AMANDA FERGUSON in Belfast
Wednesday, January 13, 2021
Taoiseach Micheál Martin has issued a formal State apology for "the profound generational wrong" visited upon tens of thousands of Irish mothers and their children who ended up in Mother and Baby Homes.
Mother and Baby Homes and also County Homes were institutions set up in the 19th and 20th Centuries to house girls and women who became pregnant outside marriage, which was surrounded by shame and stigma in the deeply religious and socially conservative Ireland of yesteryear.
Subjected to unsanitary and harsh conditions, arbitrarily detained, forced to carry out hard labour, and many were forced to give up their children who went into children's homes or were adopted.
A newly published 'Commission of investigation into Mother and Baby Homes' report found some 9,000 children died in the 18 institutions under investigation, covering the 76 years from 1922-1998.
The 9,000 deaths represents a disturbingly high official infant mortality rate of 15% among those born in the homes to mothers aged between 12 to their 40s, but mainly aged 18 to 29.
Many of those girls and women were victims of rape perpetrated within families or by someone within the local community.
The report investigation began in 2015 following details of the "Tuam babies" mass grave in Co Galway emerging over a number of years.
Martin highlighted a handful of extracts from report witness accounts he said "shine a light" on the attitudes that women encountered:
'I was treated like a second class citizen by my family, society had an obsession with hiding everything'
'Nobody will want you now' said the mother of a witness, 14-years old when it was discovered that she was pregnant.
'Get her put away!' were the words of a father of a 19-year old when told of her pregnancy.
You can read the full report by clicking here
On Wednesday Martin issued an apology on behalf of the government, State and its citizens for what he described as the "dark, difficult and shameful chapter" in Irish history.
"In apologising, I want to emphasize that each of you were in an institution because of the wrongs of others," he said in a statement to the Irish parliament.
"Each of you is blameless, each of you did nothing wrong and has nothing to be ashamed of," he said.
"Each of you deserved so much better.
"The lack of respect for your fundamental dignity and rights as mothers and children who spent time in these institutions is humbly acknowledged and deeply regretted.
"The Irish State, as the main funding authority for the majority of these institutions, had the ultimate ability to exert control over these institutions, in addition to its duty of care to protect citizens with a robust regulatory and inspection regime.
"This authority was not exerted and the State’s duty of care was not upheld.
"The State failed you, the mothers and children in these homes."
Martin spoke of the dysfunction of Ireland's past, of the "perverse religious morality" and absence of kindness, and about the "warped attitude to sexuality and intimacy".
He has vowed to act on all the recommendations of the report, and to deliver the legislative change necessary to "at least start to heal the wounds that endure".
The Irish Children's minister has written to religious bodies about contributing to the restorative justice scheme being introduced by the government.
Tánaiste Leo Vardakar said reading the report with ‘hope and shame' should "spur us on now to do better in the years to come, not just for women and children who survived the mother and baby institutions, but also for the women and children of today and of the future".
Sinn Féin president, and leader of the opposition, Mary Lou McDonald said the "needs of survivors must be front and centre".
She said apologies, while welcome, must be "matched by real concrete actions to support survivors", including redress, and open access to records, including birth certificates.
I wrote about this with my Washington Post colleagues (you can access by clicking)👉🏻 here
Now, a look at the Northern experience👇🏻
Northern Ireland women had "a near identical experience" in Mother and Baby homes, and Magdalene laundries - run by Catholic and Protestant churches and state agencies - and there must be a full public inquiry into the human rights abuses they suffered, Amnesty International has said.
At present academics have compiled a research report for the Northern Ireland Executive which is due to be submitted (and hopefully published) before the end of January.
"It is a story of church and state abusing human rights," Amnesty Northern Ireland director Patrick Corrigan said.
"There can be nothing less than a full public inquiry into this."
Corrigan said there are allegations of cross-Border detention, trafficking of infants and, "a trade in babies to the US" where "Irish babies were coveted", along with claims mother's signatures were forged on adoption papers after their children were forcibly removed from them.
"Women in Northern Ireland have told Amnesty they suffered arbitrary detention, forced labor, ill-treatment, and the removal and forced adoption of their babies - criminal acts in both domestic and international law.
“Meanwhile, their babies were branded as ‘illegitimate’ on birth, taken from their mothers as newborns, some were adopted without consent, while others were put into loveless institutions, only to face death by malnutrition and burial in mass graves."
Lawyer Claire McKeegan, who represents the 'Birth Mothers and their children for Justice' group, said women and children in Northern Ireland had yet to receive an apology in the jurisdiction for the distress, arbitrary detention, forced labour, forced adoption and cruelty they suffered.
"It was outlined in 2019 by the UN committee against torture that the state in Northern Ireland should immediately conduct a human rights compliant investigation into the Mother and Baby homes and Magdalene laundries," she said.
"The abuse of women and babies and the criminal acts against them didn't stop at the Border.
"We initiated a judicial review against Northern Ireland's department of health on this point."
McKeegan too called for a public inquiry to give victims and survivors the answers and information they so need.
"It is the least they deserve.”
January 26th Update: NI Executive announceIndependent investigation into Northern Women’s experience