Seanad debates

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes: Motion

 

4:45 pm

Photo of Imelda HenryImelda Henry (Fine Gael)
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I move:


That Seanad Éireann:- having regard to the motion passed by Dáil Éireann on 11th June 2014 which recognised the need to establish the facts regarding the deaths of children at the Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home in Tuam, Co. Galway between 1925 and 1961, including arrangements for the burial of these children, and which further acknowledged the considerable public anxiety as to the conditions generally in mother and baby homes operational in the State in that era;
- noting that it is the opinion of the Government that these matters of significant public concern require, in the public interest, examination by the establishment of a Commission of Investigation;
- noting that the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs has led the Government’s consideration of these sensitive matters;
- noting the factual information compiled, and the specific matters identified for further consideration, in the Report of the Inter-Departmental Group on Mother and Baby Homes, which was laid before Seanad Éireann on 16th July 2014, and which has assisted to inform Government considerations on the scope, format and terms of reference for a Commission of Investigation;
- and further noting that a draft Order proposed to be made by the Government under the Commissions of Investigation Act 2004 (No. 23 of 2004) has been duly laid before Seanad Éireann on 16th January 2015 in respect of the foregoing matters referred to, together with a statement of reasons for establishing a Commission under that Act,approves the draft Commission of Investigation (Mother and Baby Homes and Certain Related Matters) Order, 2015 and the statement of reasons for establishing a Commission of Investigation.

Photo of Jillian van TurnhoutJillian van Turnhout (Independent)
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I question how we can have a motion before the House when it has not completed its passage through the Dáil. What would happen if we were to amend the motion? It is a motion that is going through both Houses and I do not understand how we can take it now. I ask for clarity on the matter.

Photo of Tom ShehanTom Shehan (Fine Gael)
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Each House will conduct its own business.

Photo of Jillian van TurnhoutJillian van Turnhout (Independent)
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Okay. Therefore, the motions can be different.

Photo of Tom ShehanTom Shehan (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister.

Photo of James ReillyJames Reilly (Minister, Department of Health; Dublin North, Fine Gael)
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The motion reads:


That Seanad Éireann:- having regard to the motion passed by Dáil Éireann on 11th June 2014 which recognised the need to establish the facts regarding the deaths of children at the Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home in Tuam, Co. Galway between 1925 and 1961, including arrangements for the burial of these children, and which further acknowledged the considerable public anxiety as to the conditions generally in mother and baby homes operational in the State in that era;
- noting that it is the opinion of the Government that these matters of significant public concern require, in the public interest, examination by the establishment of a Commission of Investigation;
- noting that the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs has led the Government’s consideration of these sensitive matters;
- noting the factual information compiled, and the specific matters identified for further consideration, in the Report of the Inter-Departmental Group on Mother and Baby Homes, which was laid before Seanad Éireann on 16th July 2014, and which has assisted to inform Government considerations on the scope, format and terms of reference for a Commission of Investigation;
- and further noting that a draft Order proposed to be made by the Government under the Commissions of Investigation Act 2004 (No. 23 of 2004) has been duly laid before Seanad Éireann on 16th January 2015 in respect of the foregoing matters referred to, together with a statement of reasons for establishing a Commission under that Act,approves the draft Commission of Investigation (Mother and Baby Homes and Certain Related Matters) Order, 2015 and the statement of reasons for establishing a Commission of Investigation.

I welcome the opportunity to bring this motion to the Upper House. Most important, I begin by acknowledging the Irish women and children who were in mother and baby homes in this country in the last century. As Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, I believe that by setting up the commission with all the necessary powers to get the information required we will come to a greater understanding of how we as a society failed in our treatment of vulnerable women and children. Almost 100 years since the foundation of the Irish State it is essential that we do not shy away from our past. As well as our continued focus on the protection and welfare of children, and equality and respect for all women, we must seek to bring transparency and openness to the actions of the past.

Last May people in Ireland and around the world were shocked at media reports of what was described as a mass grave in the mother and baby home in Tuam, County Galway. The sense of indignation we all felt at this was palpable. While some academics had examined these matters, as a State we had failed to come to terms with a harrowing reality in our past, namely, the manner in which women and children were treated in mother and baby homes.

I came into this office last July shortly after Dáil Éireann passed a motion on the need to establish the facts regarding the deaths of children at the Bons Secours mother and baby home in Tuam, County Galway, and the subsequent publication of the report of the interdepartmental group on mother and baby homes. As an immediate priority I was concerned to meet as many as possible of the groups which had expressed views on the need for a full exploration of all the issues raised by the discoveries in Tuam.

I appreciate the willingness and courage of those who shared individual accounts of their deeply personal experiences with me. On my own behalf and that of the Government, I thank them for taking the time to meet with me. Other advocacy groups, public bodies and political colleagues across the spectrum also provided me with a wide range of views. The Government agreed the processes to establish a commission of investigation into mother and baby homes and certain related matters. The following day I published a draft order which, subject to minor amendment, is now before the House in the presence of former residents of some of these homes and their representative groups. All the groups I met agreed that making this a feasible task, which can be completed in a realistic timeframe, is critical. Given the complexity and sensitivity of the issues raised with me this has been a challenge.

The terms of reference have been developed with regard to the requirements of the Commission of Investigation Act 2004. It is important to emphasise that the order must be read in conjunction with this Act. The Act is the backdrop to the commission’s work, its general functions, powers, procedures and protections are laid down in this enabling legislation.

When this debate began the issues appeared narrow initially, the high rates of mortality and the burial arrangements in the Bons Secours home in Tuam. As our work progressed, a further set of issues arose about the whole phenomenon of mother and baby institutions in Ireland as a response to the issue of crisis pregnancies over a much longer period of time. It became very clear to me that the issue of entry and exit pathways of women and children raised further questions regarding the social, political and legal environment that prevailed and how that evolved over time. Further, the links between mother and baby homes and the issue of adoption, before and after the introduction of legal adoption in Ireland, were highlighted. As is clear this is a much wider agenda than our starting point. Today I am pleased to bring to the House the draft order and statement of reasons for establishing a commission of investigation. I believe that the terms of reference which are included as a schedule in the order reflect the range of matters we were asked to consider and are a fair and balanced response to the many requests for issues and items to be included.

For the purposes of this motion, I propose to focus on the principal objectives of the order and, in particular, some key provisions within the terms of reference. The draft order contains a number of preliminary recitals and four main provisions. The recitals provide details of the statutory powers and associated procedures under which the commission will be established by Government.

Articles 1 to 3 provide for the Short Title; define the relevant enabling legislation; establish the commission, and task it with investigating and reporting on matters which Government considers to be of significant public concern. This is the threshold for establishing a statutory commission.

