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Dublin: 12 °C Sunday 26 October, 2014

‘Time to shed light on another dark period’: Broad welcome for mother-and-baby investigation

Campaign groups have broadly welcomed this afternoon’s developments. There was also an observation that the matter “could have been dealt with decades ago”.

Philomena Lee.
Philomena Lee.
Image: AP/Press Association Images

Updated at 4.55pm

THIS AFTERNOON’S ANNOUNCEMENT that the Government is to set up a full Commission of Investigation into the operation of mother-and-baby homes has been welcomed by the Adoption Rights Alliance, which campaigns on behalf of women who were formerly resident in the institutions.

Amnesty International, the ISPCC, and the Children’s Rights Alliance have also given the announcement a broad welcome.

Children’s Minister Charlie Flanagan confirmed today that the probe would have full statutory powers ”to examine all matters pertaining to mother and baby homes throughout the state”.

The investigation is expected to be established before the summer recess, and will be informed by the ongoing interdepartmental review being carried out across a number of government offices, which is expected to conclude this month.

Susan Lohan of the Adoption Rights Alliance said that Flanagan’s announcement appeared to “answer everything we were calling for”.

“Certainly on the face of it, it’s looking good, because the Minister mentioned the importance of timeliness,” Lohan told RTÉ radio.

He particularly referenced the high mortality rates, burial practices, all of the circumstances surrounding adoption — and by that we’re particularly interested in forced adoptions, illegal adoptions.

Lohan noted, however, that the investigation could have been avoided if previous Governments had agreed to look into the practices at mother-and-baby homes.

“These matters could have been dealt with decades ago.”

The Adoption Rights Alliance has been campaigning on behalf of Philomena Lee — whose search for her son was turned into an Oscar-nominated film — for the State to give adopted people and their families access to adoption records.

Lohan said she had been in contact with members of Lee’s family today, and that they backed this afternoon’s announcement by the Government.

Other campaign groups

A number of other groups that have been carrying out campaigns on the issues relating to the activities of religious orders running the homes have also welcomed the Government’s announcement, and released statements regarding the Commission’s terms of reference.

According to Amnesty International Ireland Executive Director, Colm O’Gorman:

Much is already known about the homes, 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 twenty years.

The Commission of Investigation must inquire into all such allegations of ill-treatment of women and children in mother and baby homes and other similar institutions run by the state or religious authorities.

CEO of the Children’s Rights Alliance Tanya Ward said the Government’s decision was the first step towards establishing the truth and delivering accountability for the mothers and children who had resided in the homes.

She added:

To deliver, the Commission must be granted full statutory powers of enquiry enabling it to compel witnesses to produce evidence and supply documents.

The care regime and the legal circumstances surrounding adoptions from mother and baby homes must be included within the Commission’s terms of reference. This Commission once and for all should establish the truth behind clinical trials.

ISPCC Chief Executive Ashley Balbirnie said the investigation had the potential to “shed light on another dark period” in Irish history.

It is a sad, shameful discovery that almost 800 children have been failed so terribly, and we fear these revelations are  just the tip of the iceberg.

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.

Read: Give adopted people their records, says the real Philomena

Read: Commission of Investigation to examine mother and baby homes 

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