09 March 2017

Speech by Jan O’Sullivan TD in Dáil Éireann on Thursday 9th March 2017 on ‘Statements on the announcement by the Commission of Investigation confirming human remains on the site of the former Tuam Mother and Baby home’.

I welcome the fact that the Minister has indicated she will publish the report. We need an explanation as to why that has taken so long. There does not seem to be any reason it should have taken this time but I welcome the fact that it will be published. I also welcome the Minister’s commitment to carrying out a scoping exercise to examine extending the terms of reference of the commission of inquiry.

However, much more than a scoping exercise is needed and I sincerely hope at the end of it that she will announce an extension of the terms of reference because the commission of inquiry will only examine a sample of 14 mother and baby homes and four county homes. For example, none in the county I live in will be examined.

Eighteen homes is clearly not enough and many people are excluded who were either born in a mother and baby home or a county home or were placed in one of them or had relatives who were placed in them. They have been following the horrific news in respect of Tuam over the past week or two. They cannot be left out of the exercise that will be carried out and, therefore, it must be ensured that a comprehensive investigation is carried out because this is a scandal of huge proportions.

Many of us knew about this because Catherine Corless had many times outlined the horrible work she had to do in Tuam but this was absolutely clarified when we received the information that human remains had been found on the site in awful burial chambers underground. They were meant to be septic tanks and sewerage facilities but they contained the bodies of we do not know how many babies. The death certificates indicate almost 800 babies were buried there. Catherine Corless is an extraordinary woman. My understanding is that she had to fight hard to get this information and she paid €4 for every one of those death certificates. She has done an enormous service for this country and, I hope, for a more enlightened country than the picture that has been painted of the past.

Bessborough is another example of a home where the percentage of children aged under four who died was way higher than the average for that age cohort in the State at the time. Deputy Ó Laoghaire said that malnutrition was one of the main causes of death in the Bessborough home. The question must be asked as to why children died in these homes. One of the answers is they died because they were undernourished and were not fed properly, yet their mothers were still put in these homes by the State, their families, and other institutions that were in a position of power and authority in our society. It is an absolute stain on all of us who were aware over time that these terrible things were happening.

Issues such as vaccine trials, illegal adoptions and babies being sent to America without anybody knowing they were being sent will rightly be covered by the commission because all the facts must be unearthed. We also have the Grace case as well, about which all of us have had an opportunity to speak about over the past few days. I came into the House in 1998 around the time the then Taoiseach made an apology on behalf of the Irish people in respect of the children who were abused in residential institutions. The commission to inquire into child abuse was established and the Residential Institutions Redress Act 2002 which set up the Residential Institutions Redress Board was also passed. I recall hearing about golden circles in our society where rich and powerful people, whether they were developers, bankers, politicians and so on had extraordinary power and influence. At the same time, there was what others and I described as a “grey circle”. This referred to the grey walls around many institutions where those who were not considered to be important were placed. We knew many of them had been put into residential institutions that were mainly run by religious orders but the State was involved as well.

We have known for some time also that the mother and baby homes were likely to be equally shameful in terms of what was going on at that time. We did not have as much information at the time about mother and baby homes as we have now, and as we will have in the immediate future but we must get to a point where we uncover all of the uncomfortable and shameful truths because until we do, we will not have the foundations to build the kind of caring, inclusive and equal society we all want to achieve. It is really important in all of this that we get to the truth. It is also important that we do not leave any stone unturned and that we are unafraid to open things up, whether it is under the ground or in registers of births and deaths or wherever else. There is an onus on all of us to ensure that happens.

I welcome the fact the Minister has made an apology but I note it was a personal apology. I presume there is an apology on behalf of the State. I agree with those who have said there is a need for memorials and a conversation. I acknowledge that in her contribution the Minister said she intends to engage with people who are directly affected. Memorials in themselves are important but it is far more important to establish the truth about the lives of the people who are affected. If we could achieve that it would be a much more meaningful memorial.

I welcome the progress that is being made and more progress remains to be made. Unfortunately, there is much more shameful information about the past of this country, and some of it in the present as well and as representatives of the people in this Chamber we all have an obligation to ensure that we find out the full truth and that we face the consequences in that regard.

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