Thursday, 9 March 2017
Commission of Investigation Announcement on Tuam Mother and Baby Home: Statements
I am very pleased to be here to offer my initial statement on what has happened, particularly in the past week. I look forward to hearing Senators' contributions which will help me significantly as I move forward.
Experience tells us that it can take time to shine a light on dark periods of our history. The truth is hidden, sometimes in plain sight. It takes the brave testimony of survivors, long studies by historians and the dogged determination of investigative journalists to bring a spotlight to events which were previously only whispered about, in this case for generations. It is now almost one week since the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes confirmed what we had all feared. Today I outline the commission’s update that a significant number of human remains are buried on the site of the old mother and baby home in Tuam, County Galway. For survivors, loved ones and campaigners such as the tireless Catherine Corless, it was a moment of vindication. After decades and years of hard work, determination and unwavering commitment, the truth has been laid bare for all to see. This House and the entire state owe a debt of gratitude to Ms Corless for her work. Many men and women who are alive today spent time in that institution, either as children or young women. Today I offer them my personal solidarity and, as a citizen, personal apology for the wrongs done to them.
Senators will know that the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes continues its work. They will also know that calls have been made for the terms of reference of the commission to be reviewed. I acknowledge the calls made since Friday for an expansion of the terms of reference to cover all institutions, agencies and individuals that were involved with Ireland’s unmarried mothers and their children. There are also calls to include investigations of burial practices at all of these locations. I can commit to Deputies that a scoping exercise will be carried out to examine this issue. I will be announcing the details of this exercise in the coming weeks. I will also be publishing the second interim report of the commission by the end of this month.
I am mindful that, by design, the commission is largely concerned with questions of legality, legal liability and compliance with the laws of the day and so on. These are important questions. They are, however, not the only issues we should consider. What happened in Tuam is part of a larger picture. It is part of a tapestry of oppression, abuse, repression and systematic human rights violations that took place all over the country for decades. As a modern, open society, we must not treat these as isolated incidents but rather confront what was a dark period in an honest, mature and reflective way. We must acknowledge that what was happening in these institutions was not unknown and not without the support of many pillars of society. We must acknowledge that this very House debated legislation that allowed for those residing in institutions such as county homes to work for little or nothing in return for the so-called charity shown to them. Lest we contend that people did not know what was happening, let us remember that some Members of the Dáil spoke out against it. In the finance committee debates on the Health Bill 1952 which took place in July 1953 Deputy Kyne condemned putting unmarried mothers in county homes effectively as involuntary labour as “having revenge on her”.Captain Cowen, a Deputy, described as "absolute brutality" the fact that they were not even let out. Earlier than that and before our Constitution had been finalised, Members of the Oireachtas also raised questions about the ill treatment of so-called "illegitimate" children. Thus, as I said, this history may be dark, but it was not entirely unknown.
We must acknowledge that sometimes it was fathers, mothers, brothers and uncles who condemned their daughters, sisters, nieces and cousins and their children to these institutions and that sometimes it was not. We must accept that between 1940 and 1965 a recorded 474 so-called "unclaimed" infant remains were transferred from mother and baby homes to medical schools in Irish universities. We must listen to, record and honour the truth of people's experiences. We must commit to the best of our ability to recognising, recording and making reparations for the truth. Making these commitments and honouring them will not be easy, but we must do so, for those who suffered and also for future generations.
Establishing the truth is important for many reasons but not least to ensure that the darkness of the past will not return in the future. Irish women and Irish children must never have to endure such suffering again. As a feminist, Independent Minister and Irish woman, I feel a moral and ethical compulsion to reach beyond the legal questions of what happened in Tuam and elsewhere. That compulsion is driven by the need to arrive at this truth. It is only from acceptance of the truth that we can move past it, not by drawing a line under it but by highlighting it and recognising it as part of our history and part of our national story. We must commemorate and memorialise this truth and we must honour its victims. We must recognise the part that individuals, communities and institutions played. We must make sure that, while we still have time, we look to those who are still alive and accept their accounts of what was done to them and of the wrongness of that.
In the coming days, I will start a conversation as Minister with advocates, historians and scholars specialising in transitional justice. The United Nations defines transitional justice as the set of approaches a society uses "to try to come to terms with a range of large scale past abuses". Transitional justice puts survivors and victims at the heart of the process. It commits to pursuing justice through truth. It aims to achieve not only individual justice, but a wider societal transition from more repressive times, in order to move from one era to another. Taking a transitional justice approach means that we will find out and record the truth, ensure accountability, make reparation, undertake institutional reform and achieve reconciliation. In doing this, I acknowledge the many people who have contacted me personally in recent days to tell me directly of their experiences. It is important also to ensure that we learn from international best practice in transitional justice, such as the museums of memory in Argentina and Chile, for example. There may also be lessons to be learned from processes used to establish the truth in other contexts and other countries.
Writing in the London Review of Bookslast year about the mother and baby home in Tuam and other matters, our laureate for Irish fiction, Anne Enright, stated:
The living can be disbelieved, dismissed, but the dead do not lie. We turn in death from witness to evidence, and this evidence is indelible, because it is mute.
Let us not disbelieve. Let us not dismiss. Let us commit to do justice not solely through law but through speaking and listening, and through believing what our eyes, our ears and our compatriots tell us.
I welcome the Minister to the House. Like everybody else in the House and across the country, I am greatly saddened and upset at the revelations in Tuam. The treatment of young mothers and their children defies belief. It is chilling and horrendous. My sympathy is with the families concerned and my hope is that they will gain some solace from the huge outpouring of support they have received from the public, from Uachtarán na hÉireann down to the ordinary citizen. Outrageous as the story is, Tuam is far from unique. We can anticipate further similar revelations in the immediate future.
It is regrettable that the Bon Secours order, which has a splendid record in the provision of medical services generally and which is today at the cutting edge of medical care, should, as yet, have issued no apology statement in this matter. I urge it to do so now. I welcome and support the statement by my party leader, Deputy Micheál Martin, calling for the religious orders to hand over medical-related properties to the State. This seems even more appropriate in the context of Tuam. The orders got off fairly lightly in the 2002 deal and the Government should now revisit that settlement, especially as the orders did not live up to their undertakings. On the Order of Business this morning, the Leader said it was a Fianna Fáil Government which made that agreement, which I accept. However, times have moved on and we know a great deal more now than we knew in 2002. Let us not be political about this.
