Mother and baby homes commission can compel drug companies
Commission will cover living conditions, high mortality rates and vaccine trials
A commission of investigation into mother and baby homes will have the power to compel drug companies which conducted vaccine trials on children resident in the homes to come before it, the Minister for Children has said.
James Reilly said the newly published terms of reference for the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes would examine 14 named institutions and a “representative sample of county homes” between 1922 and 1998.
This will include an investigation into high mortality rates recorded in certain homes, the living conditions experienced by residents and the exit arrangements for single women and children on leaving the homes.
The three-person inquiry will also have the power to investigate alleged forced and illegal adoptions from the homes and the relationship between the institutions and children’s homes, orphanages and adoption societies.
The three-year investigation will cost approximately €21 million.
Mr Reilly said it would be up to the commission to decide on whether a compensation or redress scheme should be established for affected individuals.
However, a representative of the Bethany Home Survivors group, solicitor Liam Keane, called on the State to open a redress scheme to run parallel to the commission’s investigation.
“It is open to the commission to recommend that a redress scheme be established prior to the completion of the commission’s work in three years time,” he said, pointing to the age profile of many of the former residents.
A Spokesman for the Coalition of Mother and Baby Home Survivors, Paul Redmond said the group was “genuinely delighted” by the breadth of the terms of reference which he said “went far further than we had hoped”.
He welcomed the inclusion in the terms of reference of discrimination towards mixed-race children, travellers and babies with special needs.
The Childrens Rights Alliance welcomed the terms of reference and a mechanism which will allow individuals who worked or lived in the homes to give their evidence confidentially.
However, its chief executive Tanya Ward said it was “critical” that the commission uncover the role the State played in regulating and providing for the rights of the affected children and their mothers.
Susan Lohan of the Adoption Rights Alliance said she was “broadly happy” with the measures outlined for the women and children who were resident in mother and baby homes.
However, she said its terms only covered those adoptions which originated in mother and baby homes meaning a large number of illegal adoptions would fall outside the scope of the investigation.
“The numbers of women and children that have been directly excluded could be as high as tens of thousands but by virtue of the fact that these women did not enter a mother and baby home at any stage during their pregnancy their experience will not form part of this inquiry,” she said.
Galway historian Catherine Corless, whose research on 796 child deaths which occcurred at the children’s home in Tuam led to the setting up of the commission of investigation, welcomed the terms of reference.
However, she expressed disappointment at the exclusion of the Magdalene laundries saying they were “very much part of the same system”.
She said many women from mother and baby homes had been referred to Magdalene laundries, and it troubled her that this aspect was excluded from the inquiry, adding: “This could have been an opportuntity to deal with any unanswered questions on previous investigations”.
The director of NUI Galway’s Irish Centre for Human Rights Prof Michael O’Flaherty said if serious human rights violations are found to have occurred, the investigation must also be capable of “leading to the identification and punishment of those responsible”.
Teresa Harrison who gave birth to her son in the Bessborough mother and baby home in Cork City, almost 41 years ago said she welcomed the terms of the inquiry.
“A lot of the women I know are terrified of showing their faces. In 2015 they still have the scars, the chains of shame. We were treated like animals. I want to tell all the women who have been in homes, we have nothing to be ashamed of,” she said.
What is included in the terms of reference of the commission?
- Mortality among mothers and children including the cause and circumstances and the death rates in the various institutions
- The entry and exit arrangements for single women and for the children leaving the institutions
- Living conditions and social care arrangements in the homes
- The extent to which residents may have been discriminated against on grounds including race, disability and religion
- Compliance with relevant regulatory and ethical standards in relation to vaccine trials identified by the commission as being conducted on children resident in certain homes
- Post mortem practices including the reporting of deaths, burial arrangements and the transfer of remains to educational institutions for anatomical examinations