1 July 2014 Edition
Government pledges inquiry into ‘hellish’ mother and baby homes
Sinn Féin Dáil motion calling for probe gets response from Taoiseach
‘There have been attempts to place the blame on wider Irish society. This can too easily be twisted into a view that, since everyone was to blame, no one was to blame’ – Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD
AN TAOISEACH pledged a full Commission of Investigation into mother and baby homes across the state on the morning the Dáil was set to debate a Sinn Féin emergency motion calling for just such a probe after the horrific discovery of a mass grave at the former site of one such institution in Galway.
Historian Catherine Corless says her research shows that 796 babies who died in the Bon Secours Sisters ‘Mother and Baby Home’ in Tuam between 1925 and 1961 were buried in an unmarked grave on the grounds.
In the Dáil, Sinn Féin moved quickly to put forward a motion to immediately establish a statutory Commission of Investigation.
Moving the motion, Health and Children spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Cáoláin TD cautioned against a particular narrative becoming prevalent in some mainstream media reporting of the revelations:
“There have been attempts to place the blame on wider Irish society dating back some time and again in recent days because of the deeply conservative social attitudes that dominated in those decades.”
• Cousins Amy Rose Hyland Holden and Abbie Conran take part in a protest demanding justice for those who suffered in mother and baby homes to coincide with a debate on the Sinn Féin Dáil motion
Noting that huge numbers of people across Ireland opposed such attitudes, the Cavan/Monaghan TD added:
“This can too easily be twisted into a view that, since everyone was to blame, no one was to blame. In turn, this allows the powerful in Irish society to evade accountability and responsibility once again.
“The reality was that there were powerful social and economic forces, powerful men of church and state, who ruled this society and ensured women, children, the poor and the marginalised were kept in their place or what those same powerful men decided was their place.”
Sinn Féin Cork East TD Sandra McLellan spoke of conversations she had with two women who spent time in mother and baby homes. The first woman was sent to a home in 1967 when she became pregnant aged 17.
“She told me that, even while she was heavily pregnant, she had to go down on her hands and knees to scrub floors. One day, when she was not feeling well, she sat back on her haunches only to be kicked in the stomach. Shortly after having her baby, he was taken from her and adopted. She left the mother and baby home, was driven to the airport and was put on an aeroplane and told never to come back.
“After years of searching for her son, they have recently met and all is going well. She told me that she wants the state to acknowledge her abuse.”
• A candlelight vigil takes place outside Leinster House
The second woman was born in a mother and baby home in 1960.
“She was there for a number of months before being adopted into a good home. She was subjected to vaccine trials. She would like to know with what she was injected and why.”
Dublin South-West TD Seán Crowe described the story of the Tuam home as “appalling and horrific” and its scale as “mind-numbing” but noted that these events did not happen in the dark, distant past.
“Pregnant women were still being sent to the Magdalene laundries and mother and baby homes right up to the 1980s. Westbank in Greystones only closed in 2002,” Deputy Crowe pointed out.
While the Dáil passed an amended version of Sinn Féin’s motion, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin expressed concern over the amendment because it does not state in explicit terms that the Commission of Investigation will have the power to compel witnesses to give evidence and to compel the production of documents.
Describing the amended motion as “flawed”, Caoimhghín Ó Caóláin said he was concerned as it “does not deliver the certainty the victims of these institutions deserve”.
Explaining that Sinn Féin did not want to divide the Dáil by opposing the motion, Caoimhghín Ó Cáoláin said “instead, we will work on the basis of trust,” adding:
“That said, let it be noted clearly and carefully that we and all who truly want truth and justice for the victims and survivors of these hellish institutions will be watching and waiting and holding the [Children’s] Minister and the Government to their commitment to act as they have stated here repeatedly.”