Article 4 designates the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs as being responsible for overseeing administrative matters relating to the establishment of the commission. I will receive its reports and discharge related functions under the Act. In addition, the order authorises me to appoint members of the commission.

The terms of reference are focused on a combination of four distinct factors: clarifying that the intended focus is on women and children being accommodated for the purpose of receiving extended and supervised maternity and infant care services in mother and baby homes; defining the issues of public concern as discrete matters to be investigated; specifying a list of mother and baby homes and, in addition, providing for examination of equivalent experiences within the network of county homes; and defining the relevant period as being from 1922 to 1998.

The approach taken provides a clear and deliberate emphasis on the experiences of women and children who spent time in mother and baby homes. Practices in these homes have not featured prominently in the reviews and investigations to date, which have examined past abuses inflicted on vulnerable citizens - many of them women and children. Accordingly, the terms of reference focus on institutions that can clearly be identified as having both the primary function of providing sheltered and supervised ante and post-natal facilities to mothers and their children, which included both board and lodgings, and an ethos that those running the institutions considered to promote a regime of work, training or education as part of an overall approach to either rehabilitating mothers before they left the institution or to give them training for living independently. In many cases, and as established in the academic literature, institutional approaches were based on a moralistic approach intended to rehabilitate mothers and to make arrangements regarding the future care of the children.

On the basis of the available information, I am satisfied that the 14 institutions included in the appendix to Schedule 1 of the draft order meet these criteria. The draft order defines single women as pregnant girls or women and mothers who were not married, as the phenomenon of mother and baby homes was to address the needs of unmarried women who became pregnant. I am aware that a small number of women, who were widowed or who were married but no longer living with their husbands, may also have spent time in these homes in order to receive sheltered and supervised ante and post-natal care. There is no suggestion the treatment experienced by these women differed in any material way from that of women who had not married. I am satisfied that the terms of reference allow the commission to fully investigate these experiences and to make any findings and recommendations it feels warranted with regard to this group of women. However, for the avoidance of any doubt, I am making a small amendment to the definition of single women to explicitly include widows and married women living separately from their husbands.

4:55 pm

Photo of James ReillyJames Reilly (Minister, Department of Health; Dublin North, Fine Gael)
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It is also clear from the available information that mother and baby type services were a considerable focus of operations in some county homes. For that reason, the terms of reference also provide for a representative sample of county homes to be examined by the commission. The sample will be selected by the commission based on evidence of the extent of the operation of this particular function.

Article 1 ensures that the primary focus of the investigation relates to the experiences of women and children who resided in mother and baby homes over the period. The following matters will be investigated: entry arrangements and exit pathways of women, this to include consideration of the extent of their participation in relevant decisions; living conditions and care arrangements in these institutions; mortality among mothers and children - causes, circumstances and rates; post-mortem practices and procedures; reporting, burial arrangements and the transfer of remains for anatomical examination; the extent of compliance with relevant regulatory and ethical standards in regard to systemic vaccine trials identified by the commission as being conducted on children in these homes; entry arrangements and exit pathways for mothers and children leaving institutions, patterns of referral and relevant relationships with other entities; and the extent to which any group of residents may have systematically been treated differently on any grounds, including race, disability and religion.

The commission is also tasked with undertaking appropriate comparative analysis, where relevant, to assist the general understanding of its findings. Article 2 provides that the investigation will cover the years from 1922 to 1998. The commission may reduce the relevant period for any part of its investigation where it deems it appropriate to do so. The series of definitions included in Article 8 are intended to bring additional clarity to the investigation.

Very importantly, Article 1(VII) requires the commission to investigate the nature of the relationship between mother and baby homes and other key institutions, including children's homes, orphanages and adoption societies. Some of these were on the same site as the mother and baby homes while others were not. The terms of reference require that the commission identifies the extent to which children's welfare and best interests were considered in making arrangements for placements, whether through boarding out, fostering or adoption, in Ireland and abroad. Further, they require that the commission identifies the extent of mothers' participation in such decisions, including procedures around mothers' consent and the extent to which these procedures were sufficient to ensure that consent was full, free and informed. I believe this will allow the commission sufficient scope to examine the issue of placing children for adoption abroad as well as situations in which the child's parentage was concealed, either by omission or perhaps by illegal means.

The terms of reference provide for a comprehensive investigative framework, involving interlinked and concurrent lines of inquiry. While Articles 10 to 15 provide general guidance, I emphasise that nothing in the terms of reference constricts the commission's independence in determining how best to approach its work. The confidential committee provided for in Articles 3 and 4 is an additional forum intended to facilitate any individual who wishes to describe her experiences of living or working in relevant homes to the commission. I know many former residents will welcome this opportunity. This module will allow the commission to ground its work in the reality of the experience of mothers and children in these homes. Procedures will be developed to protect the identity of individuals who wish to have their identity remain confidential during the conduct of the commission and its subsequent reporting.

Alongside this, the social history module will provide context through an objective and comprehensive analysis of key issues. Ten themes are detailed for analysis in Article 11 of the terms of reference. Significantly, this analysis will benefit from the extensive legal powers of the commission to access relevant records and will assist in informing determinations on a range of matters in accordance with Article 12.

I believe that the Commissions of Investigation Act and the terms of reference of the inquiry provide adequate opportunity for the commission to take an independent view of the adequacy of scope, given its task. Since the decision to establish this investigation was announced there have been public calls for the inclusion of a broad range of matters. I acknowledge that some may have preferred to see an even more diverse range of matters included within the terms of reference. While some of these matters are outside the intended remit of the commission, I wish to highlight Article 6 in particular.

The mechanisms provided take maximum advantage of the powers, resources and expertise of the commission. They ensure any additional matter which the commission deems to warrant investigation, within this investigation or otherwise, can be brought to the attention of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs. This will be relevant to those who believe that the process to date has not uncovered information relevant to their circumstances.

I was delighted to announce the Government's approval of a three-person commission, led by the Chair, Judge Yvonne Murphy.

Judge Murphy will be assisted by the eminent historian, Professor Mary Daly, and international legal expert on child protection and adoption, Dr. William Duncan. These appointments reflect my understanding of the need for a depth of expertise in these areas to allow for a comprehensive assessment of the issues and for well-grounded reports and recommendations in due course.

The terms of reference envisage the submission of a final report to me within three years. In addition, Article 5 specifies that the reports from the confidential committee and the social history module would be completed within 18 months. These timeframes are ambitious. I am keen to ensure these important issues are investigated in a timely manner given the age profile of many of the women and children who were resident in these homes.

