it is only mothers - who spent less than three months in an institution. It is hard to comprehend this number when the courts award individuals multiples of that amount for slips and falls. There is no rationale for this amount. The interdepartmental group's report gives some context and then the figures just appear. How were the figures reached? Is there any explanation for that? Despite the gravity of the crimes committed and the trauma and suffering that resulted, only €5,000 is being offered. Furthermore, the scheme makes no mention of pensions. There is also nothing about periodic payments and, most pressingly, immediate interim payments. The report by OAK Consulting commissioned by the Minister has been completely disregarded in this respect.
Speaking on Tuesday and again today, the Minister referenced the consultation, but only when it suited him. He asked survivors to engage with the process and to share again details of their abuse. Some 561 individuals participated in good faith, of whom 62% were children when in these institutions and 25% were mothers. They called for an immediate interim payment and an enhanced pension or periodic payments, particularly for those who would not qualify for a contributory pension due to their life circumstances. They also called for assessment of additional sums based on separate categories of harm suffered by individuals and free genetic testing and health screening to compensate for the lack of family medical history. None of these features in the scheme. Instead, there is to be a general payment and a separate category for a work payment, which is very narrowly defined and which does not reflect the scale of the labour mothers and children were forced into.
In the Minister's closing statement, will he please outline why he has chosen to ignore these aspects of the OAK Consulting report? Why were survivors put through another emotionally and psychologically stressful process, only to be disregarded? Why did the Minister even decide to carry out a consultation if he was going to ignore its findings?
My second point also relates to how the Government and Civil Service understand or, more accurately, misunderstand reparation schemes. The Minister has explained to us that this will be the largest scheme of its kind in the history of the State in terms of the number of beneficiaries. This suggests that the scheme is implicitly good because of its scale but let us be clear; the scheme is the largest of its kind because of the number of people involved and because of the wrongs perpetrated by this State in conjunction with religious orders against young mothers, especially the more vulnerable, and children. This is not supposed to be an act of kindness. It is supposed to be an act of justice. The Government is not giving the survivors compensation but providing them with what is owed to them. Unfortunately, it is falling very short of what is right.
Part of the justification for the scheme and its low payments is that survivors will not be subject to an adversarial system. The Minister keeps saying this. The interdepartmental group's report reveals the mindset that still pervades the Civil Service and which the Government seems happy to go along with. They can only conceive of two options. People are expected either to take a small set amount or to go through an adversarial process. In other words, if seeking justice for human rights abuse, family separation, forced labour or racial or ethnic abuse, you will have to prove it. There is no mention of a system whereby reparations are based on believing survivors and accepting the trauma and abuse they suffered. We all know what happened in those institutions. Of course, we believe them now. We should trust them to give an honest account and be compensated accordingly. Why is that option for redress not considered? There are no words.
While this scheme is disgraceful and glaringly ignores the perspectives of survivors on specific issues, it is still only a draft. The Minister has indicated a willingness to improve the scheme before the legislation is presented. Will he today commit to the following for the sake of the thousands of survivors and their families, many of whom are watching these proceedings very carefully? Will he remove the outrageous requirement for individuals to have spent at least six months as a child in an institution? Will he remove the legal waiver and allow survivors the right to both a small amount of money and the right to seek proper legal redress? Will he allow individuals from all known mother and baby and county institutions to be eligible? Will he commit to increasing the set payment and providing a non-adversarial process for individuals to receive additional amounts to reflect the abuse and harm they suffered, immediately bring in interim non-conditional payments and commit to holding the religious orders and pharmaceutical companies to account?
Thousands of women passed through the doors of mother and baby homes in this country. From the testimonials we have heard from the many survivors, we know that their trauma was unspeakable. Women were abused and forced to give birth in horrific circumstances and were treated like they were dirty, like they were sinners and as if they had committed the worst crimes imaginable, when, in fact, they were the victims. I do not know what financial price can be put on that level of trauma. How do we repay a woman who had her child taken from her and illegally adopted, perhaps never to be seen again? How do we value that? In reality, we know that no amount of financial redress will ever remedy the unspeakable damage and abuse that many women and their babies suffered. Even the largest sum of money pales into insignificance.
It is undoubtable that for many women the trauma they suffered at the hands of the church and State at such an early stage in life had a profound impact on their health, well-being, ability to work and ability just to lead a normal life. I welcome that financial redress and access to medical cards will support these women in this way. However, many women who were institutionalised in mother and baby homes are growing older. They have lived long lives and some have poor health. I implore the Minister to ensure we do not delay in administering redress. These women and their children need our support now, not next year or the year after. We cannot delay.
In addition to financial redress, what we can offer these women and babies is acknowledgement, recognition and an apology - sincere acknowledgement and recognition and a sincere apology - because they were institutionalised, abused and, in many cases, women had their babies ripped from their arms. Perhaps no apology will ever be enough for many of the women and children born in these institutions, and I do not blame them for that. We must continue to acknowledge and recognise the experiences of these women at every opportunity we have. We have made great strides in beginning to shine some light on what is a very dark period in Ireland's all too recent history.
Today is a milestone but beyond today, we need to continue to listen to women and their children who were born in mother and baby homes. We must keep listening as long as they wish to tell their story; we owe that to them. We must also recognise, however, that many women do not want their story told. They opted to come forward under confidential circumstances, perhaps because the people with whom they share their lives and homes do not even know about the trauma they have experienced. Others may have come forward with their stories and wanted to use that as an opportunity for closure, because retelling the story again and again may be too much for them. It may be too much emotionally and physically and it may be draining to relive the trauma. We must also respect those who do not want to speak at all and who never came forward, because we owe them that and they owe us nothing.
