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An image of a newborn baby is projected onto Sean Ross Abbey in Tipperary as part of the Herstory Light Show on St Brigid's Day. Niall Carson/PA Images
alternate report

O'Gorman 'welcomes' new report that contradicts findings of Mother and Baby Home Commission

A new report has found “significant evidence” of inhuman treatment and forced adoptions in Mother and Baby Homes.

LAST UPDATE | 12 Jul 2021

THERE IS SIGNIFICANT evidence of inhuman and degrading treatment of women and children in Mother and Baby institutions – including of pregnant women and survivors of sexual abuse – according to a report compiled by academics.

The authors of this report came to this conclusion after examining the evidence compiled by the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes. In many instances, their findings contradict those of the commissioners.

The new report, which will be published in full on Wednesday, found there is “substantial evidence of unconstitutional involuntary detention, especially in the earlier period under study”.

It also found “significant evidence” of coerced and illegal adoption, “amounting in many cases to forced adoption, throughout the period under examination”.

A spokesperson for the Department of Children told The Journal that Minister Roderic O’Gorman “welcomes this engagement with the [final] report”.

“A plurality of voices and analyses makes for a stronger understanding of our shared history. That is why the Government is committed to supporting research, scholarship and access to records as part of its response to the Commission’s Report,” a statement noted.

The Commission’s final report, which was published in January, detailed the experiences of women and children who lived in 14 mother and baby homes and four county homes – a sample of the overall number of homes – between 1922 and 1998.

It confirmed that about 9,000 children died in the 18 homes under investigation. However, it said it found little evidence of issues such as forced adoption, abuse and involuntary detention.

Many survivors have criticised some of the Commission’s findings, saying they contradict personal testimony.

More than 100 academics and historians have signed a letter in recent weeks outlining their concerns with the Commission’s final report.

Twenty-five legal academics, including Máiréad Enright of the University of Birmingham and Prof Aoife O’Donoghue, of Durham University, took it upon themselves to examine the report over the past four months.

In relation to involuntary detention, the academics write: “Women and girls were generally free to leave in law, but not in practice.

“Evidence in the [Commission's] Report indicates there were barriers to leaving the institutions. Leaving was not actively facilitated. Women were not financially supported to perform their duties to their children outside of the institution.”

The new report also finds that the refusal to pay women for the labour undertaken in the
institutions “contributed to women’s effective incarceration”, adding that “work was frequently used as punishment”.

The document adds: “There is evidence that women and girls undertook physically demanding work, including while pregnant and irrespective of their age, ability, or health. There is no evidence that the impact of physically demanding work on maternal or infant health outcomes was monitored by health authorities.”

The responsibility of the State 

The academics note the State was “generally aware of abusive conditions in the institutions”.

They write that the responsibility in law for “breaches of constitutional and human rights rests with the State, which funded and regulated the institutions, delegated key public functions to religious bodies, through its laws created the conditions by which the institutions became a default option for the containment of unmarried mothers”.

They continue: “The right to freedom from inhuman and degrading treatment is absolute and breaches cannot be justified. There is evidence of physical abuse and neglect of both boarded out/at nurse and adopted children, attributable to inadequate regulation of the family separation system.”

In relation to the conclusion on the role of the State in Mother and Baby institutions, the Department’s spokesperson noted that when the Commission’s final report was launched in January O’Gorman said: “The State failed, time and time again and for decades, to protect some of its most vulnerable citizens, and failed to uphold some of their most fundamental rights.”

Two committees

The Commission heard evidence via two Committees: the Investigation Committee and the Confidential Committee.

At a controversial online event last month, one of the commissioners, Professor Mary Daly, acknowledged that the testimony given to the latter committee was not given the same weight.

The main purpose of the Confidential Committee was “to listen to the experiences” of survivors. The Commission previously stated that this committee “may be suitable for you if you wish to have your experiences heard in a sympathetic atmosphere by experienced people and you do not want any person or institution to know that you are giving evidence to the Commission; the evidence you give will not be open to challenge”.

Sixty-four survivors gave evidence to the Investigation Committee and 36 provided sworn affidavits, whereas hundreds of survivors gave evidence via the Confidential Committee.

Just 19 people applied directly to give evidence to the Investigation Committee, and it’s not clear how the other witnesses were chosen.

With reporting by Cónal Thomas

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