Senior Department of Public Expenditure and Reform officials warned that an expanded mother and baby homes redress scheme could have “far-reaching policy and financial consequences for the State”.
Documents released to The Irish Times under the Freedom of Information Act also show there were objections to the scheme covering people who spent less than six months in the homes as children as they would likely have gone on to live “comfortable and contented lives”.
The Cabinet in November approved a scheme that would see all mothers who spent time in the institutions eligible for payments of between €5,000 and €65,000.
Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman went further with the scheme than what was recommended by the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes and an interdepartmental group asked to examine the issue.
He removed a 1974 cut-off point for access and stipulated that all women could avail of the payment, even if they were in a home for less than six months.
The requirement about time spent in the homes as children to qualify for redress was sharply criticised by Opposition TDs. The documents show one rationale given for taking this stance was that most would likely have gone on to live “comfortable and contented lives” after leaving the institutions.
Mr O’Gorman was planning to bring a memo to Cabinet ahead of announcing the plans last July, but the decision to expand the scheme raised concerns among department officials, who said the memo was not ready. They highlighted “a number of issues particularly regarding the implications and risks of extending eligibility criteria for payments considerably beyond the commission’s recommendations”.
“The proposal has the potential to create a significant precedent regarding claims from many others in society who may feel they are also entitled to some form of redress or recognition payment based on any length of residency or attendance in an institution or other setting; for example, as set out in the document, the scheme does not encompass children who were boarded out in a range of circumstances. The creation of such a precedent has far-reaching policy and financial consequences for the State.”
The documents also highlighted legal concerns around the proposal to broaden the scheme to include all mothers, irrespective of the time spent in a listed institution, saying it “raises the question of whether it is legally permissible to discriminate between mothers and children in this way”.
“The issues raised in this draft memo require further analysis and consideration and, as such, the memo is not in a position to be progressed at this time.”
The Attorney General was then asked to provide advice.
On July 21st, Department of Children assistant secretary general Laura McGarrigle said Mr O’Gorman had written to Minister for Public Expenditure Michael McGrath “seeking further engagement”.
She said Mr O’Gorman had carefully considered the documentation including a report from the interdepartmental group set up to examine the issue of redress. Ms McGarrigle said he also supported “the inclusion of one further group not encompassed by the (interdepartmental group’s) recommendations, namely, mothers who lived in these institutions for less than six months”.
“This is on the basis that the experience of harsh institutional conditions, physical and emotional abuse may be equally applicable to these mothers and, also, in recognition of the words of the State apology that these women ‘should not have been there’,” she said.
Ms McGarrigle also referenced the statement in the report of the interdepartmental group, which said it was “strongly of the view that the six-month residency criteria is particularly important when considering children as it does not want to create a circumstance whereby being born in a mother and baby or county home institution is deemed a basis for redress under the scheme in light of the fact that many people who may have been born in and spent a short time in one of the institutions before being adopted will have gone on to live comfortable and contented lives”.
The sentence about children who spent less than six months in institutions going on to live “comfortable and contented lives” does not appear in the final published documents or reports.
Mr O’Gorman last year apologised for claiming that children who spent less than six months in mother and baby homes “wouldn’t remember” their experiences.