Friday, 19 February 2021
Report of the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation: Statements (Resumed)
I welcome the Minister to the House and thank him for being here. My remarks are predicated on the fact that I do not doubt his sincerity or integrity in any shape or form. I come to this debate conscious of the fact that this report which was commissioned is seen by many people as being insensitive to their needs and lived experience. It has an impact that really cannot be measured in the lives of so many people.The report is disappointing in its language. I thank the Minister for his engagement and his testimony since the publication of the report. All of us know survivors and know people who have been in mother and baby homes. Those were not homes, but institutions into which people were put. I applaud and commend the moving speech made by the Acting Chair. Ms Sharon Lawless did a power of work with her "Adoption stories" documentary, which we should all watch and recognise the lived experience of so many people. We cannot appreciate the hurt and anger felt by those people.
A friend and I were in a particular part of Ireland during the mid-term break in February 2004. He had been in St. Patrick's mother and baby home on the Navan Road. He had made attempts to find his birth mother and I was with him when he got a phone call from her. He did not get a phone number, but he had a rough idea of where the person was living. We went through the phone book and found the name. This was back in the days when we had phone books. I will never forget the sense of nervousness, of excitement and of joy my friend had when he made that phone call to his birth mother. She answered the call and agreed to meet him. Two days later they met. Years of frustration ended for my friend with a meeting with his birth mother, which led to a reunification of the family. Other friends of mine have not had that experience. Some have chosen to accept what happened to them and move on. Others have had a different experience, including a very good friend of mine who has been a champion, an advocate and a mother. In the life she has lived since being in Bessborough, she has tried to find the pieces of her life and to put them together for herself, for her family and for other people.
The commission ultimately did what it was asked to do. Let us, however, look at the impact and import of the report. The Commission of Investigation (Mother and Baby Homes and Certain Related Matters) Records, and Another Matter, Act 2020 should be re-examined by the Oireachtas. I hope we can do that. As a parliamentarian and former chair of an Oireachtas committee, I understand why the chair of the commission did not and cannot not appear before such a committee. It is a situation, however, which adds to the hurt and anger which people are feeling. We must move forward now with expedition regarding the redress scheme and really expedite this report. We cannot allow the 28 February deadline and the issue of the destruction of records and tapes to in any way cause us to demur in what we are trying to do.
I ask that the Minister and the Government look at the sites of these former mother and baby homes and not to allow development to continue and proceed in some of these areas, including, for example, at Bessborough. I ask that the Government also consider a motion put forward by Councillor Deirdre Forde in Cork City Council. It was agreed by the council that it would look at the issue of a memorial of an intertwining tree-lined avenue of remembrance. I will supply the Minister's officials with the details of that motion. We must have a memorial. We must not allow these sacred grounds to be desecrated by development because the remains of people, and their lives, are buried in these sites.
This report is about people. The Government must now show that it understands that and put in place the redress scheme to show care, compassion and understanding.The proof of this Government's intent will be in the delivery. I know that the Minister will deliver.
I hope that the anger, frustration and the voices of the people who were in these homes, which were institutions, will not be forgotten and that they will not be made feel invisible and disenfranchised anymore. The silence and the shame must be swept aside. These people must be embraced with love, care, support, affirmation and strength for the character they have shown in the lives they have lived. In addition, we must remember those whose lives were cut short.
I thank the Minister for being here today. I hope that the language used in the report, which is cold and which lacks empathy and sensitivity, can be addressed by the Government.