Wednesday, 17 May 2017
Second Interim Report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes and Certain Related Matters: Statements
I welcome the opportunity for statements on the second interim report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes and certain related matters. I welcome all our guests in the Chamber. Following a short first interim report last July, the commission submitted its second interim report to me in September 2016. This second report focuses on a number of issues which had come to its attention during its analysis of information and evidence collected up to August 2016.
I am conscious that it took some time before I was in a position publish the latest report. As I outlined when I published the report on 11 April, the commission's recommendations gave rise to a number of very important financial and legal questions which the Government needed to consider prior to publication. This took some time because I wanted to look at every possible option in conjunction with my Government colleagues. I have acknowledged that the process was more complex and took longer than I initially anticipated.
Senators will be aware that the commission was established in 2015 to examine the experiences of vulnerable women and children in mother and baby homes over the period 1922 to 1998. It is due to report in February 2018. We are now more than two years into its three-year programme of work. This work by the commission is a vital step on the path we have commenced to establish the facts of what happened in and around these homes, and to give true meaning to the values we say define us as a people and a country.
The commission continues to make progress and I restate the Government's continued support for this important work. I record my thanks to Judge Yvonne Murphy, Dr. William Duncan and Professor Mary Daly for their valuable contribution and commitment to the public interest in this sensitive work. Furthermore, it is also now over two months since the commission confirmed the discovery of human remains at the site of the former home in Tuam, County Galway. I appreciated the opportunity to speak about that at that time. As this news and the contents of the interim report continue to be absorbed, I am mindful that there are many deeply personal issues which those directly affected by these issues understandably want Government to address.
I have visited the site in Tuam three times and met former residents and their families. I am acutely aware that many people are experiencing a great deal of anxiety and anticipation of what might happen next on these issues. I will first focus on the report itself and then take some time to update Members on a number of developments which I am progressing with Government colleagues to ensure we respond as effectively and as sensitively as possible to these developments.
Much of the focus of the second interim report is on children who were unaccompanied by their mothers in mother and baby homes and county homes. The commission in its report suggests that where children were resident in mother and baby homes and in county homes without their mothers and these children were excluded from the residential institutions redress scheme, established in 2002 and which has since closed, or a similar such scheme, this should be re-examined.
The commission has stated that it is satisfied that the institutions it is investigating are, in the commission's words, "unquestionably" the main such homes that existed during the 20th century and does not currently recommend that other institutions be investigated. It does not recommend any changes to its terms of reference at this time but may recommend further investigations when its current investigation is completed. The commission considers that it would not be in the public interest to conduct further investigations into institutions which have already been the subject of investigation or where a State apology has been given and redress provided. It does not make findings that abuse occurred in these institutions but notes that its investigations are not yet complete.
The commission recognises that people whose births were falsely registered have a need to establish their identity, but it also recognises that the false registration of births is a very difficult issue to investigate because of a lack of accurate records. For this reason, the commission suggests that an amnesty from prosecution may help to encourage those responsible to come forward and correct the record.
The Government carefully examined the commission's recommendation regarding redress and concluded that it was not possible to implement it. In reaching this conclusion the Government was conscious that the commission has made no findings to date regarding abuse or neglect, and the Government also believes it would not be appropriate to deal with the question of redress in advance of any conclusions by the commission.
The challenges for Government in considering the recommendations of the commission at this interim stage of its work were further highlighted by the recently completed special report of the Comptroller and Auditor General on the residential institutions redress scheme. Due regard was given to the recommendations of the Comptroller and Auditor General in finalising the Government's view on the recommendation. I understand the distress that this decision has caused some former residents. The commission's final report is due in February 2018, at which time the State's response to its conclusions on this issue and all matters regarding the treatment of former residents will be studied very carefully.
It must be acknowledged that previous redress schemes have been complex to administer and often difficult for applicants, but the future State response will be a matter for public debate when the commission completes its work. Although former residents have expressed some concerns about the specific amnesty proposal from the commission, I have committed to exploring further the legal and practical implications of such an approach with the Minister for Justice and Equality and the Minister for Social Protection.
As I announced when I published the report, my immediate focus is on assisting those who were unaccompanied as children in mother and baby homes and county homes, with a view to offering health and well-being supports and services that will be of genuine and practical value to them now. I am making arrangements for a facilitated consultation process with former residents who were unaccompanied in these institutions regarding the nature and type of services and supports in the area of health and well-being that they consider would be helpful to them at this stage. I want to consult, listen and learn, and I will be making further announcements about this process shortly. I then expect to bring proposals to Government before the summer break in order that we can have appropriate supports in place as quickly as possible.
In responding to the increased demand for access to relevant information, I have asked Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, to enhance its capacity for the provision of information to assist former residents who may wish to establish when they resided in a mother and baby home. My Department is working with Tusla to progress this matter as quickly as possible in tandem with our ongoing legislative reform to facilitate access to adoption records as provided for in the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill 2016, the Second Stage of which we have just completed here this afternoon.
While the report states that the commission is not seeking an extension to its current remit, I have indicated that I want to conduct a scoping review to consider if broader terms of reference would help answer some of the questions which have been raised again in public debate. In this context it is useful to remind ourselves that the commission was established in response to public concerns about a specific type of institution, namely, mother and baby homes. The commission was established to address the specific concerns relating to the welfare of women and children during their time in such institutions and the arrangements for their subsequent exit or placement from homes. Many of the additional issues raised again recently were examined when the commission was being established. While I am open to examining the calls for an extension, it is essential that we do so with a full understanding of the considerable breadth and scope of its current terms of reference. They include mechanisms in order that any additional matters which the commission may deem to warrant investigation can be brought to the attention of Government, its work of listening to victims and survivors in a safe and supported context, as well as the ambitious scale of its fact-finding work.The commission has significant autonomy to follow where the investigation takes it. This is important as the commission is examining records to which the State, or any other parties, would not have had access to previously. In responding to the call for all adoptions to be investigated, the commission noted that this would represent a vast undertaking and indicated that completing its analysis of adoption practices relating to mother and baby homes may facilitate the making of a recommendation on this question at a later point. In its report the commission commits to including relevant information on other institutions which have come to its attention in its social history report which will form a key part of its final report. At this future point, the report states that it may also be in a position to comment on the need for any further investigations in respect of these institutions.
