Protest marks end of mother and baby homes commission’s term
Academic warns against delaying release of recordings of survivors’ testimonies
Baby shoes tied to the railings outside the offices of the Commission of Investigation in Mother and Baby Homes in Dublin. The baby shoes are tied with black mourning ribbon in memory of all the victims of the mother and baby homes. Photograph: Handout from Will Hamilton/PA Wire
A protest was held on Saturday outside the office of the mother and baby homes commission to mark the end of its term.
Mother and baby home survivors and campaigners lay baby shoes in a symbolic protest against the winding up of the commission and its controversial report.
Pairs of shoes were tied with black ribbons to the railings of the commission’s building in Dublin.
Among the small gathering of protesters was the Baby Shoes Remember group, which protests against clerical abuse.
The commission’s report into the mother and baby homes found that the institutions for women produced high levels of infant mortality, misogyny and stigmatisation of some of society’s most vulnerable.
The commission was set up in 2015 after revelations about the deaths and burials of hundreds of children at the former home in Tuam, Co Galway,
Its findings, published last month, have drawn widespread criticism from survivors, campaigners, academics and opposition parties.
The commission will be dissolved on Sunday despite the passing of a non-binding motion from the Social Democrats to extend its term by a year to answer questions about the deletion of tapes of the testimony of survivors to its confidential committee.
A total of 550 people gave their testimony as part of the commission investigations.
The commission confirmed to the Department of Children earlier this week that the backup tapes were retrieved.
The confidential committee allowed witnesses to share their personal recollections of the homes in strict privacy, some of whom may not have testified without the protection of anonymity. However, while the commission has argued that survivors were told it planned to delete the tapes, some survivors said this did not happen.
Former Dublin West TD Ruth Coppinger said the commission had been a “kick in the teeth” for survivors and adoptees of the homes.
“It’s negated their real-life experiences,” Ms Coppinger added.
“Nobody is buying the commission’s narrative that the whole of society was to blame, rather than pointing the finger to where it should be.
“We laid the baby shoes as a reminder of the crimes of the so-called ‘mother and baby homes’.
“There must be financial compensation and if the church doesn’t do so willingly, their land and assets should be taken over by the State as redress for survivors.
“There must be emergency legislation for adoptees’ rights to identity and birth certs – not next year but immediately.”
Social Democrats TD Jennifer Whitmore said the decision by the Government not to ensure the commission’s term was extended was “a really cynical move”.
“Once the commission is closed we will start seeing real issues arising because it was done in a rushed manner and they are not prepared for the files being dealt with properly.”
Meanwhile, NUI human rights law lecturer Dr Maeve O’Rourke warned the Government against delaying the release of recordings and transcript of survivors testimonies.
Dr O’Rourke, who has been a prominent campaigner on the issue, said “the 550 testimonies have been recovered but there have already been public statements by Government saying ‘well before people get these back we’ll have to consider have they named other people in their testimony who have third-party rights’”.
Dr O’Rourke said an individual getting their testimony back “is not that kind of an issue”, adding that Ireland has defamation laws to deal with these matters.
She was speaking to the Social Democrats national conference, about the report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes.
Criticising the report, Dr O’Rourke said it was “driving me up the walls” that politicians and the media kept saying that “‘survivors are just upset because the commission’s report is legalistic and just now warm enough’. No.”
The report “said things like there is no evidence of incarceration. It does not define incarceration what that means under Irish, European or international law.” She said the time had come “to just stop the power abuse and to recognise people’s basic constitutional rights” as survivors of mother and baby homes.
Cork South-West TD Holly Cairns said the Government was “working against a nation who wants to see a different approach, and they are working against the laws”.
Dr O’Rourke said “the laws were always broken. The mother and baby homes, the Magdalene laundries were massive violations of constitutional right to liberty.”
But she said that as she taught her students “there’s a difference between laws in the books and law as it operates in society because it operates in a massive power structure”. – Additional reporting: PA