Yesterday, I heard Professor Emilie Pine of University College Dublin, UCD, speaking about an oral history project she has been working on with the Christine Buckley Centre for Education and Support. The centre offers support to survivors of institutional abuse. Professor Pine said that those using the service often find that they tell their stories as part of tribunals, court cases and inquiries. Survivors feel their stories are then locked away and, once again, taken away from them. Professor Pine and her colleagues have started a listening project where they sit with survivors of institutional abuse for a long time and record their life stories. There are two major benefits to this. First, the person receives a physical copy of their experiences, their life story. Another copy is kept in the National Folklore Collection in UCD. This means we will not always be calling on survivors to relive their trauma and retell their stories when they do not want to. Some survivors do want to do that, but not all. People who have never told their family or friends what they have been through can, through this mechanism, of their life story that they can share with whomever they wish, whenever they wish. In some ways, it limits the need to constantly relive what can only be especially harrowing memories. It is a novel way of supporting those who want to speak and be listened to and not have their stories locked away. I want to put on record this important work.
I welcome the Minister’s decision to administer redress to mothers who give birth in these homes, regardless of how long they were in a home. That is important. It is not possible to place a threshold or benchmark on people's trauma. However, some of the children born in mother and baby homes will not receive redress and this sends a difficult and mixed message. They may not remember that time in their lives, but the very fact that their first home was a place of such cruelty deserves acknowledgement and recognition. Once again, I do not think that money is the issue here. It is about acknowledgement, and the message being sent that it is necessary to have spent six months in a home to be eligible for financial redress. In my eyes, and in the eyes of many others I am sure, one second spent in a mother and baby home was one second too long.
I appreciate the work that has gone into this scheme and I thank the Minister for his engagement with survivors and the compassion and understanding he has shown. I would, however, like to see all the mothers and children who spent time in mother and baby homes being entitled to financial redress. That is the very least they deserve.
Cuirim fáilte roimh an deis labhairt ar an ábhar seo. Is ábhar an-tábhachtach é.
I have had a number of engagements with the Minister on this issue and I believe he wants to do right by survivors, the victims of the terrible regime that was the mother and baby home system. I urge him to resist the conservative forces of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. It is not too late to do the right thing.
It grates on me to refer to those institutions as "homes", given the terrible things that happened in them. The State abdicated its responsibilities and turned a blind eye when the church stepped in. Do not get me wrong; I am not church bashing. Several denominations were involved and God knows what might have happened without them. Considering some of the things that did happen, it would be fair to say you would not treat a dog like that. There was little or no oversight, and the result has been the tales of pain and misery we have read in the report of the mother and baby homes commission.
I read a book last year entitled Down by Anna Liffeyby a man from Dublin called James Connolly. James’s mother died when he was three years old and he was cared for by his 13-year-old sister while his father worked to support the family. The day the “cruelty people”, as he calls them, entered the home while his father was out working was the end of their life as a family. He went to St. Mary’s Home in Drogheda, four of his sisters went to St. Martha's Industrial School in Monaghan, while his brother was sent to the Artane Industrial School. I was struck by one story in the book. As a four-year-old, James was led away to a big black car that was to tear him away from his family. On the way, he met the caretaker of the building, mopping and using Jeyes Fluid. He patted James on the head and wished him the best of luck. James turned 80 a few months ago and to this day, whenever he smells Jeyes Fluid, he is transported back to the landing of the tenement where he lived in Benburb Street. He recalls the trauma vividly from the age of four and it still hurts today. While not directly related to the mother and baby homes, I tell this story to show that trauma can stay with children from a very young age. Even the knowledge of how they and their mother were treated can have a profound effect on their mental health and outlook on life.
We must take account of this trauma and the Government must ensure that all survivors are included in the redress proposals. We must ensure the needs of survivors are respected in the Government's redress scheme. This includes urgently reviewing issues with the scheme that survivors have identified. These include aspects such as the time-based criteria, the exclusion of children who were boarded out from access to enhanced medical cards and the failure to include some institutions.
It is an absolute disgrace to try to exclude children who were boarded out, children like James Sugrue from County Kerry. I cried too when I heard his story. He told of how he was boarded out as free farm labour and of the abuse he suffered when he shared a bed for 11 years with an adult son of his foster parents. Unfortunately James's story was not an isolated incident. It is time to show respect for mother and baby home survivors and their families. They have been denied it for far too long. It is time to stand up for survivors and ensure that their needs are respected. Survivors barely came forward and told their stories because they wanted to see justice. However, many of them have been left feeling deeply frustrated and let down by the appalling way in which the redress scheme has been designed. The scheme is an insult to survivors and totally fails to consider their needs. Sinn Féin stands with the survivors and calls on the Government to change the redress scheme to be fairer to them. It is vital that the Government engages with survivors, not just as a box-ticking exercise but to listen genuinely to them and act urgently to meet their needs. The Government has treated them with complete contempt time and again and it is long overdue that they be respected and get what they deserve. I am begging the Minister to do something.
There are many things we cannot change in the past even though we would want to. The past is the past and the present is the present. For survivors of mother and baby institutions it was a deeply painful past. Mother and baby homes were institutions of the State and the Catholic Church. They were for "fallen women" to be banished and punished for the crime of having children out of wedlock. I will get to my own personal experience of that. There are many flaws in the scheme, particularly around the arbitrary condition of time spent in these institutions. I do not really understand why somebody who had spent less than six months in one does not have any kind of compensation or redress. It is an insult. I am not blaming the Minster personally. He is not to blame for the crimes of the past but he can address the future.
