‘Dark history’ of mother and baby homes ‘very much part of our present’, Dáil told

Redress scheme should cover 100% of the survivors, SF spokeswoman on children says

The “dark history” of mother and baby homes remains “very much part of our present”, while the State “continues to deny justice” to women sent to these State-run institutions and the children born there, the Dáil has been told.

Sinn Féin spokeswoman on children Kathleen Funchion said nobody should be excluded from the Government's redress scheme which "should cover 100 per cent of the survivors".

Ms Funchion was introducing a private member’s Bill to ensure every survivor is part of redress. The scheme currently includes 34,000 people – all mothers, and children who spent more than six months in an institution – and enhanced medical cards for approximately 19,000 at an estimated cost of €800 million.

Introducing the measure for the overhaul and reform of the scheme, the Carlow-Kilkenny TD said it should include those who spent any time in a home whether it was the first three or six months.


Medical conditions

“Imagine you are left with certain medical conditions as a result of your time in one of the institutions, but you were only there for five months and not six months. So you don’t qualify for the enhanced medical cards.”

She said one woman had been “five months and 20 days, to be exact, in an institution, who actually nearly lost her leg due to sepsis brought on by the horrific treatments during her labour. She falls outside the criteria.

“Imagine you were boarded out or nursed out, treated like a slave in many of these situations, physically and sexually abused yet you don’t qualify for the scheme.”

She said “people engaged with this process in good faith, reliving their stories, which was not easy. And now it seems again it was for nothing.”

She said she had always struggled with the description of the mother and baby homes as a “dark time in our history”. Trying to confine it completely to history “dismisses the serious intergenerational trauma felt today still by so many. And while the State continues to deny justice to both women sent to these State-run institutions, and the children born there it remains, I believe, very much part of our present.”

Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman said: “I know there is no sum of money and no action that can adequately atone for the vast harm, for the lasting trauma, for the impact of mother and baby institutions.”

Mr O’Gorman said the Government would not oppose the motion. He said legislation would be introduced early next year and “Deputies will have the opportunity to bring forward specific proposals … their specific views”.

But he said the scheme “will be the largest scheme of its kind in the history of the State in terms of the number of beneficiaries” and in the scheme the Government is responding to the concerns about the categories included since the commission’s report.

It will include all mothers and “children, both unaccompanied and accompanied who spent six months or more in an institution”.

He said “for children who spent short periods of time in an institution during their infancy” the action plan “provides a response to their needs in the Birth Information and Tracing Bill”.

He added that free counselling is available to all survivors, all former residents of mother and baby and county-owned institutions.

‘Horrendous childhood’

But Sinn Féin TD Pa Daly said that for Kerryman James Sugrue (70) who, with his brother Michael, "suffered a horrendous childhood", offering counselling "to a man at this stage of his life is, he says, an insult".

They were boarded out from the county home in Killarney when James was 8½ and Michael, seven, and sent to work in servitude and forced labour. They were sent to a house with no lighting or heating and were not properly fed.

James, who is now 70, was physically and sexually abused over many years and failed by social workers, and he declined a grant for further education on grounds that it would be no additional benefit to him.

James went to Hammersmith, London, and suffered from post-traumatic stress. His brother Michael, who had been beaten so many times, stripped and beaten in public with a stick on one occasion.

He suffered with addiction and mental health issues and was found dead alone in Crystal Palace in 1993. This left a void in James’s life which can never be replaced, Mr Daly said.

“Later in life compounding this injustice, James was forgotten by every redress scheme. He was not recognised, he was denied a full Garda investigation and at every hand’s turn the State told him ‘there’s nothing we can do’.”

“Why, Minister, having listened to James, are you continuing to ignore him.

“Give him the comfort of redress, please. For once in this State let them be included.”

“Or, are you going to be like Michael’s neighbour who said to James after his funeral, ‘I’m sorry about your brother, we heard the screams but we did nothing.’ That’s the only apology they’ve every received.”

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times