Mother’s Day tributes paid to mother and baby home survivors

Safe Ireland campaign seeks to highlight coercion is still present in Irish society

Special Mother’s Day cards containing voice recordings of the survivors are being placed around Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Special Mother’s Day cards containing voice recordings of the survivors are being placed around Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

Tributes have been paid to mother and baby home survivors this Mother’s Day.

There have also been renewed calls for people adopted from these institutions to have full access to their birth certificates, so they can trace their birth mothers.

Safe Ireland, an NGO working to end violence against women and children, released a new video campaign paying tribute to mother and baby home survivors. The video is called Mother’s Day: The Hidden Stories, and features the voices of two survivors, who explain the coercion they experienced in these institutions.

Special Mother’s Day cards containing voice recordings of the survivors are being placed around Dublin, in conjunction with the promotional video.

Sheila O’Byrne, a survivor of the St Patrick’s mother and baby home in Dublin, took part in the campaign. She said that she couldn’t go home because of the shame. “Everyone was made out that this was a terrible thing. You were blacklisted because of it. You were smeared, you were everything. You were nothing. You were only trash.”

Sharon McGuigan, a survivor of the Dunboyne mother and baby home in Meath, spoke about her loss of agency. “I had no choice, I had no voice then. But I have a voice now.”

Mary McDermott, chief executive of Safe Ireland, said the organisation wanted to honour and recognise survivors’ resilience and bravery in the face of coercion. Ms McDermott added that coercion is still present in Irish society today.

“It exists in controlling and abusive relationships, and in our homes and in our communities. It also exists in the fact that women still feel unsafe in public spaces. Sarah Everard’s painful story tells this tale.”

Meanwhile, Noelle Brown, an artist, activist and playwright, said that people who were adopted from the mother and baby homes need to be given access to their birth certificates and other personal information as soon as possible.

Ms Brown was speaking on RTÉ Radio 1’s Sunday with Miriam, ahead of the Abbey Theatre’s virtual event Home Part One, for which Ms Brown was the lead artist. The event will tell the story of the mother and baby homes from a survivor’s perspective.

Ms Brown was adopted from Bessborough mother and baby home in Cork in the 1960s. She spent years trying to trace her birth parents, however, by the time she tracked them down they had already passed away. She started in the process in 2002, but after fighting for years to have access to her records in full, she went down the DNA tracing route, like many other survivors. She discovered her mother had passed away aged 47 after being given contaminated blood in the 90s. She got Hepatitis C and died after a liver transplant.

“[She was] let down by the state,” said Ms Brown. Her birth father passed away in 2016. She said the process of tracking down her birth family affected her greatly.

“If I had been given the information in 2002, without all the impediments that took up most of my life, 17 years, we’d have a different outcome.”

She says adopted people feel stigmatised because they are prevented from accessing their own information.

“I assumed as an Irish citizen I would be given the right to my identity, information that I really needed... you are treated as if you’re back in the 1960s.”

She welcomed the news that legislation to solve this issue is now on the agenda, but added that adopted people need to be given access to their information urgently.

Ms Brown also voiced dissatisfaction with the final report of the Commission of Investigation into mother and baby homes. She said she believed the findings need to be rejected by the Government and that many survivors were re-traumatised by the process.

Survivors have taken issue particularly with a finding of the commission’s confidential committee that “a number of witnesses gave evidence that was clearly incorrect”. The committee said there was “no doubt that the witnesses recounted their experiences as honestly as possible” but it had “concerns about the contamination of some evidence”.

All proceeds from Home Part One will go to Barnardos’ Post Adoption service. The event will be streamed on the Abbey Theatre’s YouTube channel at 7pm on Wednesday.

Help is available from the Women’s Aid 24/7 helpline: 1800 341 900 and Samaritans: 116 123.