Family Agency chair welcomes mother-and-baby homes inquiry

Norah Gibbons says facilities were ‘known about’ and ‘accepted’

Child and Family Agency chair Norah Gibbons said mother-and-baby homes were “known about”, the institutions were “accepted” and victims bore the consequences. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill/The Irish Times

The Government's commission of investigation into mother-and-baby homes must have "clear terms of reference", Tusla – Child and Family Agency chairwoman Norah Gibbons has said.

Ms Gibbons, at NUI Galway to open a conference on child-to-parent violence, said she welcomed the Government's commitment to setting up the commission of investigation. Mother-and-baby homes were "known about", the institutions were "accepted" and victims bore the consequences, she said.

Authoritarian

“How come we know these things and we can suddenly hear them?” Ms Gibbons asked, addressing some 200 social workers, academics and policy-makers.

There appeared to be a time when the Irish public can “really hear”, even when a social issue is already in the public domain, she said.

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The same pattern had occurred in relation to early attempts to confront injustice relating to industrial schools and US adoptions of Irish babies, she said, and it could be the subject for research.

Children were not regarded as full citizens until fairly recently, she said, and an authoritarian parenting attitude had prevailed well into the 1970s and beyond, in her experience.

There had been progress in taking on the issues of abuse of children in institutions: physical, sexual and emotional abuse and neglect of their basic needs, she said.

Child’s perspective

However, childhood is a relatively recent area of research, she said, and children’s perspectives were rarely recorded and not actively sought.

There has been little recognition to date of child-to-parent violence within families, she said.The conference continues today.

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins is the former western and marine correspondent of The Irish Times