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 Catherine Murphy: Information on Catherine Murphy Zoom on Catherine Murphy] These are relics of a bygone era. If Tuam has shown us anything, it is that the State must take responsibility for its citizens and the church has no legitimacy in the health care or education of these citizens. We must grow up and separate church from State.

Deputy Eamon Ryan: Information on Eamon Ryan Zoom on Eamon Ryan Our history shows that unfortunately we have always engaged in infanticide or left unwanted babies and children to die of neglect. Ordnance Survey maps of the island show lisín cemeteries for babies abandoned or killed. This is not just an Irish phenomenon. If one reads Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens one sees similar organisations set up to deal with that reality and the same occurred. There was a 90% mortality rate for the babies and children in those foundling institutions in the centre of London, Covent Garden and elsewhere. Sadly and savagely, that experience may have continued longer into the 20th century in Ireland than in other countries. I would argue that is because of the shadow of the Famine and the fear of having a child who may not have had a father to provide for it. The poverty in this State in the 20th century created a particular culture such that families, and fathers – and men are at the centre of this – told a girl who got pregnant that she must take the boat, have a shotgun wedding or have the baby and put it into a home. As a people we are all part of that culture, it goes back to our grandparents and great grandparents. It was the exact same in Bethany, a Protestant home, as in Bessborough, a Catholic home. Families in Irish society of every church and none told a young woman they could not afford for her to have a child because they could not stand over the shame of the illegitimacy and the poverty. That was totally wrong.

  James Deeny, the Chief Medical Officer in 1944, saw what was happening in Bessborough and brought it to a halt. He said it was a disgrace and had to stop. The assistant secretary in the Department of Health, Joseph Robins, catalogued that history in real detail. The centre of our State recorded what had happened. We have to admit, and it is difficult to admit, that we were so neglectful, so willing to ignore the reality of those thousands of deaths of babies who were neglected although they were put into care. We need to examine every one of those homes to recognise the reality and learn the lessons from the lack of care in our society.

  This raises wider questions about today. Are we blind to the reality of a woman being pregnant in her early 20s? She cannot afford a home. Are we creating an economy or society that allows a 21 or 22 year old woman easily raise a child? Among lone parents 58% are at risk of poverty. Let us look at ourselves, our society and economy and ask whether we really value mothers and stand up for babies and children. We are better in that we could not now turn a blind eye to deaths of babies on that scale. We live in a more transparent, honest and less poor society. We need to strive to record that and learn the lessons from it. This week has been remarkably difficult and harrowing. Grace's story makes us ask whether we have really learnt the lessons, whether we are really providing due care. We must look after those who are still alive and bear the scars of that system, but we must also try to create a different system which values motherhood and babies and creates the conditions in which if one does have a child, whatever the circumstances, it is cared for, celebrated and supported and which, instead of being driven solely by economic interests, might centre on the needs of the child.

Minister of State at the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (Deputy Seán Canney): Information on Seán Canney Zoom on Seán Canney As a public representative from Tuam and a Minister of State I can say the past week has been pretty sad for the people of Tuam. It is a milestone in this saga that the evidence is now coming forward which verifies what we have all been told about. I thank the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone, for saying the commission will be reconsidered and its terms of reference scoped to see what more can be done. I salute the tenacity and determination of Catherine Corless who first brought these horrific facts to light. We owe her a great debt of thanks for what she has done for our society.

It is clear the events that happened in Ireland were covered up and not spoken about for years. The result is that innocent victims, mothers and babies were outcasts. I have listened to the stories of people who survived and family members, not only in Tuam but throughout the country, and they are not pretty.

I was educated in Tuam and it is a fantastic town. The people are fantastic. I am very proud to know so many people in Tuam and to represent the town. I am also mindful of any negativity that might attach to the town. We also have to take into account the sadness visited on the people who live in proximity to this grave and the site of this home and how they have been put under the spotlight in recent years and days. We are reaching the stage where the truth will come out.

I have listened intently to every speaker here this morning and heard the words "the truth", "we have questions to answer", and "let us get the truth out". By chance I met a man in Dublin last Sunday who is a survivor of the Tuam mother and baby home. He spent five years there and was then fostered and survived a tough time as a boy. Today he lives in Dublin with his wife and has two children and, I think, three grandchildren. We had a good discussion. Before we finished I asked him what he wants now. He said all he wanted was to hear people say to him that they are sorry for what they did to him and to his mother who is now deceased.

It is very simple. We public representatives need to leave no stone unturned to find the truth and I have every confidence in the Government and this Minister that we will find it. We will do this together. We owe it to the children. Let us make sure their deaths and the circumstances in which they died were not in vain. I pray that from the desperate discoveries will come hope and a determination in our society never to tolerate or repeat these atrocities.

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