While I say I am disturbed by the revelations, I cannot say I am shocked. Anybody who grew up in rural Ireland in the 1950s, as I did, and who had eyes and ears knew there was a strange, silent issue to do with the plight of unmarried mothers which never received public utterance but was in the consciousness at all times. As such, I am not shocked.
I use my remaining time to share a story with the House. It concerns a sad and dark time in Ireland and it will have resonance given the subject under discussion today. In February 1946, in a small cottage at the edge of my home town in north Kerry, a young, single girl gave birth to a baby with the assistance of a local midwife. Complications set in and immediate medical help was required. A local hackney man by the name of John Guerin was sent for and he brought the seriously ill girl to the local hospital, less than a mile from her home. She was refused admittance and directed to the county hospital in Tralee, which entailed an agonising journey for her of 20 miles. Although she was at death's door, she was again refused admittance in Tralee and redirected to the union in Killarney, which was a further 20 miles away and which was considered to be a more suitable place for her peer group. There, she died.
Mr. Guerin took her coffin back to Listowel on the roof of his car to find the gates of our parish church locked against them. The local convent chapel door was locked as well. By this time, word had spread and a sizeable crowd of angry people had gathered in our square. Mr. Guerin and his neighbours broke down the chains on the church and shouldered the remains up to the altar. Community pressure was applied and the girl's body was buried in consecrated ground the following day. Many years later, Mr. Guerin's son, Tony, a celebrated playwright, wrote a play about that story called "Solo Run", which ran to packed houses in Dublin.He also wrote "Hummin'", a play which deals with the way orphan boys from workhouses were treated as slave labour in the locality. A local balladeer, Sean McCarthy, who wrote "Shanagolden", also wrote a beautiful poem, In Shame, about the incident. It highlighted the plight of the unmarried mother of the time.
They whisper their stories, they glance with the eye
They look over my shoulder when I pass them by
And my father and mother, they treat me the same
Oh hear the nightingale crying in shame love in shame
I will leave it at that, except to state there is a positive message in the story of human compassion against oppression and cruelty. A local community, working people in the main, had the courage to stand up to the might of the church and the narrow mean attitudes that obtained at the time when a girl in trouble had nowhere to go except England or the nearest Magdalen home.
I will not join the queue of people pointing the finger at priests and nuns. I admire most of the priests and nuns I know. They have given fantastic service at home in their communities, particularly those who worked and struggled abroad in the missions. They deserve our support and understanding at this time because there has been a lot of comment, most of it justified, but in my view some of the comments, particularly by the clergy in general, have been over the top. That said, I believe all human life is sacred. Therefore, I have great difficulty in understanding why those who shout loudest today about being pro-life were totally silent when the babies of single mothers were consigned to oblivion and misery and, as we have seen, horror of horrors, the septic tank.
I welcome the Minister back to the House on another very sad occasion in our collective history. The outrage and sadness throughout the country is palpable. We have staggered from scandal to scandal in recent years and it has sent the country reeling. People are disturbed, shocked and bewildered. We are a society in mourning for the countless losses and deaths and the unspeakable criminal cruelty committed against our very vulnerable, our women and our infants.
The Tuam revelations and what has yet to be discovered could well dwarf all other scandals to date. From the Free State's inception, the ruling political powers danced to the tune of the ultraconservative church. In drawing up our Constitution, de Valera invited Archbishop Charles McQuaid to help build and compose Bunreacht na hÉireann, the Irish Constitution, and the Catholic teachings of Charles McQuaid in particular are very influential in our entire Constitution. The new Republic had the cailíní, virgins and pure, dancing at the crossroads in a twisted notion of utopia. Our collective souls were handed over to the church to do what it wanted with women and children, and society washed its bloody hands.
Over the past six years, I and Sinn Féin have supported and attended Flowers for Magdalenes event, which takes place on the nearest Sunday to International Women's Day. Through that emotional event of remembrance I have formed ties with the Tuam mothers and babies group and the United Survivors group, who are here in the Gallery today. I applaud each and every one of them. They have reams of document which require forensic investigation and lodgement with the Garda and the DPP for their consideration and action.
I want to highlight some of the personal stories as told to me by the women and children sitting in the Gallery. They have spent a lifetime searching for their real stolen selves and a lifetime searching for their stolen babies. They have suffered as outcasts, suffered at the hands of the State, suffered at the hands of the priests and nuns, suffered in lonely terrifying childbirth and suffered painful engorged breasts with milk but no baby to nurse. Many have endured lifelong mental health issues from the scarred experience. I and the people of the country cry out and demand these horrific wrongs be recognised, investigated and resolved as much as they can be, and for the body politic to ask forgiveness from these women and their children.
Recently the Taoiseach, Deputy Kenny, stated the nuns did not walk into homes to take the girls, the fallen women, into institutions. Perhaps they did not, but the priests did. They walked into homes, schools and workplaces throughout the country and the UK from the 1940s onwards. They established the Catholic Crusade of Rescue society, which hunted down women, particularly those who escaped from the mother and baby homes or institutions. Terry Harrison, who is here, was one such young girl. She escaped from Bessborough while pregnant and made it to London in the late 1970s. She was abducted from the London streets by the Catholic Crusade of Rescue society in the guise of Fr. O'Hanlon, and forcibly returned via our national airline, which it did willingly on countless occasions, to the more secure prison of the institution on the Navan Road.
I acknowledge David Kinsella, whose mother was sent to England following his birth in the institution on the Navan Road. She was told her baby would die and was told to go and forget what had happened because her baby was going to die anyhow. David suffered malnutrition all his infant life, which was so severe he had numerous admissions, which may amount to hundreds, to St. James's Hospital to treat it. Not one doctor or nurse asked why this child was going to the hospital so often, so many times a year, and why he was so small and so malnourished. It took a cleaner in St James's Hospital, Alice Kinsella, to state she wanted to mind the baby and be his mammy. Eventually, when David was four and a half years of age, she became his mammy. David then went looking for his birth mother. By the time the HSE eventually relented and gave him the information he needed, which was years later, his mammy had died, believing she had no children and that her baby had died back in the Navan Road institution. David is precious about the one thing he has from his mammy, which is his name.
