Scholarship to be created in memory of baby homes whistleblower Alice Litster

Scholarship to be created in memory of baby homes whistleblower Alice Litster

Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris is to create a number of scholarships for further research in memory of all the children who died in mother and baby homes, adding that he considers it "very fitting" to honour Alice Litster. Picture: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

A scholarship in memory of Alice Litster, who repeatedly raised concerns about mother and baby homes, is to be set up.

Simon Harris, the higher education minister, is to create a number of scholarships for further research in memory of all the children who died in mother and baby homes, adding that he considers it "very fitting" to honour Ms Litster.

"I have no doubt that an appropriately-structured scheme can deliver high-quality research that adds to our knowledge, not just of the children who are central to this period of our history, but of the lives and conditions of children in Ireland more broadly, particularly disadvantaged or vulnerable children," Mr Harris said.

Children's minister Roderic O'Gorman told the Dáil that he had written to Mr Harris asking for a scholarship in memory of Ms Litster who, as a Department of Local Government inspector, had made great efforts "to shine a light on what was happening in these institutions" over 30 years.

Mr O'Gorman pointed to a report from 1943 in which Ms Litster had described how those in the children’s nursery in Bessborough were "miserable scraps of humanity, wizened, some emaciated and almost all had rash and sores all over their bodies, faces, hands and heads".

"It is from her reports that we have undeniable evidence of the failure of the State to intervene, even after the horrors of these institutions were made known. Her efforts on behalf of the vulnerable mothers and children in these institutions should be remembered," Mr O'Gorman told the Dáil.

An emotional Sean Sherlock also highlighted the details contained in the inspection reports which found babies had skin infections and green diarrhoea that was carefully covered up. 

The Labour TD commended the recent front page published by the Irish Examiner which named each of the children who died in Bessborough mother and baby home in Cork.  He said it had raised consciousness about this issue among many people for whom it otherwise would not have been brought home so starkly in these times of Covid.

"That front page was an important piece of work," Mr Sherlock said. 

"It is now a historical document and has done much to raise awareness of the issue. 

"It has done a great duty in bringing home to us the reality of the sheer number of young babies that died in such horrific circumstances." 

Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald said survivors naturally assumed that their full testimonies would be included in the report and they are now "justifiably appalled" that this did not happen.

She said this must be rectified, adding that some of the testimonies had been "selectively edited" and "paraphrased" to such an extent that many survivors are finding real difficulty in identifying their own evidence.

Junior health minister Mary Butler acknowledge that survivors feel the final report does not accurately reflect their testimonials and their lived experience.

She said the Government must accept their criticisms.

Ms Butler admitted it was hard as a woman to read the report and said: "These women need action now, they need redress, they need recognition and they need remembrance. Most of all, they need their records."

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