Friday, 19 February 2021
Report of the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation: Statements (Resumed)
The launch of the report was a landmark moment in Irish history, one which we must never forget because it shone a light on what was one of the darkest and most horrible periods. The women and children in mother and baby homes were treated like second-class citizens and they will bear the scars of their tortured past for the rest of their lives. I have no doubt about that.
It was shocking and heartbreaking to hear that more than 9,000 babies died in these institutions. The church, the State and, to a lesser extent, society bear collective responsibility for the abhorrent treatment of the mothers placed in these institutions. We must remember that this did not happen hundreds of years ago. It is extraordinary that it was going on in the 1970s and 1980s when we were growing up. At least I was a child at the time this was going on. It is incredible to think it was 1988 when it was announced that the last institution would close, although it probably did not close down until the 1990s.
Growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, I can remember plenty of protests in this country about many important and relevant issues. It struck me when this report was released that I never saw a major protest on this issue. We are aware of the gravity of the situation now. We always heard people campaigning on it, but there were not many of them. That strikes me as appalling and terrible. Why was there not an outcry at the time?
Apologies from the Taoiseach and others are very important. I sympathise with the Minister to an extent because he has a huge responsibility and burden. I hear him doing media interviews and I am aware that it is very difficult for him. I know he is trying to do his best and will do his best but it now appears that some of this material has gone missing.People who gave their stories are very upset about that. I accept that some of them did not want their testimony to go into a public arena but, rather, wanted it to be kept private. A woman who contacted me told me that she did not want her grandchildren, who have a very happy relationship with her, to go through her testimony. I accept that. There is a significant number of people who are very upset that the material has been destroyed.
One is sometimes hit by a tsunami of emails on an issue. On an issue such as this I fully accept the reason for such emails, but it may put one off the real story. The remarks of the Acting Chairperson, Senator Boyhan, a couple of weeks ago made me think about this issue in a major way. He was very brave. I received several emails from people affected by this issue who asked me to phone them. I phoned all eight of them. These people are utterly broken. They told me they cannot hold down employment and that they are unhappy, distressed and upset. Unquestionably, much of that goes back to the way they were treated in those homes.
I will not delay the response of the Minister. I am anxious to hear what he has to say. Surely all present have a responsibility to do what we can to satisfy the majority of these people who are suffering great pain and have had great destruction of their lives. As far as I am concerned, they will never really be at peace but if we get this right such that they are satisfied, it would be a significant step forward.
I say "well done" to the Acting Chairperson with regard to his contribution on this issue. It was very moving and it struck a chord with many people. It took courage for him to make that contribution. I thank him for it. It is nice to see him chairing this debate.