I welcomed the decision to publish the second interim report of the commission of investigation into the mother and baby homes, although I think we will agree home is a gross misnomer for these locked-up places of dark bleak confinement. I and the women and children here demand they be involved in the expansion of the terms of reference into mother and baby homes. In particular, we need to include forensic auditing of the accounts. I have been given documents by Anna Corrigan of the Tuam baby group, which categorically shows the upkeep - another misnomer - of many women and children was triply paid for by the State, by parents and by the recipients of stolen babies. There is also clear and unequivocal evidence that mothers and babies were kept in the institutions for prolonged periods, despite being fit for release, for financial gain for that institution. The books also show girls and babies long gone from the institution remained on the books for extended financial payments.
I know the Bon Secours order has given great medical service to the country. I also know the Bon Secours made €3 million last year in profits. Over the past decade it has made just under €100 million in profits. These need to be given back to the Irish people and to the women and children who were so dreadfully treated.
For years I have requested from the HSE, as a nurse and a councillor, a collated list of the long-term residents in psychiatric back wards. When they were of no more use as slaves they were thrown into psychiatric units and they lived out their lives hidden and unheard. Many of them had their babies stolen.
In the 1950s the mortality rate of babies in the institutions was 25%, five times higher than in the community. This needs to be investigated. Was it medical neglect? Yes, it was.Was it the withholding of essential medicines on grounds of cost? Yes, it was. Was it cruelty towards those who were considered to be second class or third class citizens? As a nurse, this disturbs me to the core. It is obscene and appalling.
We need to investigate the trafficking of babies. The documents in the Tuam archive include correspondence from senior church clergy requesting babies be made available for adoption. Subsequently, babies up to 3 years of age were removed from their mothers and sold. Many were sent to the United States without their mothers knowing anything of their history. We do not know who was involved in this horrific scandal. It is possible that doctors, social workers and nurses were involved. Are they still working in the system or the caring sector? This issue needs to be addressed immediately.
I have the utmost empathy and respect for everybody gathered in the Chamber today. I salute them with love and compassion. I acknowledge the fierce determination of the women and children in the Visitors Gallery. They deserve our unconditional apologies. To them I say, "Well done." They have been heard and we will ensure that they will continue to be heard. They deserve to stand cherished among us as equals.
I thank the Minister for coming to the House once again to deal with an issue that is very disturbing to all of us. The discovery of a mass grave at the Tuam mother and baby home is truly appalling. As Senator Ned O'Sullivan said, Irish society is horrified by the discoveries that have been revealed. The cruel irony of this House discussing the announcement of the commission the day after International Women's Day cannot be lost on all of us.
The horrendous scar on our history first came to public attention following disturbing reports of high mortality rates and possible mass graves on the grounds of the former mother and baby home in Tuam, County Galway. Before now, it was hearsay but now, tragically, we have positive proof that there are remains dating from the time of the mother and baby home which was run between 1925 and 1961; they do not date from an earlier historical period. As the Minister said, we have to commend the historian Catherine Corless for her tireless work, against the odds, to reveal this necessary truth.
I also welcome those in the Visitors Gallery who have been horrifically affected by the homes. As Senator Máire Devine said, use of the word "home" is very inappropriate to describe what are chambers of horror.
As exceptionally sad and disturbing as the news is, as Senator Ned O'Sullivan said, it was not unexpected. Unfortunately, none of us is shocked. There were many claims in recent years about human remains on the site. That was one of the reasons the commission of investigation was established. The confirmation that there are remains represents an irremovable stain on our modern history.
As the Taoiseach said, as a society, we did not just hide away the dead bodies of tiny human beings; rather, we dug deep and deeper still to bury our compassion, mercy and humanity. If, in some instances, priests took children, for the most part, society turned a blind eye to what was happening in the homes. The women and children were, in most cases, voluntarily handed over to the nuns for a life of virtual slavery because of our obstinate obsession with respectability.
Of course, the men who colluded in the pregnancies were never pursued or condemned to a life of captivity or servitude. It is almost as if the women somehow self-impregnated and were exclusively to blame. Their babies were taken from them and many were trafficked abroad for financial gain. Women were starved, neglected and hidden from society. They suffered horrendous abuse. It is imperative that we now respond with sensitivity and respect to what has been unearthed.
There is a role for the coroner in north Galway to consider what steps may be necessary and appropriate in accordance with his statutory functions. We must not pre-empt what he might decide to do. If he decides that there are no suspicious circumstances, the local authority can act. What is required is reflection on the measures needed to bring the investigation to fruition in an extremely effective way. There is independence for the coroner and the Garda. There is also a duty on the part of the local authority towards the families who have been devastated by what has happened.
It is my understanding the commission has not yet made formal official findings, rather it has completed a physical excavation. We now know that there are substantial remains of very young children on the lands in question. The scope of the commission's remit includes several specific areas of practice and procedure regarding the care and welfare of and entry arrangements and exit pathways for the women and children who were resident in 14 named institutions and a representative sample of county homes identified by the commission. The Commissions of Investigations Act 2004 provides an effective mechanism to investigate complex and sensitive matters of significant public concern. It gives the commission robust powers to compel persons to produce information and answer questions. It is important to recognise that a statutory commission is fully independent in the conduct of its investigations and the precise timing and approach to the gathering and examination of evidence are matters for it to decide and progress. It is my understanding the Government is satisfied that the commission has sufficient scope and powers to examine a broad range of public concerns, make a determination on their relevance to the central issues in question and, where appropriate, make recommendations to the Government which it deems necessary.