The Government has noted that costs, exclusive of third party legal costs, are estimated to be in the order of €21.5 million. This includes the funding necessary to meet the set-up and operational needs of the commission, which will have its offices at 73 Lower Baggot Street, as well as the demands attaching to administrative oversight of the commission within my Department. An initial allocation of €6 million has been secured to meet costs arising in 2015.

The staffing complement of the commission will reflect the scope of the terms of reference and the ambitious timeframe. My Department is working with Judge Yvonne Murphy, the Chair-designate, in this regard to ensure a smooth start to the commission's work. Under section 8 of the Act, the commission will also have the scope to appoint persons with relevant professional expertise and specialist skills to assist its investigations.

I believe that this commission will be critical in coming to terms with our history and in understanding who we are as a people. The Government is confident that the proposed terms of reference provide an ambitious and appropriately-focused set of tasks which can be accomplished by this commission within a realistic timeframe. I commend the motion to the House.

5:05 pm

Photo of Averil PowerAveril Power (Fianna Fail)
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I move amendment No. 1:


“To delete all words following ‘establishing a Commission under that Act,’ and insert as follows–- calls for Schedule (11) (B) of the draft Commission of Investigation (Mother and Baby Homes and Certain Related Matters) Order, 2015 to be amended by inserting after ‘their children’, ‘with particular regard to the practices employed in obtaining the consent of mothers who had recently given birth to their treatment;’;
- calls for Appendix 1(1) of the draft Commission of Investigation (Mother and Baby Homes and Certain Related Matters) Order, 2015 to be amended so as to include the following homes;
- Braemar House, Cork.
- Ovoca (or Avoca) House, Co. Wicklow.
- Regina Coeli hostel, Athlone, Co. Westmeath.
- Saint Gerard’s, 39 Mountjoy Square, Dublin 1.
- Saint Joseph's Centre (aka Saint Clare's Centre), Stamullen, Co. Meath.
- Saint Patricks Infant Hospital, Temple Hill, Blackrock, Co. Dublin.
- Saint Philomena’s Centre Lakelands, Stillorgan, County Dublin.
- Saint Rita’s Nursing Home, 68 Sandford Road, Ranelagh, Dublin 4.
- The Nurseries, Fermoy, Co. Cork
- Westbank Home, Greystones, Co. Wicklow;
- calls for Appendix 1(2) of the draft Commission of Investigation (Mother and Baby Homes and Certain Related Matters) Order, 2015 to be amended by inserting after ‘these mothers and children.’, ‘Any former resident of any County Home will be entitled to be heard by the Commission of Investigation.’;
- calls for the Commission of Investigation, in its examination of ‘exit pathways’, to pay particular regard to the role of the Magdalene Laundries;
- notes with concern that the experiences of between 60% to 70% of all unmarried girls and women (50,000 to 62,000 of a total population of 85,000 – 90,000) whose children were forcibly or illegally adopted are excluded from the scope of the Investigation, and that this exclusion means that the number of forced and illegal adoptions and placements of children will not be investigated, calls for the role of adoption agencies, the Adoption Board and other relevant State funded or regulated institutions to be examined by the Commission of Investigation;
- calls on the Commission of Investigation to examine illegal placements of children from private homes; and
- calls on the Government to amend the draft Commission of Investigation (Mother and Baby Homes and Certain Related Matters) Order, 2015 accordingly.”

Photo of Tom ShehanTom Shehan (Fine Gael)
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I need a seconder for the amendment.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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I second the amendment.

Photo of Averil PowerAveril Power (Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the fact that the terms of reference are not as narrow as had originally been feared. I acknowledge that this is a result of the consultation the Minister has carried out with the Opposition parties and, more important, with survivor groups in recent months. That is important and welcome. However, Fianna Fáil does have some concerns about the terms of reference. We have listened to the reservations expressed about them by groups, including the Adoption Rights Alliance, Adoption Rights Now, CMABS, Adopted Illegally Ireland, Justice for Magdalenes and others, including individual survivors who have written to me, as well as other Members, in recent weeks outlining their concerns. We support their call to amend the terms of reference to include specific mention of all the relevant institutions and those subject to illegal and forced adoptions as well as to ensure that we include adoptions from private homes. Forced illegal adoptions from private homes took place. It did not happen only through the mother and baby home system. For this reason we have tabled an amendment which, if accepted, would ensure that the inquiry would be genuinely comprehensive and inclusive.

I have listened to the Minister's remarks in the House, I read the transcript from the Dáil debate and I have heard some of the media commentary attributed to him in recent weeks. I understand the Minister believes the commission can carry out work in these areas within the existing terms of reference and that it may add additional institutions on top of those listed in the appendix. However, the Minister should understand the genuine fears of survivor groups because that is optional. It is only right to list all of the institutions at this point and I do not understand the reason for not doing so. We have set out to do precisely this with our amendment.

The Minister said that some other areas were outside the scope of the inquiry. Perhaps he was referring to issues such as forced illegal adoptions from private homes. They are not directly related to the mother and baby homes issue but of course they are part of the same overall issue. We have one opportunity to get this inquiry right and to ensure that we examine all the different aspects of how women and children were treated in this State through mother and baby homes, industrial schools and forced adoption. Indeed, to this day children are being denied information and not given the opportunity to reunite in the case of those who were forced apart through adoption.

The Adoption Rights Alliance has sent me a comprehensive list of areas of concern in respect of the Bill. Those involved are concerned at the way that the list of institutions, as currently set out, has the potential to exclude from the scope of the investigation two thirds of the women and girls affected by this issue because of the proscribed list of 14 mother and baby homes. They are concerned that this leaves out the conditions experienced by women and girls who went through State maternity hospitals, private hospitals, private nursing homes, general practitioner-assisted home births and other situations in which pressure was put on women to give up their children.

It is also concerned that the true extent of forced adoptions will be hidden. By only focusing on a narrow range of experiences rather than all the women affected in different settings, one will only get a small picture and not the full scale of the extent of forced adoptions. The same applies to illegal adoptions. We know many women were forced to sign consent papers immediately after the birth, which was against the law as they were supposed to wait a few weeks, or when under the influence of medication after having given birth. There were women who signed papers when they were under the age of 21. Women who have been in contact with me have told me that their age was falsified in those records. They were under age but were recorded as being of age so the adoption could proceed. We must ensure all of those practices are examined. Most illegal adoptions were undocumented and were carried out by general practitioners, midwives, nurses, solicitors, priests and others who did not have a direct connection to the mother and baby homes.

Illegal adoption is a huge issue. Theresa Tinggal has written to many Members about her experience and that of others who are part of the campaign group called Adopted Illegally Ireland. It is important we focus on those who were illegally adopted, who are some of the most vulnerable. They have the most difficulty in trying to gather their information. In many cases there were falsified birth certificates and so forth. Even when people who were legally adopted get access to their birth certificates, the document is meaningless because their adoptive parents' names are on it, not their natural parents' names. We must do more to help them and to ensure that all the records about illegal adoptions that are held in various State agencies, private homes and private businesses throughout the country are brought together.

