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James Sugrue Órla Ryan
boarded out

'This will haunt the Government': Call for extension of MBH redress, or for new Commission to be held

“If you don’t want to compensate people for violating their human rights, don’t violate their human rights.”

A NEW COMMISSION of Investigation tasked with examining the experiences of people who were boarded out as children should be set up as a matter of urgency, a number of survivors have said.

In recent months there has been much criticism of the fact the Government’s planned redress scheme excludes people who were boarded out, a precursor to fostering, and those who spent less than six months in an institution as a child.

If the redress scheme is not extended to include all survivors, there are growing calls for a new Commission of Investigation (COI) to be established.

The COI into Mother and Baby Homes included a chapter on the experiences of boarded out children. The COI found that, in some cases, children who were boarded out experienced some of the worst abuse recorded.

Tens of thousands of children were boarded out in Ireland across several decades, in a system overseen by the State. Some of these children have reported being neglected and physically and sexually abused.

In the State apology to survivors of mother and baby homes and county homes on 13 January 2021, Taoiseach Micheál Martin apologised “for the profound generational wrong visited upon Irish mothers and their children who ended up in a Mother and Baby Home or a County Home”.

Martin noted that some children who were boarded out “experienced heartbreaking exploitation, neglect and abuse within the families and communities in which they were placed”.

“This was unforgivable. The sense of abandonment felt by many of these children is palpable in the witness accounts. The circumstances of their birth, the arrangements for their early care, the stigma they experienced and the continuing lack of birth information, is a terrible burden in their lives,” he added.

Campaigner James Sugrue, who was boarded out with his two brothers in Co Kerry, was abused as a child and forced to do difficult manual labour on a farm.

Speaking to The Journal, Sugrue (70) said it makes no sense for the Government to say the State apology to survivors includes boarded out children but then exclude them from the redress scheme.

“In his apology Michéal Martin spoke about the treatment people suffered and the profound generational wrong that took place and how it shouldn’t have happened. But that apology does not include children like my brothers and I.

“We were sent to Killarney County Home, our mother abandoned us. We were at the mercy of the nuns and the State. 

We were not included in that apology but, for argument’s sake, let’s say that we were. If Micheál Martin considered us to be part of the apology, how are we not included in the redress scheme?

“Where is the redress for children taken out of homes and boarded out, or children who were there for less than six months? There is no redress for them.”

Martin previously said the Government will not extend the current redress scheme, which is due to open for applications later this year.

Time for another Commission? 

Sugrue, who qualified as a solicitor when he was 50, said one way to address the issue is the establishment of a new COI into how boarded out children were treated.

“The Government needs to realise this is not going to go away. We’re asking Roderic O’Gorman and Micheál Martin to consider that a new commission is set up, or a tribunal, to deal with boarded out children.

Give us the right to put our statements forward – it can be in an adversarial setting if necessary but it needs to be done in a timely manner, not dragged out for five or six years.

Sugrue believes that a number of his human rights, and those of other boarded out children, were breached – such as the torture and abuse experienced by some people, forced labour, family separation and not being given the right to an effective remedy.

Article 13 of the European Convention on Human Rights deals with effective remedy and states the following: “Everyone whose rights and freedoms as set forth in this Convention are violated shall have an effective remedy before a national authority notwithstanding that the violation has been committed by persons acting in an official capacity.”

Surgue said: “A number of our human rights were breached, as set out under the European Convention on Human Rights – torture, forced labour, separation from siblings.

“We have never been given the right to put our case forward. This will hang over the Government in some way or another until it is dealt with. It will come back to haunt them.”

If the redress scheme is not extended and a new Commission is not established, Sugrue will consider taking his case to the European Court of Human Rights.

Sugrue said he and other survivors are “not asking for anything more than other people have got” but they are tired of being “at the bottom of the pile”.

The approach, duration and findings of the COI into Mother and Baby Homes and related institutions has been roundly criticised since its final report was published in January 2021.

Sugrue said he knows some survivors may be weary at the thought of another Commission but that any future investigation must be set up urgently and handled in a more transparent manner.

Give us our day. A lot of people will have passed away if it is dragged out for years, many people have already passed away. A lot of survivors have said to me that they think the Government is waiting for more of us to die, that’s really how they feel.

“My brother died at 40, he suffered years of abuse as a child. I saw this quote the other day and it really struck a chord with me: ‘The dead cannot cry out for justice, it is the duty of the living to do that for them.’ I want to speak up for my brother. Do it now, the time is now.”

IMG_20220119_141824 David Kinsella Órla Ryan Órla Ryan

Sugrue is among the survivors planning to protest over the issue next week. He and others calling for the extension of the redress scheme, or for another Commission to be established, will hold a demonstration outside the Department of Children on Tuesday afternoon, prior to gathering outside Leinster House.

David Kinsella, who was born in St Patrick’s mother and baby institution in Dublin and later adopted, will also attend the protest. Kinsella said the current redress scheme is “despicable and miserly”.

He called on the Government to include boarded out children, as well as those who spent less than six months in an institution,  in the scheme as many “suffered physical and mental abuse” and “unbearable trauma”.

“Stop treating survivors as second class citizens. Let us move on with the years or months we have left in our lives. Create a proper and more appropriate redress package and take out the six-month tariff,” Kinsella said.

He added that if the redress scheme is not extended, a new COI into boarding out should be established as a matter of urgency.