While the independent statutory investigation progresses its work, I have highlighted the need to look beyond the important legal questions surrounding mother and baby homes by developing complementary holistic approaches to grasp the truth of what happened in our country. I have asked Dr. James Gallen of the school of law and government, Dublin City University, to assist by mapping out a model of transitional justice which can further assist to publicly acknowledge the experiences of former residents and further enhance public awareness and understanding of this part of our history. Dr. Gallen is currently preparing a framework document which will be submitted to my Department in the coming weeks.
Since the commission announced the discovery of human remains at the location at Tuam, I have been working with Government colleagues to establish an inclusive process of engagement with former residents, their families and other stakeholders with a view to building a consensus on how the sensitive issues which arise can be addressed. In particular I want to acknowledge my helpful engagements with the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Coveney, and the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Flanagan, in this regard.
It is essential that this process respects the memory and the dignity of the deceased children who lived their short lives in this home. Galway County Council is the owner of the site and it will have a central role in progressing matters. I also understand that the council has been liaising directly with the commission and has written to the coroner around these matters. As part of these discussions, I advised the Cabinet yesterday of my intention to secure specialist expertise to provide technical advice and assistance. I believe decisions on the approach to be adopted would benefit greatly from expert technical guidance on international best practices in this highly specialised area.
I am anxious that decisions on the future of the site in Tuam are progressed as a matter of urgency and I hope to revert to the Government very shortly with proposals.
I thank the Seanad for the opportunity today to further address these issues and I look forward to the contribution of Senators.
I thank the Minister for her comprehensive report. We in Fianna Fáil recognise the vital importance of the commission in delivering justice and accountability for all those affected by mother and baby homes. It is important that we focus on the mothers and babies. These mothers and babies must come first and they must have our sole focus. We recognise the considerable harm that has been experienced by survivors of the mother and baby homes and similar institutions in Ireland.
There was absolute shock and horror about the 796 babies buried in the mother and baby home in Tuam. It is incomprehensible. The babies were aged between 35 weeks and three years. Some were buried in graves, but most were in septic tanks. It is hard to even say the words. These children died of whooping cough, bronchitis, pneumonia and malnutrition. Mothers and babies were separated at birth, torn apart from one another. Some were adopted and sent to America for hopefully a better life. These babies, mothers and families need an ongoing commission of investigation into the mother and baby home. It has to be completed and I am glad to hear that the report will be back before us in the summer and will be finalised in February 2018. That is important.
These women, siblings and families need to know what happened and where exactly their babies are. This is crucial. The views and experiences of all survivors of mother and baby homes will have to be listened to, respected and acknowledged, and from the Minister's report we now know that that is happening. We need to bring healing and reconciliation to survivors, community and the broader public communities and the State. We must ensure that the stories and experiences of these women and children are not forgotten and that their memory is honoured in a most respectful way. It should be an aim of the commission that these women and babies are never forgotten. Before we can move forward as a nation we must turn to the past and recognise its implications for today.
I noticed a press release that the Minister sent out on 3 March concerning Tuam and the human remains on the site. When the Minister was last here we had a survivor here from Tuam. Galway County Council was looking to have what it wanted to call a burial chamber at the site and preserve the site as a peace garden. Some of the survivors have had concerns about this. The Minister has been in Tuam and has made several calls. Does she feel that she is getting proper co-operation from Galway County Council? What is the feedback from the coroner on this report? Some of the survivors have concerns about this. This is a massive issue for them, and I am sure the Minister will listen.
On the Minister's most recent visit the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Coveney, was with her and they met with survivors. What were the survivors' requests? This is about the survivors, the people that we need to make sure we listen to.
I read another press release concerning the Bethany Homes survivors. Originally they were very disappointed that a commission had been set up. I ask the Minister that these survivors are listened to and that every concern they have is addressed. This is about people working together to try and solve an issue which is heart-wrenching for the survivors. I am sure that every day they get up they have to think of what happened to those babies. I am asking that this commission works with the survivors of the Bethany Homes, the Tuam mother and baby home and any other organisations that have been affected by this. We need to get a proper outcome so that these families and children are never forgotten.
It is very timely that we are having these discussions back to back today. When we look at the mother and baby commission of investigation and consider what the Minister has said to us in her report I find it very disappointing. It will be another two years before this work is completed. I note that these are institutions and not homes. Somebody said to me recently that they did not live in a home but rather an institution. She told me a horror story. There are the mother and baby home in Tuam which has been much publicised, and horrific things happened there. I will be talking about that in a few minutes. There were also so many other institutions that people never heard about. The records were destroyed. The people did not have the education, well-being, confidence or the emotional state to go out and tell their stories. It is not easy to tell one's story.
I acknowledge the people who are in the Gallery today. I have met many of them. I have shed many a tear with them. It has gone on for years. We are meeting the same people and we are talking to the same people. I do not doubt the Minister's personal commitment but I note that she is an Independent member who is in the Government. That carries its own dynamic. She must look at it.
