Tuesday, 26 January 2021
Report of the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation: Statements (Resumed)
I have here copies of the entire report. I thank the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Deputy O'Gorman, for bringing them over to us today for the debate. This is a copy for Senator Boyhan. From what I have read of the 2,865 pages of the report, like many Members of this House I have been disturbed and dismayed by the contents. The prevailing sense within the pages, as the Minister and colleagues are aware, in these first-hand accounts, is of the fear, cruelty, silence and horror suffered in these institutions.
I wish to mention briefly Sheila O'Byrne, of whom the Minister is aware, and the many conversations I have had with her. Many colleagues would have met Sheila O'Byrne. She stood outside the gate of Leinster House in all sorts of weather looking for the truth and for people to take responsibility for what happened to her and many voiceless thousands of others. The report is an important step, but it is by no means the end. It is not the end of the suffering for Sheila O'Byrne and many thousands of others who were in those institutions, and it must not be the end of the actions required to right the grievous wrongs.
I will hand the Chair over to Senator Boyhan for the remainder of the debate. Last week, he said it was a privilege and an honour to be one of the little voices that in some way represents the people that he grew up with in one of those institutions. I assure him that his is not a little voice as he presides over the Chamber. As we discuss this report, we are all reminded of the very real people and the very real stories contained within it. I ask Senator Boyhan to take the Chair.
Thank you, a Chathaoirligh, for inviting me to chair this session. I really appreciate that gesture. It is a kind one and it is one I am greatly honoured to take. I am conscious that we need to keep a tight timeframe on what we are doing. To date, 14 people have indicated to speak for six minutes each. One does not need to be a mathematician to know that 14 multiplied by six equals 84. The Minister has at least ten minutes to speak and it is important that we hear him and afford him the time that is necessary. It is important for Members to stick rigidly to the six minutes to allow as many people as possible to participate in this very important debate. I will stick to the list that I have. If there is any change, the group that I call may indicate that change to me. The first speaker is Senator Chambers, Deputy Leader of the House and leader of the Fianna Fáil group.
I thank Senator Boyhan. It is very apt that he is the Chair this evening. It shows the seriousness of the issue and the fact that it is real people and real testimonies that are at the heart of this report. I welcome the Minister to the Chamber. It is good that he is here to listen to the contribution of Senators. This is really only the beginning of the healing process. I am not sure that a State apology, a commission of investigation or even a redress scheme could ever adequately compensate or repair the hurt, harm and damage that the State and its institutions and the church inflicted upon the women and children of this country for so many years. It is right and proper that every horrible detail is laid bare for us to know about, hear about and to remember, lest we ever forget, that a very short time ago, the way that we treated women and children was nothing short of cruel and inhumane. As a State we were complicit in what was effectively mass human trafficking, social engineering and the harmful and cruel treatment of unmarried mothers because they were somehow lesser than everybody else in society.
I acknowledge that while a lot of work went into this report, the feedback on the report from the survivors and their families has not been positive. Questions remain to be answered by the commissioners themselves over some of the language. I do not think the Minister is in a position to answer the questions that we might have about certain phraseology used in the report. I refer to the statement that there was no evidence that children were harmed in these institutions. That is an obscene statement and one that is nothing but insulting to the survivors of those homes. Direct testimony is evidence. People recounting their direct experience is evidence. Are we looking for CCTV footage? Are we looking for photographic evidence? Who are the commissioners to decide that the evidence is not there? Were they so long in the bubble of doing this report that they became desensitised and cold to the experience of the people that lived through this experience?
Questions must be asked about the accounts that some survivors gave that were not properly accounted for in the investigation. I refer to questions that were apparently put to survivors that were never put to them.We cannot simply brush over those things. There is now an onus on the Government and the State to address those questions properly. I reiterate my call that the commissioners involved in preparing this report should, take questions from survivors, the public and the media. They are not in isolation. They are publicly known now; we know who they are. They were paid well for their work. They were given ample time to complete their work. I do not think the State received from them the level of workmanship that would have been expected on that report.
I move on to the contents of the report. I wish to discuss those mothers and babies who may not be covered in this report. I refer in particular to my county, Mayo. In the early 1900s mothers and babies were cared for in the county homes. In the 1920 the county home in Castlebar was home, if one can call it that, to women and children who were cast aside by their families and by society. I have since read that they were actually referred to in the Poor Law Commission as "inmates" in the county home. They were to be separated from other inmates who were referred to - those who were poor, sick and infirm. Discussions then ensued in the county home in the 1920s and 1930s as to where these inmates could be moved to that would not be a significant burden on ratepayers so that they would not have to pay too much to cover the cost of looking after them.
It was actually suggested that they could be housed in derelict buildings. In the end it was decided to ship them off to the mother and baby home in Tuam. Women and children from Mayo who passed through the mother and baby home in Tuam are probably in that burial site. I was glad to see Galway County Council unreservedly apologise for its role as the governing local authority at the time for what happened in that facility. Equally Mayo County Council needs to do the same. Simply because it managed to ship them off to a different county does not absolve it of its responsibility in this regard. Certainly, questions remain to be answered. I know there is a burial site where the county home is. It is not marked, and we do not know what is there. There is a history there. Mayo's history is like that of any other county. Over the years many women were removed from their communities and families and put into these facilities. They were made to work for little or no remuneration and had their children taken from them. They were mistreated every minute they were there.
This report is a start, but it needs to be re-examined. I support the call for an independent review of the report. At the end of the day the lesson is that we must listen to survivors and their families. It is their views that matter, not ours. One of us saying that the report is good and fine does not cut it. If they are not happy with it, we need to redo it. I make a plea to the Minister that the redress scheme we put in place not be caught up in red tape and that people not be made to jump through hoops to access the compensation that is rightly theirs. It needs to be made as easy as possible to come through that scheme. Every effort must be made to facilitate people and we should not compound the hurt anymore. While no redress scheme or apology will ever fully heal the hurt that is there, let us not cause any more harm now when we know what we need to do to make this right.
Before we proceed, while I do not want to stymie debate, we need to be conscious if we are in any way challenging the professionalism of people who are not in the House. As they are absent, they do not have recourse to defend themselves and make their case. I ask Members to be conscious of that in their contributions.
I call Senator Martin Conway.
Like others I acknowledge your presence in the Chair today, which is most appropriate. I acknowledge that you have spoken regularly on many other issues, but this one in particular. You have a particular insight, which has enormously benefited the discourse. I commend you on that.
I welcome the Minister to the House. Nobody could question his sincerity in trying to right the wrongs of yesteryear and there were significant wrongs. The State oversaw a cruel and barbaric treatment of women, girls and children in institutions that were funded and largely run by the religious orders.The State was supposed to be the guardian of the citizens of this country but, unfortunately, it allowed the church to do this. This happened because, to a large extent, the church and State were interwoven. Essentially, one was in the pocket of the other. Politicians who should have spoken out were afraid to do so because of the consequences speaking out would lead to.
The report is good but it is incomplete. In addition, the language used in the report is overly legalistic and lacks a certain compassion. Words do matter. There are many words in this report that lack any sensitivity or compassion. I agree with others who said that the authors of the report should have held a press conference. There is precedence for this. It happened in respect of other reports. I recall that when the McAleese report was published, Martin McAleese held a press conference and took questions on it. Even at this late stage, the Minister should use his good offices to prevail upon the authors to make a public statement and take questions from the media. In this day and age, it is the least we would expect of them.
We need to right the many wrongs that were committed as best we can. The apology by An Taoiseach in the Dáil on behalf of the Irish people was welcome. The apology by the Tánaiste and leader of Fine Gael, Deputy Varadkar, on behalf of the party that I represent was appropriate as well. Fine Gael was in government at times when this was happening. The Tánaiste's apology was appropriate because Fine Gael was complicit in that it did nothing to address the situation. That is inexcusable, but the apology is welcome.
What people are interested in is what happens now and in the future. The politicians of this generation are not responsible for what was done by politicians in previous generations. They are also not responsible for what future politicians might do, but they are responsible for what is done now. This situation must be dealt with now. It needs to be dealt with, not in the medium-term future or in the long-term future, but in the short-term future. There are 22 recommendations in the report which the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, discussed with the survivors on the webinar. Those 22 key recommendations need to be implemented without delay.
There is no excuse for straightforward measures not to be taken immediately. For instance, the issuing of medical cards and the resolution of the housing issues can be done in a matter of weeks, not months. In regard to the legislation that is required, most people agree that the back end of this year is not acceptable: it is too late. One of the most fundamental issues as far as I am concerned is former residents of mother and baby homes being able to identify who they are. They must have access to their records and their entitlements. It is no longer good enough to use the Constitution, GDPR or any other modern day excuse as a reason for hiding or not making these records available. If it comes down to it, I would err on the side of the person seeking to identify his or her parents as opposed to the side of the parents and protecting their identities.If it comes down to it I believe that the person who was adopted has the right to know who he or she is. We are not talking about people knocking on a door. Protocols and procedures can be put in place but I believe this is very important.
