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 Michael Fitzmaurice: Information on Michael Fitzmaurice Zoom on Michael Fitzmaurice] I can say I was educated in a school it set up and it was sound. What was done wrong was very wrong but not every single thing was wrong. There was a comment about saying a prayer in here. I am no holy Joe but if one does not want to go in for it, do not go in for it; if one wants to stay out, stay out; if one wants to say the prayer, stay in. These debacles are going on all the time.

The Minister has done well over recent days in difficult circumstances. The whole State apologised and every Deputy here is united on the matter. I ask the Minister to work with the people of Tuam and listen to the people who have been affected. She should listen to the harrowing stories, bring her face to it and work with those people. Whatever needs to be done to resolve the matter should be accomplished in a compassionate and fair manner for those people. This has been hanging over them for years and we need finality and the truth. We must ensure that what has been done wrong will never happen again.

We can consider areas like Ballaghaderreen, which has refugees coming next week but the required services will not be in place. This is a problem for a child psychologist. A person came to me 18 years ago when the priests were at the crack of saying children had not been reared correctly. Years ago anybody who committed suicide could not be brought to a church, and that has not even been spoken about in here. We should be ashamed of those actions and remember the affected people today, as well as what went on in Tuam. Not everybody in the orders or society then was bad but we must learn from our mistakes and make things right. I ask the Minister to treat those people with compassion.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Bernard J. Durkan): Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan Deputy Lisa Chambers is sharing time with Deputy Robert Troy.

Deputy Lisa Chambers: Information on Lisa Chambers Zoom on Lisa Chambers Before making my substantive contribution I take issue with Deputy Bríd Smith's comment earlier on Deputy Micheál Martin's apparent "road to Damascus". His reaction and comments are genuine, as are those of every other Deputy on the issue.

We still do not know the full extent of these horrors but we know the remains of small babies and infants were found, numbering in their hundreds, in septic tanks at the site of the Bon Secours mother and baby home in Tuam. I have heard the term "buried" used in regard to these infants but I take issue with it, as the use of the word "burial" suggests some level of decency. There was no decency here and these children were disregarded as human waste and something to be got rid of, reduced and dehumanised. What a disgusting black mark on our society. Can we imagine the fear, forced shame, stigma, isolation and loneliness of these women? That is what our State and church inflicted on our women, and where were the men in all of this? There was no responsibility laid at their door and it was as if these women impregnated themselves and the babies only had one parent.

We have come a long way in this regard but not far enough. Women still bear most of the responsibility for children and there is still a stigma on single mothers, who experience shame, isolation and loneliness. We can look to the budget from a couple of years ago which saw cuts for lone parents, carer's allowance and child benefit in one fell swoop. It is worth reflecting on how we, as a society, continue to treat our women poorly, particularly those who are single mothers.

What was uncovered in Tuam is only the tip of the iceberg. We do not know exactly how these babies died and it seems likely they were left to starve or die in the cold, as the mortality rate is too high to suggest otherwise. It sends a shiver through me to think of the mothers who gave birth in these facilities. We can think of the lack of care, the unsafe procedures, the lack of aftercare and the fact the babies were stolen and sold afterwards. We must take our search further as it is very unlikely this only happened in Tuam. It is likely other mother and baby homes will uncover a similar horror. It gives me no pleasure to say it but we must uncover the full extent of these horrors in order that we, as a country, can begin to heal.

The church and the Bon Secours nuns have much to answer for. Society was complicit in this but why was that? The church instilled fear in people and demanded that people conform to its way. If they did not, they were excommunicated. It was the church and the nuns who decided these mothers and babies were not deserving of humane treatment, love and kindness or, ultimately, life. I am sure the irony of this is not lost on people today in the context of the current debate. No religion advocates for the abuse, torture and murder of women and children. I am not particularly religious but if the church and nuns believe what they were doing was required by their religion, it came from their skewed interpretation of Catholicism and Christianity. The State does not get off scot free with this as it was complicit in every way and funded these horrific facilities and, to use the Taoiseach's own words, the "chambers of horror".

I support the call from other Deputies to see a separation of church and State and I want to see real engagement by the Bon Secours nuns and the church in a full investigation. There should be full co-operation at every juncture. If they are truly sorry for the pain and suffering they inflicted, the very least they can do is apologise unreservedly and compensate the surviving victims, using the substantial funds we all know they possess. We cannot now in any way seek to bury the sins of the church and the Bon Secours nuns simply because we do not want to talk about it. I fail to see how An Garda Síochána could not be involved and, if appropriate, prosecutions should be brought on anyone who may have committed a crime against women and children in these facilities.

This is a very dark but recent past and people are still living with the effects today. Lives were lost or destroyed and families and communities were devastated. We need a formal State apology and a formal apology from the church and Bon Secours orders. There must be a full and proper investigation in Tuam and further afield, prosecutions where appropriate and compensation to victims with the church and Bon Secours order meeting their responsibilities appropriately. This must be done as speedily as possible and with the utmost sensitivity to the remaining survivors and their families.

Deputy Robert Troy: Information on Robert Troy Zoom on Robert Troy The 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic promised to cherish all children of the nation equally. Historians continue to debate whether the word "children" should be ascribed to a literal or figurative meaning, whether children or citizens in general. Whichever is favoured, there is no doubt that children in Ireland were often second class citizens. The shame of Tuam casts a dark shadow over how Irish society treated the most vulnerable of its citizens, children and women in institutions.

The harrowing and gut-wrenching stories of women in Tuam should not have surprised us. After all, many children growing up in the 1960s and 1970s were told that if they did not behave, they would be relegated to sit with the children of sin. Irish society knew or at least was aware of the hell on Earth being inflicted on defenceless, highly vulnerable children and women in institutions. What was their crime only to be born to an unmarried mother or an impoverished family? Poverty is an underlying factor that continues to propel some children into State care. Circumstances of birth resulted in many children from single parent families or lower socioeconomic backgrounds being received into care. An alarming number of these children were systematically abused and exploited.

The legacy of shameful indifference is graphically illustrated in the Ryan report, and the scale and plight of women in Tuam implicates all of Irish society. A chilling feature of the accounts of the plight of what were referred to as "fallen women" has now emerged, along with the unquestioned and apparently unquestionable moral authority of so-called Christian care providers, which had a reckless disregard for vulnerable women and child welfare. We will have another inquiry to follow many reports that prove generations of children were exposed to endemic abuse in institutions run by the State or by religious orders for the State. In 1993, Ms Justice Catherine McGuinness set out the horror of family life for a young girl in the Kilkenny incest case and recommended constitutional change. Regrettably, it took two decades before a proposal to amend the Constitution to protect children was put to the people. In 2009, the commission to inquire into child abuse published its long-awaited report and in 2011 we had the report into the Magdalen laundries. Despite all these reports and inquiries, certain recommendations remain unimplemented. Children remain vulnerable in our society today. There are an insufficient number of social welfare workers for vulnerable children and an insufficient number of people to speak out for children who cannot speak for themselves today.

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