The Residential Institutions Redress Act was established in which former Ministers indemnified many State agencies from horrific crimes on the basis that there would be a redress scheme. They defined abuse as sexual abuse, emotional abuse and physical abuse. In crude terms it was based on the Canadian system with which the Minister is familiar. They brought people over and they told their story and they got their hour or two. Someone then gave them a certain amount of points for each of these categories and then the survivors of the abuse received some form of compensation. It was a contribution really. In many cases the lawyers got more money than the victims in these institutions. That is a crime in itself. People were left exposed. They were thrown out of the redress board hearings broken. A woman told me of her experiences, where she got the bus back to Dún Laoghaire and had to then get back to Anglesey and back up to London. She got a miserable €7,000 for her heartache and pain and 16 years of hell in an institution in Dublin. They are facts, and the Minister knows many of the stories.It is important to look at redress in a holistic way as it is not about money. It is about how the State can make a very early intervention to assist people to get on with their lives through social housing, medical cards and independent counselling of their choice. It should not be Tusla, the HSE or institutional counsellors but those in whom people have confidence and with whom they can build relationships. They also need help with legal support because this is an ongoing need. There is a journey of healing, there is much deep pain and people need assistance in all these ways.
In The Irish Timesthis morning there is a piece attributed to the Minister about bringing in expert advice and support relating to the Tuam babies issue and I would be grateful if she would share a bit of information about this. Significant quantities of human remains were discovered. A total of 17 out of 20 chambers on the site had something like septic tank structures and the age of death was between 35 foetal weeks and two or three years old. What is the role of the coroner in Galway and how will this role interplay with this?
I pay tribute to Catherine Corless, who has met the Minister, after which she gave an interview to RTE. She was asked about how she got on with the Minister and she said she had related to her what the survivors wanted. They wanted their families "out of that place". She said it was a tank and sewage area and that their main concern was to give relatives, brothers and sisters, the decent burial which was not given to them in the first place. She wrapped up by saying that many of them want DNA as well, to find out whether they have their own little brother or sister. That is a very human call and it is right that they be assisted and supported in that. She said her message was that this needed to be expedited with urgency as these were time-sensitive issues.
Many people were excluded from the original redress scheme because the then Government argued that it was difficult to define what was "institutional". Some people denied they ran an institution and refused to co-operate on the grounds that they were technically a school, or some other place rather than a mother and baby home. It was a scandal that the Government entered into the scheme in the first place, despite the advice of the Attorney General. There was a lot of splitting hairs about what constituted an institution and whether an institution was in receipt of State support or was State funded, leading to questions whether the State was culpable, but the State has a duty of care to all its children.
I have very serious concerns about granting an amnesty to anybody who perpetrated crimes and abuse against children in the State and I hope no Minister for Children and Youth Affairs makes the case for an amnesty in Cabinet. There can be no amnesty for any living abuser of children. There must be zero tolerance as it is too important and sensitive and people have lived with the pain for too long. We cannot heap more trouble and emotional issues onto them.
The Minister spoke of the importance of learning from international best practice and I know she is driven by the search for solutions. She spoke about transitional justice, which means finding out and recording the truth, ensuring accountability, making reparation, undertaking institutional reform and learning from the facts to achieve reconciliation. The word "reconciliation" does not quite sit with what I previously said about amnesty. There can be reconciliation but people cannot be exonerated and they must be held accountable. I hope the Minister takes on board these points as they are important. She has said she will carry out a further scoping exercise of other institutions, and I welcome that, but there are many institutions which have never been given the opportunity to tell their story. Nobody has addressed their needs but they are also very important. Let there be no amnesty for child abusers in this State, whether it is for historic abuse or abuse now or in the future.
The focus in this report is on children who were unaccompanied by their mothers in mother and baby homes and county homes. As such, it is an issue that must be treated as sensitively as possible. As Senator Murnane O'Connor said, the people involved deserve respect and dignity.
The commission was originally set up to inquire into the conditions in mother and baby homes and county homes in the period between 1922 and 1998. Following a short first interim report last July, the commission submitted a second interim report in September 2016. This deals with a number of issues that had come to its attention during its work and analysis based on information collected up to August 2016. The commission is currently examining the experiences of women and children who lived in mother and baby homes over the period 1922 to 1998.
In its interim report, submitted last September, the commission suggests that the exclusion of children who were resident in mother and baby homes and in county homes without their mothers from the residential institutions redress scheme, which has since closed, should be re-examined, and I welcome this. It is satisfied that the institutions it is investigating are unquestionably the main such homes that existed during the 20th century, and it does not currently recommend that other institutions be investigated. It is not recommending any changes to its terms of reference at this time but may recommend doing so in the future. It does not make findings to date that abuse occurred in these institutions but notes that its work is not yet complete. It recognises that people whose births were falsely registered have a need to establish their identity but recognises that the false registration of births is a very difficult issue to investigate because of a lack of accurate records.
The Government has carefully examined the commission's recommendation regarding redress, and has concluded that it is not possible to implement it at this time. It is my understanding that the Government is conscious that the commission has made no findings to date regarding abuse or neglect, and believes it would not be appropriate to deal with the question of redress in advance of any conclusions on this issue by the commission. Moreover, it is my understanding that the redress scheme was complex to administer and often difficult for applicants. Senator Boyhan referred to this and I hope it will be rectified in the future.
It also has to be acknowledged that previous redress schemes have been extremely costly. As a society, we will need to make major decisions about what we spend our money on in the future. It may be that targeted supports would make more sense than redress schemes. It is my understanding that the Minister consulted in great detail with the Taoiseach, the Attorney General and other Ministers before this conclusion was reached.
It is also important to note that the Government waited for the special report of the Comptroller and Auditor General on the residential institutions redress scheme before reaching a final conclusion on whether the original scheme should be re-opened to cover unaccompanied children who had been in mother and baby homes and county homes. The focus should now be on assisting those who were unaccompanied as children in mother and baby homes and county homes with a view to offering supports that will be of sincere and practical value to them.