I know I am out of time in this debate. Redress needs to be dealt with as a matter of urgency. The Bon Secours, for example, had the mother and baby home in Tuam. They are one of the biggest and wealthiest healthcare providers in the State. Having a collection is not enough; we must have significant engagement.
I am sure we will revisit this topic many times but I commit to the Minister that I will raise this on the Order of Business each month from now on, looking for updates on where we are in implementing the report's recommendations.
It is very fitting that Senator Boyhan is the Acting Chairperson today. The Senator's contribution to the House last week was a very important one.
I welcome the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman. Much has already been said about the report. From my perspective it is hard to put into words the sense of horror and shame reading some of the women's testimonies and the report of the confidential committee. Reflected in the body of the report was that women were treated worse than animals. Many of the women had zero idea of what was happening to their bodies. There was no information. There was no understanding as to how babies were made or born. This was even before the women were dealt with the worst psychological cruelties during the births of their babies and afterwards. Many of us who are fortunate to have been willingly pregnant and who have given birth will know the anxieties and the distress of giving birth, but many of us did it in an environment of love, support and encouragement, even during the pandemic. That contrasts so starkly with the experiences of thousands of women in the State during the years covered by this report.
We cannot turn back the clock. The traumas inflicted on women and the children who are now adults cannot be undone. The Government can, however, use all of its might and main to do all it can to make sure we do the right thing by survivors.
I will touch on three things, the first being remedying the commission's findings, especially the parts that have caused most hurt, and in particular that women were not forced into these homes. Unfortunately, the commission appears to take a very legalistic view. Perhaps women were not bundled into the back of a car but the women had no other option. This is repeated in the report time and again.
Second, we need to make sure the Government ensures access to all records, including birth certificates, church records and administrative files. The commission talks about how little information is contained in some of these files but when a person has nothing, a little information is everything. We have had so many people contacting us with just a fake birth certificate. At least allowing access to all of the information that is available is very important.
Most important, we need to get right the system of redress. We need the Government to reject and amend recommendation No. 27 whereby: "The Commission considers that women who entered Mother and Baby Homes after 1973 do not have a case for financial redress." This is astounding and arbitrary. It ignores the social and economic context of the time. It is black and white. I believe that all Members in this Chamber would acknowledge that we need to move away from the black and white time that is described so vividly in the report, hopefully to a time now where everybody needs to be considered. Everyone who had experience in those homes had very different experiences. In considering that recommendation, a question needs to be asked of the commission and of the Government.Do we really believe that in 1973, when the then Minister, the late Frank Cluskey, introduced the unmarried mother's allowance, it was meant to be the magic wand with which we could wave goodbye to a previous era and women would, all of a sudden, be emancipated and be able to forge a life for themselves and their babies? It was a significant development but it was just the first step. The thousands of teenagers and young mothers who gave birth after finding themselves pregnant in the 1970s and 1980s had no choice but to go into the home. We have seen that with the statistics in the body of the report. It states 30% of babies born out of wedlock to unmarried mothers in 1973 were born in mother and baby homes. That figure did not drop dramatically; it was a steady decline until 1991.
Women had no options and there was State-sanctioned censure of babies born out of wedlock. The awful status of "illegitimate" was only lifted in 1986. We need to change the recommendation. I urge the Government and the Minister to consider the report of Dr. Anthony McCashin, produced in 1993 for the ESRI and dependent on data from the 1980s and the early part of the 1990s, relating to women on the unmarried mother's allowance. It describes poverty, with 35% of those women living below the poverty line, and a minimal earnings disregard within the allowance. There was no offset for any childcare and these women faced discrimination in the labour market. Women in receipt of the unmarried mother's allowance did not have great options. It was a support but it was certainly not the be all and end all.
I am up against the clock but this report calls for a central repository of records from institutions and adoption societies. This report will not bring closure to the era and in some ways we hope it is the start of people beginning to be able to get more information on their past. I urge the Government to commit to a dedicated archive and locate it on Sean McDermott Street. There are fantastic proposals for the site and it would be very fitting for the Government to provide financial support and for the Department to have the central repository located there.
I welcome the fact that Senator Victor Boyhan is the Acting Chairperson for this debate. His contribution on the mother and baby homes last week was certainly one that I took on board and was upsetting to all, including the Senator. I acknowledge it this afternoon.
Naturally, this is the first time I have spoken to this matter in Seanad Éireann and I begin by stating my full agreement with the Taoiseach's apology. The State failed these mothers and babies and we must confront that difficult truth rather than turn away from the failings of the State. I am fairly familiar with the information and I am struck by the words of mothers who recalled being treated as second-class citizens and being shunned by society. I find it hard to comprehend that 15% of all children under the care of these institutions - over 9,000 children - died. It is a deeply disturbing fact that shames both the church and the State.
As outlined by other Senators and public representatives, we cannot change the past and the horrific wrongs that women and children suffered but we must certainly ensure that the response to this report can have a real and positive impact. Unfortunately, that does not seem to be the current position.I welcome the commitment of the Taoiseach to back up the report and the apology given by the State. It is essential that these actions take place in the short to medium term. It is equally essential that the voice of the survivors is central to these actions, as the Taoiseach committed to ensuring. The inaction and injustice of the past must be tacked by the action of the Government.
As all Members are aware, the right to birth information is central to the wishes of many survivors. It is essential that survivors are given access to their birth certificates and early life information. I welcome the commitment of the Government to advancing information and tracing legislation through pre-legislative scrutiny in 2021. That should be done with as much speed as possible but, equally, it is very important that it is done in a through and correct manner. All Members will be aware of the damaging consequences that poorly drafted legislation can have. It is obvious that this is a complex area. I assume the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth will ensure that people can access personal information contained within the records of the commission, in line with existing GDPR legislation. That too needs to be done as quickly as possible while appreciating the constraints under which Department staff are working during Covid-19.
Specific health supports for survivors to which the Government has committed, including counselling services and access to patient liaison support services, must be rolled out as soon as possible. Similarly, the commitment by the Government to advance legislation relating to burial and to support the excavation and, where possible, the identification of remains, together with their dignified reburial. That should be done in the coming months and sufficient resources put in place in order that the work can be carried out swiftly. We have to deal with this now.
It is also important that future generations are aware how the State failed these innocent women and children. In that regard, the commitment by the Government to examine how the short video produced by the commission which details the experiences of women and children who spent time in institutions can be incorporated into the second level school curriculum is welcome. Although it is not a priority compared with some of the other actions that need to be taken, I believe it should be done and that it would be beneficial for future generations. In addition, the national memorial records centre to be developed in co-operation with the survivors and their advocates is a vital commitment that should be developed within the timeline of this Government.
We need to listen to the criticisms survivors have made of the report. I have not read all of the report, but some of the parts I did read struck me as being cold and lacking in compassion. I recommend that further engagement be had with survivors and the groups which represent them in order to see how this can be remedied. Additions or amendments to the report should be considered. This report should serve as the voice of survivors and if they are not happy, then that is a significant issue.
I wish to acknowledge the full apology offered yesterday by Galway County Council. It was appropriate and very necessary, particularly with regard to the Tuam mother and baby home. The council acknowledges that when these women and children were at their most vulnerable, they were let down by Galway County Council and the State as a whole.
There are two issues I wish to briefly raise with the Minister. Are there concerns relating to other sites across the country? Representations have been made to me in that regard. I am concerned about whether a full and entire investigation has been carried out on all sites that were reported. Finally, I believe that ongoing consultation with the survivors' groups will be required. It is essential that they are fully involved in the actions that need to be taken. I ask the Minister to advise on plans to do so with urgency.
I thank the Acting Chairperson. It is very important that he is in the Chairperson's seat for this debate. I thank the Minister and his Department for continuing to hear statements on this issue. This independent report is a significant body of work that was led by Judge Yvonne Murphy, Professor Mary E. Daly and Dr. William Duncan. Its pages talk about the lives of more than 56,000 women and 57,000 children across 14 mother and baby homes and four county homes between 1922 and 1998.Over that 80-year period, 9,000 children died in those homes. The lived experience as told by survivors and children is absolutely appalling. The confidential committee gathered accounts from survivors, as well as people who worked in those institutions. We can only imagine what it was like for survivors, mothers and children, now as adults telling of their painful experiences, sometimes for the first time. Some of those people had never even spoken to their families. I am conscious of those suffering in silence while listening to these debates, and who may never have spoken of their experiences.
More than 550 courageous people who came through those homes gave accounts of their experiences, roughly 300 mothers and 200 children. It is shocking as Irish citizens and representatives to read those accounts, and to feel such shame. It is our history too of how Irish women and children were treated, and the stigma of being an unmarried mother, abandoned by families and children who were also set apart in Irish society. Kindness was in short supply for people who did not have any money to their name and those women were destitute and had nowhere to go. In that regard, I refer to the impact of poverty, misogyny, societal attitudes, the role of the church, entwined with that of the State, the lack of oversight, the lack of kindness, even down to the lack of a proper diet for mothers and babies and the freezing conditions. In the cold blunt terms of the report, these homes "significantly reduced their prospects of survival".
