Mother and baby homes report
Sir, – As Caelainn Hogan writes in her recent article on the mother and baby homes commission report, the report concludes that women were not coerced into institutions by church and State, preferring to shift the blame onto society in general (“Mother and baby homes report contradicts survivors’ lived experiences”, Opinion & Analysis, January 14th).
Yet the report goes further. In chapter nine the authors state: “At no time in the first sixty years of independence was unmarried mothers a dominant preoccupation for politicians, churches. public servants or the media.”
I would refer the said authors to the Report of the Committee on the Criminal Law Amendment Acts (1880-85) and Juvenile Prostitution, otherwise known as the Carrigan Report. This report was commissioned in 1930 to consider whether amendments should be made to the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885 (also known as Stead’s Law), an Act which was intended to make further provision for the protection of women and girls, the suppression of brothels and other purposes. Clearly, some amendments to the Act were necessary, such as raising the age of consent for girls but the members of the committee had a much broader agenda, as expressed in paragraph 7 of the report: “ . . . no witness appearing before us has dissented from the view expressed by nearly every witness that the moral condition of the country has become gravely menaced by modern abuses, widespread and pernicious in their consequences, which cannot be counteracted unless the laws of the State are revised and consistently enforced so as to combat them.”
In paragraph 10, the committee finds: “ . . . as illegitimacy must be regarded as one of the principle causes of the species of crime and vice of which the State takes cognisance in the branch of penal law and preventative legislation which we were appointed to examine”.
The report claimed that the illegitimacy rate was rising rapidly, which, in fact, was not the case. The report goes on to lament that the mothers of illegitimate children could not be maintained in institutions apart from “the decent poor and sick”. The committee went on to support the establishment of “auxiliary” institutions (already under way in some counties) specifically for unmarried mothers. It seems we might here have the origins of formalised mother and baby institutions.
Although the Carrigan Report was never published, it was not because there was political or clerical rejection of its analysis or recommendations but rather because of the negative picture of the country it could be seen to portray. Although senior officials in government were scathing of the report, many of the recommendations, such as the Dance Halls Act, were acted upon. The Carrigan Report reflected the obsession of the Catholic Church with the control of sexuality, and it was unmarried mothers who were to become the main victims of this obsession.
If this does not constitute a “dominant preoccupation”, I don’t know what does. – Yours, etc ,