I am encouraged that the Minister has committed to consulting former residents who were unaccompanied in these institutions regarding the nature and type of services and supports in the area of health and well-being that would be helpful to them at this stage. It is my hope that this consultation will be completed as soon as feasible, ideally before the summer break, which would enable appropriate supports to be in place as quickly as is possible. I am further encouraged that the Minister has enlisted the expertise of Dr. James Gallen of the school of law and government in Dublin City University to assist by mapping out a model of transitional justice as a means of giving voice to former residents of mother and baby homes and county homes.It is my understanding that the Minister will also carry out a scoping review, to which Senator Boyhan has made reference, of the commission's existing terms of reference to ascertain whether amending the terms of reference would enhance its existing work. Undisputedly, the commission's final report will be of fundamental importance to understanding the experiences of those who stayed in institutions of this kind. As such, it is imperative to allow it space to conclude its work and report its findings. In the meantime, I am very much encouraged that the Minister has committed to take whatever action she can to address the issues already raised. I commend her on her work and compassion to date on the issue.
I welcome the Minister back to the House. It is important that she allows for oral collation of the history. We should have it in our archives and the National Library for our children and theirs to remember. It is important that we do not ever forget.
As Senator Boyhan has said, records were destroyed. There also exist records that were sidelined. Numerous papers were never filed or archived. There are documents lying haphazardly in various heaps in rooms - files containing the sensitive personal details of 1,000 women and their babies, thought to number about 1,500. There have been fraudulent birth and death certificates, illegal adoptions and trafficking of women.
Sheila, Tony, David and Karl in the Visitors Gallery have spent a lifetime asking for the truth. I have only spent a few months trying to help them. They are here in Leinster House again. They have had no meeting with the Minister, although she is committed to survivor-led investigation and having survivors' voices heard. As they continue to be voiceless, I am tasked with putting their voices on the record of this House today. The Minister promised to see them and to report back before the summer recess. Given the time that is left, it seems her promise will not be fulfilled.
I want to give the Minister a timeline in respect of the records - the 1,000 names that have never come to light - that have been given to me by Sheila, David, Karl, Tony and others. We will go back to October 2012. Two internal memos and a briefing document from Dr. Declan McKeown of the HSE were sent to then assistant director of HS health intelligence, Dr. Davida De La Harpe, and the assistant national director of HSE child and family services, Mr. Phil Garland. They stated that a large number of files containing over 1,000 names-----
It was stated that more than 1,000 names relating to Tuam and Bessborough homes had been found and that these files contained evidence of financial fraud, horrific levels of infant mortality, falsification of birth certificates and illegal adoptions. I will quote from an email that was forwarded to the people in the Visitors Gallery in October 2012. This was the beginning of it. It was from Declan McKeown - I have already said his name, so I ask the Acting Chairman to bear with me. He said he was writing as a matter of urgency and asked how they can disregard all these files. He stated the documents are falsified, there are records there, that it needed to be acted on with emergency and swiftly. He was calling for an investigation at that time.
These documents were then brought to the attention of Dr. Philip Crowley and Mr. Tony O'Brien, chief managers of the HSE.
What happened to them then? This was in 2012 and we had complete silence and nothing was heard. The next time the documents reared their heads, it seems, was in 2014 when the interdepartmental group report on mother and baby homes was published. However, the 1,000 files were not included in that particular report. Instead, according to correspondence from the HSE, the files were handed over to Tusla. Once again, they disappeared into the ether. Is the Minister following all this? I have found it extremely complicated to understand and I have been guided by the people in the Visitors Gallery. They are making representations on behalf of the hundreds of mothers and children who are survivors.
On 29 July 2015, gardaí from Tuam met with Tusla and conducted inquires as regards the existence of this box of files. They stated in correspondence they were satisfied the survivors - whose names are redacted - are not mentioned in any such files, which confirms the existence of such files and confirms the Garda was aware of them in 2015. Tusla has confirmed that it still has custody of these files, as is confirmed by correspondence dated April 2016. In reply to correspondence from a survivor in April 2016, the Garda superintendent from Tuam, whom I will not name in deference to the Acting Chairman, stated An Garda Síochána at Tuam had not instigated a criminal investigation into this matter, namely, the HSE internal memo from 2012.
In May 2016, the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Fitzgerald, was informed of these files by letter from a survivors' group. In August 2016, the Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald stated that the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs had not been made aware of these files. In September 2016, a survivor made a complaint about them to Tuam Garda station. That month, the superintendent from Tuam stated that he was not aware of any criminal investigation into the HSE internal memo.
In October 2016, the Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, stated that she would forward information to the Department of Children and Youth Affairs. It is in the Minister, Deputy Zappone's office now and has been for some time. The Garda Commissioner is also aware of it and was to conduct an investigation but nothing has happened. How can we have something from 2012, when the Devil and all knew about it? Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, Senator James Reilly, Deputy Katherine Zappone, the Garda Commissioner - they all knew about these files of 1,000 women and their babies yet nothing was done about it. When the HSE said it would do its own investigation, nobody thought to go back and ask the HSE where that investigation was.
This country has failed those women and children along with many others. Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, Senator James Reilly, Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan, and the Minister, Deputy Zappone, are failing them. It has been a consistent pattern for years that nobody wanted to know. It has been, at best, concealment of documentation from the very outset. There has been a State cover-up of every step of the litany of abuse, neglect and cruelty wrought on these women and children. I do not know what else is in these files but I will forward them to the Minister again. I do not have the forensic knowledge and capability to examine them in detail. Nor is it Tony, David, Sheila or Karl's job to do so. They have done their part.