The commission will investigate many specific concerns. They include, as I mentioned, the entry arrangements and exit pathways for single women; living conditions and care arrangements in the institutions; the causes, circumstances and rates of mortality among mothers and children; post-mortem practices and procedures; compliance with relevant regulatory and ethical standards for systemic vaccine trials conducted on children in the homes; entry arrangements and exit pathways for mothers and children leaving institutions; paternal referrals and relevant relationships with their entities and the extent to which any group of residents may have systematically been treated differently on any ground, including race, religion, Traveller identity or disability.
In addition to the main investigation methods, the established confidential committee forum allows former residents to provide accounts of their experiences in private, which is very important. Alongside this, the social history module is being progressed to provide context through an analysis of key issues. Undoubtedly, the fact that the Government set up a Department of Children and Youth Affairs and Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, and held a referendum to enshrine the rights of children in the Constitution indicates the direction in which it would like to go. We are in the very capable hands of the Minister in ensuring the commission will conduct its work effectively. Inevitably, there will be differing views about what to do such as whether we should leave the remains where they are or reinter them elsewhere. It is my understanding Galway County Council will engage with local residents and other interested parties to decide what is best. There will be a consultation process, which I welcome, in which anyone who is interested will have a chance to have a say.
While respecting the dignity of those who died and their families, we should remember that the work of the commission is continuing and that it has not yet made official findings about the Tuam mother and baby home. The process is ongoing and the commission must be allowed to complete its work. We await its final report next February.
I agree with the remarks of Senator Ned O'Sullivan about the religious orders. I join him in asking that they hand over their properties to the State. It is the least they could do.
I acknowledge the survivors in the Visitors Gallery. It is a privilege to have them here. It is our privilege to be a conduit for the expression of their pain and suffering and perhaps bring them to a graceful conclusion.
I have very little to say because much has been said. What has been discovered and what is perhaps yet to be to uncovered is unconscionable, as the Minister said. It is outside everything in which we believe, that I value and what most of us have hoped for all of our lives. It is also against everything we hold sacred. The mother and child are sacred in literature and religion.I always think that if that is dented in some way we lose something of a sense of all ourselves.
Most people in the country have been completely excavated by this - by that I mean in their hearts, emotionally, mentally and psychologically - and by the physical excavation of what has happened in Tuam. I speak as a single mother. I have never said that before in the House but I say it now because it was 30 years ago. Even at that time, it was very difficult but had it been 40 years ago my life would have been different. I speak with a certain sense of parallel, a knowledge of what I could have gone through having reared my son on my own for 30 years. Oscar Wilde called a big piece of literature he wrote De Profundis and I think that sums it up like Anne Enright did that the dead speak to us greater than the living. They did in Clondalkin yesterday as well. Sometimes we must remember that we, as women, must protest for the women who are subject to physical and sexual violence and who are thrown out of their homes and have to run for refuge. It is a violence. What happened in Tuam and what happened the mothers and babies was a violence against women and children, an absolute violence perpetrated by the State and by the religious icons of that State. What is happening today, as happened in Clondalkin, is that women are running from violence not only from men but from other situations. They are trying to find refuge which is what those women looked for years ago but they could not find it. We still do not have laws to protect them because the same thing happened in Clondalkin. Those women and their children are dead, having run from something that was thwarting their lives.
I return to the idea of violence and the unconscionable nature of what has happened to women over the centuries. As Senator Noone said, yesterday was International Women's Day. What we are celebrating is how women have survived centuries of despair, isolation and huge loss. There is nothing to equal the loss of a child.
I know the Minister as a woman, a liberal thinker, a feminist - in the greatest sense of that word - and an independent politician and that with her guidance and under her Department, we will get some answers and will at least be able to go back to what I began with, the sacredness of mothers and children.
I second everything Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell said. I feel empathy as someone who was an unmarried teenage mother from a disadvantaged background. In another time, I would have fulfilled all the criteria of somebody who would have been an outcast in society. Although I can never truly understand what women and children have gone through, I appreciate I could have been in that position as well. I also speak as the daughter of an unmarried mother.
I remember being elected as president of the students' union in Trinity College. We read and learned about the mother and baby homes in school as if it was our history. I very much realised that it is not our history but our present when I received a letter from a woman - one of many letters that I received when I appeared in the newspapers. People asked me if was annoyed that the newspapers kept labelling me as a single mother. I had not thought about it but I told them that I was not annoyed and was okay with it. The reason I am okay with it is because of letters I received from women whose children were taken from their arms and put up for forced adoptions. The letters they wrote to me contained sadness and joy because I was being celebrated for my success and determination as a single mother where only a few years earlier, they were outcasts for the very same thing. They were sad that they never got the chance and opportunities I got but they were happy they got to see a shift in public thinking in their lifetimes.
In 1967, this State's statistics show that 97% of non-marital children were taken for adoption. That is a huge number of children and my concern is that the commission, as it stands and if its scope is not widened as much as possible to all institutions, including private institutions, registered adoption agencies, maternity hospitals, at least two thirds of those women and families will not get their answers. The investigation needs to be expanded. We have an ageing population. If we do not include all those who colluded in this, we run the risk that women who were put into those homes will never get the truth, will never be able to reconcile with their children and tell them that they wanted them and will never have their story heard. We need to be very careful of timeline because it is going against us. The longer we wait, we run the risk of never knowing the truth.
St. Patrick's on the Navan Road only closed in 1996, so this was not in the distant past. We need to remember that and the investigation needs to reflect that. Tuam was not an isolated case. Research by the Adoption Rights Alliance and Justice for Magdalens has made us aware that over 180 institutions, agencies and individuals who were involved with these mothers and their children. There may be unmarked graves similar to those in Tuam at institutions run by the Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary at Bessborough, Sean Ross Abbey and Castlepollard. Many Magdalen women also remain unidentified and in unmarked graves. The commission's terms of reference have to expand and they need to include all institutions, agencies and individuals.
Earlier we spoke about how people were slow to criticise the Catholic Church or the nuns involved. I think all we can do is criticise because at every level there was collusion. We cannot go lightly on something that happened just because other work is going on. We cannot let that cloud our judgment.
