Mother and baby homes survivors want to meet Kenny

‘We were wronged and we did no wrong. Our children were taken,’ says home survivor

Survivors of institutions for unmarried mothers and their babies have called for an urgent meeting with the Taoiseach Enda Kenny over demands to extend an inquiry into deaths in the homes.

A commission set up to investigate alleged abuse at one Catholic Church facility in Tuam, Co Galway has excavated part of a burial site and found a "significant" quantity of human remains in "underground chambers".

The Cabinet will at its meeting today discuss whether to expand the scope of the commission of investigation into a greater number of mother and baby homes than originally planned.

The Coalition of Mother And Baby Home Survivors said it wants all living people who passed through that home or any of the other facilities to be included in a statutory investigation.


“It is deeply unfair and hurtful to our community that so many of our fellow survivors have been omitted from the inquiry,” a spokesman said.

“The real issue here is Ireland’s treatment of single mothers and their babies, not what happened to some of them behind the high walls of the mother and baby homes.

“There cannot be a hierarchy of survivors, we are all equal and we need immediate full inclusion for all survivors.”

Mr Kenny on Monday described the initial findings from the Mother and Baby Home Commission of Investigation into Tuam as appalling.

He said Minister for Children Katherine Zappone was liaising with head of the inquiry and it would be extended if necessary.

The commission was set up two years ago to examine State sanctioned, religious-run institutions used to house pregnant mothers.

The Coalition Of Mother And Baby Home Survivors said its research estimates at least 6,000 babies, children and mothers died in the state’s homes during the 20th century.

“It is time for immediate action on the part of the Government to meet with the survivor representatives to resolve the serious outstanding issues faced by our ageing and overwhelmingly elderly community,” the spokesman said.

Sadly witnessed

“We have sadly witnessed many of our active members pass away without ever seeing a personal resolution to their many years of often heartbreaking campaigning work. “In this instance, justice delayed is justice permanently denied.”

A local coroner has been notified of the findings in Tuam. It has not been confirmed whether intact DNA can be recovered from the remains and used to identify and trace relatives of the babies who died.

Also on Tuesday, Terri Harrison from the Survivors for Mothers group called for the Irish public to allow mothers whose children were taken from them to share their story about what happened in the institutions.

Ms Harrison, who spent time in both Bessborough and St Patrick's on the Navan Road, Dublin, in 1973 ahead of the birth of her son, said she had named her son Niall but he did not know his name as she has never met him.

“I’ve lived with him my whole life for 44 years and I’m still waiting on him to walk in that door as my son,” she said.

“Give us back out dignity by simply saying ‘sorry it should never have happened’. We were wronged and we did no wrong.”

Ms Harrison told the Claire Byrne Live show the mothers in the group had their children taken from them.

“We never gave them (our children) away. Our children were taken from us. There’s a huge difference,” she said.

“We are a community of Irish females. We have been meeting since 1991 in hiding and now thanks to the Aislinn centre we have venue and we share our experiences.”

“What I want to say to the Irish people please allow us to come out and speak about what happened to us in those institutions.”

Investigating high mortality

The commission was charged with investigating high mortality rates in the homes across several decades of the 20th century, the burial practices at these sites and also secret and illegal adoptions and vaccine trials on children.

It is thought about 35,000 unmarried mothers spent time in one of 10 homes run by religious orders in Ireland.

An inquiry was ordered after national and international focus on the story of the Sisters of the Bon Secours in Tuam, where the remains of 796 infants are believed to be buried.

The commission excavated in at least 17 of 20 underground chambers and found remains of individuals with age-at-death ranges from approximately 35 foetal weeks to two to three years.

The Tuam home operated from 1925 to 1961. Three other institutions have little angels plots believed to hold the remains of another 3,200 babies and infants.

They are Sean Ross Abbey, Tipperary, where the story of Philomena Lee began, Bessborough, Co Cork, and Castlepollard, Co Westmeath.

Others from Pelletstown, or Saint Patrick’s on the Navan Road in Dublin were buried in plots in Glasnevin and hundreds from the Bethany Home in Rathgar, Dublin were traced to a plot in Mount Jerome cemetery.

Infant mortality rates ranged from 30-50 per cent in some of the homes in the 1930s and 1940s.

Additional reporting PA

Rachel Flaherty

Rachel Flaherty

Rachel Flaherty is Digital Features Editor and journalist with The Irish Times