Geoghegan-Quinn calls for wider terms of reference for inquiry

Former minister urges people to give information to mother and baby homes commission


Former minister for justice Máire Geoghegan-Quinn has urged the Government to take a “completely comprehensive” approach to its inquiry into the treatment of unmarried mothers and their children.

Ms Geoghegan-Quinn, a former EU commissioner, said she favoured widening the terms of inquiry for the Mother and Baby Homes commission as “the only way to learn lessons from all this”.

She was speaking as Minister for Children Katherine Zappone told the Dáil she would carry out a scoping exercise on widening the commission’s brief to cover cover all institutions, agencies and individuals that were involved with Ireland’s unmarried mothers and their children.

The commission’s terms of reference currently cover 14 mother and baby homes and four county homes.

Ms Geoghegan-Quinn has also appealed to people who may have “valuable information to offer” to contact the commission.

“It is a responsibility and a duty to come forward and assist the commission, because of the difficulties in getting information on something that extended back in time,”she said. “ So many people may no longer be around.”

‘Pathbreaking women’

Ms Geoghegan-Quinn was speaking at the opening of a photographic exhibition on “pathbreaking women” at NUI Galway (NUIG).

The storyboard essays of seven former academic staff and four former graduates or students include poet, playwright and singer Caitlín Maude, who is remembered for her lead role in An Triail, a play about a single mother, in the early 1960s.

Mairéad Ní Ghráda’s play had “enormous relevance in today’s controversies”, Ms Geoghegan-Quinn said.

“Caitlín Maude played the role, when nobody talked about the issue and when, as we know, women were still devalued, still caricatured, still incarcerated and disenfranchised if they became mothers out of wedlock,”she said.

Prof Niamh Reilly of NUIG’s school of political science and sociology noted that the play won international acclaim in 1964 for confronting the stigma of single motherhood in Irish society, “the devastating impact of which continues to unfold today”.

Alice Perry, the first woman in Ireland or Britain to earn a degree in engineering, and University College Galway’s first professor of German, Emily Anderson, who translated letters of Beethoven and Mozart, are also among the 12 women profiled.

Also featured is Sligo county librarian and art collector Nora Niland, and Maureen McHugh, who was the Labour Party’s first female TD, a champion of social causes and mother of actor and comedian siblings Brendan and Eilish O’Carroll.

The exhibition does not intend to be comprehensive, but to “offer a window” on the 12 women’s lives and invite further research into their contributions, Prof Reilly said. It is on display at NUIG’s Hardiman Library