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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Acting Chairman (Deputy Bernard J. Durkan): Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan I call Deputy O'Dowd and ask him to be mindful of the need to leave time for Deputy Fitzmaurice.

Deputy Fergus O'Dowd: Information on Fergus O'Dowd Zoom on Fergus O'Dowd Cé mhéad ama atá fágtha againn?

Acting Chairman (Deputy Bernard J. Durkan): Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan The Deputies have five minutes each, and a bit. We will play it by ear.

Deputy Fergus O'Dowd: Information on Fergus O'Dowd Zoom on Fergus O'Dowd Nuair a bhí mé ag déanamh na hardteistiméireachta, d'fhoglaim mé píosa filíochta a d'fhoilsigh Pádraig Mac Piarais, dár teideal "Ochón, a Dhonncha". Deputies might remember the poem, which begins:

Ochón, a Dhonncha, mo mhíle cogarnach, fén bhfód seo sínte

Fód an doichill ina luí ar do cholainn bhig, mo loma-sceimhle!

Dá mbeadh an codladh so i gCill na Dromad ort nó in uaigh san Iarthar

Mo bhrón do bhogfadh, cé gur mhór mo dhochar, ní bheinn id' dhiaidh ort.

The poem is about a father's loss of his child and the burial of that child in a foreign land. I think it brings out the pathos, suffering, pain and loss of a father who loved his son and knew he could probably never visit him again. I mention the poem to make a comparison with the loss, pain and suffering that the mothers and fathers of the children in Tuam went through for all of their lives, never to be forgotten by them and never to be remembered by others. Those families had to face an appalling vista. While I accept and acknowledge that the Minister, Deputy Zappone, is doing the work she has to do in this regard, and I have no problem with that, I cannot stress enough that we have to allow for the proper respect for the families. The poem I have quoted outlines the heartbreak and hurt suffered by parents when they lose a child in any circumstances. In the case of Tuam, we are talking about the most appalling, outrageous, disgusting and disgraceful way for a child to be separated from his or her mother and father.

  When a press release a couple of years ago indicated that "yeah, a few bones were found", this seemed to suggest that the people who were buried on this site died hundreds of years ago, or perhaps that they were not even human remains at all. It is appalling that the bodies of these children were placed in a sewage pit or container. What an appalling vista. I believe in the Christian message of "suffer little children to come unto me". I am sure some of those involved in the Tuam home must have believed in it as well but to place the bodies of human beings in such a location was the supreme uncivilised insult that could be visited on anyone. Like everyone else, I have very strong feelings and concerns about this matter. Was there no voice in the church? Was there no nun, priest or bishop to speak up, to inquire into this affair or to look into this religious congregation? Was there no teacher in the local school to raise a question? Did anybody raise a concern? We believe the death rate among these children was twice the national average. Children in this care home were twice as likely to die as children nationally in this age cohort. This fundamental question must be resolved. We must get at the truth of this. I ask the church and the sisters, as a voluntary admission of wrong here, to place all of their records in the domain of the commission so that we can look into the hearts and minds of those people. I cannot believe in my heart that no nun, priest, work person or parent asked what the hell was going on in the home. Were they all mute? Were they all silent? I do not believe they would have been. I think we need to hear those voices to give us some semblance of the nightmare of death that befell these tragic families.

  I welcome the work of the commission. My final point is that the disturbing and concerning suffering of children that we are debating, which I am sure is keeping families awake at night, is continuing in a different form in the modern Ireland of 2017. Hundreds of homeless people in this city have nowhere decent to lay their heads. Children are walking the streets. Families have been split up and are unable to live as families. It is entirely unacceptable that children with disabilities cannot get speech therapy and physiotherapy or the decent and proper schools they need. When I contact a most caring medical person in my constituency, it is most annoying to have to ask why children with intellectual disabilities who need special dental care and have been suffering continuous pain for years cannot get the mouth operations under anaesthetic that they need. I am told the question that needs to be asked about such children is not whether they are banging their heads against the wall, but which children are banging their heads against the wall most often each day. These kinds of services are not being provided by the State to the children in our society who are must vulnerable and most in need. We need to change the way we do things in this country. All of us must step up to the mark, regardless of our politics. The shameful and appalling vista of the past is visiting us in a different way today. We must stand up for the rights of the most disadvantaged people in our society. They are being trampled on by the system, by the HSE and by the political and institutional response to these issues. I do not mean to be personal when I say that. In my view, we are not treating people as proper human beings.

Deputy Michael Fitzmaurice: Information on Michael Fitzmaurice Zoom on Michael Fitzmaurice I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Canney, for sharing time with me. I do not think there is a person in Ireland who has not been touched by the story that has emerged from Tuam in recent days. Those of us who come from the local area are aware that this has been said for a number of years. As the Minister of State said, Catherine Corless deserves to be commended on persisting with this and keeping it going when questions were being asked. I think the people of Tuam will get together. They deserve the truth and they need clarification. As others have said, the truth needs to come out. I think the State needs to apologise for the horrendous things that went on in previous years. We need to make sure the people of Tuam are treated fairly. I commend the Minister, Deputy Zappone, on what she has done so far. I advise her to stay with this issue rather than letting her officials who are not really at the coalface deal with it.

Many years ago, we lived in an Ireland where gardaí, priests and teachers were looked up to as gods. Unfortunately, these things happened in Tuam and in other places. Somebody told me yesterday evening he would have been in the same circumstances only for his grandfather. When the local priest came to the house after his mother gave birth to him, his grandfather said "he will be all right, father; we will look after them". The parish priest landed a few days later. They wanted to take his mother away. It is very easy to stand up here and blame the State for everything. The actions of the orders in Tuam at the time were totally outrageous, to be frank. Deputy O'Dowd referred to the role of local teachers and neighbours in the Ireland we used to live in. During that era, people were worried about what the neighbours would say. I think the parents of those people also need to reflect on what they did. They should have made sure those people were not put into these situations. I heard a woman saying in a radio interview yesterday that she was not allowed to say goodbye to her child, which is totally beyond belief. Although what went on at that time was totally wrong, there is a need for balance. Previous speakers basically said that the religious did nothing right at all.

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