The Adoption Rights Alliance is also concerned that the role of the State-appointed Adoption Board will be hidden again. In cases where it would have been obvious from the files that signatures did not match and so forth, the adoptions were still approved by the Adoption Board at the time. There is also the issue of the role of the State maternity hospitals. There has been talk of priests and nuns openly wandering around the wards when women were in a vulnerable situation having just given birth. That was facilitated by the hospitals when it was known that pressure was being put on those women to give up their babies for adoption. All of this, along with the role of the adoption agencies, must be fully considered.

These are genuine concerns. This is an opportunity to have a comprehensive inquiry and to ensure all of the relevant areas are covered. It would be unfair if some people were left behind because they do not fit within the narrow list of institutions and other criteria set out in the terms of reference. The Minister said that the terms of reference refer to children's homes, and that it is up to the commission to decide which homes to investigate and that it should include, for example, Westbank, Temple Hill and others. However, that is not specified and there is genuine anxiety about that. It would be better to list all of the institutions to ensure it is clear that it includes the three holding centres, Temple Hill, Stamullen and The Nurseries in Fermoy, as well as Westbank, Avoca House, Braemar House, St. Philomena's, St. Gerard's and St. Rita's Nursing Home. It should also include the Regina Coeli hostel, which strangely has been omitted from the list even though the sister hostel in Dublin has been included. The Minister says that these institutions can be covered, in his view, but it would be prudent and sensible at this point simply to add them to the terms of reference by accepting the amendment.

As I said previously, concerns have been raised by Paul Redmond and others in Adoption Rights Now about ensuring the terms of reference include the capacity to examine cases where single mothers in public hospitals were forced or coaxed to give their consent to adoption shortly after they gave birth.

The Minister said the county homes are included and I welcome that, as there were concerns that they would not be included. As the Minister said they had a major role in respect of separating mothers from their babies and there were difficult living conditions for the women in those homes. I appreciate that the terms of reference allow for a sample of those to be considered but it has been suggested that rather than it being a random sample, those who wish to come forward and tell their story should be able to feed into that sample. I do not believe that would be over-burdensome and it would be good that people who wish to share their story and have their voices heard would have the ability to do that, rather than feel excluded after offering to come forward and speak.

The terms of reference should also be amended to include the Magdalen laundries for historical inquiry after the main inquiry has ended in three years. There are some concerns about the scope of the McAleese inquiry in respect of the Magdalen laundries so I look forward to the Minister's response in that regard.

I welcome the establishment of the commission. It will be an important opportunity to investigate all of these practices and bring them into the open. It will give people an opportunity to speak about the hurt and torment that was visited on them through the mother and baby homes and our forced and illegal adoption system. However, if we are truly to do justice to the women concerned and their now adult children, we must introduce a right to information Bill. Senators van Turnhout and Healy Eames and I proposed a Bill some months ago to provide for that, and the Minister has had some time to reflect on it in the meantime. I hope he will work with us on getting that legislation through the House as soon as possible. What women went through in the mother and baby homes and in that environment, in which they were forced to give up their children for adoption, is not just a horrible aspect of our past but a haunting aspect of the daily lives of those women and of the children who were separated from them and who still do not know where their mothers are or whether they are well. They do not know anything about their identity. One cannot separate one issue from the other. If we are genuinely to do justice to the women concerned, we must introduce a right to information and establish a proper system to enable people to reunite should they wish.

5:15 pm

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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I welcome the Minister and it is my honour to second the amendment tabled by Senator Power.

The Minister began by acknowledging the Irish women and children who were in mother and baby homes in this country, but only some and not all of them. Why not go the whole hog now, instead of endlessly having to revisit this issue? Over the last few years I have raised a number of homes, particularly Protestant homes, which have been excluded. We have grudgingly had an acceptance of this, bit by bit over time. The Minister says that as a result of the commission of investigation we will reach a greater understanding "of how we as a society failed in our treatment of vulnerable women and children". Why continue to fail some of those vulnerable women and children? The Minister said we do not shy away from our past. That is splendid, so let us not shy away from it.

I am glad a selection of county homes is being included. The Minister referred to the extent to which any group of residents may have systematically been treated differently on any grounds, including race, disability and religion. He knows perfectly well that under this Government groups of people have been treated differently on the basis of their religion. In the beginning it was a nakedly sectarian thing. It was almost as if only Roman Catholic institutions were capable of mistreating women and children. We know now that some of the Protestant institutions were in a similar situation, although not so directly associated with the church as they were often voluntary in nature.

I welcome that the commission will examine the question of the consent of mothers and that it may extend its frame of reference. I very much approve of the three person commission. The Minister has found three excellent people, Judge Yvonne Murphy, Professor Mary Daly and Dr. William Duncan. These are outstanding people and I am sure they will do a good job. I expect that they will be prepared to enlarge the sample being examined.

The amendment is important because it includes ten named homes which previously had been excluded. It is important to bear this mind. It also gives a voice to people. It means that any resident of any county home would be entitled to be heard. The entitlement to be heard is a very important right.

This is what many people want. It notes with concern the experience of between 60% to 70%, that is 50,000 to 62,000, whose children were forcibly or illegally adopted. That was really an obscenity in which society and the church colluded. For those reasons I am very happy to support the amendment.

In particular I would like to deal with one home, Westbank, which is the latest to be included. It was an institution run under the auspices of the Protestant orphanage charity, which was registered with the Government as a charity and therefore availed of tax benefits. So there is a clear link between the State and this institution even though it was a fairly fundamentalist Protestant one run at the inspiration of one particular person, Miss Adeline Mathers from Portadown.

She ran this institution as a kind of personal medieval fiefdom. All the children were registered with her name. They were allowed no separate surnames. They were all registered as Mathers and so were deprived of their identity. The roll book in St. Patrick's national school in Greystones confirms this; they never knew who they were. As they have said, their identity was stolen from them. They have official documents showing that social services were aware of them and official documentation that proves that boarding-out inspectors were aware of Westbank in the 1950s. On some occasions children were beaten so badly that local medical representation had to be called in. It seems astonishing that this particular institution, Westbank, should be excluded from the terms of reference.

The Minister has referred to exit pathways. I have been asked to raise this issue on behalf of some of the people who were in these Protestant homes. The terms of reference mention exit pathways from mother and baby homes. It is not clear if such pathways will lead up the entrance path of similarly dysfunctional institutions to which abandoned children were sent. For example, some were sent from Bethany Home to the Westbank orphanage in Wicklow which had the same Protestant ethos as Bethany Home. With great difficulty we have got Bethany Home included in the scheme, but it is certainly not clear if institutions such as Westbank will be included.