They have done their part and that shames us. This is now up to Members in these Houses. The Seanad should schedule statements on this matter as soon as possible. We cannot mismanage this again but it is exactly what we are doing. I think it is more than mismanagement. It is a deliberate concealment of the historic files of 1,000 women and perhaps 1,500 babies. It distresses me and I am sure it distresses the people in the Visitors Gallery, who have been here time and again and have asked for redress and understanding. They have asked for a truth commission and an expansion of the terms of reference of the commission of investigation into the mother and baby homes. How can we have that when we do not even have those files and are ignoring them? They were pushed under the carpet again but they are out now. They are resting in the Minister, Deputy Zappone's Department and with An Garda Síochána.
I thank the Minister for coming to the House. On one of her previous appearances in the Seanad, we discussed the issue of a former home in Tuam. I welcome her acknowledgement that the information that emerged in the Tuam case was not a surprise and the issues were known. It is, therefore, somewhat disappointing that the Government, including the Minister in her statement, is rowing back in respect of this issue. I refer specifically to the statement from the Government that there have been no findings of abuse or neglect. It adds insult to injury to hear that, based on an interim report, decisions will be taken on the basis that there is a blank slate and there have been no findings of abuse and neglect. Abuse and neglect are evident in every file and record we care to read and in every place in the ground we have been asked to look. If we do not know that abuse or neglect took place, for what did the Taoiseach apologise to the survivors of Magdalen laundries? We know there has been abuse and neglect. The task of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes is to determine the extent, depth and various awful iterations of that abuse and neglect and offer guidance on how to move forward. We must begin from a position of acknowledgement and honesty, which I appreciate is one the Minister took in the past. I urge everyone to move forward in that same spirit.
In the limited time available, I will speak about some of the key recommendations of the interim report and the response to them. The report suggests some children were excluded from the remit of the previous residential institutions redress scheme and the re-opening of the scheme or introduction of a similar scheme should be examined. It is extraordinarily disturbing that the Government has suggested pre-emptively that it will mot be possible to implement this recommendation. I acknowledge the Minister's statement that the issue needs to be revisited when the final report has been produced. However, the message emerging on how we value or do not value the concerns regarding redress is completely unacceptable and must be examined. When arguments of cost are brought into the discussion, we must be clear that redress is non-negotiable.
Not only will it be necessary to establish another scheme but it also may be beneficial to do so because we must ask whether the indemnity agreement signed in 2002 would apply to a new scheme or applies only to the original scheme. What are all the provisions of the original indemnity deal and what constitutional challenge could be taken to it? What examination is taking place? It is extraordinary that we would write off not only the lack of contribution to the redress scheme but also the failure to re-examine the issue of indemnity in light of the considerable new and different evidence that has come to light in areas such as forced work, vaccinations and forced adoption. These issues were not on the table when the deal was originally and wrongly signed and must be examined.
We give tax breaks to corporations and provide major tax reliefs for private pensions. We are making many decisions on the budget. We must budget on the assumption that the State will contribute to redress. What is the Minister's position on the need to re-examine the redress funds?
The issues we are discussing are not crimes of the past because the moneys made and paid by the State to the institutions are still in play. The Bon Secours order has a hospital programme and has established modern and complex company structures, as we saw recently in respect of maternity services. The profits and benefits that accrued during the period of exploitation are still in circulation and must be examined. For this reason, there cannot be an amnesty at this point given that we are emerging from a period of ongoing obstruction of information and justice and when the acts in question, even if culturally sanctioned, were criminal under the Constitution and in law, even at the time they were committed. We must ensure that regardless of the cultural sanctions that applied at the time, crimes committed in the 1960s or 1970s which led in many cases to death and long-term damage remain crimes and must be investigated. Many of those who engage with the commission of inquiry want to be clear that in engaging with the commission they are not compromising the possibility of criminal investigation into what were in many cases criminal acts.
When we consider indemnity, a similar question mark arises in respect of amnesty. In terms of transitional justice, while I have sympathy with the view that we should seek to do this work, I suggest that we have not yet reached that point because we are facing extraordinary obstacles in terms of willing participation in the redress scheme and willing sharing of records by many of the major actors. Transitional justice cannot be between society and the perpetrators of the abuses. We cannot in any sense bypass survivors whose voices must not be used to promote a healing process for society. One of the most extraordinary experiences I observed in my time in the United States was a healing and reconciliation process which took place between those who protested against the Vietnamese war and those who fought in that war. Extraordinarily, the Vietnamese people were missing from the process. If we have transitional justice, it must not be associated with an amnesty and the voices and experiences of survivors must be at front and centre stage.
I urge the Minister to meet representatives of the Irish First Mothers group. Many people who have been hurt are entitled to be angry and frustrated. The Minister referred to meeting unaccompanied persons in the institutions. The voices of the mothers of the children who spent time in these institutions have not been adequately heard. I am conscious that I will not have time to share the words of survivors but I hope I will have another opportunity to do so. There were 472 deaths in the Bessborough Home in 19 years. People who spent time in the homes speak about crying every night, being tracked down when they escaped and forced to sign adoption papers and-----
My final point is a technical concern related to the future operation of the commission of inquiry. There is very serious concern about the lack of counselling supports for those who are engaging with the commission, the lack of timely response, both indicated and applied, to engage with the commission and a lack of clarity on the question of the informal confidential committee and the sworn testimony evidential committee. People are unclear about which of these committees they have been engaging with. Many of those who are coming forward at great emotional effort and cost want to be assured that their bravery will be taken into the sworn testimony evidential committee and given serious consideration.They also want to ensure their voices are put on public record.