Instead of the homes being a safe haven for mothers and babies whom we should have cherished, the report clearly highlights where we failed as a State, a country and as a society. Mahatma Gandhi stated that, "A nation's greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members". These personal testimonies from survivors show us that we now have an opportunity for our weakest members, for our destitute and abandoned young mothers and children, to speak. In those confidential committees, they talked about how there was a lack of education and sexual education and about not knowing the facts of life.
Yes, the Catholic Church had an influence in that regard in Irish society and in the educational system at that time. Brutal accounts, which are so hard to read, have been given of rape and abuse within families. We heard of how the homes were actually an escape from those harrowing conditions. I refer to the role of families and the Catholic Church in organising for young girls to be sent to the homes. We know from this report the importance of the provision of secondary school education and the unmarried mother's allowance, as well as other social changes. Those innovations brought more rights and financial independence to unmarried mothers.
Being from Ballinasloe in County Galway, I was drawn to the commission's report on the Tuam Mother and Baby Home. It was initially located in Glenamaddy, before moving to Tuam. The home took unmarried mothers from counties Galway and Mayo, and from my own home area. Tuam stands out in this report for the appalling conditions of the building, the lack of midwives, how some of the children boarded out and for the stigma and physical abuse they endured. It also stands out for how, even at that time, decisions of the local authority were deferred to the clergy.
The heart-rending element of the high infant mortality rate in the 1920s and 1930s was at its worst during the Emergency, or war years, in the 1940s. Inflation rose by nearly 70% for the cost of goods and the capitation fee did not change. There were huge food shortages and terrible times in this country. The lack of food and nutrition meant most mothers could not breast-feed their own children and that led to more infection and increased gastroenteritis. These were the reasons for the high mortality rate. More than 978 children died in the Tuam Mother and Baby Home with no burial records. This is shameful. Where were our hearts?
The historian, Catherine Corless, was instrumental in the fight for these mothers and babies. She sparked this commission of investigation and was committed to sourcing death certificates. There has been strong criticism of the local authority in Galway at that time, which owned and governed the mother and baby home in Tuam. Meetings were held there and yet there was never a discussion of the infant mortality rates, and neither was there ever such a discussion at national level in Government. Those deaths were being recorded at the time but there was silence, the same silence that causes the worst outrages in society, where people just cannot speak of events and no questions are asked.
I spoke with survivors and survivor representative groups to try to understand the hurt and anger over these serious issues. I pay tribute to survivors and to those suffering in silence while dealing with the traumatic effects. The helpline number in Roscommon, Galway and Mayo is 1800 234114. I support the recommendations in this independent report and that the responses should be survivor-led and survivor-centred. I call on the Minister to review survivors' concerns regarding the reflection of testimonies in this report.
The model of the commission of investigation may not have been the right instrument, but we had no other choice at the time. I refer to information and tracing legislation. Legislation on the Tuam exhumation, the general scheme of the Certain Institutional Burials (Authorised Interventions) Bill, is scheduled to have pre-legislative scrutiny in the Joint Committee on Children, Disability, Equality and Integration. That needs to happen quickly. There must also be redress, as well as counselling and enhanced medical cards. Memorialisation and legacy should be part of the educational system.
The Taoiseach gave an apology on behalf of the Government. The chief executive and cathaoirleach of Galway County Council also gave a full apology yesterday and again this morning on Galway Bay FM. It is important for the people of Galway to hear these acknowledgements, as so many families have been impacted by this report. The local authority was the entity in charge of the Tuam Mother and Baby Home and it noted in its apology that it failed in its duty of care.It acknowledged that the infant mortality was known and overcrowding led to poor infection control, and said it did not do enough. It noted the role of the local authority in ensuring care and also our role, as a State. Galway County Council has committed to co-operating fully in implementing whatever Government decisions are made on this matter. The survivors' group and the Tuam Mother and Baby Home Alliance have welcomed this apology from Galway County Council, and I am very happy to hear that. They have also acknowledged the support provided by Galway County Council in recent times.
The Sisters of Bon Secours, which ran the home in Tuam, have apologised. A contribution to the redress scheme is required and some may already have been committed. This has taken so many years and caused so much pain to survivors. This report is immensely distressing and is a dark part of Ireland's history. It is the first step to justice for survivors and their families to give them a voice. Our country will be judged across the world for how it treats its weakest members.
Like other Senators, I am very conscious of the symbolism and significance of having Senator Boyhan in the Chair for this debate.
The last few weeks have been extremely difficult for survivors and their families. The publication of the report of the commission of investigation into mother and baby homes has reopened many difficult memories and caused enormous upset and re-traumatisation. Today, the report into the mother and baby homes and Magdalen laundries in the North has been published. I have no doubt this will be a very emotional and difficult time for survivors again.
I put on record my admiration for survivors' bravery, dignity and determination in coming forward to tell their stories, thus ensuring that their truth is told and their voices are no longer ignored. I want them to know that they are not alone, that we in this institution are listening and stand in solidarity with them. The sad reality is that these homes operated throughout Ireland, North and South. The commission's report states time and again how babies were born in one jurisdiction and then taken to another. Women and girls from the North were taken to homes in the South and vice versato be out of sight of their communities. We have pages after pages of unimaginable heartbreak. This is an all-Ireland issue. We have a duty to survivors to acknowledge this and factor it into our approach and response. I note that the Minister held a meeting with the joint First Ministers, Michelle O'Neill and Arlene Foster, last week about the report in recognition of that fact, which I welcome. The details of the report in the North are currently being outlined to our colleagues in the Assembly as we gather here for this debate in the Seanad. That report must be studied carefully.
Survivors' voices, needs and concerns must be at the very heart of our approach and the steps that we all collectively are to take next. Survivors throughout Ireland have always been very clear that they do not want tea and sympathy from the Government. They need to see clear action now to meet their needs and the challenges they still face today. We can never undo the hurt and pain caused by these institutions but we can act now to ensure further harm is not caused. That is the very least we owe to survivors and their families. There are several ways we can do this, including ensuring access to birth records. My colleague in the Dáil, Deputy Kathleen Funchion, published legislation last week to ensure survivors have a legal right to a fundamental point that many of us take for granted, namely, the right to know who one is and where one comes from.
We must also find a compassionate and sensitive way to address institutions where human remains are believed to be buried on site. This must be done in consultation with survivors. Survivors also need access to specialist supports. I have made this case in the Seanad for some years. They also need access to specialist support for accessing housing, counselling services and other therapies as well as proper access to medical cards. We have an obligation to do the right thing for survivors across our island. For too long, the Government, the Church and society have let down survivors and this must change. I have no doubt that I speak on behalf of all colleagues inside and outside this Chamber. For any survivors listening in, I want to send the clear message from the Seanad that we hear them, believe them and support them and I am committed to doing everything possible to ensure this Government now does right by them.
All of us waited for the publication of the report, but no one more so than the survivors and relatives of the survivors of the mother and baby homes.The treatment of women in Ireland in recent history and, obviously, in the timeframe of the mother and baby homes can only be described as one of abandonment, distress, grief, loneliness, heartbreak, trauma and pure unkindness. The sight of the children in cots and on beds brings tears and a great deal of emotion about the distress these women must have gone through. As a young mother, the idea of having one's child taken away for short periods of time is very distressful, but these children were taken away permanently. Some were gone for decades and other parents never got to meet their children.
The State, society and the church have much to answer for. Ultimately, the church benefited from money from adoptions and from women working in the laundries. I am sure it got money from boarding out children. It must be held responsible. Its collection of properties nationally and around the world is ultimately due to the proceeds of crime. The Government must consider forcing the church to pay up and contribute to any redress scheme that is put in place. Not to do so flies in the face of everything this report says. It has a huge responsibility. Only for the massive contribution of Catherine Corless and her fearlessness, we would not even have this commission. She is possibly one of the bravest women in the country and we must pay great respect and tribute to her for the fact that she kept fighting for these children in unmarked graves.
There is much to discuss and the report covers so much, ranging from vaccinations to horrible remarks made to women during childbirth, that it is hard to have a structure for discussing it because it is all so terrifying and shameful. Obviously, we have started with an apology and a report, but we must follow through on the ancillary reliefs for the victims and survivors. There must be follow-through with medical cards, healthcare, mental health supports and a red-tape-free redress scheme. Local authorities, as Senator Chambers said, should follow suit. I would like to see an apology from Dublin City Council. I am glad the Taoiseach issued an apology, but the Minister must follow up with a redress scheme. Many of these women and other survivors are not getting any younger, so time is of the essence. The Minister said the scheme will be published in April, but I urge him to expedite it so people have access to it urgently. We know it takes time and lawyers to set it up, but I hope it will be lawyer free and accessible.
It is very disappointing that the survivors felt that the report did not adequately reflect the testimony they gave, but we believe them and will stick with them. Perhaps we need to go back on some of the independent testimony. Obviously, the report is big, but we may need to rerun that phase of it. Many people I have spoken to would love to have a public inquiry. Mr. Joe Duffy did a good service for the State when he had many women on his radio programme over recent days giving their oral testimony. Many women would like the option of oral testimony, and if it is the case that this phase must be redone, the Minister should consider it. That is what the victims deserve and it is important, as part of our national history, that we know fully what happened. We need to see documentary evidence of oral testimony.