I welcome some of the measures the Minister has introduced, but it is part of a piecemeal approach. Some people are still left out of the solution. Once and for all we should deal with the situation in a comprehensive manner, ensuring nobody is left out so that the words of the Minister when he talks about not shying away, learning from people and acknowledging the dreadful way these people were committed, will no longer sound hollow because we will have included everyone.

5:25 pm

Photo of Imelda HenryImelda Henry (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister and commend the Government on setting up this commission of investigation into mother and baby homes and certain related matters. I compliment the Minister on the speed with which he has brought this investigation into reality with a fixed timeframe for the report. This commission is an effective, prompt and transparent mechanism to investigate complex sensitive matters, while also respecting fair procedures and natural justice.

As we know, the recent revelations in Tuam were very shocking and disturbing, not just for those involved but for the country as a whole. Of course, Tuam was not the only place where the State's record of treating mothers and babies with due respect, love and care was called into question. It is now proposed to investigate 14 mother and baby homes and matters relating to them.

The Commission hopes to identify, among other things the extent to which the child's welfare and protection were considered in practices relating to their placement in Ireland or abroad. It also hopes to identify the extent of participation of mothers in relevant decisions including the procedures that were in place to obtain consent from others in respect of adoption, and whether these procedures were adequate for the purpose of ensuring such consent was full, free and informed.

The publication of the terms of reference of this investigation and the fact that the commission can decide to widen its remit if, and when, it feels it is necessary is a very good start. The commission may make any recommendations it considers appropriate in any of its reports. This is not limited to matters within the direct scope of its investigations; it may also include issues it considers warrant further investigation in the public interest.

I welcome that the commission will be able to appoint persons with relevant professional expertise and specialist skills to assist in its investigations.

It is important for those mothers involved that we find out how they came to be there, how they were treated, what happened to them in these homes and indeed what happened to them and their children when they left. The unfortunate and unpalatable fact is that many mothers and babies never left these homes, and the bodies of many babies have been found to have been buried in anonymous mass graves.

I welcome the amendment to include widows and married women living separately from their husbands. I understand the Minister met many women who had been in these homes and they shared their experiences with him. I praise and thank them for their courage in revisiting those dreadful times and sharing their compelling experiences with him.

I wish the chair, Judge Yvonne Murphy, and the commission, well with their work. I am confident that they will ensure we get a true and accurate analysis of what happened in these homes.

Photo of Jillian van TurnhoutJillian van Turnhout (Independent)
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I welcome the Minister to the House. I welcome the changes he announced regarding the definition of women and the inclusion of sampling of county homes by the commission.

The existence of mother and baby homes is a stain on Ireland's social conscience. It is a shame we carry individually and as members of the collective that turned a blind eye to the abuse and suffering of women and children out of fear of and deference to the powerful. The isolation, hardship and suffering to which these women were subjected in the name of an honour and respectability that was dictated by religion, social class and conservatism is almost unthinkable in contemporary Ireland.

I acknowledge the outstanding work of a crusading historian, Catherine Corless. I wonder if we would be discussing the matter here today without her work. It shows the power of one and it highlights the importance of each of us being willing to stand up and be counted. We must ensure we do not turn a blind eye to what happened in the past and seek now to redress it.

I very much welcome the appointment of the chair, Judge Yvonne Murphy; the international legal expert on child protection and adoption, Dr. William Duncan; and the historian, Professor Mary Daly.

I am torn here because I have had different experiences of inquiries. I have had the experience of the reports on the Magdalen laundries and on symphysiotomy. However, I have had an equally powerful experience of the Ryan report and what followed with the implementation plan. The Ryan report came from a predecessor of the current Department of Children and Youth Affairs. I have faith in the officials and the Department that we can deliver.

Many of the objections raised with me by the Adoption Rights Alliance were not addressed within the McAleese report which I did not regard as an independent commission of investigation. It was not detailed enough, did not provide the evidence and was not human rights-compliant. Unfortunately Dr. McAleese never spoke after its publication to in any way address the concerns of those who were seeking redress from that report. The Government needs to ensure that these women get redress. We have not touched the surface of what needs to be done.

The Ryan report was a very positive report in the sense that it allowed voices to be heard. Unfortunately it did not lead to the number of criminal convictions we hoped. We need to be honest with people. If my figures are right, 11 cases were referred to the DPP and only three prosecutions resulted from the Ryan report. Yet following publication of the Ryan report, the Department produced a very detailed implementation plan that not only sought to redress our failings from the past, but also sought to be a blueprint for future policy on child protection. It met on a yearly basis tracking that implementation to ensure it was followed through. I know that early in the Minister's term he ensured that was brought to fruition and we delivered on what we promised to do.

That gives me hope about the terms of reference. When I read the terms of reference, I think of them as empowering. If Judge Yvonne Murphy reads them in that way, it will add to that empowering sense as I hope our debate here will. The way the Minister has looked at the pathways and the methodology envisaged is important. Regarding illegal adoptions and false registrations, there is evidence in the home on the Navan Road of hundreds of cases of false registration. The evidence exists and I hope Judge Yvonne Murphy will pick up the evidence and use it in the inquiry.

With regard to consent, we are talking about true consent because the term "consent" is often thrown around. True consent involves a situation where someone can say 'No'. For any of the women I have spoken to, saying 'No' was not in the realm of possibility. They did not even know they were consenting, let alone to what they were consenting.

There are also issues concerning the testing of vaccines by drug companies. The matter can be examined and brought into the inquiry. The State has failed the women from the Magdalen laundries. I hope there is an opportunity for the State to redress that and ensure what should happen does happen. The same is true for symphysiotomy survivors. The State has a poor record in these areas and we must right what was wrong and atone to the victims. With regard to symphysiotomy, I agree with human rights groups such as the Irish Council for Civil Liberties and Amnesty International that were critical of the Government's payment scheme, which includes a deed of waiver and indemnity that requires survivors accepting payments to waive all rights and entitlements but also to indemnify and hold harmless the people responsible. I can understand it when the lawyers get at it but I do not understand how a survivor of symphysiotomy is expected to sign something of that nature.

As the report is progressing, I hope we do not neglect other important legislation that we need to proceed with. Senator Power referred to adoption and tracing, which is a key issue for what happened in the mother and baby homes. It is key to the climate that existed. I refer also to the children and family relationships Bill. Some aspects of the media consider there is only one aspect to the Bill but an important aspect for me is that it will replace the Guardianship of Infants Act, which dates from 1964. The Act dates from 50 years ago and, looking at the period of time we are talking about in history, we need to update the Bill. That is why the children and family relationships Bill is so important. I will listen to the debate and the amendment with care. I see the terms of reference as an empowering tool.