The scale of the undertaking by the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes is truly staggering but the work is absolutely necessary. We simply must get to the truth by investigating the concerns relating to what appears to be deficiency of care of unmarried mothers and their babies in some of these homes from 1922 to 1998. Over this 76 year period, it is believed that at least 35,000 unmarried mothers spent time in homes run by religious orders in Ireland. At part of its remit, the commission is investigating 14 mother and baby homes and four so-called county homes that operated throughout the State at different times between 1922 and 1998. The terms of reference of the commission are broad and examine a range of things, including living conditions, infant mortality, burial arrangements, illegal adoptions and women's pathways in and out of these institutions.
Many issues relating to these homes are disturbing, none more than the issue of infant mortality. It is known that almost 800 infants died at Tuam in Galway and that a site in Castlepollard in County Westmeath is believed to hold the remains of up to 3,200 babies.
The concerns about these mother and baby homes initially came to the attention of the public following reports of possible mass graves in the grounds of the former mother and baby home in Tuam. To our horror, the commission of investigation confirmed earlier this year that significant quantities of human remains were discovered buried on the site of a former home run by the Sisters of Bon Secours in Tuam. The children were aged from 35 foetal weeks to between two and three years of age.
Despite the revulsion we all feel, we must continue the search for answers for all those affected. In that regard I welcome the news today of the Government commitment to seek expert technical advice in respect of the possible identification of the remains of these children.
I look at my own six-month old daughter, Francesca, and I shudder at all these terrible revelations. I find all of this depressing and distressing. Equally, I am encouraged by the good work of the commission tasked with providing answers to what was a dark episode.
I take this opportunity to commend Catherine Corless who exposed the mass baby grave in Tuam. Without her perseverance we may not have had this commission at all.
The second interim report of the commission was published last week. The commission noted the exclusion of children who were resident in mother and baby homes without their mothers from the residential institutions redress scheme established in 2002 and has suggested that scheme should be re-examined. This is part of a number of key items in the interim report. I understand the Minister will consult all those affected with the intention of bringing proposals to Government before the summer break.
We know the commission has much work to do to establish how some of these homes failed young mothers and their children. Whatever happened in some of these homes, the commission of investigation is shining a light into some of the darker corners of institutional care. We must never forget what the mothers and children who are deceased and the survivors went through. In this regard the commission's work will at least pay respect to those who suffered in so-called places of care.
Nelson Mandela once said that there can be no keener revelation of a society's soul than the way it treats its children. I wish the commission of investigation the best in its work. Whatever its final conclusions, the commission is already doing good work in exposing a dark aspect of Ireland that must never be repeated.
I spoke in the debate on the Ryan report in the Dáil many years ago. We grew up in our lives blaming everyone else but ourselves. We have no one to blame but ourselves in this society. I am referring not just to politicians, those in education, the Catholic Church, doctors and so on. We cannot blame the Germans or the British for this. We have ourselves to blame. We need to ensure we shine a light in the darker corners of a disturbing past. I wish the Minister all the best in her endeavours.
I welcome the Minister back to the Chamber. I welcome those present in the Gallery for this important debate. I acknowledge that the issues we are debating relating to the second interim report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes are closely related to the issues we debated earlier on the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill. Both relate to Ireland's shameful history of treatment of women and children. Both relate to our history of confinement and concealment of births outside of marriage. Both relate to the appalling stigma that the State allowed to encapsulate or enshroud women and children for so many decades of our history, right up to the recent past in the 1990s. It is important to have the two debates together.
I acknowledge the work of the local historian, Catherine Corless, whose painstaking work in unearthing the horrific reality of the Tuam mother and baby home gave rise to the establishment of the commission in 2015. Her work in taking out the death certificates of each of the 796 children who had died at the Tuam mother and baby home gave rise to the commission and to such immense public outcry about the scandal of Tuam.
The three-person commission is chaired by Judge Yvonne Murphy and includes Professor Mary Daly and Dr. William Duncan. I pay tribute to their immense work and expertise. I know Dr. William Duncan personally. He taught me family law and he has taught many generations of students at Trinity. He has unparalleled expertise on family and adoption law. Indeed, I quoted him earlier during the debate on the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill. Professor Mary Daly's historical expertise is singularly important. Judge Yvonne Murphy had done a great deal of work previously on unearthing scandals around institutional abuse in Ireland. She has unparalleled expertise. The commission is doing valuable work.
I wish to deal with the recommendations in the interim report. First, I acknowledge the scope of the work undertaken within the current terms of reference. The terms of reference include the 14 so-called mother and baby homes as well the four county homes. I note Senator Boyhan's comment in this regard. The report refers to 70,000 women and more children having gone through those homes and institutions. It is a vast amount of work. The first interim report was produced in July 2016. At that point, more than 500 people had expressed an interest in engaging with the confidential committee. The commission hopes to engage in a comprehensive historical analysis covering the decades from 1922 to 1998. This is an enormous body of work that will do immense service to the State when we see the final report published in February 2018.
I wish to turn to the issues addressed in the second interim report. There are three discrete and contained issues. The first relates to children who were unaccompanied in these homes. The commissions says it understands a substantial number of children were resident in these institutions without their mothers. The commission is dealing with the exclusion of these children from the residential institutions redress scheme. The commission makes a compelling case for the inclusion of these children in the redress case. It makes the clear point that one of the institutions covered by the Act relating to the redress scheme, St. Patrick's on the Navan Road, is also under investigation by the commission as a mother and baby home. The commission maintains it is simply not logical to include St. Patrick's in the redress scheme but not other institutions under the scheme where they relate to unaccompanied children. The children who were resident in those homes without their mothers are clearly in the same position as the children who were included in the redress scheme.
The commission has referred back to the debates in the Dáil and Seanad at the time of the establishment of the redress scheme. It has made that point that the Minister said at the time that inclusion in the scheme did not imply that a complaint of abuse or a finding of abuse had been made.
