Long history of childcare scandals


Sir, – The recurring scandals over the care and protection of women and children in this State can be traced back to the ethos of its founders.

The Catholic Protection and Rescue Society, for instance, was founded in 1913 when the British socialist Dora Montefiore proposed bringing the children of workers locked out in Dublin to Britain to be looked after until the dispute ended. When the dispute ended, the Society went into hibernation until 1920, when the wartime boom receded and problems of child poverty once more posed major problems.

The Society reorganised and adopted a new constitution, committing itself “to protect the Catholic poor against the evils of proselytism, as practised by a section of the Protestant community in Ireland, who offer money, food or material considerations to the needy, weak and depraved Catholics for a surrender their faith and that of their children”.

Unfortunately, the achievement of independence came just before the British began overhauling their child welfare system, leaving us operating under the old Poor Law regime. One result was that many Catholic congregations such as the Sacred Heart sisters, finding their activities curtailed by the incursions of the nascent welfare state in Britain, found an outlet for their energies in establishing mother and baby homes in the new Free State.

Unlike Britain, successive Irish governments also retained the capitation system to fund these institutions, which suited the organisations running them, as it left them more or less free of effective oversight, and funding was based on headcounts rather than the quality of care. This approach was embraced by practically all of the “great and good” in Irish society.

We have a long tradition of opting for cheap solutions to social problems, which leave the poorest and most vulnerable members of our society to pick up the tab. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 13.