My mother gave evidence in the commission of investigation. She spent a period of time in one of the institutions. It was extremely traumatic for my mother and my sister, who I met eventually. My mother's account was quite harrowing. Her baby daughter was taken away from her and she was not to see her daughter for 30-odd years. I will always remember to the day I die when my mother found out she was going to meet her daughter again. I will never forget it. She was crying and joyous in one sense that eventually the daughter who was taken away from her, she was going to meet again. It was a very painful time in all our lives. In some way there was the juxtaposition of that with also meeting a person who my mother thought was gone; we met her again. There is a lot to be said about what has happened. There is so much pain out there. In some ways the scheme can redress some of the financial compensation for those women who went through this pretty horrible process. Hopefully the women who went through those institutions will have some sort of sense in their own minds that they are recognised by the State. Terrible wrongs were done - terrible wrongs that in some ways cannot be reversed - but at least the State has said they were terrible wrongs and that it will try to make it right.
I thank Deputy Gino Kenny for sharing his very personal story with us this evening.
In the 11 months since the report of the commission of investigation was published the Minister advanced legislation to allow for the exhumation in June, introduced draft legislation to allow access to birth and early life information and to open the commission's archive to over 300 survivors. I acknowledge his commitment in his statement tonight to establishing a national memorial and records centre related to institutional trauma during the twentieth century as well as the creation of a children's fund to honour the memory of children who died in mother and baby homes by providing supports for children who experience disadvantage in the present day. I also welcome the Government's proposal for a mother and baby institutions payment scheme and action plan for survivors and former residents of mother and baby homes and county home institutions. The Minister has outlined that this would provide almost 34,000 former residents of institutions with a financial payment and that is to be acknowledged and welcomed.
It is important that the Government continues to act swiftly to progress the legislation underpinning the scheme and ensure that the application for former and vulnerable survivors is prioritised as my colleague, Deputy Murnane O'Connor, outlined earlier. I would be failing in my own duties as a public representative if I did not draw the Minister's attention to my shock on the exclusion of children who spent less than six months in the homes and those who were boarded out to foster homes. This is a real departure from what the commission of investigation has recommended. The mothers are not excluded so why are the children time-bound? This particular term of reference leaves behind a cohort who were equally traumatised, neglected and abused. Yes, the Minister is providing them with access to information, their birth names and birth mothers, but why are we excluding them from redress?
I want to tell the Minister about Eugene, a very kind, jolly man who carries no bitterness about his journey in life. He has a very similar story to tell as those some of my colleagues have described tonight. He too was born into a mother and baby home, a man who eventually found his birth mother but was further traumatised by the fact that after only two short meetings with her, she could not continue to meet him because of the pain it resurrected within herself from her own experience. Eugene is one of those people who will be excluded from the redress scheme. He has found himself being retraumatised because of that. In his own words, how can we say his pain does not match that of someone who does meet the criteria? How can we use time to measure his hurt? I ask the Minister to provide a pathway of redress for everyone who has suffered at the hands of church and State. We cannot say that on one hand we are accepting and acknowledging that people's rights were violated and on the other hand that we are going to exclude them from redress. I appeal to the Minister in whatever way he can not to exclude anyone.
I welcome the opportunity to discuss the Government's proposed redress scheme for people who spent time in mother and baby homes. As the Taoiseach noted in his apology earlier this year, the State failed these women and children. It did not uphold its duty of care or the basic standards of humanity. An apology alone is not enough. There must be accountability, redress and justice for everyone who went through a mother and baby home. The Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, stated earlier this week that there are no easy answers when it comes to providing a remedy for the significant grief and anguish caused to the women and children who spent time in these institutions. No financial payment or service will ever take back the injustice, inhumanity and hurt suffered by these women and children after decades of failure.
It is almost a year since the report of the commission of investigation was published. It is still a matter of regret that the commission has refused to deal with legitimate queries from survivors, public representatives and the media. At the time of publication, the Government made commitments to respond to the needs and concerns of those who spent time in the institutions. Since then, legislation has been advanced to allow for the proper identification and burial of the babies at Tuam, to provide access to the birth and early-life information of people who were adopted and to open the commission’s archive to more than 300 survivors. Work is under way to establish a national memorial and records centre relating to institutional trauma and to create a children’s fund to honour the memory of the children who died in mother and baby homes by providing supports to children who experience disadvantage in the present day.
On 16 November, the Government approved proposals for a mother and baby institutions payment scheme and published an action plan for survivors and former residents of mother and baby and county home institutions. The scheme will provide approximately 34,000 former residents of the institutions with a financial payment and 19,000 with an enhanced medical card. The scope of the scheme goes well beyond the recommendations of the final commission report. The commission had set an arbitrary benchmark whereby a pregnant woman would have had to have been resident in an institution for six months before being eligible for redress. I am glad to see the Government rejected this recommendation and expanded the scheme to include all mothers who went through an institution. The scheme will also include children, both unaccompanied and accompanied, who spent more than six months in an institution.
There are very welcome aspects to the scheme. Survivors I spoke to wanted a scheme that was non-adversarial, simple and based on trust, a scheme that would accept their lived experience and deal with matters promptly without long delays. Many of them do not have time. It is important that we acknowledge both their sharing of their stories with the commission and the stories of hurt and pain shared this evening through colleagues.
Significant contributions to the scheme will be sought from relevant religious congregations. I hope they will move quickly to deal with their obligations.