As other speakers said, it is good to see Senator Boyhan in the Chair today. I welcome the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, and thank him for coming to the House last week. I concur with the comments of the leader of the Green Party in the Seanad, Senator Pauline O'Reilly, on the first day of this debate.It is so good to see Senator Boyhan in the Chair today. I welcome the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, and I also thank him for coming in last week. I concur with the comments made on day one of this debate by the Green Party Seanad leader, Senator Pauline O'Reilly. We could talk about this for so long, although there is a limited time available to me. Perhaps it is therapeutic. It is the most upsetting episode that has been discussed in my adult life as a public representative, so one could ask what it was like for the victims, the survivors and the families. It is a dark stain on Ireland, but it is one that ought not to be removed. It should be a timely reminder. While we cannot remove it, and should not strive to remove it, we should acknowledge it and we should respond appropriately. Tragically and unfortunately, we cannot turn back the clock, but we can determine the future.
What can I suggest in the short time available to me? The first point is a very obvious one and it goes without saying. The Minister knows this. It is to listen, listen better and to listen again and again and to reflect, because the survivors know best. They know what they want. Reparations are required. I do not use the word compensation. That is a small but important part of a therapeutic, collaborative justice for the perpetrators, not for the victims. Everyone should have a reflection and kindness and compassion without any red tape. A full suite of reparations must be made available to all the victims and their families. That includes compensation, but so much more, because no money would ever compensate.
I acknowledge the apology of Councillor Charity on behalf of Galway County Council, but what more can we do? There is a legal term, in loco parentis, where one takes the place of the parents. Who is going to take the place of the deceased children who had no voice at the time? Perhaps their families and relations are no longer with us. It is up to us not to miss the boat twice and to do everything we can to stand up for them, even if they are not in this world any more, and to ensure, however retrospectively and posthumously, that dignity is afforded to each and every child who died and to the mothers as well.
I spoke recently to an elderly gentleman who as a child remembers women picking potatoes outside the home, often heavily pregnant. He did not know, and he is so upset at what happened. It is so upsetting. Where do we go when we consider that not only did these people do nothing wrong, they were severely violated, physically, sexually and mentally? It was a different time. There is not an awful lot that we can do, but something we can do that would be small crumbs of comfort for the pain and perhaps some day it will help, is if as legislators we could promise to keep our eyes open and to be vigilant. It is extremely late, but it is never too late. We had the Dáil Éireann republican courts from 1919 to 1924 during the struggle for independence when the people turned their backs on the British common law system. There was a judge all those years ago called James Creed Meredith.In a groundbreaking decision at the time, by applying Brehon law rather than common law, he ruled that the father of a child born out of wedlock ought to pay maintenance. It is a small thing. When we restored the British-style Judiciary in 1924 we reapplied the common law and we reversed that decision. That was the position all the way up to our lifetime and the 1980s. Then, past Members of this House - we should give them credit for it - including Mary Robinson and Nuala Fennell, were instrumental in giving recognition to such basic rights as inheritance rights and recognition for children born outside of wedlock.
Can we stay vigilant? The torture may not appear in the same shape but last week a 53-year-old man was sentenced to 12 and a half years, with two years suspended, for coercive control, intimidation and multiple assaults on his former partner over a two-year period. He was the first person to be convicted for coercive control following a trial. These are small steps forward but they might help the healing if this problem appears in a different guise in the way we are today in modern Ireland. The victim said she was only rescued due to the vigilance of doctors and gardaí.
I am saying these are small steps but we must translate words into action for the victims and their families at this stage. They do not want words - although they are important in healing - they want positive reassuring action. We must hear them out and do everything that is feasible for their terrible ongoing suffering, which is such a blight and stain on our nation and always will be.
As I said earlier, I am conscious of time given the number of people who want to speak. Everyone who takes an extra minute cuts into the time of someone else. We have a full agenda and a full list of speakers. I appeal to everyone to be mindful that the limit is six minutes.
As we all know, the State and the church are responsible, and must be accountable, for the mother and baby homes and county homes spoken about in this report and beyond it. I join in the rejection of any attempts to minimise that. It is simply not credible or acceptable for the commission to claim there is no evidence that women were forced to enter mother and baby homes due to the church or State authorities. A few pages after that claim in the report we hear of bishops saying the only thing that prevents women from leaving is the strict supervision and boundary walls. Women themselves have told us about incarceration and escape.
To describe the awful tone and skewed framing by the commission as overly legalistic is to give it too much credit. It is not legalistic; it is defensive. It amounts to more walls corralling survivors into the confidential committee, squeezing their testimony into unseen questionnaires and denying requests for public hearings, even though the statutory instrument which established the commission stated that individuals should be able to request privacy and not have secrecy forced upon them.
That statutory instrument was from 2015, one year after the public duty relating to human rights and equality came into law. The report tells us that the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission asked for any investigation to be informed by human rights law, but the Government did not opt for that approach in its mandate to the commission. This raises very serious questions. The sidelining of human rights really does show.
This report is not the new chapter that we needed. Yet, I hope it will be the last we hear of the old excuses. A radically different approach has to begin now. It must be led by the voices, needs, demands and well-being of survivors. It must offer support, redress and justice not only for those who endured the 18 institutions in the report but also for the many others affected by a wider systemic architecture of control and abuse right across the island. We heard again today that in Northern Ireland more of that architecture of control and abuse was targeted at women and their lives.
I welcome that the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth took the advice of those of us in this House and many others by keeping a copy of all of the files. It is vital that they reach the Minister in unredacted form and that the commission respects the general data protection regulation when preparing for the transfer.As was vigorously pointed out in this House by human rights and data protection experts and, crucially, by survivors themselves, when the Minister receives these files he will become a data controller with a responsibility to respond to individuals' requests for their personal information under Article 15 of the regulation. It was a relief to see his Department's belated acceptance and acknowledgement of that fact. I am glad the Minister personally seems keen to take an open and empowering approach to such requests. It is vital that bodies such as Tusla also change their responses and approaches to reflect the new-found understanding of the general data protection regulation, GDPR. The centring of an individual's right of access to personal information will, I hope, result in a very different approach in the information and tracing legislation the Minister is to bring forward later this year. I look forward to engaging with the Minister on that. We should not have to wait that long for progress on birth certificates.
As data controller, the Minister may also identify and facilitate other appropriate processing of information from these files in the public interest. That may, and probably should, include further investigations into the vaccine trials, financial exploitation and forced and illegal adoptions. It is clearly evidenced in the testimony of the women in other reporting by persons such as journalists for the Irish Examinerand elsewhere, and in the fact that other records have been shown to be falsified, that there was an issue with regard to forced and illegal adoptions. Indeed, there was extensive lobbying to avoid the introduction of proper legal oversight in respect of adoption. The report itself reflects that.
The apologies at national and local level are right and necessary but there are also issues of justice involved which cannot be forgotten. These include issues of financial justice, justice with regard to adoption and justice with regard to graves and infant death, not only in Tuam but in Bessborough and so many other places across the country. It is crucial that no individual be asked to give up his or her legal rights as part of any redress scheme. Redress must be speedy, substantial and centred on the needs of survivors. It must learn from the mistakes of past schemes. There can be no waivers, no gagging orders and absolutely no indemnity for religious orders. These orders must make payment. We should also re-examine their exemption from capital gains tax in light of the amount of property we know has been disposed of and the fact that this property was so deeply rooted in this discrimination in Irish society.
I will finish as I know others wish to speak but there are wider lessons I ask the Minister to learn. When the State puts a payment on the heads of vulnerable people, as it still does with regard to direct provision and homelessness, it can be dangerous. When the State surrenders power to religious orders, as is currently planned for the national maternity hospital, it can be dangerous. I urge the Minister to work with all of us to build a state that takes responsibility for the past and for the future.
I informally said to the Cathaoirleach earlier that nothing could be more apt than Senator Boyhan, who has been so courageous and eloquent in his own testimony, chairing this session. I welcome the Minister. I have listened to him on many occasions and I know he is patently sincere and committed to doing the right thing. Two parallel approaches to the report of the commission are needed. We must first remember, acknowledge and apportion and accept blame. We must also give people access to their family history and all data and information, including birth certificates, medical histories and everything else. We must give payment, redress and retribution to people. It cannot be miserly and, like my colleagues, I advise the Minister to make such redress generous and easy to get. We owe these people no less.We did such wrongs and now there is a chance to do the wholesome and right thing. Free counselling and medical cards should be available, as should appropriate housing in appropriate locations, which may involve transfers. In other words, these people should have a holistic response.
