Some reporting on Tuam story 'mistaken'

Minister for Education supports calls for mother and baby homes inquiry

Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn has backed calls for the establishment of an inquiry into deaths at  mother and baby homes. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times.

Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn has backed calls for the establishment of an inquiry into deaths at mother and baby homes. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times.


Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn has backed calls for the establishment of an independent inquiry into mother and baby homes, saying it was important to find out the facts while also considering the context of the time.

Mr Quinn said he “broadly” supported comments made yesterday by Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin, who said it was important that any investigation was independent and separate from the Catholic Church, the State or any other organisation involved in the homes.

Dr Martin said such a commission should “perhaps be headed by a judicial personality” and he said he would like to see Ian Elliott, a child safeguarding expert, involved.

Mr Quinn told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland programme he felt it was important to show this generation of Irish people what those who came before them did to “young women who got into trouble, so to speak”.

“They didn’t get into trouble on their own [when they became pregnant],” he said, adding that many had their children taken away.

Pressure has mounted to hold an inquiry since records uncovered by local historian Catherine Corless showed almost 800 children died at a mother and baby home in Tuam, Co Galway run by the Bon Secours order between 1925 and 1961.

Mr Quinn said an investigation into the mother and baby homes could not be the same as those such as the Ryan report into child abuse in residential institutions, as previous inquiries could gather testimony from survivors.

“Let’s find out what the facts are first before we set the terms of reference for any public inquiry,” he said. “There are historians who have published and spoken about this - they should be respected because these things have to be looked at in the context of their time.”

The Minister said the facts about the homes should be brought together in a “coherent” form, as some of the headlines printed internationally were “quite horrendous and gave a very mistaken impression of what actually happened”.

“I have read much of the stuff over the weekend that is now in the public domain and it is quite different to what in fact the banner headlines were suggesting when this story first broke,” he said.

“This has been known about and written about for quite some time.”

Mr Quinn said there was a suggestion in an Australian newspaper that 850 skeletons of young children were found on the site of the former mother and baby home in Tuam. He described the assertion as “sensationalism” and said it was different to the facts that are known.

“It’s simply not true. The deaths are noted and recorded right from the 1920s right through until that home closed,” he said, adding that “maybe some form of memorial or some form of closure for what happened to those people” should be considered.

The Minister said he expected Minister for Children Charlie Flanagan to report to Cabinet soon with his views on an inquiry but that the precise nature and structure of it remained to be seen.

Mr Quinn said many of those in the mother and baby homes were put there by their parents “because the social conservatism of Ireland at the time was such that [pregnancy out of wedlock] brought dishonour on the family and was in total conflict with the teachings of the Catholic Church”.

He said the introduction of payments for unmarried mothers by former Labour leader and minister for social welfare Brendan Corish in the 1970s had been denounced as an “incitement to fornication”.

Gordon Jeyes, chief executive of the child and family agency Túsla, today said he expected more records and information regarding the mother and baby homes would now be released by the congregations, which he added were not exclusively Catholic.

Mr Jeyes said people had a right to access personal information that was being held.

He said the agency wanted to compile the records so they could be made available to those who had lived in the homes and their families as it was firstly a personal issue. Providing sensitive support to individuals who have right to know more about their identity was the agency’s primary interest, he said.

Speaking on RTÉ’s News at One, Mr Jeyes said he was keen to see the files digitised and made available to those linked to them as well as the expected inquiry into the homes and, at a later date, social historians and the media.

He said the research carried out by Ms Corless was good but that some of the resulting publicity had caused distress to some of those who were close to the subject.