It must be acknowledged that not everyone is satisfied with the composition of this scheme. The scheme does not deal with children who were boarded out. Some children who were boarded out spent more than six months in an institution and will be eligible for the scheme, but I ask the Minister to consider what can be done for the cohort who spent less than six months in an institution.
Overall, I welcome the Government’s commitment to continue to engage with the women and children who went through these institutions to meet their important needs, including through counselling for all survivors, access to information and records, memorialisation, financial payments, health supports and other key initiatives.
I acknowledge the dreadful experience of the survivors and extend my sympathies to them. I thank them for the messages they sent to all of us over the past several months and years.
The response of the State to those who suffered such immense brutality at the hands of the church has been nothing short of a national disgrace. Sadly, this seems to be the way that successive Governments have treated survivors. Earlier today, members of the Irish Thalidomide Association were outside the gates of Leinster House marking 60 years since the international withdrawal of thalidomide. The Government continues to fight thalidomide survivors in the courts and denies them the justice they deserve. Thalidomide survivors are another group abandoned by successive Governments in their pursuit of justice, but they fight on seeking the apology, justice and fairness they deserve from the State.
The horrific details of the abuses carried out by the church on behalf of the State within the mother and baby homes seem to know no limit or end. They relate to a truly horrific, dark and shameful part of Ireland’s history. However, to thousands upon thousands of people across this State and further afield, it is far from history. They continue to live with the pain and suffering they experienced in the institutions. They live with the pain of not knowing and wondering what happened to their loved ones who were so cruelly ripped from their arms. The constant delays and barriers in the way of the survivors must be removed. The State should be providing the survivors of mother and baby homes and their families with every resource possible for them to get the justice they deserve.
It is shameful that the Government’s proposals are excluding the children who were boarded out. In so many cases, these children were treated like slaves, and so many experienced sexual abuse. The creation of a hierarchy of abuse by the State scheme is wrong. It adds to the suffering of those who have suffered enough. Excluding children who were boarded out and children who spent less than six months in the appalling institutions is simply the Government telling these survivors that their abuse and suffering just do not count. I strongly urge the Minister to include those who were in homes for less than six months. Their treatment is just compounding the injustice and unfairness.
I acknowledge that the Minister did go further than the commission, which must be welcomed. I, like others, seek an interim payment for older survivors. I cannot see why this cannot be made. I urge the Minister to fast-track it.
I pay tribute to Deputy Gino Kenny on his speech. He always speaks from the heart. He made a very important contribution to the record of the Chamber today.
Cuirim fáilte roimh an deis labhairt ar an ábhar seo. I, like most Deputies, have received emails and telephone calls from survivors, including people born in a mother and baby home and women who gave birth in one.
I want to discuss the issue of redress, but before I do I want to focus on what is perhaps a more important issue, that is, the issue of access to records. Survivors of mother and baby homes are growing older. Those who are still searching for their biological mothers are acutely aware that their chances of finding them are reducing and passing by the day. All that the survivors I have spoken to want is their files. To them, access to the files is more important than redress in many cases. I understand there are concerns over EU GDPR rules but, for God’s sake, people in our country want access to their birth certificates and medical records. We are being told the problem is an EU law. If so, it is a serious legislative overreach by the European Union in Ireland. We should be investigating legal ways to challenge the European law on this matter to make sure people get what we know is the right thing: their own records.
To apportion redress to survivors based on the length of time they spent in an institution is cruel in many ways. It is especially and doubly cruel to those who do not have the records, do not know when they left the home they were in and therefore do not know exactly how long they were there for.
Before I get into the details of my concern over redress, I want to talk briefly about Bessborough. What I am about to share may sound strange. A woman contacted me in the past year and asked me whether I was aware that a mother and baby home still operates in Ireland. I was sceptical but knew I had a responsibility to carry out further research. When we talk about Bessborough mother and baby, we do so as if it existed in the past. I urge Deputies to do some research on this, however. There is today a Bessborough Centre, supported by the State. It takes in women, mostly unmarried, on a residential basis for parental assessment. The State determines, after observation, whether these women get to keep their babies. This happens today and it is paid for by the State. The building, which can be seen on Google Maps, looks identical to the mother and baby home. State intervention often kicks in when the woman is pregnant. I found this really hard to believe when I did the research. Last year, Tusla confirmed to me that there were 127 unborn children on the child protection notification scheme. It is an unbelievable fact that there are unborn children under child protection in this State today. I do not need to impugn any of the people who work in the modern-day Bessborough Centre and do not know enough about the organisation to make any judgment. There are many at the coalface of social work in this State doing really good and often impossible work of value to help people, but the echoes from the past in the Bessborough case are startling. Does the Minister not agree?
I raised today on Leaders’ Questions the issue that 200 children known to child-protection services in this State have died in the past decade.
We need an urgent debate on that issue. There is a shocking rate of mortality among children currently in State care.
Going back to the issue of redress, an Aontú representative for Tuam, Luke Silke, has done a good bit of research on the Glenamaddy home. Earlier today he showed me an article referenced in the commission's report. It is from The Connacht Tribunein 1924 and it describes the home and the children. The language is upsetting. The article states:
There are walls which reek with damp in winter, that have not seen the mason's trowel or the painter's brush for years. There are long, narrow, and gloomy corridors. Water has to be carried for the children's ablutions. There is not a single permanent bath, and the babies have to be bathed in portable fixtures.