Turning to my first response to the commission’s report and what is required, this involves remembering. We must not right the wrongs out of history. It is clear from the personal testimonies in the report that the treatment of mothers and babies in mother and baby homes was barbaric, cruel, sadistic and inhuman. It is as much part of our history as the glorious and glamorous. Let us make no attempt to fudge that. The remembering should be in the proper burial of the up to 9,000 babies who died. I am not saying they are all improperly buried but most are. That should happen. That should mean the development of a proper remembrance centre, as has been mooted in Seán MacDermott Street. Elsewhere, there should be commemorative plaques and commemorative ceremonies in each local authority area and generally, there should be a State acknowledgement. There should be support for students who do research in this area and for any centres that remember this and any people who write about it, recall it and support this. We must be generous and imaginative. I ask the Minister to look at that whole area of remembrance.
It is important for us to remember too that it has a civilising effect on people to remember what was wrong in the past. The acknowledgement must come from the religious. It came from the Bon Secours Sisters and that must be built on. Archbishop Eamon Martin’s apology is welcome in this context. However, the acknowledgement must also come from State employees who, either in a county home or by co-operating with the incarceration, have a guilt. The acknowledgement must also come from our people, the political class. We did not do enough about it either. The acknowledgement of the wrong must come from all of us who lived through that time when respectability, property ownership and misogyny ranked much more highly than the welfare of the abandoned mothers and babies. I feel personally ashamed to say that I lived through that period and that we allowed all this to happen, to paraphrase President Reagan, on our watch.
Much criticism has arisen from the survivors and political leaders led by our colleague, the Leader of the House, Senator Doherty, regarding the language and tenor of the report and the way it was dealt with. It is a pity that legalese was allowed to replace plain speaking. The legalese could have been an appendix or a footnote. In a legal sense it is stated that mothers were not forced into homes. Of course, they were not arrested on foot of a court order, but their expulsion from the family home and the lack of any other State support gave them only two options – abortion or to enter the penal mother and baby homes. Similarly, in legal terms, the report can confirm that again mothers were not forced to have children adopted but where was the choice? Again, they had no choice. The mother was alone, defenceless, without resources and under pressure from all sides to adopt. Only semantics can remove force from this. Needless to say, there are people, religious and lay, who did the right thing and acted in a humane way. They can quietly and privately take a bow and should do so but that does not mean we can distract from those who have done the wrong thing to vulnerable babies and their mothers.
We should openly admit that a wrong was done that needs righting. The process is just starting now and I see it as being a two-pronged approach. The first is that we are remembering and acknowledging in a very public, holistic and proper way. We are even allowing further testimony. We are doing all that. The second is that we compensate in a generous, holistic and unmiserly way that will not be difficult to access. These people experienced enough hardship as vulnerable people. It is time they were the recipients of kindness from the State.
Like others, I thank the Acting Chairperson, Senator Boyhan, for his personal testimony in this House last week.It was an important contribution to the debate. It was an honour for me to hear it. I thank the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, for his time and personal commitment to this issue which is a challenging one. I know that the Minister and everybody within these Houses want to do the right thing. It is a dark chapter in our history that we should not forget and we should learn lessons from it. I agree with Senator Higgins that particularly in the area of direct provision there are lessons for society today that we must also learn.
In all of our actions and the approach that we take to this report, we need to put people at heart of any decisions we make. The women and children whose stories are now being heard and must continue to be heard must be in our thoughts. They need to be at the centre of any legislative approach. In terms of the actions that are taken by the State and State agencies, the focus must be on how they will impact on those women and children, how they will understand them and what supports they will need to be able to understand them. As referenced already, that approach must apply to Tusla in particular. The Taoiseach's apology was very welcome. The issue now is how we follow up with actions not only in terms of legislation but communication and engagement.
I would like to make a number of points. One of the questions that was raised during the early part of this debate was where were the fathers? It is important to acknowledge that not every father abandoned the mother or his child. There were instances where because the young woman became pregnant outside of marriage for family or social circumstances she was forced into a home. I know of a case in north Wexford involving a man named Barry McGlynn. His girlfriend became pregnant during the 1960s. She was placed in St. Patrick's mother and baby home on the Navan Road. He would have stood by her. She could not leave until she signed adoption papers and Barry could not see her or his child. That is incarceration. It is imprisonment. In any legal system under habeas corpuspeople would be required to say why a person is being detained. In this case, the father would have stood by the mother. All fathers did not abandon their children but because of circumstances they lost out.
Another group of people who we need to acknowledge during this debate are the parents who adopted children. For many of them, this report can make for difficult reading. I know from talking to some of them that they have feelings of guilt. Those who are adoptive parents who loved those children as their own are not responsible for what happened. They should be thanked where they provided loving homes in what was a very dark chapter in our history.
The crucial issue will be the question around birth certificates and rights to identity. This is really important. A right to identity and a birth certificate is an intrinsic part of who we are. It is important for us to know where we come from but for reasons of health, it is essential. I have haemochromatosis, which is a genetic disease. Once it is diagnosed early a person can live happily with it. For those who were adopted and do not know that there is heart disease or haemochromatosis in their family background that places them at a greater risk and vice versaan adopted person might discover that he or she has a disease that may be hereditary and could inform his or her birth mother or other family members of it being an issue. It is really important that information is shared.
I do not buy it that some natural mothers do not want contact with their children.The evidence shows that one in 20 natural mothers who were on the national adoption contact preference register did not want contact with their son or daughter, but at no stage did they want information about their health circumstances and so forth denied to their child. As Senator Joe O'Reilly said, we have got to move away from some of the legalese. I appreciate that there must be a legal basis for whatever we do, but we must think about how it will ultimately impact on our citizens. I know the Minister and every Member of the House want to do the right thing but if we look at how our decisions impact on people, we will not stray too far.
I, too, recognise the Acting Chairperson's position today both as the leader of my group and as somebody who has been brave enough to put his personal life in the public domain. I welcome the Minister to the House.
It took five years to produce this report and I am sure those who produced it believed it to be a considered and complete report, but I agree with most other speakers who said that they must be willing to go public and take questions on the report. The late poet, Eavan Boland, said that in Ireland the past was a place of whispers, shadows and vanishings while history is the story of heroes. The report has unearthed a dark, distant past in this country. Personal testimonies of survivors of these homes are harrowing. They show us that the oppression of women who became pregnant outside marriage was brutal, widespread and systemic.
There has been talk about redress in this debate. A redress scheme must encompass everybody. Whether somebody was five minutes in one of these places, it must encompass all of them. There cannot be a cut-off date whereby somebody is entitled and somebody else is not.
The system in this country labelled unmarried pregnant women as sinners and their children as illegitimate. It stripped the women of their dignity and almost dehumanised them in the process. One of the most difficult to read sections in the report relates to the rampant infant mortality. Over 9,000 children, each one a citizen of this State, died in the care of the church and State, many without the dignity of a funeral and a marked grave. If it was not for the tireless work of Ms Catherine Corless, the commission may never have been established. There still may be outstanding questions to be answered.
While it is very distressing to learn about the ways in which the mothers and babies were treated, it is equally distressing to listen to recent Government commentary on the report. The apologies have come too early. Let us see a redress system and care put in place for those who were in these homes and, having proved we are sorry by our actions, we can then apologise. I have no time for these apologies where it is a case of, "I have said 'sorry' so let us move on". That is not good enough. The response to the publication of the report by the Tánaiste, Deputy Varadkar, was that it shames Irish society. He said that women who were "pregnant outside of marriage, some very young, some victims of rape, were not supported by their families or by the father of the child. They were forced to turn to the church and State for refuge ...". I was in a house on the night that a girl who was working away from home rang her mother to tell her she was pregnant. The girl's father was a stern, Victorian man and I remember the family that night being in panic about how they were going to deal with it and how they would tell the father. As soon as that man heard it, the first thing he said was: "Bring my daughter home and let me look after her". Not every family disowned their child and I take grave exception to the practice of calling out families as having deserted their children.
As regards the Catholic Church, I listened to the archbishop and the Primate of All Ireland say that we should not take it out on the church. Then we read the report and see that when Mayo County Council wanted to take children - boys up to the age of five years and girls up to the age of seven years - out of Tuam the response of the holy nuns was that if it took the children out, it would not be able to send another girl there. It was outrageous.
I cannot agree with the report's simplistic explanation that the women should have been at home with their families, but they were rejected by those families.They were not in all cases rejected by their families. It is deeply insulting to those families who looked after their daughters.
We passed legislation recently in this House against the type of coercive treatment that went on in this State and about which we are talking. It defines it as threats of humiliation, intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish or frighten the victim. That is exactly what we did. Certainly, when I was a boy growing up there were no girls pregnant in Galway; they were all sent away on a holiday and when they came back nine months later nobody dared to ask where they had been. I believe that for the commission, the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste to take the view that it was families who failed women and children gaslights the survivors and undermines their own memory and testimony. I would, however, apportion due blame to the fathers of children. When I was growing up I knew fellas who had made girls pregnant and then took to the high hills leaving them swinging in the wind. This is not to take away from what Senator Byrne has said. There were some very decent lads who had made girls pregnant and wanted to do the right thing but between church and State they were prevented access to the girls they had made pregnant. Let us be honest about what took place in this State.
