Taoiseach Micheál Martin has rejected a claim by Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald that the Government “has doubled down” on “failures” of the mother and baby homes commission and has based its planned new redress scheme for survivors of such homes on the commission’s findings.
Mr Martin said Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman and the Government “have gone well beyond the recommendations of the commission in respect of the payment scheme”.
He said that “not everybody will be satisfied with the entirety of the scheme but it has gone well beyond the commission”.
Ms McDonald raised the issue in the Dáil on Wednesday in the wake of the launch on Tuesday of the Government’s redress scheme, which would see all mothers who spent time in mother and baby institutions eligible for payments ranging from €5,000 to €65,000, depending on how long they were there.
A stipulation that people who spent time in such homes as children must have spent at least six months there to qualify for redress has been sharply criticised and Opposition TDs have called on the Minister to rethink this plan.
The stipulation means some children who were sent to live with other families, or “boarded out”, may be ineligible.
In the Dáil Ms McDonald claimed the Government had created a “hierarchy of survivors, taking the view that some mothers and their children suffered less than others”.
She said there had been “widespread rejection” of the report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes, but the Government delivered its redress scheme based on its findings.
Ms McDonald said that “survivors and families have been consistent in the demand for inclusive redress, redress that recognises the human rights abuse of forced family separation.
“The Government has ignored the mothers and their children on both fronts.”
She added that the Government had announced the scheme “knowing there are women in the courts this very week seeking to right the wrongs of the commission’s report.
“But rather than hear those voices the Government has doubled down on the failures of the commission.”
Insisting that this was “simply not true”, Mr Martin said that as well as going beyond the commission’s recommendations the scheme goes “beyond the recommendations of [an] interdepartmental group as well.
“All mothers will receive a payment in respect of what happened.”
He referenced the 22-point action plan published following the publication of the commission’s report and said that “the most important action is access to information and tracing. We published legislation, which is groundbreaking legislation.”
“No other government before this Government has produced legislation of this groundbreaking nature,” he insisted.
That legislation has been at the pre-legislative scrutiny stage for six months, “then the Government gets attacked for delaying. The suggestion and implication there was that we deliberately produced the scheme yesterday.”
He added: “Last week, we were being asked when the scheme would be published.”
Speaking outside the Dáil on Wednesday, People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett said the exclusions from the scheme were "unacceptable" and he criticised the decision to give different payments to different survivors based on the length of time they spent in an institution.
Mr Boyd Barrett was born at a mother and baby home in 1967 and was later adopted.
He said he himself had no idea how long he spent in the institution.
“It is not acceptable that there should be arbitrary cut-off dates for redress, or not giving redress to particular cohorts based on arbitrary cut-off dates. That completely fails to take into account the individual circumstances and trauma that people may have suffered.
“In many cases, people who [went through mother and baby homes] would not even know some of these dates and may find it difficult to find out. I know in my case I do not know how long I was in a mother and baby home. The point is, I know from experience, there is a lot of your early life, if you were in a mother and baby home, you would not know of.
“There needs to be a thorough investigation of this scheme.”
Under the planned scheme, general payments range from €5,000 for those who spent less than three months in an institution, to €65,000 for survivors who spent 10 years or more in an institution.
Mr Boyd Barrett said it was “absolutely shocking” that children who were boarded out and spent less than six months in an institution will not be included in the scheme.
“Many of the circumstances in which people were boarded out were quite horrific and terribly tragic. To exclude that cohort is absolutely unacceptable. The Government better rethink it.”
Sinn Féin spokeswoman on children Kathleen Funchion described the scheme as "an affront to survivors and in no way makes amends for the gross human rights abuses they have had to endure.
“The exclusion of infants who spent less than six months in a mother and baby or county home from accessing an enhanced medical card or redress demonstrates to me that survivors have not been listened to.
“Infants were taken from their mothers, they were stolen and, in some cases, shipped overseas. The Government is effectively telling these children that their forced separation and suffering isn’t worthy of compensation and telling the women that their suffering could be worth only €5,000.”
Mr O’Gorman on Wednesday apologised for saying that children who spent less than six months in mother and baby homes would not remember their experiences.
Speaking on Tuesday as the scheme was announced, Mr O’Gorman said: “In terms of the six-month period, that is a period within which the children, I suppose, children who were in there less than six months would not have been aware of their experiences, would have been too young to remember their experiences.”
Mr O'Gorman apologised for the remark on Wednesday. He told RTÉ radio's Morning Ireland: "If I said that yesterday in the press conference, that is a very inartful way of me to describe the experience and I apologise for that, but I am clear of the need to focus on that length of time in terms of providing a measure of people's suffering in these institutions, but also of allowing people to access these payments easily without them having to come to give evidence and be retraumatised."
Mr O’Gorman said that through his engagement with survivors he was acutely aware of the trauma that they had experienced from their time in the institutions and from the fact that families were broken up. He was now seeking to redress this, he said.
The Minister also said that a counselling scheme specifically for people who were boarded out was being developed, but that there were not any plans at present for a separate redress scheme for children who were boarded out from mother and baby homes.
Mr O’Gorman said he would be prioritising older survivors, and they will be awarded compensation and medical cards “late next year”.
The Minister said he wanted to be honest about the length of time it will take for legislation to be passed and the scheme to be implemented. The criteria would ensure that every mother would receive “some” payment.
Mr O’Gorman said he recognised that some survivors would be disappointed with the redress scheme, but he wanted an easy way for survivors to access funds without being retraumatised.