The article states in an earlier passage:
They are the waifs and strays, the orphans and the abandoned, the nameless little ones of the county. ... Under the care of Bon Secour nuns, who have been charged with the task of lifting the blight from their young lives and sending them into the world cleansed and self-respecting members of society, they are to grow up in happiness and peace.
However, many of them did not grow up in happiness and peace. Every single one of them, regardless of the length of time they spent in that home, deserve compensation. The best most of these babies could have hoped for was to be sent out to families. Many who were sent out to families were abused and forced to perform labour and housework. The children's home in Glenamaddy, Galway, was operated by the same organisation that later operated the Tuam home. It was in operation only from 1922 to 1924, but during that time 50 babies died in the home. The Minister's redress scheme offers nothing, not a single red cent, to the survivors of mother and baby homes who were farmed out as children into families and in some cases treated appallingly. His redress package does nothing for them. Neither he nor I can attempt to comprehend how much some of these people must have suffered. Yet what his package does is place an economic value on their experience and tells them their experience is without value and without cost to them in their lives.
The commission makes one very striking point about these children in the final report. It states: "Such a child would have been especially unwelcome in a farm house where the marriage of the inheriting son depended on clearing the home of non-inheriting siblings." That gives us an idea of some of the motivations behind the relationships that existed in these places. I urge the Minister not to forget these children.
I am glad to have an opportunity to speak on this particularly important issue, having done so in the past. I concur with others in acknowledging the various people who have told their stories here tonight. It is important we hear the stories and listen to them carefully. They serve us in good stead in imbuing us with a new sense of purpose and a recognition of the need to respond to issues of this nature before it becomes an absolute necessity and a shame to the country.
We have a very poor record as a country on dealing with situations like these. We will say that this would not happen today. Then we look at the rest of Europe, where it happened as well. It was not unique to this country. It happened all over the globe. Amazing parallels are taking place as we speak. I refer, for instance, to the treatment of refugees, the people we have heard about in the past 24 hours, who were drowned while attempting to seek refuge in another country. Nobody stands up and says to them that we will have to do something solid for them or that we will deal with their plight now because some people do not want other people converging on what they see as their place. That gives us an excuse to remove ourselves from the debate and to conclude that we are doing enough, that we can do enough or that we will do more.
The fact of the matter is that society turns its back on people in such situations. It turned its back on the women and the babies at issue in this conversation. It turned its back many times over the years. People condemn the churches, and they were in some way, to a greater or lesser extent, involved, but I am of the age that lived during that time, and I assure the House that society was well and truly to blame for a lot of the things that happened by turning its back on its siblings, turning its back on its neighbours, turning its back on itself and turning its back on something that was obvious, that needed to be dealt with and about which everybody knew but for which nobody wanted to take responsibility or blame.
Many books have been written about this, and rightly so. Many stories have been told in this House. Many stories were written about the famous case in Kerry, where one person, a hackney driver at the time, had the courage to stand up and challenge what was happening because he did not think it was right. He brought the expectant mother from one hospital to another and was refused again and again admission into the hospitals in order that she could have her baby. She died, and permission for her to body to lie in the church was refused. That man stood his ground. Society can change and stand up when it is challenged, and he stood up. It was possible then. Not everybody did it, and there were many absentees, but when the challenge took place, that man won. The baby in question is still alive to this day and was in a mother and baby home and a laundry and lived through all that. All these things happened in our memory. It is not ancient history at all.
When we are shocked by the things that have happened, we should always remember that these things still happen around us. Atrocious things happen to vulnerable women and children, even as we speak. I refer to the trafficking in women and children that goes on all the time in a society that does not really raise a whole lot about it because it does not impinge directly on people's territory at the time. Because of that, we let it go. However, these things continue to happen. It is not something in respect of which we can cover ourselves in glory. It is a fact that all societies have their faults. We accept that. At all times we should challenge ourselves. We should acknowledge that these things can and will happen again if we do not do something about it. We are doing something about it retrospectively in this case.
I acknowledge the work the Minister has done. He is a sincere and genuine person. He has been given a difficult job to do. He has done a good job so far. I ask him not to leave anybody out. That is the message I have to give because that is always what happens. Even with the best things you ever do, if you leave somebody out, you will be remembered for what is left out - and by the people who are left out - rather than for all the good you did. I know that that is not the Minister's intention and I know that various cases will be made to rationalise leaving some out on the basis of one thing or another, whatever it may be. That is not a wise route to go. The danger in that kind of situation is that a very short time later people will come back and ask, "Why was that done?" They will say it was an injustice. There is no use in addressing one injustice and creating another one. That will also be remembered and will continue to affect and impact the people who are directly affected at that time and who may be affected by a similar situation at some time in the future.
I hope we have learnt a lot in the time that has gone by from all the stories we have been told and what we have known from our own experiences. We now very belatedly recognise the things that happened that should not have happened, the things that could have been averted and were not, the things that continued for a long time, repeating again and again the injustices and the hurt and further exacerbating the feelings of loneliness, isolation and desolation of both the mothers and the babies.
We should not allow ourselves, for whatever reason, in any way to avoid accepting in full the need to address the situation in its entirety. I ask the Minister to leave nobody out, to do the very best he can and to recognise that by creating a further injustice now, even though it may well be rationalised and may be justified in some quarters - whatever those quarters be - we need to be inclusive at this stage.
