Religious congregations asked to contribute to mother and baby redress fund

Roderic O’Gorman seeks meeting with Catholic and Church of Ireland leaders amid report

Sean Ross Abbey in Roscrea, Tipperary, which was a mother and baby home operated by the Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary from 1930 to 1970. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA

Sean Ross Abbey in Roscrea, Tipperary, which was a mother and baby home operated by the Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary from 1930 to 1970. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA

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The two main churches in Ireland and the religious congregations that ran the mother and baby homes have been asked to make a contribution to the intended redress fund for former residents and survivors.

Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman has written to the primates of the Church of Ireland and the Catholic Church, as well as to to the religious congregations and the associated charities asking them to read the report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes and meet him to discuss their own apologies to victims, contributions to the redress fund and access to records for survivors.

Access to records is a key demand from many survivors of the institutions, some of who have been denied such access in the past.

While the Government says it will introduce legislation it hopes will give survivors a right to their birth certificate and to documentation surrounding their adoption – including details of their birth parents – this is likely to take several months, and perhaps considerably longer.

Mr O’Gorman is seeking to have discussions with the church bodies and related charities to persuade them to provide access to records voluntarily.

Officials will also shortly start work on proposals for a redress scheme which will offer compensation to the survivors of the institutions.

The report of the commission recommended that some of the mothers and babies who were resident in the homes should be offered compensation, though sources say the Government is likely to take a less restrictive approach than the one advocated in the report.

The commission recommended that mothers who entered the institutions after 1973 – when the unmarried mothers’ allowance was introduced – should not be eligible for compensation, though political sources say this approach may not be followed. The Minister has pledged to bring forward proposals for a redress scheme by the end of April.

Direct provision

Meanwhile, a Catholic bishop has urged action “in the light of the mother and baby homes report, to focus on improving the living conditions of those in our direct provision centres”.

Bishop of Achonry Paul Dempsey said “real action to improve the lives of mothers and children today, would be a fitting tribute to those who suffered in mother and baby homes”. He was parish priest at Newbridge, Co Kildare prior to his ordination as bishop last August and he recalled how over recent years he “was in regular contact with people in a direct provision centre. I saw how women and children and others, were cramped into tight living spaces, lacking basic human dignity.

“I have been thinking about them these days. As we have been told, we cannot change the past, but we can change the present,” he said.

On the commission report, he said “the general tenor that emerges within its pages is of a society that was cold and uncaring. We could all too easily blame ‘society’, but as a member of the church, and a leader in that church, I face the difficult reality that it was a society which was deeply influenced by the Catholic Church”.

During that period in Irish life “it seems that we may have been good Catholics, but we were not such good Christians”, he said. It was a time when “the church had a distorted view of sexuality that seemed obsessive”, and “was exercising an unhealthy power over people’s lives, especially in the most intimate areas of life”.

Bishop of Killaloe Fintan Monahan expressed deep sorrow at the report’s finding. Two of the homes it investigated are at Sean Ross in Roscrea, Co Tipperary, and Kilrush in Co Clare in his diocese.

“I humbly say sorry to all who suffered as outlined in the report. For the degradation caused, I am sorry; for the suffering inflicted, I am sorry; for the failure of the church to demonstrate its commitment to the sacredness of human life, I am truly sorry.”