Seanad debates

Friday, 19 February 2021

Report of the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation: Statements (Resumed)


10:30 am

Photo of Paul GavanPaul Gavan (Sinn Fein) | Oireachtas source

I do not know how to deal with this matter in just six minutes, particularly as it involves such a history of evil collusion between church and State institutions. I want to begin by dealing with Manor House in Castlepollard because I am from a place just down the road from there. It is interesting to focus on how Manor House came into existence. It came into being because a local government inspector asked the congregation of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary to set up the home. So the home was established on foot of a Government initiative. Once it was established in 1935, which was just after Fianna Fáil had banned all forms of contraception throughout the State, the Fianna Fáil Minister for Local Government and Health - do not forget that we did not have such a thing as a Minister for Health until 1948, and that tells us everything we need to know about how the State operated at the time - wrote to Cavan County Council and informed it that it needed to start directing mothers to this home because ratepayers' money would be saved as a result. It is all there in the report and is absolutely horrific. I make this point because we need to nail the nonsense that society was to blame. That was an appalling line from the Taoiseach. It was not society, it was collusion between the church institutions and the State and the politicians who ran it. That is the fact of the matter and no one should hide or veer away from that.

The details relating to Manor House are truly horrific. I encourage everyone to read the relevant chapter in full. It is a worthy chapter of a somewhat unworthy report, but I will get on to that in a minute. I will just describe some of the conditions that the women lived in. At its worst, the infant mortality rate at Manor House was 30%. The chapter states:

The living space above the stables was occupied by women and older children. A large space with six windows and no means of heating contained 27 beds with three blankets for each bed. The space was overcrowded. The second loft space was a smaller room with four windows and no means of heating. There was no ceiling in the room and the exposed roof was damaged. This room had 17 beds with three blankets for each bed.

The chapter also states that there was one clean toilet for the 44 women in Manor House. This institution was inspected and all of that to which I refer was highlighted but, as we know, nothing was done for decades.

I will not forget what happened because it relates to my first involvement in politics. When I was growing up in the 1980s, rather than having a reforming Government, we had Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil cheerleading a so-called pro-life referendum in 1983. I was proud to oppose that referendum. So, over a period of 50 years we are still stuck with this nonsense in terms of State and church collusion and the State bowing to the church on every occasion.

I will make one further point on this aspect. It was largely working-class women who were the victims in all of this. There was a great big class angle to what happened. It was a way of disposing of women and children the State did not want to know about. I need to move on because I have little time left.

As the Minister will know, we have been inundated with emails about everything that is wrong with the report. I cannot believe that others of all parties would not agree with me in terms of how outrageous some of the report's conclusions are. I refer to the idea that there was no evidence that girls and women were forced to enter mother and baby homes. It is stated in the report that they were "free to leave", "that they were not incarcerated", and "The Commission found that there is very little evidence that children were forcibly taken from their mothers" even though "the mothers did not have much choice". There is a whole list of conclusions, as the Minister knows. I want to put on record that my party rejects these conclusions. I ask the Minister to be absolutely clear on this when he responds. I am calling on the Minister - as are my party and Deputy Funchion - to extend the term of the commission of investigation. He should not allow it to be dissolved next week, particularly as no one is providing answers.We have heard no end of witnesses on public media now telling us they do not recognise the testimonies as they were recorded by the commission. No one is giving answers, and it is not good enough for no one to be available to come in to address the Oireachtas committee.

There is, however, a more fundamental point. These women are now pleading for assistance. After all they have been through, they should be the last people to have to plead with any government. We all know the history here, but I have to ask the question, who is in charge? We know who used to be in charge. We know that John A. Costello said he was a Catholic first and an Irishman second. We know the whole line of Ministers and former Taoisigh who obediently knelt to kiss the archbishop's ring. We know all that. However, the Minister's party to date has no culpability on this issue. The Green Party has clean hands, yet here is the Minister and, apparently, he is not going to act or face up to the incredible things in this report that were absolutely offensive and wrong. I hope I am wrong on that. I would really welcome, when he addresses us in a few minutes' time, his clearly calling out how outrageous some of these conclusions are and his clearly calling out that he will pass emergency legislation and move very quickly to extend this commission in order that those people who deserve answers get those answers. The power is in the Minister's hands. If he does not take those actions, he will join the pantheon of politicians who have failed on this issue.


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