Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman faced trenchant Opposition anger in the Dáil over the Government’s redress scheme for survivors of mother and baby homes and other institutions.
Social Democrats TD Holly Cairns, who introduced a motion calling for the scheme to be extended, led the criticism as she claimed the Government “continues to facilitate the cover-up of crimes and human rights abuses and, most cynically and callously, it does it in full knowledge”.
The €800 million scheme will offer compensation to all women and girls in mother and baby homes but excludes those who spent less than six months in institutions as children, an omission that provoked major condemnation.
The redress proposals are expected to increase the numbers compensated to 34,000 from an estimated 6,500 based on recommendations from the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes.
But Ms Cairns said the Minister knows what survivors are asking for. “He knows what the public wants, and clearly seems to not care. His mantra seems to be just enough, just enough for a good headline, just enough to look good, just enough to misrepresent the reality. This is just another form of abuse. Survivors are still being refused their rights.”
Opening the debate, the Cork Southwest TD said “some survivors will receive as little as €5,000 under current proposals, despite a lifetime of pain. You’d get multiples of that for a whiplash injury.”
She said the Government should have “the guts to stand up to the religious orders and pharmaceutical companies and demand substantial financial contributions for the role they played in the systematic abuse of innocent women and children”.
Ms Cairns claimed the scheme was “designed to give as little compensation to as small a number of survivors as possible. The Minister is excluding people who spent less than six months in institutions as children. People who suffered forced family separation, people subjected to non-consensual medical trials. The Minister is disregarding the wishes of survivors, international human rights bodies and the children’s committee.”
She also said the Government’s plan was wrapped up in “kind language” but the core prejudice remained in place, that the State did not believe or trust survivors.
Her party’s joint leader, Róisín Shortall, said it “beggars belief” that religious orders might not contribute to the redress scheme when a number of them had yet to pay agreed amounts for other redress schemes. She said the orders’ properties should be seized if they did not contribute.
Wicklow Social Democrats TD Jennifer Whitmore highlighted the exclusion of children who spent less than six months in institutions from redress. She said it was proven that this early part of their life had a defining impact. “I have serious concerns about a Minister with responsibility for children who does not understand the developmental and psychological needs of children,” she said.
Sinn Féin TD Louise O’Reilly said the Minister was acutely aware of the impact of the first six months of a child’s life but insisted he had done this to cut costs. “He is doing it so that he can stand here and say that something is being done when he knows that effectively people are going to be excluded.”
But in his address to the Dáil, Mr O’Gorman stressed that when drawing up the redress scheme they had gone beyond the recommendations of the commission, and the measures would benefit far more people than under its proposals.
He said the Government had passed significant legislation allowing adopted people to get access to their records, and providing for the excavation of the site of the former institution at Tuam, Co Galway where some 800 children were buried.
He acknowledged that “no amount of money” could every truly undo the hurt done by these institutions. But he said that “by vindicating the identity of people who were adopted or subject to illegal birth registration; by ensuring that the remains of the children buried at Tuam receive a respectful reburial; by bringing forward a payment scheme that will benefit 34,000 former residents, we are humbly acknowledging the State’s duty to atone for these appalling wrongs and seeking to rebuild the relationship of trust with the people who were so grievously wronged.”