I think of the stories. When the Bessborough story came out on television a girl I knew from many years ago, who I thought had gone to a family when she was pregnant, contacted me to tell me she had been in Bessborough. That girl is now haunted by her time in Bessborough. I am going to run out of time and there is so much I want to say about this. I am damned if I am going to allow families be accused of rejecting their own children. I am damned if I am going to accept the word of the church that has said "We did not do this" and "We did not do that". I have read what the report says about the Bishop of Tuam who said that a mother and baby home could not be close to a street because people know what happens to those girls when they see a man. For God's sake let the church take some responsibility.
On redress, there is one crowd that nobody is talking about. We have spoken about the church and the State, but what about the chemical companies that developed a vaccine to use on the young children who were in these homes and had no say? It is time for GlaxoSmithKline and the other medical vaccine companies to come forward and take responsibility for what they did. I commend the Minister on what he is doing. The Minister is a decent guy and he took this on after five years. He has taken a lot of stick. I commend the Minister on being here today and I commend him on the work he is doing and the way he has tried to deal with this. I ask the Minister not to make them beg for redress.
I welcome the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman. I welcome the publication of the report and I acknowledge the work and effort that went into its production. As others have said, it is important that the recommendations and summaries are discussed with survivors and that their views on the next steps forward are taken into account and are followed through. There are many very worthy recommendations in the report but if we have to go further, and if we need to go further, engagement with survivors needs to be looked at.
It is fair to say that every adjective has probably been used in describing this period of our past. It is easy to look at previous times with today's lens. The cathaoirleach and the chief executive of Galway County Council both made statements at yesterday's council meeting. The chief executive, Mr. Kevin Kelly, said:
The report contributes significantly to our deeper appreciation and understanding of the past failures of the State, including this local authority, in the provision of care to the women who were forced to enter the Tuam Mother and Baby Home. It is to our shame, that we acknowledge, that there, when at their most vulnerable, in need of compassion, empathy, support and understanding and in need of our care, we failed them.
The report identified that in the congregated settings of mother and baby homes poor sanitary conditions had much more serious consequences for disease and infection control and identified Tuam as having appalling conditions. It is also clear that the death rate among infants in the Tuam mother and baby home was noted and, while known to be a multiple of the general population, did not prompt appropriate action.
The lack of respect and dignity afforded to the women and children in death is also particularly upsetting and a source of great hurt and sorrow. The council accepts its role in failing to ensure that these individuals were afforded the dignity of an appropriate and respectful resting place.
No one can change the past; however it is important that we accept and learn from it, acknowledge the sad and painful truth, the personal impact and heavy burden carried by survivors and humbly acknowledge our failings.
I, as a former member, concur with the full statement produced yesterday by Galway County Council.
I was shocked to read that the greatest number of admissions to homes were in the 1960s and 1970s. I would have thought, if someone had asked, that it would have been the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s. The 1960s were a period of change and industrialisation in this country, when people were coming back home. We joined the European Economic Community, EEC, in the early 1970s. To think that this was the period of the highest admissions to these homes is hard to fathom.
It is also clear that in this State, it was a man's world. There were men who got girls and women pregnant and did not take responsibility. Of course, that does not apply to all men, as others have said, but there were those who did not take responsibility. We think of the men in the church, and it was predominantly men, although many nuns also acted in an unchristian manner within these institutions. We think also of the men in politics, and it was predominantly men, in the Dáil, Seanad and local councils. Some of those men were in charge of these institutions.
Where the man in question did not take responsibility and left the woman or girl alone, she faced difficult choices to go abroad to relations, perhaps, or else to tell her family and present to one of these homes until such time as the baby was born and adopted. We need to acknowledge the impact that these forced periods in county or mother and baby homes had on the children and their mothers, how their stay impacted their lives, how many, if not all, were scarred by the experience, certainly mentally, and had consequences throughout their lives. There was unfilled potential and lives were ruined. There were searches for adopted children who would have had questions as adults or teenagers, whenever they found out.
The connection between church and State was clear. There was hypocrisy in a church that acted in a Christian spirit, as it were, but acted in the opposite way to unmarried mothers. The issue of legitimacy was being debated in these Houses in the 1980s. It is hard to fathom and shameful.
There was also the role of a society that was so in thrall to religion and dogma that Christian actions were not followed. The Taoiseach stated last week in the Dáil that the State has failed time and again, for decades, to protect some of its most vulnerable citizens. That is absolutely true. Former Taoiseach, Deputy Varadkar, talked in his speech to Pope Francis about the fact that we, as a State, did not have a Minister for health or social welfare until 1947. There was an interconnection between church and State. Obviously, not all of it was bad, but this was a shameful period and we need to apologise and atone for it. I acknowledge the work that the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, has done and the particular interest that he has in the matter. I know that he will follow up with survivors in line with the recommendations in this report. That will be important.
That is no problem. I will start by thanking the many people who have taken the time to speak to me over the past while on this particularly sensitive topic. I thank the Acting Chairperson in particular for talking to me last week and being kind with his thoughts and experiences. I thank some other people, including Samantha Long, who has been an eternal voice on this issue, for being so generous in publicly sharing her story again and again.I thank people like Maeve O'Rourke and all the legal experts who have given so freely of their expertise in this area. I thank Susan Lohan and all those who so eloquently advocated for justice for a long time. I thank the many survivors who reached out to me with their stories. I cannot undo their pasts. I cannot take away their pain. I cannot give them all their lost time back. However, I can be part of a movement of people who are going to advocate fiercely for survivors' rights to justice, to information, to an identity, to funding and to have dignity in their lives in future after they were so cruelly denied it before.
Much discourse in recent days has concerned how survivors felt they were not believed, that their testimony was not taken into account or their truth was not treated with the care and respect it deserved. I put it on the record that I believe the survivors. I believe their testimony. I believe the testimony they have shared about the horrors they experienced and I believe their memories and recollections. I believe their pain. I believe their anger. I believe their hurt. I believe them.
We must recognise that we have go beyond saying we are sorry. Apologies are well and good, and they are extraordinarily necessary. Many people I spoke to said last week's apology was so very needed. However, an apology given when the survivors had not even seen the report, nor the summary of the report, and some people have spoken as well of the problematic nature of that summary of the report, just does not cut it. There needs to be action. All the actions I will suggest could be taken have come from conversations that I have had with survivors, advocates or legal experts or they are reflected in the report. These are not things that I have plucked out of thin air.
Survivors need access to hard copies of this report. We must think about the composition of this group of survivors from the homes, and in that regard we must consider the accessibility of this report and its summary. Survivors also need access to their birth certificates and restitution of their identities. We must get rid of the 1973 cut-off point for redress. My colleague, Senator Sherlock, spoke eloquently on that point. Survivors need access to information and this must be a priority. Counselling and other elements cannot be provided until people know who they are. Access to information also includes access to baptismal records. People must be given access to State and privately held administrative files. I and several legal experts believe that withholding those records would be considered a violation of general data protection regulation, GDPR, legislation.
Survivors need access to redress. I do not believe that the 2015 Act to provide healthcare for Magdalen survivors was sufficient. Survivors must get the standard Health (Amendment) Act, HAA, card. My colleague, Senator Sherlock, also talked about Sean McDermott Street and a national archive. This would allow for an ongoing, survivor-led investigation and a fact-finding process for survivors. It is important as well that archival and memorial resources must not be restricted to Dublin. We have heard accounts here of the experience of survivors from all over the country, so it is important that it is not just a Dublin-based archival record that will be established. We need further investigation and interrogation of illegal adoptions and to compare the legal adoption numbers with other available data.
We cannot go back in time but we can take actions to give survivors dignity and support for the rest of their lives. I also want to reflect on the intergenerational impact these experiences have had. Senator Boyhan very kindly talked to me about that aspect last week. There are survivors of these homes trying to live their lives with the trauma they must process every day. That trauma can lead to personal difficulties and relationship difficulties and can impact on survivors' spouses, their children and their families. A whole cohort of people surrounded by survivors is also affected by this trauma, therefore, and they also desperately need support.
I am struck by one aspect of this situation especially. I do not think we comprehend the breadth of work that still needs to be done. I refer to the amount of investigation that remains to be done and how much more we need to do even to begin to uncover all that has happened. We must also look to international examples of how other countries have dealt with their pasts and atrocities presided over by the state. What can we learn about how other nations have faced their pasts to look forward and ensure that such cruelties never happen again? Has contact been made with experts abroad? Has any investigation been undertaken to examine how we can learn from their experiences?
I want to comment on a final point that many people have already addressed. I refer to the insistence that the Church and the State did not force women into the mother and baby homes and that there was no forced adoption or coercion. I speak for many people when I say that those statements are incredible, almost audacious. My colleague, Senator Craughwell, put it correctly when he said that this is gaslighting survivors. In the same week that we have had the first person convicted and sentenced for coercive control, a crime for which I believe a twelve-and-a-half-year sentence was handed down, I find it extraordinary that we can recognise coercive control as a crime but not cast our eyes back into our grisly past and see the deep coercion that took place in those homes.When a person is left with no options, no choices and no way out, that is coercion. For context, we are now in the third decade of the century after the last home closed. That is a long time for us still not to have got to grips with this. We have not yet learned from our mistakes, and I am referring to direct provision and the need to give access to birth certs. There is an awful lot more we must do and we really must learn from the past. There is a great amount of work that needs to be done. We cannot undo the wrongs of the past but we can step up to our obligations to try to give dignity and respect to the survivors and their families into the future.
