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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  11 o’clock

(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Bríd Smith: Information on Bríd Smith Zoom on Bríd Smith] I nearly fell out of my chair yesterday morning when I heard Deputy Micheál Martin calling for two hospitals, the Mater and St. Vincent's, to be taken back into the control of the State because he has had a Damascene conversion and now believes church and State should be separated. I want to remind the world that it was Archbishop John Charles McQuaid and Eamon de Valera who established the Constitution that gave the Catholic Church the right to do what it did. It also gave the moral authority to everybody to see only the married family as central and sacrosanct and enshrined it in our Constitution.

We have to start making a change. That is why I will repeat my call that the Bon Secours order should disband and reconsider its position, just like Fianna Fáil should reconsider its position. There are historical legacies dealt with here. Until the church and the political parties complicit in all of this put their hands up and say it was their fault, they played a huge role in it and begin to take measures to deal with that, then we are only codding ourselves. I am not here to talk the talk, I want to walk the walk. I am calling on people to walk with me tomorrow and then stand outside the Bon Secours hospitals, silent and dignified, remembering these mothers and children. The demand will be that it should reconsider its position in this country and disband its organisation.

Interestingly, in the same interview yesterday, Deputy Micheál Martin did not mention the Bon Secours order because private enterprise makes lots of money and the latter is the biggest private medical care provider in this country. The god is profit, money and private enterprise. Accordingly, one does not criticises them, talk about them or challenge them. I want to challenge them, as do thousands of people in this country who are sickened by this memory and the fact that today we are not dealing with that legacy, either politically or morally.

When we look at our history and talk about change, yesterday, the streets were full of tens of thousands of young women and young men. They are demanding a different kind of Ireland. If we do not listen to them, we will be brushed aside by history itself and by the next generation. Thanks be to God for those young people because their determination is to utterly change this society. The next generation is demanding that the church get out of our schools, as Deputy Barry said, out of our hospitals, out of our beds and out of our lives. We are elected and we should begin that process to work with the young people to change the world.

Deputy Mick Barry: Information on Mick Barry Zoom on Mick Barry Hear, hear. Excellent.

Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan: Information on Maureen O'Sullivan Zoom on Maureen O'Sullivan We meet so many people, individuals and groups in our political lives, and there will always be some who will make a significant impact on us. For me, some of those people are the women I met from the Magdalen laundries and from the Association of Mixed Race Irish . I met the latter group several times over the years and with them I met the then Minister, Senator James Reilly. For me, it was the additional burdens, heartbreak and pain for those in these institutions who were of mixed race. I know Rosemary Adaser has been speaking in the media about her experiences, which are very similar to the others from the group whom I met. The commission of investigation is specifically examining if any group was systematically treated differently on any grounds, including race. The association is satisfied that this has been included. However, this has to be included in the terms of reference drawn up for any investigation involving children or institutions. There is also a need for suitably-qualified people to assist in investigations into race. The Association of Mixed Race Irish has wanted to see the interim report to examine if its members' issues are being adequately addressed.

  Their admission files to mother and baby homes listed their colour under the section "Defects". Regrettably, the Ryan report did not deal directly with race. The group also wants to know the numbers of mixed-race infants who passed through all of the mother and baby homes, particularly St. Patrick's mother and baby home on the Navan Road. All these questions have to be answered and all these issues addressed. This means the terms of reference have to be wide and flexible enough, particularly with sensitive handling from trained professionals. I know some people will want to speak in public, but others will want to do so in private. Both have to be respected. Following requests from survivors who objected to the word "home" being used as they find it offensive, we had a discussion with the Minister. I know from that exchange that she was aware of the emotional impact of using that word to describe an institution of horror.

  Under the Equality Act, any investigation with children in institutions has to include race. If there is a need for a criminal investigation, then it should happen. Will the terms of reference do? What is necessary to get to the truth to get justice for everybody involved? At times when we feel that is the worst we can hear, something else emerges much worse. One of members of the Association of Mixed Race Irish has stated:

The Dublin health authority’s mother and baby home made many references to my colour in reports for no obvious reason other than to note or highlight racial bias. For example, two psychiatrists’ reports in 1967 referred to me as "dark-skinned" in the first one and "coloured" in the second. The question is: what relevance did this have in a medical report? The admissions ledger at the industrial school had "coloured" in one of the columns and also in the heading "admissions reform". [That did not apply to children, say, with red hair or white skin.]

The last point the person made was "I don't know how I survived this place" and then "After spending four years at St. Patrick's home, I was sent to an industrial school." The members of the association are remarkable people in the context of what they have come through and the way in which they have survived. We owe an awful lot to them to get to the truth.

Deputy Catherine Connolly: Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly Why has the interim report not been published? If we are going to learn anything, it is to show respect. The Minister spoke about respect and dignity and I appreciate her bona fides. However, she published a report about the Tuam home last Friday without talking to any of the survivor organisations. No explanation has been given as to why this interim report, which the Minister has had since last September, has not been published. If we are going to create confidence, that will be the first step.

The second step is that I want an assurance that the site in Tuam will be properly and forensically sealed off, as well as the full details given on this. I want an assurance that the date for applications will now be extended because quite clearly more survivors, workers and concerned people will come forward in view of the discoveries so far.

We must look at expanding the terms of reference. That can only be done, however, when we see the contents of the interim report. That is why it is essential we see what has been learned so far, rather than having us ask questions as to what is being hidden. That is not my style but when an interim report is not published, then it begs the question as to why.

Without a doubt, Tuam cannot be seen in isolation but as part of an overall system. When we have a Taoiseach talking about no nuns breaking into our homes in the middle of night, the Minister might agree that this is missing the point. These mother and baby homes were set up in total collusion with the State and successive Governments. Reluctantly, I will take this opportunity to quote a man. It is a good quote. Oliver St. John Gogarty summed up the situation well in 1928 when he declared to the Seanad, "It is high time the people of this country find some other way of loving God other than by hating women."

On many levels, we have continued in that vein, namely, of loving a God by demonising other people, in this case women. We have a history of doing that. The question of morality, fallen women and all of this terrible terminology was used to hide the pervasive poverty and class distinction. We have to be honest. Poor women were taken away. While the nuns themselves did not come in the middle of the night - it is not my job to demonise nuns - the State was utterly complicit in what the nuns did. If they did not come in the middle of the night, the system made it that these women did go. Separately from that, what has been ignored utterly is how many women were subject to rape and assault and ended up in these homes, adding insult to injury.

I accept the Minister’s bona fides but let us see it in action. Let us take on the practical suggestions I have given her and have the interim report published immediately.

Deputy Clare Daly: Information on Clare Daly Zoom on Clare Daly It is hard to overstate the devastation felt by citizens the length and breadth of this country as a result of the findings at Tuam. Their horror and shock are very real. It is completely hypocritical, however, for the State to feign shock at that discovery.

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