On support for the women involved the Minister should draw on the example of the Ryan report or the work conducted by our colleague, Norah Gibbons, with the Acknowledge Forum of Historical Abuse Inquiry in Northern Ireland. We could learn how to support the women involved because the State will be fully armed but we need to ensure the power lies with women and their stories and truths.

5:35 pm

Photo of Marie MoloneyMarie Moloney (Labour)
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I welcome the Minister to the House. I strongly support the motion before the House to investigate the treatment of mothers and children in institutions across the State in the past. The appalling scandal of what went on in mother and baby homes between the 1920s and 1970s was known to the State, State agencies, the church and Irish establishments. These homes were registered, regulated and inspected by the State under the Registration of Maternity Homes Act 1934. The State knew what went on in these homes, including forced and illegal adoptions, the disgraceful burials, the vaccination trials and so on. State inspection reports described children as being fragile, emaciated and pot-bellied. Cause of death was often recorded as starvation.

I welcome the Minister's announcement to establish a commission of investigation, chaired by Judge Yvonne Murphy, whose remit is extensive. It is the first concrete step in establishing the full facts of what when on during that dark time in our history. We must handle the investigation with the highest level of sensitivity and calmness. We need to find out why the babies died, and why the death rate in the homes was over three times the national average at the time. By setting up the Commission with all the necessary powers to get to the information required, we will come to a greater understanding of how it was that, as a society, we failed in our treatment of the women and children in these homes.

I acknowledge the work and diligence of Ms Catherine Corless. We would not be here today but for the information she unearthed. The image she exposed of the remains of children and babies who died in Tuam sent shockwaves not just through Ireland but all over the world. I greatly admire all the women who have so far come forward to share their harrowing stories and I commend the Minister on meeting the women and acting so swiftly. One such woman is Ms Philomena Lee. Ms Lee was unmarried when she gave birth to her son Anthony in the early 1950s. He was given up to a couple in the United States for adoption when he was just three years of age. I am uncomfortable using the word 'home' as it conjures an image of safety, stability, love and nurture, which is something these women did not get. The mother and baby home where Ms Lee gave birth to her son was Sean Ross Abbey in Roscrea. It in included in the index.

The examination should identify the extent to which children's welfare and best interests were considered in making arrangements for their placement, in Ireland and abroad. The commission will identify the mothers' participation in such decisions, including procedures around mothers' consent and whether these procedures were sufficient to ensure that consent was full, free and informed. I welcome the fact that the use of babies for vaccine trials, and the transfer of remains to university medical schools as part of doctor training are included in the terms of reference.

I had an issue with the term 'single mother' because I was worried women who were married or widowed would not be included. I commend the Minister on making the change after listening to concerns. Making the investigation a feasible task that can be concluded in a realistic timeframe is crucial. I hope that the commission will be very important to us as a society in coming to terms with our history and understanding who we are as a people. Within the commission, we must establish the true facts about what took place in the dark days of our past. We have heard of the barbaric practices forced upon these women by virtue of the fact that they had children out of wedlock and were technically disowned, shunned and hidden away by their families. We must get this 100% right so that there are no unanswered questions or outstanding issues following the commission of inquiry. The commission should not just be about restorative justice or issuing a State apology but about learning important lessons as a people. Let us make the commission of inquiry the ultimate investigation and ensure that no victim is left out in the cold.

Since I was elected to Seanad Éireann, we seem to be constantly dealing with issues of the past and the sins of our past, such as the Magdalen laundries, industrial abuse, symphysiotomy and mother and baby homes. Why is it on the agenda now? It was due to bad, or poor and perhaps lazy, governance. Was it an easy option to allow establishments set up by the religious orders to take over the role of responsibility for women in distress, women shunned and abandoned by their families, women who had no means of their own and relied solely on the State to safeguard their welfare and that of their unborn children, and subsequently after birth the welfare of their children? It is now quite clear that we as a society failed miserably in our responsibility to these women and children.

One man who contacted me, and I understand the Minister is aware of his sad story, was separated at birth from his twin who was placed in Northern Ireland and who did not even know of his twin's existence. How terrible to separate twins. One month ago, my sister gave birth to twins and, even though they are so young, they are already forming a bond. To separate them would be a social and moral injustice but that is exactly what was done to this man and his brother. This man is actively campaigning to have an all-Ireland investigation. Will we be subject to such scrutiny in years to come if we do not get this right with the commission, clean up our past and bring a little closure and stability to women who have been haunted for years by what happened to them and their children in these homes? We must consider the effect of such action on the children who were forcefully taken from their biological mothers and placed, helpless, in other families. That they were good, loving and caring families in many cases still does not make it right if these children were taken without the consent of their mothers.

The commission must establish the facts of what happened in the home and in its findings must not spare anyone's blushes, be it the State or church. Sometimes what is most obvious and staring us in the face can go unnoticed. As they say, we cannot see the wood for the trees. Everyone knew what was happening in these homes and did not do anything about it and this is not surprising, given that in those days people were afraid to speak out against the State and religious orders. Thankfully, we have moved a long way since then, there is much more scrutiny and accountability, and people are not afraid to speak out. The whistleblowing legislation will protect those who choose to highlight injustice, cruelty and abuse. While most of us here were not around in the dark days of these homes, it is incumbent on us to give these women and children the justice they deserve and to ensure that this type of behaviour cannot and will not happen again in this isle of ours.

5:45 pm

Photo of Sean BarrettSean Barrett (Independent)
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I welcome the Minister, as always. I compliment him on his choice of the members of the commission whom I happen to know, namely, Judge Yvonne Murphy, Professor Mary Daly and Dr. William Duncan. He has chosen people who will serve the Oireachtas well in their work. As others have said, we are finding out more and more awful things about how children and their mothers were treated. A predecessor of mine, former Senator Owen Sheehy-Skeffington, came here almost every day to complain about corporal punishment in schools.A predecessor of the Minister, former Deputy John Boland abolished it. I hope this is a good precedent for the representative of Fingal who is with us this afternoon. I welcome the references to Catherine Corless and her work on this.
I used to hear stories about children being buried in other countries and I thought they were fictional. The fact that this has come home to haunt us in this country is appalling. The isle of saints and scholars is disappearing under the weight of all the bad things we have discovered in recent times. We could include the practice of imprisoning unwanted relatives in county homes in places such as Ballinasloe, Mullingar, Sligo and Castlebar. Sometimes, things get better, and I hope we are more enlightened than when single parenthood was despised. We must examine the role of officialdom. I do not want another report to find that it was a systems failure. People were in charge of budgets for these organisations. We hear the inspections were not up to par. We should not shelter officials, or anybody who has questions to answer, under the cloak of systems failure. The culture of "whatever you say, say nothing" has discredited the country.
I support the amendment on the basis of correspondence I have received. Given the nature of the Trinity College Seanad constituency, I have many constituents in Northern Ireland. A man wrote to me saying, "We were excluded from the Ryan commission, the 2002 redress schedule and now we are excluded from the list of institutions to be investigated by the above commission." This hurts people. He went on to write:

