Mother and baby homes: Redress scheme must be survivor-focused to avoid mistakes of the past

Mother and baby homes: Redress scheme must be survivor-focused to avoid mistakes of the past

Prof Conor O'Mahony says we need to learn from the failings of several previous redress schemes such as those for the Magdalene laundries and the symphysiotomy scandal.

The development of the State’s mother and baby homes redress scheme needs an element of transparency to avoid repeating past mistakes that have “left a trail of anger and bitterness” amongst survivors. 

That’s according to Conor O'Mahony, director of the Child Law Clinic at University College Cork (UCC). The design of the State's approach also needs some form of public consultation, which could come from an Oireachtas committee hearing or hearings, according to Prof O'Mahony. 

There are several examples of State redress schemes for victims that have led to the re-traumatisation for those seeking to apply, or that have entry criteria that are impossible for survivors to meet. 

“It is imperative that the design of any redress scheme for survivors of mother and baby homes avoids making the repeated errors that have dogged the design of past redress schemes, which have left a trail of anger and bitterness in their wake," he said. 

Examples include the redress schemes for victims of abuse in residential institutions, victims of symphysiotomy, survivors of the Magdalene laundries, and for victims of abuse in day schools. 

Claire McGettrick, Prof Katherine O'Donnell, and Dr Maeve O'Rourke addressing a Justice for Magdalene press conference in February 2013. The redress scheme arbitrarily excluded large numbers of survivors. 	Picture: Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland
Claire McGettrick, Prof Katherine O'Donnell, and Dr Maeve O'Rourke addressing a Justice for Magdalene press conference in February 2013. The redress scheme arbitrarily excluded large numbers of survivors. Picture: Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland

“The approach in the past has been to prioritise containment of cost over addressing the historical wrongs in a holistic way, and this has largely undermined the purpose of the schemes. 

"The design should not be an entirely closed process with no input from survivors and others with experience of past redress schemes." 

The redress scheme for the victims of abuse in residential institutions saw those who were abused in day schools excluded from the scheme. Applying was also an adversarial process with victims facing cross-examination, leading to “huge re-traumatisation”, he said.

 Survivors of Symphysiotomy and supporters protesting outside the Department of An Taoiseach in September 2014. Survivors were only given a two-week window to apply for redress. 	Picture: Sam Boal
Survivors of Symphysiotomy and supporters protesting outside the Department of An Taoiseach in September 2014. Survivors were only given a two-week window to apply for redress. Picture: Sam Boal

The redress scheme for symphysiotomy gave survivors a two-week window to apply and was based on the acceptance that there was no admission of fault. The redress for the Magdalene laundries saw large numbers of survivors excluded on arbitrary distinctions, he added. This scheme was later revised after a review by the Ombudsman.

The redress scheme for victims of abuse in schools set entry criteria impossible to meet and every single application was rejected, he added. It was closed following a State apology to victims 18 months ago and has yet to re-open. 

"It is welcome that a firm timeline has been given for the design of the scheme." 

"However, if we are to be confident in the design process, and if we are to avoid repeating past mistakes, an element of transparency and public consultation through, for example, an Oireachtas committee hearing or hearings, would be desirable." 

Meanwhile, the Creagh Lane Action Group has welcomed the State apology to survivors of mother and baby homes. Members of the group were abused by their former teacher at their school in Limerick in the 1960s and have been fighting for State redress for a number of years.

“We as a group hope the apology will be sincere and come from the heart and not just be a media show as a number of apologies in the past have been.”

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