In the light of the clear and logical finding of the commission it was disappointing to see the Government decision to exclude these people from redress. These people are adults now and some are of advanced age. This must be revisited. Others have pointed this out as well. At the least, it must be revisited when the final report of the commission is made in 2018. As the commission has clearly said, inclusion in the redress scheme did not imply a complaint of abuse.
I am speaking on my experience and I acknowledge my experience in this matter as a barrister who has represented many survivors of abuse before the redress board and as someone who has been critical of many aspects of the board.It is important to say that it does not necessarily have to be the same redress scheme. To exclude these survivors from a redress scheme seems illogical and, as the commission said, unjust. The Minister's speech and the Government's official response to the report in April and published online refer to the costs of previous redress schemes. The Comptroller and Auditor General has pointed out that the cost of the residential institutions redress scheme was €1.25 billion compared with the originally forecasted cost of €250 million. I have said, as has Senator Alice-Mary Higgins, that part of that cost must be laid at the doors of the religious orders and the Government of the day. In the dying days of the Government in 2002, the former Minister, Michael Woods, pushed the scheme through the Dail without, it seems, sufficient advice from the Attorney General. This enabled an indemnity scheme for the religious orders which should have been paying far more of the final costs of that scheme. Instead they saw an indemnity given to them by the State. That issue must be revisited by any redress scheme and it would have an implication in respect of cost to the State. Even if one is looking in practical terms at the costs to the State as a reason, one cannot simply refer back to the costs of previous redress schemes as a reason for excluding survivors from a redress scheme who should, logically and justly, be included. The commission makes a very clear case for that. All Members have spoken very strongly on the need to revisit this decision to exclude survivors from redress.
The recommendations are less conclusive on the other points made by the commission on including other institutions. On including other institutions within their own remit, the commission makes the point that while 160 institutions have been argued for inclusion, some have already been investigated by the Ryan report and others, but it says there are about 70 institutions that have not been under investigation or are not now by this commission. Many of these are private nursing homes. Currently, the commission does not make a strong case for including these in the remit. It does say, however, that there is a clear criterion that should be used for the inclusion of institutions such as these. The commission says "There is really only one question to be asked in respect of eligibility [for inclusion] - did a public body have a regulatory or inspection function in respect of that institution?" That is a hugely important recommendation by the commission. That is what should determine inclusion in State commissions of investigation and redress schemes.
It is also chilling to see the quote the commission gave from a 1927 State-run commission. The report of the Commission on the Relief of the Sick and Destitute Poor referred to the existence to some of private maternity homes that were catering for women who had had children outside of marriage. The commission drew attention to different evils, particularly the connivance by the management of these homes in the secret disposal of children to unsuitable foster parents and the consequent high death rate among the children. We see this as a recent revelation-----
-----when as far back as 1927 the State was on notice of the appalling treatment of women and children in homes such as these. Others have spoken on the other issues raised by the commission, including the false registration of births, the dreadful cases of illegal adoptions and the difficulties for many adults who are now trying to establish their right to an identity. Some people have condemned the idea of an amnesty. We should look carefully at that. A partial amnesty, for example, may be possible for birth mothers who, under duress, may have given false information. This makes sense to me and it might enable people to come forward.
I will conclude with a quote from the writer Noelle Brown who was born in the Bessborough Mother and Baby Home and who is in the Gallery today. She said, "I want to feel equal to every other citizen in Ireland, and not remain a reminder of our terrible past." To do that we need to know more about it and uncover, expose and disclose the terrible pain and suffering that so many women and children were forced to endure at the hands of the State and religious orders for so many decades.
Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire arís. It is not long since we have had a debate on these issues in March. I asked quite a number of pertinent questions at that stage and I have seen answers to some of them but not all of them. I will pose quite a number of questions during my deliberations here, and if the Minister cannot address them in her full response, I ask that her officials would come back to me with answers on all the questions.
There have been many platitudes about respect and compassion, but the overriding sense I get from many survivors is anger, especially anger at a lack of co-operation from what they see as the organs of the State. The particular line mentioned about the report not making findings that abuse occurred in these institutions has certainly sunk the credibility of the commission in the eyes of many people, especially the survivors who gave us evidence of their own stories of abuse that happened. There is also the fact we know there are corpses buried in Tuam and people are astounded that the commission made the comment about abuse. Its credibility has certainly come into question with many of the survivors.
I was very critical of Galway County Council, and I still am. Reference was made to Catherine Corless and the fantastic work she has done. Catherine Corless does not want pats on the back. She wants access to records. She has been at a meeting with the Minister and Galway County Council and she is looking for access to certain records. Catherine Corless was told she could not have access to those records because she was not an academic. We asked questions subsequently and we are now told that the records are with Tusla, which is under the Minister's remit. Has the Minister directed Tusla to make those records available to Catherine Corless and, if not, will the Minister do so? Ms Corless wants to continue her deliberations and everyone is praising her good work, so let us let her get on with that work.
There are many questions to be answered about the Government's role and by Ministers in this regard. There was a Cabinet meeting yesterday, and I also queried this in March. We have questions about who put the women into the homes and who was aware of what was going on at the time. There are records of money transactions between local authorities, the homes and different organisations. 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. There must be files in the Department of Health, the Department of Justice and Equality and the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environmentthat relate to these issues. Did the Minister ask her Cabinet colleagues yesterday to come clean and do a clear audit of their own files to bring forward to her any information relating to any of these issues in order that she can see the information and make it available publicly? If she has not done this then perhaps she could explain why not. It needs to be done because people knew what was going on. There are many who believe that what is happening again with this commission is the State closing ranks to protect the State and protect the establishment. People also believe that political dynasties locally in Galway were very much in cahoots with the authorities there, be they local politicians, doctors, gardaí or people within the establishment, and they have a vested interest in making sure all the information does not come out. This also needs to be questioned.