If the commission knows that there are unmarked graves, it must notify the coroner. I note the Minister said she wishes to respect the memories of the babies, and rightly so, but this can only be done by identifying those babies and their relatives who have the right to know the circumstances of the death and to arrange proper burials. Every child and adult that died in institutional care needs to be identified and that is how we will respect them.
The commission itself and the investigation process need to be reformed. The commission must hold public hearings and invite people involved in running the homes to speak as well as allowing those who allege abuse to speak. The Commission of Investigation Act 2004 needs to be amended so that evidence given to the commission in private can be published without criminal prosecution. The exemption of commission of investigation records from freedom of information requests needs to be repealed. Evidence given to the commission needs to be admissible in the court of law. The treatment of mothers and children needs to be analysed from the perspective of constitutional rights, not by the standard of what was legal at the time. There is a high likelihood that much of the legislation violated the constitutional human rights of the mothers and babies involved.
I read a quote from a woman around the time the apology was given by Julia Gillard, the former Australian Prime Minister. She remembered how she lay in bed every night with her arms wrapped around her baby inside her, knowing that she would never hold him again after that. She said she would like to talk to him one day and tell him that she and his father loved him.We can only achieve that by freeing ourselves from the unknown and by expanding that investigation. We can only find that truth when we free ourselves. Expanding the scope of the commission can unearth that unknown. We owe this to the women of Ireland who cannot tell their truths or tell their children that they love them. We are only as sick as our secrets, and our secrets are as deep as the abyss. We owe it to all involved to uncover them.
I welcome the Minister and, most importantly, the people in the Gallery, some of whom I have met before. Normally, I stand here proudly but today is not a day for pride. The terrible confirmation of what we suspected at Tuam casts a dark shadow across our society and the way that we have run that society over the decades since the foundation of the State.
While in the past we have always blamed the oppressor for many of our ills, this is something we did ourselves to our own citizens who were mothers with children. It was society-wide. Yes, the church has answers that it must give us, but so too does the State. However, in the course of my time as Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, I met many people who told me stories of their mothers being forced into the home by their families because of a misplaced sense of morality. How more misplaced could it be?
It is clear that the mothers and children were treated differently and fared poorly. The mortality rates in this group were multiples of those for the general population, notwithstanding how bad they were for the latter. It is also clear that much of it was due to the fact that the State would not act. Much of this ceased when the Social Welfare Act 1973 was introduced, so that mothers would have resources to support themselves and their babies. However, I met at least one woman who was not aware that these supports were available for her.
We have changed and, yes, we have had a children's referendum. We now have a Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, including her predecessors, along with children's rights in the Constitution. However, we still have children in trouble and other investigations that show dark places. This investigation will cover a lot of the other issues, such as children possibly being used as guinea pigs for vaccinations. In addition, there is the issue of children being given up for adoption. Many women claimed that they did not give informed consent, but were coerced into doing it.
I am pleased to see from the Minister's speech that she will look into expanding the areas covered by the commission. Previous speakers said they wish to have the commission's remit broadened. I believe that will be necessary but I would caution that if we broaden and expand it all at once, many of the people who wish to hear the truth before they pass from this earth will not get that opportunity. Doing it in a phased way, with the commission answering these questions first, has shown that if we focus we can get answers quickly and then move on to the next phase. I have no doubt that the Minister will do so.
What comes out of this must be a situation that ensures it can never happen again. As long as the vulnerable in our society are hidden from view and as long as there is no transparency, there can be no guarantee that those with evil intent and a will to abuse will not do so.
The Irish people and the State owe the victims of this neglect and cruelty an apology. I would like to take the opportunity today as an Irishman, a father, brother, son and doctor, to apologise to them.
I acknowledge the work that the former Minister, Senator Reilly, did in the previous Government. It was very necessary work which started then and we all want to see it finished. The rights of those who suffered so badly have to be vindicated and respected.
I wish to pay tribute to my colleague, Senator Ruane, who spoke so movingly about her own personal experience. I thank her for sharing that testimony and hope she will never be averse to doing so. She is an example to everybody in this Republic in terms of what can be achieved and the contribution everyone can make to society. Everybody has a function and a role to play in a true republic.
I acknowledge the presence of survivors in the Gallery. Looking at their faces, I can recognise them from our television screens. I also know those voices from radio stations. I pay tribute to their courageous and selfless work in raising these issues in difficult personal circumstances. I wish them well in their quest for truth and recognise the great dignity they have displayed in all of their work.
Sometimes one can become so sickened and saddened about something that when one reaches out to find the right words they are just not there. I sometimes find it difficult to come to terms with what people in our society have experienced for a long time. The horror of Tuam is one such instance. When I was growing up in the 1980s, one had to switch on the television to identify experiences of mass graves. We usually found it in Second World War documentaries or programmes about the killing fields in Cambodia. Little did I know back in the 1980s when I was entering my teens that we had our own mass graves in Tuam and, as is likely, elsewhere.
What happened to those children offends and insults us all. It is truly a crime against our common humanity. We have to ask ourselves what kind of a warped and messed up country we were born and reared in. We are living with the consequences to this day. The children whose remains lie in cold unmarked holes in the ground in Galway, and their mothers, were victims not just of the Bon Secours order or of the institutional Roman Catholic Church, but also of a callous and cruel society that allowed that grip to take hold. That grip poisoned personal and family relationships for generations.
However, that is not to deny what my colleague, Senator Ned O'Sullivan, said earlier that, of course, there are many examples of good and great priests, nuns and others in religious orders who have done tremendous work over the years. To the best of my recollection, however, there were very few who put their hands up, acknowledged that what was going on was wrong, or made any kind of intervention that mattered. That is the problem we are dealing with here.
To this day, difficult clerics like my own good friend, Fr. Iggy O'Donovan, are generally sent to Coventry when they decide to stand up, be counted and seek to reform a church that they and many hundreds of thousands in this country still care about.
We should imagine, for a minute, a society that preferred to banish pregnant single women to a life of communal slavery in a church run like a prison, rather than running the risk of having a daughter with a child bringing some disgrace to a family.That is what we are dealing with. There is no doubt that it was the fault of society. However, that society was shaped and sculpted by a dominant church that reached into every part of people's lives in this country. How did we ever had the neck to call ourselves a republic? We certainly did not merit that nomenclature.