‘Don’t violate human rights’

Professor Conor O’Mahony, the Special Rapporteur on Child Protection, has been highly critical of the fact that boarded out children are excluded from the Government’s current redress plan.

In his second annual report as Special Rapporteur, published in January 2022, O’Mahony noted that the final report of the COI in mother and baby homes and related institutions “leaves little doubt that a considerable number of children in foster homes (whether “boarded out” by a local authority, or placed “at nurse” by a private individual or a charitable organisation) experienced ill-treatment amounting to inhuman and degrading treatment contrary to Article 3 of the ECHR”.

When making recommendations on the subject, O’Mahony’s report notes: “Any redress scheme which excludes children who were subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment, forced labour and medical experimentation in the form of non-consensual vaccine trials would be inherently defective and a denial of the right to an effective remedy.

“Moreover, redress for rights violations in foster homes should not be confined to children who were placed in foster homes as an exit pathway from Mother and Baby Homes or County Homes, but should encompass all children who experienced ill-treatment or forced labour in foster homes.”

Speaking to The Journal, O’Mahony said the current redress scheme needs to be extended to include people who were boarded out as children. He said he understands why some survivors are calling for another Commission to be held but, even if this happens, there would be no guarantee of a different outcome.

“If you’re going to look at having another Commission of Investigation you have to ask what is it going to do that hasn’t already been done? The purpose of a Commission is not to provide a pathway to redress, it is to establish facts. The facts about the boarding out system are pretty well established on foot of the Mother and Baby Home Commission.

“The report left very little doubt about the scale of abuse in the boarding out system and the inadequacy of the inspection regime. Another Commission could add more detail but there is already no room for doubt about the very often extremely serious neglect and abuse suffered by people who were boarded out as children.

“Commissions of Investigation are long-winded, very legalistic affairs. Would another one actually establish anything we don’t know already?

As things stand, boarded out children are very clearly not included in the redress scheme. Another Commission of Investigation would not in itself guarantee anything. It could sit for several years and then reiterate in more detail facts we already know. It could be another lengthy process which delays the issue for people - raising their hopes before dashing them once again.

O’Mahony said he understands why some survivors are calling for another Commission as it may seem like the only way to get some form of justice. However, he noted that the decision by the Government to not include boarded out children in the current redress plan was a political and financial one.

Even if another COI was held, it would still be open to the Government to make the same political decision, he said. The Government should instead extend the current redress scheme, he added.

This would, naturally, increase the cost of the scheme. However, he said payments made via a redress scheme typically cost much less than any payments the State would have to make if individuals took successful court cases.

Given the length of time that has passed since much of the abuse and human rights violations occurred – as well as the cost involved – it would be difficult for many survivors to go down this route.

“This is entirely in the gift of the Government, right now they could make a decision to include who were boarded out in the redress scheme,” O’Mahony said.

Part of the reason people who were boarded out are not currently included in the redress plan is that not all of them had a negative experience. He said that this reasoning doesn’t make sense, noting that not all mothers who spent time in a mother and baby institution had a negative experience, for example.

O’Mahony told us: “The practicability of who is eligible and who is ineligible for redress may make it more difficult to establish the criteria, but it is not an insurmountable obstacle.

“The fact that it could cost a substantial sum of money is absolutely no defence. If you don’t want to compensate someone for violating their human rights, don’t violate their human rights in the first place.”

‘Not possible’

When asked for a comment on the exclusion of boarded out children from the redress scheme, a spokesperson for the Department of Children told The Journal: “The Commission of Investigation examined the exit pathways for children from Mother and Baby and County Home Institutions and the Government is acutely aware that children who were boarded out in some cases experienced some of the worst abuses.

“For a number of reasons, it was not possible to make provisions for boarded out children in the Mother and Baby Institutions Payment Scheme. However, if a person spent time in a Mother and Baby or County Home Institution prior to being boarded out as a child they may qualify for the Payment Scheme based on their time spent in an institution.”

The spokesperson noted that the COI’s final report included other measures “which will provide support and assistance to those who were boarded out as children”.

These measures include:

  • Access to birth and early life information as part of the Birth Information and Tracing Legislation which is being advanced
  • The provision of an ex-gratia payment to reimburse anyone who was boarded out and had to pay inheritance taxes for farms which they inherited from their foster parents

“Furthermore, this year €330,000 of funding is being provided for specialist therapeutic counselling services to persons who were boarded out or placed at nurse as children. This service is being delivered by Barnardos,” the spokesperson added.

oak1 Oak Consulting Oak Consulting

Oak Consulting was tasked by the Government with gathering the views of survivors as part of a consultation process on redress in March and April 2021. In its report, the section on eligibility for the redress scheme states:

“The majority of those who participated in the consultation process supported a universal, inclusive scheme. The largest proportion of written submissions stated that all mothers and babies who resided in mother and baby homes should be eligible. For redress, regardless of the duration or year of their stay and regardless of whether children were accompanied or unaccompanied by their mothers.”

Oak received 444 written submissions as part of the process and 186 people took part in 17 online consultations.

The Oak report notes that just over a quarter of the people interviewed “believed eligibility should be inclusive of other institutions in which expectant mothers were confined during pregnancy and a similar proportion believed that eligibility would be further extended to include those subjected to coercive family separation outside institutions or who were illegally adopted/fostered/boarded out without adequate supervision and vetting”.

“To do otherwise it was stated would undermine the legitimacy of the scheme and fail to deliver a survivor-centred response focused on the nature and effects of the harm suffered by the survivors,” the document adds.

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