New project to aid those affected by mother-and-baby homes

Free service will help prepare witness statements for commission of investigation

The entrace of the Magdalene laundry on Stanhope Street North in Dublin. A new service will help those affected by the mother-and-baby homes prepare witness statements ahead of the commission of investigation into the homes. File  photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

The entrace of the Magdalene laundry on Stanhope Street North in Dublin. A new service will help those affected by the mother-and-baby homes prepare witness statements ahead of the commission of investigation into the homes. File photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

 

Women and others whose lives were affected by the mother-and-baby homes, including those forcibly adopted as babies, have been urged to avail of a free service to help them prepare witness statements for the commission of investigation into the homes.

Justice for Magdalenes Research (JFMR) and the Adoption Rights Alliance (ARA) have announced a project to offer support to those who wish to make a statement to the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes.

The project, known as Clann, will provide drafting assistance with the help of lawyers from international firm Hogan Lovells.

The company is providing its services pro bono and about 20 lawyers in its London office are already working on the project.

JFMR and ARA said they believed it was crucial that those who wished to give evidence to the commission had access to legal assistance at no cost.

They said this would help ensure the commission conducted the most comprehensive investigation possible and made appropriate findings and recommendations.

Assistance will be available to people living in Ireland and anywhere in the world, including those who may have worked in the institutions or provided services to them.

Anyone who compiles a witness statement will be free to use it for any other purpose, including making a written submission to the commission should they not wish to appear in person.

The commission, chaired by Ms Justice Yvonne Murphy, was established by former minister for children Dr James Reilly in January 2015 in response to revelations about the deaths of children and babies at the Bon Secours home in Tuam, Co Galway.

Nearly 800 babies are known to have died there between 1925 and 1961.

Widened focus

Publishing details of the project on Wednesday, the two advocacy groups urged the commission to use its statutory powers to request a widening of its focus.

Claire McGettrick of JFMR said the groups were aware of “at least 170” organisations or institutions that had similar involvement with unmarried mothers and their children.

“For us, if the commission is to make a comprehensive report and to come up with comprehensive findings and recommendations, it must expand its remit beyond 18 institutions.

“It’s imperative that we understand the systemic issues that are going on here because the State’s response thus far to the industrial schools, the Magdalene laundries, you name it, has been to compartmentalise.

“But it was part of a huge system and we’d like to help with getting to the bottom of that.”

Susan Lohan, of the Adoption Rights Alliance, said the lives of an estimated 90,000-100,000 adopted people were affected by the homes, with an estimated 2,000 babies trafficked to the US.

Outlining stark figures on adoption in the late 20th-century, she said that in 1967 some 97 per cent of all babies born outside marriage were taken for adoption.

“That’s social engineering in anyone’s language.”

Witness statements will be used by the project, with the permission of those affected, to write a collaborative report to be presented to the Government and to international human rights organisations.

Further information is available on the website or by email at info@clannproject.org

The Adoption Rights Alliance will also hold an adoption information day at the Racket Hall Hotel, Roscrea, Co Tipperary, on June 25th at 12pm.

Philomena Lee, who was the subject of a film and a book about her fight to trace the son she gave birth to in a Roscrea mother-and-baby home, will be in attendance with her daughter Jane Libberton.