I am aware that some Members in the House regularly address Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, and everybody else who stands on the Government side of the House, as being harsh, right-wing and impervious to the feelings of others. I remind everybody, and for anyone who wants to read the history, that over the years Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, together with the Labour Party, produced and progressed some of the most innovative legislation ever in the State. They brought us a long way, and there was nobody else to do it at the time. They broke many moulds and got very little recognition. They were very often criticised for it but they did it. They did it because it was the right thing to do. I will conclude by appealing to the Minister to include in the scheme those who might be left out, according to what we have heard, but we hope it is not true.
I thank the Rural Independent Group for giving me this opportunity. On another occasion I may have a debate with Deputy Durkan on his analysis that we were all in this together, and the ignoring of the huge element of power and the imbalance of power that was there. As someone who proudly comes from Galway city, let me tell the Deputy that I was raised in a city that had two industrial schools, with which we were threatened on a regular basis if you are a boy or a girl, in Lenaboy and Lower Salthill. Then, if you were really bad you were threatened with Letterfrack. If that was not enough, there was the Magdalen home in the city. We then go eastwards to Tuam, not to mention Loughrea. There is a whole debate there in relation to power.
Perhaps ironic is not the word, but it is ironic that since the sterling work of Catherine Corless beginning in 2014 and onwards, more words have been spoken in this Dáil on this issue than in the history of the State, including the time period when since these institutions were at their best, if I could use that word in the most cynical and sarcastic manner. We have had two debates this week alone.
I thank the Minister for his work to date, but unfortunately I cannot agree with the scheme he has come up with. He said:
I have heard countless stories of horrendous suffering. I cannot begin to imagine the bravery it takes to share those accounts.
It takes such bravery to survive these institutions and still have a sense of humour and a joie de vivre, and still have enough energy to say "listen not just to us but also listen so that society can improve". We need to match that bravery with proper actions. We need to make the language mean something. I say this every week in Dáil Éireann. We need to match their bravery and we do not need to perpetuate further discrimination, which unfortunately this scheme is doing. While there are many good things in the Minister's speech, he also spoke about the Government being "an imperfect vehicle for righting the wrongs of the past". Imperfect or not, it is the only vehicle now that can make restitution for past wrongs. We are not doing that with this scheme.
I welcome the opportunity today to have a second bite of the cherry after the previous debate and I offer my gratitude to Sinn Féin for that. The Minister has failed to tell us why he ignored the consultation process, as has been pointed out by Deputy Holly Cairns and other Deputies. Why have a consultation process and then ignore it? Some 85% of respondents said to not discriminate, but that is exactly what the Minister has done. He has come to the Chamber today with a detailed speech. If I had more time, I would go into the positive aspects of the action plan, for example with regard to memorisation. Before I finish, I may come back to Galway in relation to the use of Lenaboy, which has remained empty since 2011. Ten years later that industrial school is still empty. I will come back to that. Why ignore the consultation process? That brings everything into disrepute and adds to the distrust. We all participated in that process. I did so in my office. We went there in trust, and then the Minister ignores the findings of it.
Where has the six-month criterion come from? When I spoke earlier this week, I tried to find out it where it came from. The interdepartmental group had no expertise on it. The Attorney General was represented on it, as was the State Claims Agency. This gives an indication of what was going on here. There was no expertise from the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission. It made a submission, but it was not there because the Minister chose the instrument and the framework of an interdepartmental committee. That excluded all of the other expertise because an interdepartmental committee cannot, by its very nature, have anybody from outside the Department included. That was a mistake. We were going to get this type of report from them. It was a foregone conclusion. They tell us that the six-month issue would have cost implications as well as a risk of creating legislative and equity difficulties that could ultimately derail attempts to provide supports to those who require them. This is what they tell us as one of the justifications but I do not understand that logic. They repeat that on other pages where they say that such extensions could create risk. I believe that more than 24,000 children would have come within the six-month timeframe. My reading of that language is that it is simply to save money, with no understanding whatsoever of what it meant to be in a mother and baby home. At this point, I ask the Minister to please reflect on that, to review it and to listen to those of us who represent the people on the ground.
I believe the Minister received a letter from all of the psychologists and psychotherapists. Did he respond to that and has he looked at it?
I do not believe there should be a waiver. I have seen the arguments for and against it, and I am aware that it was teased out. The money is so small. Perhaps the Minister will clarify the implications of the waiver for me. If a person gets €5,000 and signs the waiver, does that mean he or she cannot take an action in relation to records or other aspects? That will need to be clarified very clearly. I do not believe there should be a waiver at all.
I welcome that there is no gagging clause, but it is hard to imagine that we are at such a base level that we have to welcome the lack of a gagging clause and the fact that somebody is free to come out and say that they got €5,000 under this payment scheme. On the interim payments, will the Minister please confirm at the very least that there will be interim payments and periodic payments?
The Minister has said that he goes way beyond the commission of inquiry report. Will the Minister confirm what his view of that report is now? I do not mean the body of the work, which I have praised, but the actual conclusions and the executive summaries, which I believe are appalling and unacceptable. Has the Minister read the alternative conclusions from the alternative group?
On redress schemes to date, I had the privilege of being a member of the Committee of Public Accounts when we had a review of the first redress scheme. The Comptroller and Auditor General pointed out the importance of having a post hocevaluation of the redress scheme. Was that ever conducted? Did the Minister learn from it? Can we see that analysis?
With regard to the maladministration and the Magdalen homes, the Ombudsman in his report said:
In order to ensure that any future restorative justice or redress schemes benefit from the learning from the operation of this and other schemes, guidance should be produced in respect of the development and operation of such schemes generally.
Has that guidance been produced? This is something as basic as guidance to learn from the mistakes of the past before we repeat them.