Many of us who remain outside the scope of the investigation will find that personal exclusion most hurtful. A lifetime of marginalisation is now to continue with little prospect of even acknowledgement of their experiences.
He mentioned the recent Italian room meeting the Minister had with groups when the Minister was emphatic in stating that the commission will not be empowered to investigate any person's life, not even the lives of those whose institutions are listed for investigation. He also wrote:
We are asking you to please reflect before the vote on Wednesday if all institutions and survivors are recognised within the terms of reference, not the few. The investigation could be the one to end all investigations. If this is not done, we are simply repeating the mistakes of the past, the wound is not being healed and the agony will continue.
He particularly mentioned, as Senator Norris did, people coming from across the Border, in connection with the Plymouth Brethren and Bray Gospel Hall running the Westbank institution in Greystones. Apparently, the justification for the Plymouth Brethren taking it over was to prevent the children from becoming Roman Catholics. There are very grim statements about what went on there and the Bethany Home, Westbank institution, Church of Ireland Magdalen Home, Nursery Rescue Society and Braemor House are also mentioned.
The Minister has got a very good team together and has given them a budget of €6 million. Let us ensure it is comprehensive. I commend Senator Power, who has always taken a great interest in this area, and who has done so much research. She has assembled a list and the amendment should be accepted to ensure the institutions are covered, the hurt is not left and the Minister's successor will not have to have yet another inquiry in the future. As the letter writer from Northern Ireland said, let us do the job now. We can begin by accepting Senator Power's amendment.

Photo of Hildegarde NaughtonHildegarde Naughton (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister. It is appropriate that this House discuss this matter, given that it was first raised in the Oireachtas here. I commend the Minister on the detailed and careful way in which he and his officials have framed the draft order. While there was some impatience to get it, in order to draft workable parameters for any commission of investigation, precision is paramount. The purpose of a commission of investigation is to investigate matters of considerable public concern. This is just one of those. However, while the commission is absolutely independent in how it goes about its work, it is essential that the exact matter of public concern is clearly outlined. While, given the scope of the task, the commission will take some time to come to a conclusion, it cannot be left to meander endlessly for a decade. We cannot have another never-ending tribunal of inquiry. The balance has been well struck in this instance between defining the exact matter to be investigated while leaving the commission enormous discretion.

I acknowledge the tireless work of Catherine Corless, without whom we would not be here today. Too often we, as a society, have wished to turn a blind eye to the sins of the past. There are people who would prefer this matter not to be investigated and for the past to remain just that. We cannot understand our today without acknowledging our yesterday. We will never get to that position without knowing exactly what happened in these homes and the reasons for it.

When Ms Justice Catherine McGuinness addressed us in June of last year, she referenced an article by Father Vincent Twomey, former professor of theology in Maynooth. In that article, he said that our experiences of that time were of the Victorian variety when to be "respectable" was everything. The judge alluded to the fact that this puritan form of religiosity found favour in Ireland at the time with both the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches. It led to great cruelty as previous investigations have revealed. Whatever the reason for it, we, as a nation, totally failed our single mothers and their children in these homes. The Minister was right to hear for himself, from the people affected, the stories of their experiences and how it affected their lives. Such first-hand retelling contributed in no small way to the Minister's drafting of the order before us. They are to be commended for their courage in coming forward.

In that light, I am glad to see the inclusion of historian Professor Mary Daly on the commission. The reputation of Judge Yvonne Murphy is beyond reproach and I am especially pleased she agreed to chair the commission. We can expect a thorough, exacting and rigorous report at the commission's end. The addition of a segment in the investigation into potential illegal adoptions is also crucially important. As the Minister noted in the Dáil, the entry and exit mechanism in these institutions forms a very important part of the entire question. It is quite probable that what are sometimes termed "forced adoptions" occurred, even after the introduction of the Adoption Act. This needs thorough investigation. I have a fear, however, that while we may well discover that it happened, there will be a lack of records due to the passage of time and the concealed nature of the operation itself. I hope Iam wrong. I would love us, as a State, to reach out to those babies, now adults, who were sent abroad, perhaps without their mothers' consent, and welcome them as citizens of our now truthful republic.

In conclusion, I again welcome this draft order. It strikes the right balance between the need for speed and efficiency and the need for a thorough investigation. Let us hope it shines a light into dark corners and let us hope that after what I think will be a harrowing report, it makes us a better, kinder and more compassionate society.

5:55 pm

Photo of David CullinaneDavid Cullinane (Sinn Fein)
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I welcome the Minister to the House and very much welcome the establishment of this independent statutory commission of investigation into the mother and baby homes scandal. We commend the efforts of survivors and campaigners who have helped force the Government to change direction and adopt this position, including the Coalition of Mother and Baby Home Survivors and historian Catherine Corless, who has been mentioned by a number of Senators.

I am informed that the Minister will lead the process and that the terms of reference of the commission are yet to be agreed. People North and South expect the Minister and Government to get this process right and I hope that they do exactly that. The process must, therefore, be open and transparent from start to finish and command full public confidence throughout. Sinn Féin is urging the Government to ensure that both the resolution to formally establish the commission and the terms of reference are brought before the Dáil and Seanad. This should be done with urgency and as soon as is humanly possible.

Any terms of reference must be comprehensive and include the Protestant homes, the Magdalen laundries and county homes by way of an open list to give the commission both scope and flexibility. Sinn Féin would argue that the commission must be cross-Border and that any international dimensions should be accounted for. This will require cross-jurisdictional and international co-operation. We have suggested eight broad thematic areas for investigation. In our view, emphasis should be placed on findings regarding the following: statutory responsibility; regulation and inspection regimes; potential violations by individuals, private or public bodies; and the meeting of State obligations under domestic and international law since the founding of the State since 1922. We also believe that the commission's proceedings should be held in both public and private hearings based on survivor choice. It is imperative that survivors are provided with legal support and that all documentation and evidence currently at risk of destruction is secured urgently by the commission.

