Commission of Investigation Announcement on Tuam Mother and Baby Home: Statements (Continued)

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 942 No. 2

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Anne Rabbitte: Information on Anne Rabbitte Zoom on Anne Rabbitte] Who gave him that? The bicycle was to allow him to take up an apprenticeship. Fortunately for him, he said he did not like carpentry and he was looked favourably upon and allowed to become a mechanic. Tommy is one of the lucky ones. He has advocated for years for the issue to be dealt with. He thanks the Minister and commission for highlighting the issue - for the first time in his life his voice has been heard and for that he is grateful.

We have to write our history. We must also think about children on waiting lists, in homeless accommodation or with disabilities who do not get the appropriate services they need. In 100 years' time I do not want it to be said that I failed. That is why it is important that we dovetail history. While we think of the past, we must also think of the present because I do not want to be part of the future history that stood by and talked about children with disabilities or those on waiting lists because we will be remembered in the same way. They are the people who need a voice and that is what is expected of us.

We on this side of the House will support the Minister. We need to expand the scope of the work and for all of the people who have had horrific lives to come forward. We need to examine the scope of the commission's work. Let us make it inclusive and ensure that when women come forward they do not sit at a table across from six people who are investigating them. Let us make sure that the women concerned have support going into a room because they are vulnerable and we have to encourage them to come forward and engage with the commission. Without their engagement, we will leave a big, black, dark hole in Irish history. We need everybody to engage with the commission.

To date, the residents of Tuam have not engaged with the commission. I encourage them to come forward. I represent the people of Tuam and my heart goes out to them. However, we also have to think about the building works currently taking place at the grove site in Tuam.

Deputy Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire: Information on Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire Zoom on Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire I wish to share time with Deputy Gerry Adams.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Bernard J. Durkan): Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan Is that agreed? Agreed.

Deputy Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire: Information on Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire Zoom on Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire Yesterday was International Women’s Day, a day which celebrates women and their role in society and when we advocate for the empowerment and the equality of women. It is a day when we recognise our respect for women and demands for equality.

  On Sunday fortnight, we also have another day that celebrates women, namely mother’s day. Children show thanks for the tender loving care they have received over their lifetime. The bond between a mother and her children is like no other, and one that should always be cherished. Unfortunately, we have learned all too tragically that for some that bond was ripped apart at the seams. The tragic circumstances surrounding Tuam have touched everyone’s hearts, and for those survivors of Tuam and homes like it it must be a difficult day dogged by horrible memories and a longing for closure. They are longing for a bond and relationship that most of us are lucky enough to take for granted. For many mothers, there is uncertainty as to what happened to their children. An tseachtain seo caite, nuair a fuaireas amach an scéal seo ón dTuaim, bhraitheas tinn.

  To most who have been following this story for some time, the confirmation came as no great surprise. Yet, the news did not lose its impact, potency or ability to shock and appal. In death, as in life, these people were left to be forgotten and were hidden away from sight of the Irish people as though they were a source of shame. Ach a mhalairt atá ann mar is ar an Stát agus ar an tír seo atá an náire don am sin.

  In so many ways, the State has not yet faced up to what has happened. I acknowledge what the Minister said today. However, the Taoiseach, Deputy Kenny, continuously spoke about the families who rejected these women and their children. I agree that society has to carry its share of the blame, but the State should not be written out. It funded, referred people to and facilitated these places. The State knew what was happening and was complicit, and it will continue to be complicit if it cannot provide the truth to survivors.

  On the 15 February last in Geneva, at a hearing of the United Nations, a representative from the Department of Justice and Equality stated that while the Taoiseach made an apology to the survivors of the Magdalen laundries, he did so despite the fact that in the McAleese report there was no finding of liability. The Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, has stated the same on the Dáil record. This entirely disregards that about a quarter of referrals made to these homes was by the State. The State is still not facing up to its responsibility for these events. Despite the attempts to wash our hands, the stains will remain unless we deal with them.

  As has been stated, there are many concerns about other homes. What happened to the children in those homes? The story told by death records given to the HSE in 2011 and reported by Conall Ó Fátharta of the Irish Examiner, do not ease anyone's fears. The register of deaths given to the HSE for Bessborough, in my constituency in Cork, reflects that 273 deaths were recorded between 1939 and 1944. However, the order reported 353 deaths to State inspectors during this period, which is a significant disparity and raises some very worrying questions. Did deaths happen which were unreported to the authorities or were false records created? If neither frightening possibility is the case, then what happened?

  In Sean Ross Abbey, the death register lists a total of 269 deaths between 1934 and 1967, but some of those buried in the plot there are not listed on the register. It is also deeply shocking and appalling to learn that the main cause of death in the case of some 20% of the deaths in Bessborough was marasmus or severe malnutrition - in other words, death by hunger was happening in the 1940s and 1950s in Cork. At a minimum, we need to expand drastically the terms of reference of the commission of investigation into mother and baby homes.

  While the Minister was not in government at the time, her colleagues signed off on the terms of reference despite the fact that people across the Chamber and outside were telling the Government that the terms of reference did not take account of enough matters and that the process and the number of homes included was not adequate.

  The commission is simply not fit for purpose. I welcome the words of the Minister when she said she will consider various processes. That is vitally important, because the current process is not adequate to examine the plethora of issues it is to investigate and various related matters coming down the line.

  There are other issues connected to the commission. Women will pour out their hearts and go through traumatic hearings, yet will come out without a counsellor to meet them. Things like that need to be rectified.

  I very much welcome the statement of the Minister that she will publish the report. It has already been far too long; some six months have elapsed. Many were becoming concerned about the cause of the delay and the response of State authorities while the report was sitting on the desk of the Minister. I welcome that commitment and look forward to reading the report.

  Several years ago, a commitment was made to build a memorial at Sean McDermott Street laundry to honour the victims of the Magdalen laundries and the mother and baby homes. There has been no progress on that since. The least we can do is to memorialise these women and their children and give them the dignity in death that they did not have in life.

Deputy Gerry Adams: Information on Gerry Adams Zoom on Gerry Adams Tá mé buíoch as an deis labhairt ar an ábhar millteanach tábhachtach seo.

  I wish the Minister well in her endeavours.

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