I welcome that the Government did not oppose the cross-party motion last night. There is, however, no commitment in the Minister's speech to include all of those who are excluded: the children who spent less than six months in a mother and baby institution; the children who were boarded out; and the children and mothers who were in institutions not covered by the mother and baby homes commission. I support the calls here tonight about the interim payments. All survivors should get an enhanced medical card.
As we have all said our piece, it would be appropriate and I want to finish with an email from Alison, an adoptee from St. Patrick's Mother and Baby Home and to have it as the last voice to come in, in this part of the debate. I will use most of my time to read it into the Dáil record:
The Minister, by leaving out survivors who were in those homes for less than six months and those who were boarded out has caused severe trauma or re-trauma to all those concerned. He has completely ignored all advice and requests by adoptees to have an all-inclusive scheme of redress. It is an exclusionary and divisive redress scheme that has, yet again, ignored the trauma that many adoptees have suffered in both early life and, in most cases, trauma that continued into adulthood.
The violent separation that happened in those mother and baby homes leaves a deep and dark imprint on a baby that is there for all their lives regardless of their adoption. The signs of early trauma are there for all who care to read it but, Minister, you appear to have dismissed that and us as a result. It has caused us as a group to be sickened to our stomachs when we heard your speech on what is quite simply supposed to be one of the greatest days in history, when one of the biggest wrongs was righted with a monumental redress scheme but that is not what you have proposed, Minister. You have opted to exclude 24,000 of us, mostly adoptees.
It is quite simple when you look at how difficult it is today to adopt a child - in many cases five to ten years to get approval. Why? Because the prospective parents are vetted to a point that their every move is literally examined. They are taught how to deal with an adopted child. None of this happened in our time. We were put into families who, quite simply, were not equipped to deal with our needs. This compounded our trauma irrespective of whether they were good people or not. Due to the anxiety and suffering we experienced in that violent separation, we needed extra care. None of this has been acknowledged by putting in the six-month barrier to redress.
Did anybody care? No. [And she asks] Why? We were moneymaking businesses for the State and church and no one can deny that. Check the figures. This is why it makes me cry when I see the Minister’s monumental €800 million redress scheme. On the sweat and pain of our mothers and the sale of babies and the donations that flooded into the mother and baby homes from grateful parents, it is underestimated that the nuns made millions on us all yet no one has really highlighted that. It is estimated that the homes mentioned made the equivalent of €1 billion in today’s money. Where is that being talked about? What text has brought that to the public’s attention or survivors. You have to search. No one wants that to come to light. How is that possible that no one in government is talking about this in the redress scheme? Tell me why those that have illegally incarcerated women, forced them into slave labour - our mothers - and those having sold all of us adoptees because that is what it was, trafficking, why have those, the perpetrators, not been condemned to pay towards this redress scheme or condemned, full stop? Where are the human rights obligations being upheld in this redress scheme? By saying that the State is coming up with €800 million makes it look like the taxpayer will have to fund this scheme. Are we being deliberately pitting us against each other and pitting us against the taxpayer in case we again manage to get backing against this paltry redress scheme?
The Catholic Church's worth in Ireland today is underestimated at €20 billion. Where is their contribution instead of trying to save money on the 24,000 excluded? You had the time, the power and the leverage to get concrete sums from each part of the clergy involved. The Bon Secours alone are worth over €1 billion. To all of us, how would you like to spend your life from the time you turn 18 going to every agency concerned, begging for scraps of information about your own self, your own identity, your own medical records only to be turned away again and again and to be told after being on a list for ten years that you were mistaken, you were never on the official list and you must start over at the bottom of the ten year waiting list, to travel abroad after you have had your first child, desperate to get information, only to be refused over and over again?
The rejection itself is an abomination of what we went through with church and Government agencies. The time, the money spent, the absolute desperation, that you would never know who you are and what was wrong with you because that is how adoptees feel regardless of spending one week or six months.
We wondered what was wrong with us continuously throughout our lives. We suffer, all of us, with physical and mental health issues but the Minister has deflected all of this with “we are too young to remember”.
Your apology, Minister, comes too late and your redress scheme is a disgrace. Imagine finding out through the independent sources that the whole time you were searching for your mother, your history and you were told that there was nothing in your file and you find out that your mother had left letters for you on many occasions. But no, no, no, you were told there was nothing. I was 46 at this point and have been searching officially from the age of 18.
I will finish up by saying that Alison makes the point that she was advertised for sale in a newspaper:
As far as I am concerned the fact that I was advertised in a newspaper ultimately means that I was for sale. That is how I feel. You put housing and cars on sale in papers, not human beings...
Where is my redress? Where is the profit from selling me in a paper? Where did all that money go and why is it not being given back to us now in a proper redress scheme and in an enhanced medical card for all? When I say enhanced I do not mean the regular medical card, something that goes beyond that. This is quite simply wrong, defective and an insult to all those who have been left out. I beg you all to reconsider your positions on the six-month’s timeframe and those that were boarded out.
Alison, born in St. Patrick’s mother and baby home in 1971.
I am sorry as I know that I have gone over my time but the last point I want to make is that the key issue now is for the Minister to take a step back from his redress payment scheme and then to take a step forward to re-engage in a proper and full discussion with the survivors.
I thank all the Deputies for their contributions today and for taking the opportunity to read into the Dáil record many of the items of correspondence that they have received from survivors. Deputy Gino Kenny’s contribution was particularly meaningful.
