My Speech on the Commission on Mother and Baby Homes – Second Interim Report

The focus in this report is on children who were unaccompanied by their mothers in Mother and Baby Homes and County Homes. As such, it is an issue that must be treated as sensitively as possible.

The Commission was originally set up to inquire into the conditions in Mother and Baby Homes and County Homes in the period 1922-1998.   Following a short first interim report last July – it submitted a second interim report in September 2016.  This deals with a number of issues that had come to its attention during its work and analysis based on information collected up to August 2016.

At this point,  I would like to focus in on what exactly the Commission is investigating:

The Commission is currently examining the experiences of women and children who lived in Mother and Baby Homes over the period 1922-1998. In particular it is looking at:

  • Entry arrangements and exit pathways of single women;
  • Living conditions and care arrangements in these institutions;
  • Mortality among mothers and children; causes, circumstances and rates;
  • Post-mortem practices and procedures; reporting, burial arrangements and the transfer of remains for anatomical examination;
  • Compliance with relevant regulatory and ethical standards in relation to systemic vaccine trials identified by the Commission as being conducted on children in these homes;
  • Entry arrangements and exit pathways for mothers and children leaving institutions, patterns of referral and relevant relationships with other entities; and
  • The extent to which any group of residents may have systematically been treated differently on any grounds, including race, disability and religion.

In its interim report – published last September – the Commission

  • suggests that the exclusion of children -who were resident in Mother and Baby Homes and in County Homes without their mothers – from the Residential Institutions Redress Scheme, which has since closed, should be re-examined;
  • is satisfied that the institutions it is investigating are ‘unquestionably’ the main such homes that existed during the 20th century, and does not currently recommend that other institutions be investigated;
  • is not recommending any changes to its terms of reference at this time but may recommend further investigations when its current investigation is completed;
  • does not make findings to date that abuse occurred in these institutions, but notes that its work is not yet complete;
  • recognises that people whose births were falsely registered have a need to establish their identity but recognises that the false registration of births is a very difficult issue to investigate because of a lack of accurate records.

The Government has carefully examined the Commission’s recommendation regarding redress, and has concluded that it is not possible to implement it.

It is my understanding that the Government is conscious the Commission has made no findings to date regarding abuse or neglect, and believes it would not be appropriate to deal with the question of redress in advance of any conclusions on this issue by the Commission.  Moreover, it is my understanding that the Redress Scheme was complex to administer and often difficult for applicants.

It also has to be acknowledged that previous redress schemes have been extremely costly. As a society, we will need to make major decisions about what we spend our money on in the future.  It may be that targeted supports would make more sense than redress schemes, but this will be a matter for public debate in the future.

At this point, I would like to commend Minister Zappone on her work over the past number of months. Minister Zappone has spoken to former residents and survivors of Mother and Baby Homes and has demonstrated enormous sensitivity to their needs and concerns.

It is my understanding that the Minister has consulted in great detail with the Taoiseach, the Attorney General and other Ministers before this conclusion was reached.

It is also important to note that the Government waited for the Special Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General on the Residential Institutions Redress Scheme before reaching a final conclusion on whether the original scheme should be re-opened to cover unaccompanied children who had been in Mother and Baby Homes and County Homes.

The challenges for Government in considering the recommendations of the Commission at this interim stage of its work are clear from the findings of this Report.

The focus, I believe, should now be on assisting those who were unaccompanied as children in Mother and Baby Homes and County Homes, with a view to offering supports that will be of sincere and practical value to them.

As such, I am encouraged that the Minister has committed to consult with former residents who were unaccompanied in these institutions regarding the nature and type of services and supports in the area of health and well-being that they consider would be helpful to them at this stage.

It is my hope that this consultation will be completed as soon as feasible, ideally before the Summer break- which would enable appropriate supports in place as quickly as is possible.

I am further encouraged that the Minister has enlisted the expertise of  Dr James Gallen of the School of Law and Government in Dublin City University, to assist by mapping out a model of ‘transitional justice’ as a means of giving voice to former residents of Mother and Baby Homes and County Homes.

Dr Gallen’s expertise in transitional justice will help to develop an approach which can acknowledge the experiences of former residents and further enhance public awareness and comprehension of this part of our history.

Moreover, it is my understanding that Minister will also carry out a scoping review of the Commission’s existing terms of reference to see if amending the terms of reference would enhance the existing work and help to resolve related questions.

Undisputedly, the Commission’s final report will be of fundamental importance to understanding experiences of those who stayed in institutions of this kind. As such, it is imperative to  allow the Commission space to conclude its work and to report its findings.

In the meantime, I am very much encouraged that the Minister has committed to take whatever action she can to address the issues already raised. This is the optimum way forward to deal with what was a hugely tragic period in our Nations’ history.

Ends

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