Like many other people, I believe there is more to come. To think that Tuam is the limit of this experience is delusional. I am glad that there is the potential for other sites to be examined.
I do not know how our society can come to terms with the enormity of what has been personally experienced by our friends in the gallery or by their family members. The commission, established by the previous Government, is a good start.
We must acknowledge, as others have done today, the sterling work of Catherine Corless. She shone a very bright light into the dark recesses of our recent history. We know of 796 children from her records. It is thanks to her that we know their names. We remember them now by their names, not merely as victims.
I acknowledge the investigative journalism of my neighbour from Drogheda, Alison O'Reilly, who works for the Daily Mail . She was very tenacious in hunting down the facts to expose this cruelty to the nation.
Many of the survivors of Tuam are still with us. We have heard their stories in recent times. I want to thank former residents of the Tuam home, such as P.J. Haverty. When we see him interviewed on the television, listen to him on the radio or see his picture in the newspaper we are reminded that he could be our father, our uncle, our friend. For many people, this experience has been very close to home.
It is shameful that this society for generations denied so many people the right to be loved by their birth mothers and reared by their birth families. As I said earlier, we are living with the consequences.
I hope to further tease out with the Minister the concept of transitional justice and how it can be applied to the great cruelty that has been visited upon those in the gallery today, their comrades and people up and down this country, not just in Tuam. I thank all those people for their great courage and the dignity with which they have campaigned. They can be guaranteed of the support of everyone in this House.
I agree with all previous speakers today. I want to express my most sincere sympathy to all those affected by the mother and baby homes.
This deeply saddening discovery confirms our worst suspicion about mother and baby homes. It shows the importance of the ongoing commission of investigation. This is across Ireland. The sadness here today is evident. There is such sadness in the Seanad to think that we can see this in our own country. It is unacceptable. We must get answers for how women were treated during their ordeals in the mother and baby homes. We need to ensure that the stories and the experiences of these women and children are never forgotten. We must honour their stories. I believe they need to be honoured. They have gone through so much. Years ago, this subject was taboo. Everything was hidden.
Fair play to the people that have gone through this. We, as legislators, need to get answers. The commission must give them the answers that they deserve. It cannot go on long. These answers must be given urgently. We are here to get the answers for these people. Well done to them all.
Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire agus roimh na daoine an-spesialta atá sa gailearaí inniu.
This is a hugely emotive issue. However, I am taken aback by the use of the word "discovery". A discovery usually pertains to something that nobody knew about. I believe that many people knew about this scenario and therefore it is not a discovery, it is a cover-up of huge magnitude with massive ramifications.
Catherine Corless is one of the most formidable people I have met. She is an incredible woman. I spoke to her earlier today. Over the past couple of years, I have tried to help her access the information she has been looking for. She is still being frustrated in her efforts to get to the information that she and the families here are searching for. Much of it does not need a commission of investigation.
I am very critical of Galway County Council. We had a meeting with it in 2014 where Ms Corless requested access to records held by the county council. The county council blocked her from access to those archives because she was not an academic. If Catherine Corless does not qualify as an academic in this country, who does? If she is not an academic, it is about time NUI Galway offered her an honorary doctorate in order to get over this technicality.
There are maps going back a number of decades which show that there are burial sites in Tuam. They were put there before the housing estate was built. They were on the maps and the folios before the playground was built. When adaptations were made to buildings it was known that there were burial sites there. To say that this was happening within the religious institution without anybody in the locality knowing about it is absolute hogwash. This was collusion of the highest order.
Who put the women in there? Who was aware of what was going on? There are records of money transactions. Some of those records, such as rents paid and so on, are available to Galway County Council. People signed off on birth certificates, death certificates and baptismal certificates. People in the establishment at the time were aware of what was going on. Why was nobody asking any questions? Why has that not been followed up on?
If children were fostered, particularly to the United States, passports should have been issued. Why were they not issued? Who would have known about this? Why did nobody ask any questions? I know that Galway County Council have records on this issue going back to the 1960s and 1970s. Why has nobody in Galway County Council raised this issue? Were any Ministers, such as a Minister for the Environment, aware of any of these issues? Surely if they were being raised locally, they would have been raised with Ministers. Who in Government knew about these types of things? Why was it kept quiet?
Who was being protected? Who were the fathers? Were they well-to-do locals? Were they married men? Were they priests? Were they bishops? Why are they being protected? Were they gardaí? Is that part of what was going on here? That needs to be brought out.
It is ironic that Catherine Corless heard about the commission of inquiry statement on the radio last week. There is a lot of lip service to how wonderful Catherine is and the work that she is doing. People like Catherine Corless and the groups that are represented here today need to be given access to the files available.
Ms Corless wants to meet the Minister. She wants to discuss these issues. If the Minister could give us a guarantee that that will happen in the near future it would be very welcome.
There are issues regarding other homes. Some of them are now privatised. Catherine Corless and I were approached by a man who suffered institutional abuse in another location in Galway. He has concerns about St. Anne's on Taylor's Hill in Galway. It was a children's home. It is now in private hands. I understand it has been bought by a developer, possibly with the intention of building a hotel on the site.Perhaps something happened there as well that needs to be investigated. There may also be a burial site there. The old Grove hospital in Tuam has been brought up. We need to look at all the possible private institutions, because much of the land has been sold off.
We have to ask if resources are going to be available to do a proper investigation. I imagine that the coroner's office is going to be snowed under with the work that is going to have to be done in this scenario. Can the Government guarantee that the proper resources will be made available? Are there enough forensic archaeologists to do this work properly and respectfully? Who in Government knew about this and why did it take Ms Catherine Corless to bring this to the stage? I believe that a wholesale cover-up happened here and that the State and the establishment came together to make sure that this message would not come out. I believe that Catherine Corless and the other organisations that are looking for the truth, relatives and information are still being frustrated by the organs of State within this country. That is not good enough. I hope the Minister would make sure the message goes back to the Government that it needs to make those records available, because people and citizens deserve the truth.