Throughout today’s debate and the debate on Tuesday, Deputies have raised a range of concerns regarding the payment scheme that I brought forward. I have been given Government approval to bring forward legislative proposals on the basis of the scheme as outlined. We will have a legislative process and through that we can examine the issues that have been raised. We will have that opportunity.
I know that Deputies today and again on Tuesday have raised the urgency of this and the age group of many of the survivors who will be seeking to avail of this scheme. I have given my commitment that I will work as hard as possible to get this scheme available to people. I and my Department will do everything we can to make these payments and enhanced medical cards available as quickly as possible and particularly with that focus on those who are oldest and those who are most vulnerable.
While there was a focus on the payment scheme in the debate, another issue, which even came through in the email that Deputy Collins has just read out on the lack of information, raised was the fact that the State for years has denied people access to their information. We now understand that a person’s right to know one’s identity is a basic human right and the work to deliver and to vindicate that right is, I believe, coming to fruition. I know that the Joint Committee on Children, Disability, Equality and Integration, which the Acting Chairman chairs, has worked very hard on this issue over the past four months and is working towards bringing together its final report. The proposals we have are very strong to deliver finally a right to an unredacted birth certificate, and not just the birth certificate, but the right to the early life and birth information together with access to items that were held, which Deputy Collins has just referred to in the case of Alison who wrote to her. There will be legal rights granted to all of those that have been denied up to this point.
While we are waiting for that legislation to be passed, and I hope very much and believe that early next year that will happen, there is General Data Protection Regulation, GDPR, access to the archive of the commission, that is, the archive of those institutions that the commission examined that is held by my Department. Deputy Tóibín raised concerns about constituents and I am happy to talk to him and to any Deputy who has a constituent who is concerned about information. We can assist them in making a data subject access request.
We should also note, given Deputy Collins spoke about the delays that Alison had encountered over the years, that the resourcing of the new system is also very important. In this year’s budget we have provided additional resources to both Tusla and the AAI.
When the new law comes in, we will be able to deliver accessibility to the records in good time.
Another theme that came across in Deputies' contributions was the very real vulnerability of many survivors and the impact on their lives subsequently of their experiences in these institutions and the traumatic start they received in life. I have heard this directly from a number of survivors. Deputy Funchion spoke about an individual who is homeless and I am happy to engage with her on that. Other speakers referred to people who have struggled with addiction. The action plan sets out our undertaking to look at those issues. I draw Deputies' attention to the patient advocacy liaison service that will be introduced early next year, which is designed to signpost supports for survivors. We know some have issues with literacy and some have deep antipathy to engaging with officialdom because of their experience in these institutions. The patient liaison service will work with the HSE to mange the delivery of supports and provide greater clarity for survivors in that regard.
The action plan provides that we will work with local authorities to see how they can better recognise the needs of survivors such as those, for example, who are on their housing lists. This was an issue the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, raised with me when we were bringing forward the plan. She has experience of a network in Tuam that has worked with local authorities to secure housing for survivors. That is something we can work on and roll out in local authorities across the country.
In response to Deputy Cronin's question, I absolutely am committed to the excavation of the entire site in Tuam and the exhumation of the remains of all children, their identification and dignified burial. I brought forward draft legislation in January to achieve that.
It was given detailed consideration at the joint Oireachtas committee, which provided me with a detailed report outlining issues members had with the proposals. We are looking to respond to that and to bring forward amended legislation.
Deputy Higgins spoke about a project run by the Christine Buckley Centre concerning the lived history of survivors of institutional abuse generally. As set out in the action plan, we are working on capturing that lived history and the personal stories and accounts of survivors to see how they can be reflected in measures taken. We have an opportunity in terms of the records and the memorial centre, which I see as doing two things. First, we can reflect that lived history in order that people can understand exactly what happened in these institutions and, second, the memorial centre can also act as a repository for many of the records. The Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, spoke about the importance of records. There is a commitment in the plan to protect and make public the vast array of records that are relevant to this time period. That is one of the reasons we have put in a dedicated archivist in the Department who is working to ensure as many as possible of those records, many of which were used by the commission as part of the breadth of evidence it assessed, can be made publicly available. We will look to do that through the birth information and tracing legislation.
Deputy Bacik raised the issue of illegal birth registrations, which was also mentioned by Deputy Connolly in previous contributions. We were all struck by the "Prime Time" programme that outlined the awful situation for people whose births were illegally registered by St. Patrick's Guild. They were told they were not the person they thought they were but without being able to access information about their original identity. We are addressing this through the birth information and tracing Bill, which will include a specific section providing a route for people to have their lived identity given legal recognition or to seek recognition of their original name on their birth certificate. An independent reviewer looked at the practices that took place in St. Patrick's Guild and examined whether they were likely to have been carried out in other institutions. On foot of that, I asked the special rapporteur on child protection, Professor Conor O'Mahony, to provide recommendations on the next steps to address the issue of illegal birth registration. He has provided me with a report containing his recommendations. I am studying it closely and will respond to the recommendations in due course.
Finally, there is a strong sense across the House that we need to see a contribution from the religious congregations and charitable organisations that ran these homes on a day-to-day basis. Inasmuch as the State has made an apology and come behind that apology with an action plan setting out the range of measures we intend to take to show our apology is more than just words and will be met with actions, I believe the religious congregations need to do the same. I recognise that most of them have issued apologies since the publication of the commission's report. It is not for me to accept that apology but I believe, from speaking to survivors, that it will ring hollow unless it is followed up by actions. One of the clearest actions the congregations can take is to provide a substantial contribution to the cost of the payment scheme. That would be seen as a step towards a genuine apology to survivors of these institutions.