In March I also asked about passports being issued for children who were trafficked abroad. If passports were issued, will the Minister ask the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to check its records of who authorised and issued the passports? If the passports were not issued, was there any correspondence at the time as to how children were allowed to be trafficked out of the State without a valid passport? I want to know what the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade at the time was doing and what its officials knew about this.
The Minister, Deputy Coveney, attended the meeting with the Minister, Deputy Zappone, Catherine Corless and Galway County Council. What did his Department know about the files relating to Tuam, about planning permissions, extensions to the buildings, the building of a playground, the building of car parks and the burial grounds? What information is in the Department Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government's files on all these issues? If it is being kept quiet, why is it being kept quiet?
In March I also raised the issue of a number of other sites in Galway about which people have questions. I noted there is a building called St. Anne's on Taylor's Hill.Has this site come to the Minister's attention and has she raised it with Galway County Council at the meeting? If not, will she do this? I am also told there is a burial site at Prospect Hill at County Hall. Questions are being raised about how many bodies are buried at that site. I understand there are children buried there and we need to find out a little more about that. People are also asking about the industrial school in Letterfrack and if there are issues about the burial grounds there. I ask the Minister to ask Galway County Council about these issues, if she has not already done so. Let us get to the truth of this.
There are court cases ongoing on access to files. I have sat in on court cases where Tusla has fought tooth and nail to prevent people getting access to their siblings' records which are held with Tusla. Will the Minister direct Tusla to make the files available to those people instead of dragging them through the courts repeatedly?
My colleague in the Dáil, Deputy Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire, has asked when the exhumations may take place. Does An Garda Síochána have an active role in the progression of those exhumations? If not, why not? What discussions are taking place between the Minister's Department and the Garda in Galway? What discussions are taking place with the coroner's service?I also asked the Minister in March whether extra resources would be made available to the coroner's office and if forensic archaeologists would be employed to carry out the exhumations so that criminal proceedings could be taken and that any evidence in the graves would be treated properly and would be usable in the event of criminal prosecutions being taken. We need action. The people in the Gallery, whom we welcome, need action. Compassion is not enough. Sympathy is not enough. We have a duty as politicians and Ministers to deliver. I call on the Minister to do that and I will support her in that regard.
I welcome the Minister and her officials to the Chamber. I am very pleased this debate is taking place today as it is long overdue. I welcome the commitments to offer support and services to people who were resident in the homes, in particular in the areas of health and well-being. It is vital that the State has a clear duty in that regard, and we need to ensure proper support is provided. I commend the commission for carrying out its work in a sensitive manner, and the Minister for pushing the issue forward.
As has been noted, there was a delay in the publication of the report which was completed in September and presented to the Minister until it was finally made available to the wider public seven months later. Given the highly sensitive nature of the issue and the great importance of the commission's work to so many lives, such a level of delay is unacceptable. We cannot leave people in the dark.
In terms of the delay, the line from the Department is that the Government spent this time discussing the legal and financial implications of the report. That seems to have amounted to seven months worrying about the potential cost of a redress scheme for people who were resident in the homes, before the announcement last month that redress would not be offered at this time. That is deeply concerning. The report itself is clear that "children who were resident" at the homes "have a real cause for grievance" at having been excluded from redress schemes to date. The report is clearer still in stating that, "logically, children who were resident in the Mother and Baby Homes and all County Homes should be eligible to apply for redress in the same way and under the same conditions", as children covered by previous redress processes relating to the industrial schools and orphanages. In essence, the report is saying that the State should own up for the abuse carried out in the institutions, as it has had to do in previous decades. I do not think that is a very controversial proposal.
We are aware that at this point the commission is in the middle of its work and has not yet produced findings of abuse or neglect in the mother and baby homes. It is on that basis that the Government has stalled on redress, but it seems deeply unfair and unsympathetic to respond by simply quoting the cost of previous schemes and, essentially, pouring cold water on people's hopes that a fair and just redress scheme can be rolled out if the final report is clear on instances of abuse.
The Minister told Dáil Éireann last month that the Government "has not closed off redress" as an option, but there is a big difference between quoting the costs of redress and not ruling such a scheme out, and offering a compelling, humane commitment that the State will do right by the survivors of the institutions once the final report is published, including a potential redress scheme. This is not simply about cost, this is about justice for people who have been subjected to horrific mistreatment. Beyond that, survivors and former residents groups have been clear in that they want the Government to step up here, to take ownership of what happened, to acknowledge the State's role in the institutions, its failure to provide the proper care for mothers and children, and to formally apologise. We should not underestimate how important such an apology could be for so many people, and I urge the Government to ensure the State does right by them in that regard.
The commission's final report is due in February. Before then, two clear commitments must be made. First, survivors and past residents groups will be adequately engaged and listened to, and their voices will be heard when requested. Second, that there will be adherence to the agreed timetable. As has been noted, the delay in publishing the interim report caused a significant deal of stress for many people and I ask the Minister to commit to preventing further delays and ensuring that the commission's findings will be published on schedule.
The organisation Irish First Mothers has set up its own inquiry in order to gather the testimonies of women who were in the homes. I wish to highlight in this Chamber some of the voices of the women who have offered their testimonies during the process. One woman described her experience of having an episiotomy at the age of 14, without professional medical attention and denied pain relief during a labour that lasted more than three days. It is incredible that she physically survived such an experience. Having run away to London, determined to find a way to keep her child, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, she was tracked down and forced to sign adoption papers to give up her child. Reflecting on her experiences, including the years where she suffered the weight of shame and judgment and the desire to find her son, she said she often thinks if she had committed murder she would not have got such a sentence. That is only one of the testimonies. It is time now for serious and dramatic change.