We need your help now

Support from readers like you keeps The Journal open.

You are visiting us because we have something you value. Independent, unbiased news that tells the truth. Advertising revenue goes some way to support our mission, but this year it has not been enough.

If you've seen value in our reporting, please contribute what you can, so we can continue to produce accurate and meaningful journalism. For everyone who needs it.

Catherine Connolly

TD says Mother and Baby Home redress is 'madness', Varadkar accuses her of 'demonising' govt

Catherine Connolly clashed with the Taoiseach during Leaders’ Questions today.

THE GOVERNMENT HAS been accused of “doublespeak” and “hypocrisy” in relation to its redress scheme for survivors of mother and baby homes.

Speaking in the Dáil during Leaders’ Questions this afternoon, independent TD Catherine Connolly was sharply critical of the Government’s approach.

She said it is “madness” to progress with “this divisive, discriminatory scheme”.

The redress scheme is set to be debated in the Dáil this evening ahead of a vote.

Around 34,000 people will be eligible to apply for redress under the scheme, which is estimated to cost around €800 million. However, some 24,000 survivors are excluded from the scheme.

Many survivors, legal experts and members of the Opposition have been very critical of the fact the scheme excludes people who spent less than six months in an institution as a child.

Connolly, who has advocated on behalf of survivors of institutional abuse for many years, said the Government has been “forced every step of the way to do something” by survivors and people such as Catherine Corless.

However, Varadkar said it then-Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone that resulted in the previous Government deciding to take action on excavating the site of a former mother and baby home in Tuam.

Varadkar said Zappone visited Tuam “looked in the tank”, “looked in the graves” and said “we need to be the Government that tried to do something about this”.

“I remember her her that day, in that Cabinet meeting, addressing that Cabinet meeting, almost breaking down in tears as she read out a poem that she wrote herself on that day, and it was that that convinced the Government to act,” the Taoiseach said.

Previous schemes

Connolly also accused the Government of not learning anything from the failings of previous redress schemes for survivors of abuse in industrial schools and Magdalene laundries.

So here we are today left this evening pushing through legislation that’s discriminatory, divisive and utterly based on cost-containment measures.

Connolly told the Dáil the Government’s scheme is at odds with what survivors called for as part of a public consultation process regarding redress in 2021.

During the process carried out by Oak Consulting, most participants called for a common payment for all survivors and said that length of stay was not a fair criteria upon which to calculate the amount of compensation a person is eligible for.

The criteria most survivors asked to be taken into account when calculating redress included forced family separation, psychological trauma and harm, being subjected to vaccine experiments, a lack of vetting of families who adopted or fostered children, and physical harm and injury.

Screenshot 2023-02-22 13.50.39 Taoiseach Leo Varadkar speaking during Leaders' Questions today

Connolly also noted that both national and international experts have called for the scheme to be extended, stating: “You have been implored by the High Court and by various international and national bodies, including the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission to learn and to base any redress on fairness and human rights.

“You are not doing that. At the very least today, tell us what was the justification for the six months if it wasn’t money? Please, at the very least, tell us that part and stop boasting that this is the best scheme.

She noted that the Mica redress scheme for homeowners – which could cost up to €4 billion – was brought in and “we haven’t battled an eyelid” about money. She questioned why the abuse of people’s human rights was not given the same weight.

Connolly said Ireland, for a century, had “an architecture of containment from start to finish, from which various classes of this society benefited”.

“How dare you or the commissioner or the commission have said [mothers] walked in there, or their families put them in there, that is complete nonsense and an utter ignoring of what happened in terms of the powerful and the powerless.”

‘Demonising’ the Government

In response, Varadkar said he didn’t accept Connolly’s “characterisation of what this Government or previous governments have done”.

“It’s this Government and the one before it that decided to deal with this issue, an issue that has been a scar in our society for many, many decades and many generations.

“And sadly, institutions such as these existed in other jurisdictions too – north of the border, for example, in other parts of Europe and the world.

We’re one of the few countries, to my knowledge, that has actually faced up to this past and has tried at least to do something to put things right.

Varadkar said the Government’s action plan goes well “well beyond financial redress” – noting the passage of the Institutional Burials Act and the Birth Information and Tracing Act last year.

Speaking about the redress scheme, he noted that it will cost the taxpayer €800 million, “€800 million that could otherwise be spent meeting the needs of today and trying to build a better future”.

“But we’ve decided that because of the wrongs that were done in the past, this is an appropriate amount of money to spend trying to put right the wrongs of the past at least in some way.

“And if we were only interested in cost-containment, Deputy, we would have just left these matters to the courts and that’s something we didn’t want to do…

“That’s why we decided to have a non-adversarial scheme of this nature, notwithstanding the cost,” Varadkar said.

He said he appreciates that Connolly feels “passionately” about the subject, but accused her of attacking him personally and demonising the Government.

“You criticise my character, attack me personally and misrepresent the Government.

“I think when it comes to politics, it’s in all of our interests that we don’t engage in, sort of, personalised criticism of each other where we question people’s character and motivations,” the Taoiseach said.

“I don’t think it’s right for you to try and demonise us in the way you’re trying to do now. It’s not right,” he added.

Your Voice
Readers Comments
    Submit a report
    Please help us understand how this comment violates our community guidelines.
    Thank you for the feedback
    Your feedback has been sent to our team for review.