I thank the Minister for coming to the House. I thank her in particular since, when the horrifying details of Tuam and the children there were being presented, she acknowledged that it was not unexpected. That was important, because we need to recognise that this issue was in the public realm and had been discussed. Something that the Minister addressed in her own speech and that we need to tackle in Ireland is the culture of denial, which is the first line we meet every time we see another example, more evidence or another story of our appalling history of institutional abuse. It is often met with the culture of denial. People like Catherine Corless, who are acting compassionately and heroically, have to constantly face disbelief, dismissal and often conscious obstruction in the pursuit that they undertake. It is wrong that such individuals have had to lead so much of the search for justice. It is also wrong that they have met with such obstruction. I thank the Minister for acknowledging that. It goes very deep in Ireland and we will have to acknowledge and work on it.
We all know that many other things will be found. We only need to look at what we know already. There were 472 deaths in 19 years in the Bessborough home. Some 80 of those children were suffering from marasmus, which means severe malnutrition, including babies who have in many cases been taken away from the arms of their mothers, who have not been allowed to breast-feed them. Children suffering from malnutrition - an issue which is easy to control, deal with and address - represent almost 20% of known deaths in a short period in the Bessborough home alone, as we heard in the story earlier.
I welcome the Minister's agreement to the extension of terms. It is important that those are comprehensive. We have heard that the Minister will look at the question of vaccinations, the exploitation by multi-national corporations and by medical schools. We also need to look at the exploitation by companies of those in the mother and baby homes for unpaid work. It was effectively on a level of forced work for those women, who were basically robbed of their lives, energy, physical labour and possibilities by these institutions. That has to be part of the remit. I ask the Minister to ensure that it is.
We need to look beyond those homes currently listed, into the county homes, and even the psychiatric institutions, when we talk about extension of the terms. I spoke to a woman whose mother had post-natal depression, was put into a psychiatric institution and died there. This is all part of a deep architecture of repression and control within our State. When we start to unravel that architecture, we will have to go deep and look at all its strands and forms, and we will need to look at the issue of collusion. We will need to ask, as one person at a recent Flowers for Magdalenes event did, why the Garda was called when a woman ran away if she broke no law. Why were the gardaí taking people back into these institutions? Why were passports being issued for children wherever there was doubt about this forced adoption issue? We have to look at all levels. Let us be clear that this collusion does not excuse these institutions at their core.
I welcome that there will be an interim report. There needs to be interim action as well. Groups like First Mothers have waited for action for too long. That needs to come to the fore. I also want to say that there was a violation of the principal of refuge that needs to be looked at.
I have very important questions to put to the Minister. We talk about the past, but we need to talk about now. Where is the obstruction of justice now? Records are denied to individuals, even the records of where their loved ones are buried. Ms Marie Collins has had to resign from the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors at the Vatican because she recognises that the Pope, while he acts in good faith, approves measures which meet obstruction in the Vatican, a vast centre of wealth. Very modern and complex company structures are put in place to hide and obscure the assets of the institutions involved in this violence and abuse. I ask the Minister to ensure that we address the problems now.
I recognise the good people within the church, including the Pope, and I wish them well in their work and their efforts for reform. We are here to represent the State, and the State has to take responsibility to ensure every penny of compensation is paid, even if through the transfer of assets, as rightly suggested by Senator Noone. We also need to say that it is not acceptable to still have our education and health services be delivered by the church. We have to say that the separation of church and State needs to be complete, with a new hospital opening this week. This is the moment to complete that transition, and I ask for that to be part of the wider discussion.
My two colleagues have covered much of what we in Sinn Féin wanted to say. I pay tribute to all those in the Visitors Gallery who are joining us. I salute their courage and perseverance in getting to the bottom of this issue. I salute the courage, perseverance and wonderful work of Catherine Corless. The pride that I feel for somebody like Catherine Corless is immeasurable. What that woman has come across, the barriers that have been put in her way, and the efforts that have been made to stop her work are an indictment on this State.
I commend the Minister as well, and what Catherine Corless said about her when the Minister made contact. The Minister had the decency to pick up the phone and liaise with her. I encourage the Minister to continue with that. People recognise her genuine efforts to get this matter sorted. We are talking about State-facilitated torture of these women and children. It was only a short while ago. We had a Government in place at the time. We had people in places of power and in very well-paid positions who enabled this to happen to these women and children. Yesterday was International Women's Day and I wonder if the same thing would have gone on if they were not women. Was it allowed because they were somehow a lesser class of people within this society?
There has to be an international element to this as well because of the number of babies that were sold to other countries, including America and England. There are children spread all over the world as a result of the State-facilitated torture that was allowed to go on in this country. We have to ask why it happened. It happened because of money in many cases, and it happened because of abuse of power and control within this State. What can we all collectively do or try to do about it now?If we come across individuals, organisations or institutions that are trying to stop the truth from being recovered, what mechanism is available to us to hold them to account? I ask the Minister to clarify that and to update the House on the role of the Garda Síochána to date and into the future.
This issue needs to be tackled on an all-island basis. What plans does the Minister have to work on that basis? I thank the Minister and those who have been involved thus far. I commend the courage of the survivors. Hopefully it will not be too long before we get to the truth, hold people accountable and make sure that nothing like this ever happens again. It has been very difficult in the past week to be proud to be Irish.
I had lunch today with two people who were tragically subjected to terrible institutional abuse. They wanted to talk and what better place to come than here? I have spoken before about the fact that I grew up in an institution. When I was two days old, I left St. Kevin's mother and baby home in Dublin and ended up in Dún Laoghaire, where I remained. We all want to belong and to be in a place where we are recognised and valued. I have always chosen that town to be my home and have never left it. I want to be there. I feel a sense of belonging there and I had the great privilege of being elected to the council there.
I am really here today to listen to the Minister rather than to say very much myself. I remember, at the age of 11, leaving one institution to go to another in Dún Laoghaire with a cornflakes box, a pair of pyjamas and a note. I presented myself, on my own, to an institution. I moved from an institution which had boys and girls to one which housed only boys. These institutions were the subject of the redress board and after a long campaign they were accepted as part of the Schedule to that legislation. I was involved in that campaign and that is what politicised me. I remember looking back and thinking that when I said "Goodbye", I often said that I would be back but people said, "They all say that". I remember thinking that I would be back and that I would never forget.