I first acknowledge the Acting Chairperson, Senator Boyhan's contribution to the debate. It is very appropriate that he is sitting in the Chair today. I hope it is symbolic of where we have come to as a country, where we have someone with his life and experience holding that seat during this debate. I thank the Minister for being here and for the work he has done over recent months. It is incredibly difficult and I know the work he is doing is very genuine. The outcomes he wants are the ones the survivors want. It is not easy to do but commitment and support across the board and across the House are what is needed. I commend as well my colleague, Senator Seery Kearney, on the work she has been doing over recent months within our party in educating an awful lot of us in the detail of this. I do not think anyone can pretend to be an expert on this and have a full understanding of it. It is such a detailed report and a detailed time.
I will focus on County Tipperary and the Sean Ross Abbey because it is my own county and the gravity of the story of the mother and baby homes is very strong in Roscrea. There were 6,414 women admitted to the home and 6,079 children were born there. It was privately owned and privately run. It secured major funding from the hospitals commission, which though technically independent worked closely with then Department of Local Government and Public Health, DLGPH. The hospitals commission inspected the homes, commenting on facilities and matters that required improvement. It acted in a similar manner with all institutions it funded. When the Department of Health proposed turning the Sean Ross Abbey into a home for children with special needs in the 1960s, the Bishop of Killaloe rejected the proposal. His intervention resulted in a number of visits to the bishop by senior civil servants and letters from Ministers. The closure of the Sean Ross Abbey was delayed for several years until the bishop had died and his successor subsequently gave his approval. During those years, many children died.
The outcomes for children in mother and baby homes like Sean Ross Abbey changed significantly, however, from the late 1950s when legal adoption became common. For children who were in the Sacred Heart homes before 1960, the most common recorded outcome was that they were left with their mother or a member of their family. This creates the impression that the child was brought to his or her mother's family home and may have been raised in the family. However, the overwhelming majority of these children were placed at nurse in foster care, as it is called, either privately by the woman or by her family.
Sean Ross Abbey had a much higher incidence of mortality from major infectious diseases, more than any other mother and baby home. The transfer of mothers to the local fever hospital, where they worked as unpaid nurses, and their return to Sean Ross Abbey, where they appear to have transmitted the infection to their children, was responsible for the loss of many children's lives. A total of 1,090 of the 6,079 babies who were born at Sean Ross Abbey in Roscrea died.That is more than in Tuam. Some 79% of the deaths occurred between 1932 and 1947. The worst years were 1936 and 1942. Within two years of Sean Ross Abbey opening, the congregation acknowledged there was a problem with the high rate of infant mortality and sent a sister from Liverpool to investigate the cause. Registers of burials were not maintained. There is a designated burial ground and the commission has established that the coffined remains of some children under the age of one are buried there. There is almost no information about the 99% of mothers admitted to Sean Ross Abbey.
I acknowledge that the commission members did their job and found fault. It is now the responsibility of the Government and the Minister to bring a certain level of humanity to this. I commend the Minister's action plan with the 22 points and hope he gets the time to deliver on them. I know that is certainly his commitment. I recognise that the Taoiseach was right when he called out the State's failings of the mothers and the children. The first thing we need to do is to give people born in these institutions the right to know who they are and where their records are, to gather what we know about them, to try to place it as best we can and to give them access to it. They have the right to their information without delay. I appreciate the Minister is publishing legislation that brings those rights even beyond that entitlement to family documents and I commend him on that.
I find it incredibly difficult to speak about this for a number of reasons. As politicians we often feel obliged to speak about things of which we do not really have a full understanding. My only understanding of this matter is that I myself have a child who is a baby. More than 1,000 kids died in an institution in Tipperary, and I do not think there is any reading I can do to ever fully understand that. I commend what the Minister is trying to do. We are a different society and a different country now, but what happened back then was wrong back then, just as it is wrong now, and that should always be remembered. Time does not change what is right or wrong between now and then.
May I add my words to yours, Acting Chairperson, in your very dignified and emotive response last week to this report? I know it was deeply personal. We all learned from your dignity, so thank you, Senator Boyhan.
When we talk about the mother and baby homes, we are talking about our mothers, our aunts, our cousins, our sisters and our neighbours. We are talking about people within our own communities. These women were incarcerated, tortured, forced into servitude and systematically degraded. They were denied identity and denied education. Worse, they were denied access to their children. We all heard whispers and rumours growing up in the not-too-distant past. Now it is all laid bare for us all to absorb and to try to understand but, as the previous speaker said, we will never understand. Identity is exceptionally important - we all think about it and talk about it - whether to us as individuals, as a family, as a community or as a political party. The definition of identity is who we are, the way we think about ourselves, the way we are viewed by ourselves and others and the characteristics that define us. Our own personal identity, which many of us take for granted, is absolutely immense but it was denied to so many in the mother and baby homes. This report has made us stop and look at ourselves, our identity as a country, who we are as a nation and how people have been treated here.Ireland in 2021 feels so much more modern and progressive and it is a jolt to remember that in our very recent past we were controlled by conservative, patriarchal and cruel church and State. The church and State stigmatised and punished women for having children outside marriage and allowed the fathers, many of them pillars of society, the church and the State, to continue living their lives unaffected by their actions although like everything, there were exceptions. We are left with a legacy of devastated women and their devastated children. These women, despite what the report may say, were forced to give their babies up for adoption and generations of people have had no access to vital information about their birth, including to whom they were born and from where they came. They were denied the keys to their own identity.
When we hear the phrase "mother and baby", we think of the Madonna and of a loving mother and child relationship. When we hear the word "home", we think of warmth, love, respect and protection. However, the mothers who went into these institutions, which I cannot call mother and baby homes, were forced to go there. Indeed, the institutions existed to punish, denigrate, humiliate, abuse and shame them. Many of the women stayed in institutions for all of their lives. Many others, due to the shame and stigma of being "fallen" women, were exiled to England or America and never came back. Mr. Patsy McGarry wrote a very moving piece in The Irish Timesabout his own aunt in that context.
I have friends who were born in these institutions who were, thankfully, adopted into very loving and warm homes. However, they now understand what their own biological mothers went through and their hurt is immense. They are very conflicted and I have no doubt that the same is true of all of the survivors. I am not happy with a report blaming wider society for what happened. Irish society throughout the 20th century was 100% influenced and shaped by the Catholic Church and its teachings. I am old enough to remember my mother being "churched" for the sin of conception, even in marriage, which is appalling. This is the society the report references. The Catholic Church was able to turn people against the women and their children. It did not just turn society against these citizens of Ireland; it also ingrained hatred and disgust towards them. I lay the greater proportion of the blame at the door of the Catholic Church. People were terrified of the church and the shame it preached from pulpits across the country. The church should pay a greater proportion of the compensation that the survivors deserve and this process should not be dragged out; the Government must act swiftly in that regard. While no amount of money can compensate for the mental anguish and mistreatment suffered, proper reparation is nonetheless very important.
While this report is an important part of the story, it is not the most important part. We must publish the testimony of those affected, in a manner similar to the publication of In Her Shoes - Women of the Eighth. I listened to some of the personal stories at the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Education and Skills when it was dealing with legislation relating to some of these institutions and I will never, to my dying day, forget those testimonies. Access to birth documentation is now the most pressing issue and all of the recommendations of this report must be implemented as soon as possible.
Before I call on the Minister to conclude the debate, I thank all of the Senators who contributed today and last week.Clearly, more would have like to have contributed but because of Covid, and I want to stress this for people viewing, there are major restrictions on the number of Senators in the Chamber, which is understandable, but it is an important point. I again thank everyone.
Clearly, the major echoing theme today is that we believe. That is the key message. We have heard terrible stories of trauma and people terrorised and subjected to emotional, physical and sexual abuse and potential or threatened rape - very serious atrocities against our citizens and people. There will be other times and other debates to discuss that. I thank the Minister for being here and wish him well in what is an exceptionally challenging and difficult job. I think he is up to it. In particular, I thank An Cathaoirleach for asking me to preside as Acting Chairperson today. I am very moved and honoured by that and I thank him and Members across the House.
I recommend that every Member get a copy of the six volumes of the report. I thank the Minister for personally delivering them to me today. It is an enormous report. I hope every library in this State will have copies of these books both to take out and for reference because that is part of opening up, our discussion and shining a light on the facts and stories.
On a personal note, which has been echoed by everyone today, we believe the people who told their testimony and stories. They will not be forgotten. It is incumbent on us and from the debate in this House, I have no doubt there will be action. I call on the Minister to conclude the debate, thank him and wish him well in the major task ahead.
