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Two years after it was set up, what's happening with the mother and baby home inquiry?

This week Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Katherine Zappone announced it will be two more years before the report is published.

25/09/2014. Mother and Baby Homes - Protest. (Cont Terry Harrison whose baby Nial John Dunne Kiernan was born in St Patrick's Navan in 1973. She never saw him again after that Source: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

TWO YEARS AGO Ireland was shaken by revelations about what had happened at a home for unmarried mothers and their children in Tuam.

After a local investigation revealed that many as 800 children were buried between 1925 and 1961, then minister for children and youth affairs Charlie Flanagan spoke of a situation “almost too graphic and horrible to believe”.

Young, innocent children, their lives so short and harrowing were, it seems, in death not even given a proper, decent or humane burial.

Appalling as the news of what happened at the home was, Tuam was symptomatic of a bigger problem.

“The history of mother and baby homes in Ireland in the early and middle decades of the 20th century reflects a brutally, unforgiving response by society, religions and state institutions,” he went on.

It’s now two years on, and this week Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Katherine Zappone – Flanagan’s successor in the job – announced that an extension means that it will be almost another two years before a report lifting the lid on what happened at these homes is published.

With the horror of these incidents now faded from the headlines, just what is happening in the quest for justice for the survivors of Ireland’s mother and baby homes?

So what is happening exactly? 

While mass child graves are perhaps the most harrowing element of what the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes is examining, it is just one part of it.

When published, the report will take in a broad range of the injustices that happened at the home, including (but not limited to): child mortality rates, how women were admitted to the homes, how they were treated once there and burial arrangements.

Understandably, there are concerns that the campaign isn’t reaching everyone that is meant to hear about it.

“We are concerned about the lack of awareness of the committee’s procedures that seems to be out there,” a spokesperson for survivor advocacy group the Adoption Rights Alliance told TheJournal.ie. 

We are very concerned and we’ve called on the commission both here and abroad to increase advertising. We think there are a lack of understanding not only from people affected by the commission.

Children of the mothers in the homes who were put up for adoption, some of whom may not realise they are included under the terms of reference, are also being encouraged to come forward.

Another concern, the spokesperson said, is that the terms of reference currently limit the inquiry to 18 institutions (it had originally been 14). The ARA has called on the department to increase this to 170.

They are compartmentalising it with the 18 institutions. We are not sure that they are representative of all of the people who are coming forward as part of this.

Another group, the Coalition of Mother and Baby Home Survivors, has been more vocal in its opposition to the limiting of the terms of reference.

Last month the group held a protest outside the Dáil, saying that they were looking for a legal team to help them undertake a judicial review pro bono.

To date just over 500 people have expressed an interest in meeting with the committee, and over 150 hearings have been held at the commission’s office in Dublin and in people’s homes in areas as diverse as Galway, Cork, Donegal, Limerick and London.

How do people come forward to the report? 

Trying to understand who should be going forward to which committee is confusing.

With the project being as big as it is, three reports are being produced in tandem.

25/09/2014. Mother and Baby Homes - Protest. Pictu A protest over mother and baby homes outside the Dáil in 2014 Source: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

When finished, these will include a report of testimony of people who wished to remain anonymous as part of the process, a report looking at the social history that allowed mother and baby homes to come into existence, and – perhaps most centrally – the report looking at what actually happened at a sample of mother and baby homes around the country.

Coming forward and speaking about their experience can be a daunting prospect for many, and according to the spokesperson for Adoption Rights Alliance, people have had a difficult time making their voices heard.

“People may have gone to the confidential committee thinking they had gone to the investigation committee,” they said.

People who end up doing this don’t realise that their comments won’t end up actually being included in the final report.

Adoption Rights Alliance has set about tackling this issue by putting legal support in place for anyone who wants to come forward.

To do so, the support group has set up Clann, a joint initiative that will work with JFM Research to help survivors come forward and give evidence.

Free legal assistance is being given to the initiative by Hogan Lovells, a global law firm that will help those that come forward with making their representations.

I know it is quite a daunting process for people to think about giving evidence, this gives people support to gather their thoughts and put together their statements. It is quite difficult if you’re going in there with nothing prepared.

So what now? 

Anyone looking to come forward and make a representation now has more time, with the reports not due to be released until February 2018.

What exactly will be included when they are released is still unclear, however.

The investigation covers a period from 1922 right up to 1998, meaning there could be calls for prosecutions when the report is published in 19 months’ time.

“I don’t want to pre-empt the work of the commission,” said the Adoption Rights Alliance spokesperson.

We would encourage anyone who is aware of any wrongdoing and criminal activity to go forward to the gardaí and report it to them.

Read: Over 400 potential witnesses come forward after mother and baby homes appeal

Also: ‘I’ve got family at last’: Brothers born in mother and baby homes reunited after nearly 80 years

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