Seanad debates

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Address to Seanad Éireann by Ms Catherine McGuinness


12:30 pm

Photo of Hildegarde NaughtonHildegarde Naughton (Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

I very much welcome the former distinguished jurist and Senator to the House. Ms McGuinness has a litany of other qualifications and has held many positions of both authority and influence, any of which we could happily discuss. However, there is one experience I would like to address and she referenced it in her address.

Ms McGuinness was the Sole Member of the tribunal of inquiry into what was known at the time as the Kilkenny incest case. Her report was a classic example of clarity and made very cogent recommendations, the most important of which was recently put to the people and passed in the form of the children's rights referendum. I thank her for campaigning on that issue. The term "campaigning" is probably not one judges are comfortable with but, in this instance, it is easy to see that her career was one spent trying to improve the lived experience of our citizens and our children.

My question concerns the recent revelations about residential institutions such as industrial schools, mother and baby homes and the Magdalen Laundries as well as matters relating to forced adoptions and vaccine trials. When I first raised the matter of mother and baby homes in the House some weeks ago, it was on the basis of shock that such things were possible. In the interim, I have read more into the subject and it is surprising we were so shocked. We are obviously poor students of history in this country. The newspapers, the Official Report and various other sources at the time are replete with references to these homes, the conditions of those who were detained and those who died there and the appalling mindset of the public, politicians, churches and State in respect of unmarried mothers and their children.

During her long career, Ms McGuinness had much occasion to deal with and consider matters relating to social policy as a legal practitioner, judge, member of various synod committees of the Church of Ireland and head of the Law Reform Commission, LRC. Her career spanned bitter debates within and outside these Houses on issues such as contraception, divorce and children’s rights. I wonder then, now that she is "slightly" retired, what her views are on what were the causes of such attitudes. These institutions were answerable to Departments, which comprised different Ministers who took up office over the years and the permanent Civil Service, which had responsibility under the Constitution to set standards and ensure the safeguarding of our citizens. Where does the balance of responsibility lie for what unfolded within these institutions? How did cases such as the mother and baby homes, the industrial schools and the Magdalen laundries escape the attention of the State? Was it accidental or endemic collusion?


No comments

Log in or join to post a public comment.