One does not forget. It is a bit like an onion; little pieces peel away and little pieces die but little pieces also grow and they empower one. We see the world from where we stand and our experiences within it. We bring those experiences with us into the future. I would never deny my past and my experiences. I hope that in some small way I can bring them with me through my work. I would be telling a lie if I said that it did not have an impact on me as a person and on my personal relationships with others and on what motivates me. Perhaps some of our insecurities drive us to prove more and to seek valuation and affirmation. We all want to be loved, accepted and valued.
I want to thank the Minister in particular because, as many have said, in her we see compassion, care, understanding and empathy. She too has had her journey. We have all had our journeys and we all have a story to tell. It is a pity that we did not walk away from people who did not matter. Why try to keep people on board who do not care about us? Why not go forward, liberate and free ourselves and tell people of our experiences?
When I left, I used to say that one day I would tell my story but more importantly, I want to be believed. Will people believe me? I never thought that one day I would come into the Houses of Parliament. I come in here every day and I pinch myself, with pride and joy, that I am an elected Member of this Parliament. When I came in here on the first day I was struck by the amount of people who had loved ones, partners, wives, mothers and children with them. I walked in that gate on my own. Yes, there was loneliness, isolation and vulnerability but I held my head high and told myself that I am in here because I was elected, that I have a job to do and I want to do it. I want to be a voice for others. I am now believed.
Today, I stand here, very proud that I can say something and the Minister is listening. The two people with whom I had lunch today said that they were amazed by the Minister. They had contact with her office and they believed. Why did they believe? I think it is because the Minister has her story to tell and has empathy with others. It is great to have the Minister here today. I mean that sincerely. I never met her before I came into this House but I know that we are in good hands. The people who are here today, listening, are in good hands. The Minister will not let them down, she will see them right and make sure they get justice. I thank the Minister for that.
A snapshot in time, by J.P. Rodgers.
Tuam, Ireland, 1947. Catholic Church rules OK. In the Bon Secours hospital, a fallen woman awaits her fate. Verdict - guilty of giving birth out of wedlock. A year later, the child was snatched from its mother's breast while the so-called mad mother, seen as a threat to society, was put into the Magdalen asylum, Galway, never to be seen again. Meanwhile, her loveless, homeless, illegitimate, bastard child lay hidden behind the stone walls of the children's home in Tuam. Ireland's first supermarket where people from England, America, Australia were free to choose an infant of their choice, depending on the size of their wallet. Whilst grubby money changed hands, delicate infants died of dysentery, malnutrition and broken hearts, their shrouded bodies stashed away in some secret vault. I - you too - was an illegitimate child in that children's home and in the eyes of Catholic Ireland, I - you - was not legal. Not legal. Fortunately, I lived to fight another day and to tell the story of your mother's life. On her behalf and on behalf of the unmarried mothers everywhere, I plead - not guilty my Lord.
I was not aware we had survivors in the Visitors Gallery, otherwise, I would have begun by welcoming them along with other Members of the House. It is helpful to me to be in my beloved Seanad. It is right they should come here to hear this debate. I spoke on this in the Dáil earlier but this House offers the opportunity to reflect with depth, commitment, experience and the search for truth those in the Gallery have been listening to this afternoon along with me. All Members are attempting to respond publicly and in the context of their position as Senators and public representatives to the voices of survivors and to their requests, experience, and truth telling for all the years they have been doing that. I also acknowledge that. It is exceptionally nourishing to be here to hear everything that has been said and everything that has been requested of me as Minister. We must reflect on all the different words we have looked for in this and the other House and in the newspapers to try to come to a deeper understanding of what happened and why. Why did it happen?
When I spoke earlier I tried to raise some of those questions. We need to continue to ask them and we need to find our answers. There are different ways in which we should do that. What we are trying to come to terms with is enormous. We have to address the ways it has impacted the lives of survivors, how long they have waited and the issues of time, violation, the loss of belonging and the loss of care and love. I am trying to offer a few words now but there are many more words that need to be said. How do we work with the impact of what we are trying to come to terms with? I acknowledge the work of Senator Reilly, who I am following as Minister, as he also worked from that perspective. In my ministry, I am trying to suggest ways of coming to terms with or trying to cope with this. How can we understand, learn from and heal from the enormity of what has gone on and continues to go in our country? It should offer survivors the healing they justly deserve in whatever ways that healing comes.
We have also talked a lot about the changes that are required in terms of institutional and cultural reform and the separation of church and State and the actions that are necessary to move us beyond that. I am open to considering extending the terms of reference. I am supported by survivors in their requests for that. It is a Government decision. I am open to doing that. In addition, there ought to be other ways and actions the State or Government could support for us to come to terms with the healing and transformation required for us to move from the repressive times to another time, from one era to another and to have institutional and cultural reform. Transitional justice is about trying to help us to do that. There are many ways in which it could be incorporated into that.
There are many actions that people have requested. We deal with these questions and requests from where we stand. Right now, I am the Minister, so I am listening. If I was not the Minister, I would be out there asking for all the things the survivors are asking for. I hear what they are asking for - extending the terms of reference, compensation, rituals, identification of remains and a State apology. I hear all that. After I heard it last week on Tuesday afternoon, I went to the mother and baby home in Tuam on Wednesday morning at 7.30 a.m. and paid my respects. There are lots of things we need to do. I started on Monday by phoning Catherine Corless to see if she would come to see me. Just before I came into the Seanad, we finally got a hold of her and I will be seeing her on Tuesday. I would love to see everybody if that is possible. Many actions have been identified. The only way to quickly decide the most appropriate actions is to work together to give the State and Government, of which I am part, the impetus and courage to do those things. Survivors have to continue to make requests and reflect on the ways they engage in actions to ensure healing takes place and will continue to take place in ways that acknowledge the sacredness of motherhood and children so that the survivors, in particular, will feel that we live in an Ireland where they wish to belong. I believe them.