Seanad debates

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Address to Seanad Éireann by Ms Catherine McGuinness


12:30 pm

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail) | Oireachtas source

I would like to give a warm welcome to a former Member and judge. She is welcome back to a House to which she made a major contribution during her time as a Member. She is an example to those who are ageist in their approach. She has brought wisdom to her work in every capacity as a judge, chairman of the LRC and so on. She is currently studying the wind turbine issue on behalf of the Government. All her work has been of the highest standard and we are delighted that she accepted the invitation to attend the House. Nobody deserves that honour more than her.
She was a Senator in 1987 and she referred to the Bill that provided for the removal of the word "illegitimacy". I was the Minister of State who introduced the Bill. I do not get much credit for that obviously but it was introduced by a Fianna Fáil Government. Sometimes the party is not given the recognition for this work. The Seanad was held in the ante chamber at the time because this Chamber was under reconstruction. My official was on my left hand side and we were all together in a small room. I recall the contributions of Members, including Mary Robinson, our former President. We got rid of the awful, derogatory word, "bastard" and it is illegal to use it. If someone hears the word on radio and television, it should be immediately reported as inappropriate. The word "illegitimate" was also removed. Every child is legitimate and has a right to life. That legislation was progressive at the time and I am pleased to record my presence then.
I disagreed with Mary Robinson who is a brilliant woman but she was not always that brilliant either at times. She made the point that Iris Oifigiúil recorded all adoptions made under the name of the person, for example, John, adopted in 1945 by Mary and James Smith. She wanted to get rid of all copies of the publication but I told her that was impractical because they were held in Garda stations and the National Library. She made the point because of the issue of traceability.
I compliment Senator Averil Power and the Minister for Social Protection on the excellent articles they wrote in this week's edition of the Sunday Independentin which they outlined their experience as adoptees. They are an example to anyone who is adopted. They respected their adoptive parents and they wanted to contact their natural parents. The Minister's case is sad because her mother is dead. I will support her if she introduces legislation to provide for a proper procedure for both the parents and the child to be contactable by agreement. They could come together with proper counselling. Senator Power pointed out yesterday that Barnardos or a similar organisation would be suitable as a vehicle to provide such a service but that is another day's work.
I commend the Children's Rights Alliance on its work. Senator van Turnhout, among others, is the face of children's rights and it was a wise decision by the Taoiseach to appoint her to the House. The presence of Ms McGuinness is an important day for her.

While I do not want to discuss Fianna Fáil in particular, the party was very progressive when it came to the appointment of Brian Lenihan as Minister of State with responsibility for children in the Cabinet, and he was followed as Minister of State by Deputy Brendan Smith and Barry Andrews. Then, rightly, the Government decided that, because of the work that was being carried out by those Ministers of State, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald would be appointed Minister for Children and Youth Affairs. I wish her well in her new appointment as Minister for Justice and Equality. She worked on the establishment of the new agency as well as the referendum, which we all supported. It was a tremendous success, put rights for children in the Constitution and took a very progressive approach.

I note Ms McGuinness's wise words about the Tuam situation - with knowledge comes great wisdom. That situation has been around for a very long time and people were aware of what happened there. The fathers of those children seemed to have no regard whatsoever for the responsibilities they had in fathering a child in wedlock or out of wedlock. They walked away scot free while parents, grandparents and others stood silently by. The fact is that illegitimacy was one of the greatest crimes, or was regarded as such in this great democracy founded in 1916. We were a disgrace as far as that was concerned. We treated them abominably - that is a fact. The nuns and those who were forced to provide a service were at least doing something to help them in their own way, whether it was successful or not. The point Ms McGuinness made about medicine, including penicillin, is absolutely accurate.

As a young man working in an architecture firm in Roscommon, I visited an orphanage in Ballaghadreen. I was only just past my teenage years and I felt so sad for those children. They clung on to the staff they were with because they wanted love and attention, and they wanted a home. However, because some of them were born in so-called legitimate families, they could not be adopted, although that has now been changed due to the constitutional changes. They were there without anyone to care for them except the nuns, who, at the time, as far as I could see, were doing what looked to be a very good job. We could say a lot about the situation. The points made by Ms McGuinness were very worthwhile and, indeed, a wonderful contribution to the debate in this House.

With regard to the publication in the newspapers on Sunday of the details of all the children who died, I wonder how many families looked at those and asked whether they were involved or responsible for what happened in Tuam. It was not just what happened in that institution but what happened outside it. They left those mothers and babies there without any care or concern. They were dead to the world, and that is what others wanted them to be because they brought so-called disgrace to the family.


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