I begin by thanking all Members of the House for their very thought-through and meaningful contributions this afternoon and last week. It has been an extremely good and considered debate. It is clear that many Senators have taken the time to go through what is a huge report. It took me weeks to get through it all in detail. Many Senators today, such as Senator Ahearn and some Senators from Galway, picked on local homes such as the one in Tuam to focus on local issues, which in the immediate term are most apparent and meaningful to them. Everyone has reflected their gratitude to the Acting Chairperson for his contributions to this debate and the previous debate on the database. I reiterate that from the point of view of his shared experience here, our individual conversations and the kind of guidance he has been able to give me as a new Minister and new Deputy in this role.
I will try to address points made by individual Senators today, as I did last week. Obviously, I will be unable to cover everything in a great deal of detail. Senator Chambers began by saying that redress and apology can never make good all the hurt that has been done to survivors. This is the understanding of the Government. The Government understands that the State failed survivors and allowed that relationship of trust to break. It was the State's fault and now the State offers the suite of measures outlined in the action plan as a step towards rebuilding that relationship. It will take a long time to rebuild that relationship for some survivors. We may never be able to entirely do that but we are setting out a range of actions for us to take. An apology, restorative recognition and legislation are all part of steps to rebuild that relationship. It was important that Senator Chambers mentioned the county homes and that only four county homes were fully investigated in the report as a representative sample. Indeed, the report identified that some of the worst conditions were in the county homes as opposed to necessarily being found in the mother and baby homes.
Senators Chambers, Crowe, Dolan and Kyne all referred to the apology of Galway County Council. We spoke about that briefly last week. I remember Senator Pauline O'Reilly also referred to it last week. That apology was really good and an important first step in rebuilding that local relationship of trust. I hope we see other local authorities take a similar approach. Senators Chambers, Craughwell, Ardagh and Higgins spoke about the importance of the restorative recognition scheme and how it is so important that we get that right. Senators also said it is important that this is done quickly. There is a balance there. We want to get this right and learn from the mistakes of previous redress schemes. I am very conscious of that and that we need a human rights approach in the drafting of this particular scheme. I am also conscious of the age of many of the survivors. It is important that we make provision for them as quickly as possible.
Senator Conway referred to the responsibility and failure of the State in allowing the cruelties that are exhibited in this report occur to women and children. That, again, is a key emphasis of my response and that of the Government. We acknowledge the fault of the State; the State was at fault here. Irrespective of how certain elements are conveyed by certain parts of the report, this Government recognises the State's fault and we are acting to begin to make good the flaws of previous Governments and local authorities.
Senator Conway noted the importance of acting quickly on all 22 points. That was a theme in many Senators' contributions. I and the Government will be accountable for our success in implementing them and I, as line Minister, will be accountable to both Houses. I have no doubt I will be before the House regularly to discuss the various elements and how we are advancing on them. One of the other key elements is to have information and tracing legislation. We have made a commitment to bring the heads of a Bill at the end of March or in early April. That will give us an opportunity to pass this legislation well before the end of this year. From the point of view of legislation that will be highly technical, that is an ambitious timeframe that we have proposed. It is not a question of dusting down previous legislation. This is new legislation because we are taking an approach that is centred on the general data protection regulation, GDPR.
Senator Sherlock spoke of the need not to significantly limit those to whom redress will be given. Senator Hoey drew on that point as well. The Government took the important decision not to restrict the interdepartmental group which will design the redress scheme. The group can look beyond the three categories set out by the commission. That is important because I, too, would find it difficult to see the justification for taking 1973 and the introduction of the unmarried mother's allowance as an absolute cut-off point.
Senators Crowe and Craughwell both drew attention to the absolutely shocking figure of 9,000 children and babies who died in an institution. That is probably the most powerful and significant piece of knowledge that this report has delivered to us, not just that one raw figure but the numbers who died in individual institutions, including more than 1,000 in the Sean Ross mother and baby home and 900 in Bessborough. That brought home the realities of what happened in these institutions.
Senator Crowe also emphasised the importance of health supports, as did Senators Ó Donnghaile and Joe O'Reilly. Those are important. Counselling services are now in place through the national counselling service. Former residents of these institutions are a prioritised group within that, which means they do not have to go to the back of the queue. They are prioritised in availing of counselling, which is free and can be of a short, medium or long-term nature. A detailed and comprehensive suite of counselling has been put in place for former residents, which is important.
Senator Crowe and a number of other Senators mentioned the importance of ongoing engagement with survivors. I am very conscious of that. I have proposed two dates for meetings in February with the collaborative forum, as the representative body of survivors. We are arranging two meetings because we have an extensive range of issues to discuss. There will also be wider engagement with survivors. I look forward to hearing the views of the collaborative forum to get inspiration and ideas for how we should provide wider ongoing engagement with survivors. That is essential.
Senator Dolan made the very valid point that there is a large cohort of survivors who are not known to us and who suffer in silence having made the decision not to tell any member of their family. I can only imagine how traumatic and difficult the last number of days have been for them. Many survivors have groups around them to whom they can talk and who offer them support. For those who, for their own reasons, have taken the decision not to open up about this, we acknowledge that they are there and that this must be an incredibly hard time for them.Senator Ó Domhnaill mentioned the Northern report which was published today. As he said, we have had engagement with the Executive. I met Judith Gillespie, who is leading that investigation, and the Minister of Health, Robin Swann, prior to Christmas. Last week, I had a very useful meeting with the First Minister and deputy First Minister I offered any help that we could give to them in the context of the next steps they are taking. We agreed that there were many issues, in particular the cross-Border trade in children which went from North to South and vice versa and happened in Catholic and Protestant churches. We all agreed that taking a survivor-centred approach was absolutely critical.
Senator Ardagh spoke about the responsibilities of the congregations. As I said, I have begun that engagement with them and have sought a meeting with them to discuss the issue of apology, their contribution to the restorative recognition scheme and access to records. Senator Hoey mentioned the importance of access to church as well as State records.
Senator Martin referred to the importance of engagement with survivors. I mentioned my commitment to engage with the collaborative forum and wider engagement. I am very open to new ways of engaging with survivors and examining the models that have been adopted in other countries, as well as the idea of survivor advocates or something along those lines. I want to engage with the collaborative forum in the first place.
I have spoken with Senator Higgins on an individual basis on my Department's compatibility with GDPR in answering subject access requests. I and my officials will meet the Data Protection Commissioner on Thursday to discuss in detail the application of GDPR to our treatment of the archive. That is particularly important.
I note Senators Higgins and Byrne also mentioned direct provision as a more modern manifestation of State failure and the Government's commitment to end direct provision. I will bring forth a White Paper in February that will outline how we will end direct provision.
Senator O'Reilly placed great importance on the range of information that we need to provide to survivors of these institutions. I have set out the measures involved, including information and tracing, and what my Department can provide when subject access requests come in regarding information contained in the commission archive. That will apply from 28 February.
Senator O'Reilly also spoke very passionately about the issue of compulsion and the compulsion that was placed on women to enter these institutions and give their children up for adoption. Senator Hoey also spoke on that point. When I read the confidential committee chapter and other chapters it is clear to me that these women had absolutely no choice in the decision to enter an institution or give up their children. That is apparent to me and it is on that basis that I go forward.
Senators Byrne and Kyne emphasised the idea of a survivor-centred approach by my Department and other Government bodies, in particular Tusla. Tusla is very eager to act and implement subject access requests in a way that is compatible with GDPR.
Senator Kyne spoke very passionately about the misogyny that is rife across the report and was clearly rife in Irish society for so many decades. One of the key points was the way women were spoken about in institutions, government and local authorities and the contempt with which they were spoken to in many circumstances.
Senator Ahearn outlined the specific elements concerning the Sean Ross home and the very high infant mortality rates there. I remember being particularly taken by what Alice Lister, the Department inspector said. She spoke about the export of children from Sean Ross to the United States and said we were sending away our most beautiful, brightest and best children. She said how important it was for that process to stop.
Senator O'Loughlin recognised how many people we know in our lives who will have been directly impacted by this, in terms of having been in a mother in an institution or having been adopted from one.Certainly, even in my own life I can think of three people who have been adopted and to whom I have been speaking over recent months about the various issues that spring from this report and getting their sense of how they feel about all that we have learned.
As Senator Craughwell has said, there can be no sense of an apology and moving on from this issue. I can assure him and all of the Senators that there will be no such sense. This is the first step in what will be a long process of the State seeking to rebuild that relationship of trust and to make it right with survivors. We are going to work as fast as we can to deliver the crucial elements, but I would be lying as Minister to say that all of the 22 action points will be done quickly. We will, however, act as fast as possible to deliver key things such as information and tracing and redress, and we have already delivered on comprehensive counselling. I will be accountable to this House and to the Dáil for the ongoing implementation.
In using the words used at the beginning of this session, we believe survivors and we will now act to show, by implementing these actions following on from the State apology, that we believe survivors.
I thank the Minister. That concludes statements on the report of the mother and baby homes commission of investigation. The Seanad now stands adjourned as per the Order of the House today. When is it proposed for the House to sit again?