'Profound generational wrong': Taoiseach issues apology to Mother and Baby Home survivors

'Profound generational wrong': Taoiseach issues apology to Mother and Baby Home survivors

Shoes left at a Mother and Baby Home protest event in Dublin. File picture: Sasko Lazarov/ RollingNews.ie

The Taoiseach says the shame of those kept in Mother and Baby Homes was not theirs - "it was our shame,"

Micheál Martin said the Mother and Baby Home report was "the duty of a republic to be willing to hold itself to account", as he made a full apology to survivors of the institutions from the Dáil on Wednesday and said the homes were "a profound failure of empathy, understanding and basic humanity".

Mr Martin read from testimonies of survivors who were“treated like a second class citizens" by family and society. One was told: “Nobody will want you now” at 14 years old.

He acknowledged how a dearth of sex education "often left young women confused and unaware of how and why they had even become pregnant. Some of these pregnancies were as a result of rape and/or incest."

He added that children born outside of marriage were stigmatised and were treated as outcasts and subsequently boarded-out where they experienced "heartbreaking exploitation, neglect and abuse within the families and communities in which they were placed. This was unforgivable."

He said the report raises profound questions, and that "a perverse religious morality and control, judgementalism and moral certainty.

"We honoured piety but failed to show even basic kindness to those who needed it most.

"We had a completely warped attitude to sexuality and intimacy, and young mothers and their sons and daughters were forced to pay a terrible price for that dysfunction.

"For the women and children who were treated so cruelly we must do what we can, to show our deep remorse, understanding and support.

"And so, on behalf of the Government, the State and its citizens, I apologise for the profound generational wrong visited upon Irish mothers and their children who ended up in a Mother and Baby Home or a County Home.

"I apologise for the shame and stigma which they were subjected to and which, for some, remains a burden to this day.

I want to emphasise that each of you were in an institution because of the wrongs of others. Each of you is blameless, each of you did nothing wrong and has nothing to be ashamed of. 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."

"Throughout this report former residents talk of a feeling of shame for the situation they found themselves in.

"The shame was not theirs – it was ours.

Micheál Martin has apologised to the survivors of the Mother and Baby Homes
Micheál Martin has apologised to the survivors of the Mother and Baby Homes

"It was our shame that we did not show them the respect and compassion which we as a country owed them.

"It remains our shame.

"I want to reassure survivors, their families and the country, that this Government is determined 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."

'Shame and secrecy'

Tániaste Leo Varadkar said there had been a "conspiracy of shame and secrecy" in a deeply misogynistic society.

He compared these children to Australia's "stolen generation" of Aboriginal children, taken from their parents.

"Too many children were seen as a stain on society, but the truth is that it was our society that was deeply stained," he said.

"As the report shows, this was a stifling, oppressive and deeply misogynistic culture. A cold house for most of its people.

"It’s shocking to read that more than 9,000 babies died in these institutions but in some ways it is more shocking that this is not a revelation.

"The statistics were known at the time. It was known that children in Mother and Baby institutions were more likely to die in infancy than other children, including other children born outside of marriage. There was no public outcry, no Dáil debates or motions, no media inquiries or interest.

"These were second class citizens, lesser mortals, to be treated as such, perhaps for their whole lives, solely due to the circumstance of their conception and birth. It was a conspiracy of shame and silence and cruelty."

The apology comes after the Commission of Investigation report in the homes was published on Tuesday.

In the mother and baby homes under investigation by the Commission, around 56,000 unmarried mothers, some as young as 12, passed through, and 57,000 children were born.

The report found that approximately 9,000 of the 57,000 babies born in these homes died.

'Circling of wagons' adds to trauma of survivors, opposition says

The opposition says "the buck stops with the state" regarding the mother and baby homes scandal.

In response to the Taoiseach's apology to survivors, in which he noted that all of society was to blame, many of Micheál Martin's political rivals said it was a "cop-out".

Some pointed out that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael leaders were in power during the time of the mother and baby homes operations and did nothing to raise any concern about the huge number of deaths in the institutions.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said survivors' "hopes were dashed" by the report.

"This circling of the wagons only adds to their trauma and exacerbates the failures of the State," she said.

"The purpose and the power of testimony is that it is given to be believed, but many survivors feel that they weren't heard, and they were not believed, even though we know that they were coerced, that they were forced to give up their children.

"They know that they were physically and mentally abused. They know that the State and churches are responsible for the violation of their most basic human rights.

It is plainly untrue to suggest that the whole of Irish society is responsible, that itself is a distortion of history.

Jennifer Whitmore from the Social Democrats said there was "shock" by the Taoiseach's response to the report.

"At each turn, the report and many of your comments failed to fully acknowledge that the fundamental responsibility of protection of its citizens lies with the State and that the culture of a society is moulded and shaped by the most powerful institutions in the state," she said. 

Labour leader Alan Kelly said that "all of the political entities that served in governments that allowed this to happen" should apologise.

"Politically, we're all at fault," Mr Kelly said.

"The institutions, the Catholic Church, has an awful lot to answer for and we must really look at and continue to look at our relationship between the State and religious institutions."

'We did not live up to our Christianity'

Today, the nuns who ran the St Mary’s Mother and Baby Home in Tuam issued an apology in light of the report.

“Our Sisters ran St Mary’s Mother and Baby Home in Tuam from 1925 to 1961,“ read the apology.

"We did not live up to our Christianity when running the home.

“We failed to respect the inherent dignity of the women and children who came to the home. We failed to offer them the compassion that they so badly needed.” 

Tuam-based historian Catherine Corless, who helped to bring the scandal of that institution to light, said the initial response from survivors to the report has been one of disappointment.

Survivors have said the report "skimmed over" the issue of illegal adoptions.

Children's Minister Roderic O’Gorman said earlier today that he could not say when the survivors of Mother and Baby Homes will be given access to their personal records.

Mr O’Gorman said it is "essential" that legislation is brought forward on information and tracing following the publication of the report.

However, he confirmed that scrutiny on the new laws will only begin towards the end of the year.

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