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'After hours of questioning by “experts”, Theresa was left traumatised and had to make her own way home'

Redressing survivors of Mother and Baby homes needs to avoid the pitfalls of the Residential Institution Redress Board for Industrial and Reformatory School survivors, writes Sinead Pembroke.

Sinead Pembroke Researcher at TASC

FINE GAEL’S EDUCATION Minister, Richard Bruton has said that there are no “plans” to reopen the State’s redress scheme for new entrants in light of the Tuam Baby scandal.

However, with the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes underway, it is important to start thinking about the process of redress that is likely to be set up after the investigation is completed.

Looking back at the experience of survivors incarcerated in Industrial and Reformatory Schools in applying for redress from the Residential Institutions Redress Board (RIRB), we can identify what a redress process should and shouldn’t look like.

I interviewed 25 men and women about their experience of applying for redress from the RIRB, and this is what they had to say about the process.

Re-traumatisation

A major issue for most survivors was that by the time the redress process was over, they felt re-traumatised. An inquiry should seek to limit this trauma; however, this is not possible in its current format because of the legalistic overtures that characterise the process.

First, many were dissatisfied with the way their solicitors dealt with their claims, and felt that the legal system had benefitted financially from their trauma. The Redress Board’s Annual Report (2008) stated that “the average costs and expenses paid to an applicant’s solicitor at the end of 2008 amounted to €10,845 per application, or 16.9% of the award”.

Second, the application procedure, (writing a detailed statement and being assessed by a psychiatrist) resulted in psychological wounds being opened up after years of consignment to the deepest reaches of the mind.

Third, the hearing procedure was interpreted by some as similar to being on trial, where one of the survivors Theresa described that after five and a half hours of questioning and critical examination by the panel of “experts”, she was left exhausted, traumatised and had to make her own way home.

Finally, the waiver form that each person had to sign when an award for compensation was made caused a lot of distress to survivors. While the waiver form can’t stop people who accepted an award for compensation telling their story, this legal threat created a climate of confusion and of fear, and consequently, they felt abused again by the State.

No justice

Survivors were also critical of the lack of prosecutions that were followed up after the Commission released its report in 2009.

Figures from Amnesty International’s report (2011) revealed that there were 30,000 complaints of abuse to the inquiry, 14,448 applied for redress, yet only eleven cases of abuse were forwarded to the Director of Public Prosecutions and only three abusers were prosecuted.

This group of survivors also felt there was a lack of transparency throughout the inquiry and redress process. For example, many survivors interviewed felt that the operation of the points system that was used to determine how much compensation they were awarded was not transparent enough, and that in many instances their solicitor came to an agreement with the RIRB, with very little input from the survivor.

Overall, institutional survivors, Catholic Religious Orders and the state had significantly differing experiences of the inquiry and redress process. This was related to each group’s social and financial capital, where the state and the Catholic Church were politically and financially in a better position to engage with the justice system.

Recommendations for future redress schemes

In light of the above, there are four recommendations that should be taken into account in how future inquiry and redress processes (such as in the case of Mother and Baby Homes) should be set up.

First, in order to limit re-traumatisation, a redress process should veer away from legal overtures, such as designing a redress application that does not require legal representation. Neither should people be forced to make a detailed statement and have it assessed on the basis of a points system; this forces further re-trauma because survivors are encouraged to delve into memories they may prefer to forget.

Second, criminal convictions should be sought and followed through.

Third, the State should create a public archive where all materials relating to the institutions being investigated and a collection of testimonies from survivors, (with their permission) can be stored. This would go some way towards memorialising victims of abuse of state-funded institutions.

Finally, in the name of impartiality, the investigative team should be independent of the governing elite, (politicians, state departments and the legal system); this would go some way to limit the political capital that the state is able to wield during inquiry and redress processes.

Sinead Pembroke is a researcher at TASC (Think-Tank on Action for Social Change), and previously a research fellow on the Magdalene Laundry oral history project in UCD. She is also the daughter of a survivor who went through the RIRB scheme.

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About the author:

Sinead Pembroke  / Researcher at TASC

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