The final report's findings must also be published. These critical matters require urgent clarification from the Minister and Government. The urgency regarding getting this process cannot be overstated. Let us therefore come together to agree a process which all concerned can stand over with pride. We note that this issue has cross-Border and international dimensions and the terms of reference and appointments to the commission must take these issues into account. The purpose of the investigation should be to recover and establish the truth, identify any violations of the rights of citizens and their causes, locate responsibility and propose effective remedy. In particular, it should identify if there are persons, institutions, corporations and State agencies which are culpable in any violations and make recommendations to hold them to account as appropriate. It would be our preference for this commission be established by way of stand-alone legislation. We are concerned that there are shortcomings in the Commissions of Investigation Act 2004 and that unless these are overcome, they could hamper the credibility and effectiveness of the commission of investigation. We strongly urge the Minister to reconsider whether the terms of the 2004 Act are in all ways appropriate or whether separate legislation is required. We stress that all commission members need to be fully independent of Government and all other public or private bodies under investigation. We note that this independence is stipulated under section 9 of the 2004 Act.

The cost to the State of adequate representation is an important factor but cannot be allowed to outweigh the right to effective representation to ensure justice and the restoration of dignity to victims and survivors. The terms of reference should include, but not be limited to, all mother and baby homes regardless of the denomination, including Bethany Homes and other Protestant-run institutions, the Magdalen laundries and county homes. We believe the terms of reference should specify in their subject scope matters such as the following: how these institutions were established and run; how the women and children came to reside or be born there; the numbers involved; infant, child and adult mortality and morbidity rates; adoption, nursing, fostering and boarding out practices; vaccine and any other clinical or medical trials and medical experimentation; forced labour and incarceration of unmarried girls and women; general conditions in the institutions; the burial practices and burial occasions of unmarried mothers and their children; and cross-Border and international movements of pregnant women and their children. Particular attention should be paid to the role of the State in funding or contracting for services from the institutions. The scope of the commission should extend from the foundation of the State in 1922 to the present day so the Government must take immediate action to secure access to the relevant sites and documentation and make the obstruction of access to and destruction of such information and documentation a serious criminal offence.

There can be no repeat of the indemnity for contribution deal struck by the former Minister for Education with the religious orders in the case of the residential institutions. The State must ensure that the orders and other institutions are held accountable and that they make a contribution commensurate with their level of responsibility as found by the commission and contribute to the costs of the investigation.

Photo of Tom ShehanTom Shehan (Fine Gael)
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Is amendment No. 1 agreed to? The amendment was proposed and seconded.

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)
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Unless there are any more speakers, I propose an amendment to the Order of Business to extend the time by five minutes to allow the Minister to respond.

Photo of Tom ShehanTom Shehan (Fine Gael)
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Is that agreed? Agreed.

Photo of James ReillyJames Reilly (Minister, Department of Health; Dublin North, Fine Gael)
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I thank Senators for their contributions to the debate on this motion and acknowledge the constructive input of Members of the House on all sides in assisting the Government in its consideration of these sensitive issues. I reiterate my appreciation of those who have already shared deeply personal accounts of their experiences with me. I hope they continue to find the resilience and courage to assist this commission in establishing the truth of what happened.

Valuable work has been carried out by a number of historians and advocacy groups which has informed public debate on this issue. In particular, I commend the research undertaken by Catherine Corless which has brought these matters to public attention. I share her desire to have the dignity of deceased children who lived their often short lives in these homes respected and recognised.

The motion before us today deals with the arrangements agreed by the Government on 8 January 2015 in respect of the establishment of a commission of investigation into mother and baby homes and certain related matters. The process commenced in earnest following a motion passed by Dáil Éireann on 11 June 2014 which acknowledged the considerable public anxiety as to the conditions in mother and baby homes operational in the State in that era. Today's motion is about much more than the arrangements for an investigation. It is an opportunity for us as a society to start to acknowledge and address the often harrowing manner in which single women and their children were treated in mother and baby homes, how they came to be there in the first place and the circumstances of their departure from these homes.

The draft order before the House puts a clear and deliberate emphasis on mother and baby homes. I do not want to dilute the critical focus of this investigation into the experiences of women and children who spent time in these homes by examining every type of institution where people considered past deficits or failings may have existed. That is not to deny the harsh conditions experienced by many, particularly vulnerable women and children, over the course of our history as a State. It is important to appreciate that the legislation under which a commission is established requires considerable precision in the setting of the terms of reference. The legislation requires that the terms of reference be specific in terms of the events, activities, circumstances, systems, practices or procedures to be investigated.

Since I announced the terms of reference in the presence of former residents of some of these homes, there has been general acknowledgement of the detailed level of investigation provided for within the comprehensive framework set out in the terms of reference.

There has been general acknowledgement of the detailed level of investigation provided for within the comprehensive framework set out in the terms of reference.

This debate has again demonstrated the complexity of these issues and the degree to which society turned a blind eye and allowed others to deal with the difficult issues we decided to ignore. The issues raised by Senators emphasise the challenge in seeking to define the wide range of public concerns to be addressed in this investigation. I have listened to their contributions and, as outlined in my opening statement, I am satisfied that the independent commission will have sufficient scope to examine many of these concerns and make a determination on their relevance to the central issues in question and, where appropriate, make recommendations to me that it deems necessary. In this regard, I hope the provisions of Article 6 will reassure those who believe the process to date has not fully uncovered information relevant to their specific circumstances.

I acknowledge that some people may have wished to include a broader and even more diverse range of matters within the terms of reference. However, we must be clear and realistic in our approach and expectations. My sole objective is to establish a focused commission which will effectively utilise all necessary powers to establish relevant facts in a reasonable time. This is critical, given the age profile of many of the people involved.

During the course of the debate a number of Members made the case for the inclusion of institutions not listed in the appendix of mother and baby homes and, separately, raised the issues of address, information and tracing. While it is not possible for me to accept amendments to the resolution or draft order, I will comment briefly on the issues raised. Some of them are not central to the intended remit of the investigation. In the interests of maintaining the required focus on mother and baby homes, it must be recognised that other inquiries have examined concerns in a wide range of settings, including children's homes and Magdalen laundries. We know that the situation pertaining to mother and baby homes is complex. Therefore, it would be a mistake to rush to make simplistic judgments on these matters. This is part of the rationale for having a commission of investigation. The situation is highly personal for those involved and warrants far more than a simplistic analysis. The motion is another tangible step in delivering on the Government's commitment to establish a statutory investigation, with all of the necessary powers to provide a full account in a timely manner of what happened to vulnerable women and children in mother and baby homes.

Amendment put:

The Seanad divided: Tá, 13; Níl, 24.


Tellers: Tá, Senators Ned O'Sullivan and Diarmuid Wilson; Níl, Senators Paul Coghlan and Aideen Hayden.

Amendment declared lost.

Question put and declared carried.