Groups welcomed the fact that the commission’s statutory footing meant it would be able to compel witnesses to attend and organisations to provide documentation. Many of the groups also commented that successive governments had known about abuse at these homes for years.
Adoption Rights Alliance chairwoman Susan Lohan said that Minister for Children Charlie Flanagan’s announcement appeared to “answer everything we were looking for” but said that “these matters could have been dealt with decades ago” as various groups had lobbied for their investigation. These thoughts were echoed by Amnesty International Ireland executive director Colm O’Gorman who said successive governments had been made aware of concerns about mother-and-baby homes.
“Much is already known about the homes,” said Mr O’Gorman. “Evidence of high mortality rates has existed for many decades; concerns about possible abuses related to vaccine trials have been known for many years; and allegations related to forced adoption and ill treatment have steadily emerged over the past 20 years.”
The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission said it was pleased that the mother-and-baby homes investigation would be statutory, unlike the recent inquiry into the State’s role in Magdalene Laundries.
“This was a shortfall of the Magdalene Laundries interdepartmental committee, chaired by Senator Martin McAleese and criticised by the UN Committee Against Torture,” said a spokesman.
“The IHREC await the inquiry’s terms of reference and further information on its composition, timelines and resourcing.”
“It will need to take place speedily and have a mechanism for establishing the facts and truth, allowing a voice for the victims of any abuses and addressing what remedies are necessary under human rights law where violations are found.”
However, Tom Cronin of Irish Survivors of Institutional Abuse said in 2005 that he had formally requested the then IHRC to investigate the vaccine trials at mother-and-baby homes.
After considering his request, the then IHRC decided an “inquiry was not considered either necessary or expedient for the performance of the commission’s functions”.
Five members of ISIA said that they were forced to take part in the trials as children. However, they were reluctant to send signed statements to the IHRC as part of the ISIA request due to a perceived “lack of trust” on their behalf, according to Mr Cronin.
Meanwhile, campaign group Justice for Magdalenes Research called on the Government to include the Magdalene Laundries in the terms of reference of the statutory investigation.
“There was huge traffic between mother-and-baby homes and Magdalene Laundries; the McAleese Committee did not retain records received from the religious orders responsible for operating the Magdalene Laundries; the McAleese Committee’s terms of reference did not allow it to investigate individual complaints of abuse or examine fully the religious orders’ financial records; and all religious orders responsible for the Magdalene Laundries have refused to apologise or provide compensation,” a JFMR spokesman said.
ISPCC chief executive Ashley Balbirnie said she feared the concerns raised about the burial of 800 babies in Tuam were “just the tip of the iceberg”.
“It is a sad, shameful discovery that almost 800 children have been failed so terribly,” said Mr Balbirinie. “We as a society are judged by how we treat children. We need to learn from the past and treat our children with the respect and dignity that is their right.”