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Conrad Bryan Conrad Bryan

'People are dying before they get justice': Another member leaves Mother and Baby Home forum

Conrad Bryan said survivors are not being listened to when it comes to redress, so he’s taking matters into his own hands

ONE OF THE remaining members of the Collaborative Forum of Former Residents of Mother and Baby Homes has stepped down from the group, saying survivors’ views on redress are being ignored by the Government.

Conrad Bryan, a trustee of the Association of Mixed Race Irish, resigned from the forum in recent weeks.

Bryan spent his early life in St Patrick’s mother and baby home in Dublin, before being sent to an industrial school. The longtime activist served as the chair of the collaborative forum’s sub-committee on health.

Bryan said some mothers have kept the birth of their child a secret all their lives and are still afraid to access to medical care in case people find out. He believes the current redress plan does not do enough to help these women.

The collaborative forum was established in 2018 as a consultative platform between the Department of Children and survivors on legacy issues.

However, a number of members left the group after the Government failed to publish its final report – citing legal reasons. In 2019, then-Minister Katherine Zappone published the forum’s recommendations but not the report itself.

The group did not convene for a long period but remaining members had a meeting with Children’s Minister Roderic O’Gorman last month. After this discussion, Bryan decided to step down from the forum.

Bryan said he “stuck it out” for as long as possible as he felt he may have more influence within the group than outside it. Recent developments on the Government’s proposed redress scheme for survivors, however, changed his mind.

He is now gathering the views of survivors and the general public on the redress scheme via a survey, in a bid to get the Government to change elements of the scheme.

Explaining why he left the forum, Bryan told The Journal: “The report wasn’t published, there were no meetings being called and we lost a number of the chairs. So we were basically chairless for over two years. Every now and then, there will be a meeting called by the Department.

I’m not a quitter, I tend to stick with things as long as I possibly can. But this last meeting that I had with the minister was quite embarrassing and quite upsetting. I find it quite upsetting because of everything that has been announced in terms of the redress scheme. Survivors are so frustrated with them, they are not listening to us.

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.

There has also been criticism of the fact payments are linked to the amount of time a mother or child spent in an institution, and that people who receive compensation must sign a waiver that precludes them from taking legal action against the State.

Lifelong health impacts

Bryan also takes particular issue with the health benefits being offered to survivors under the planned scheme. When he was the chair of the forum’s sub-committee on health, Bryan helped to compile the unpublished report.

The health recommendations included giving all survivors access to a HAA card – which entitles recipients to free GP services, prescribed drugs and other benefits – and a lifetime stipend for survivors living outside Ireland to cover health insurance costs.

In the proposed scheme survivors who spent at least six months in an institution will get an enhanced medical card, which has fewer benefits than a HAA card. However, many people spent less than six months in one of the facilities. 

Survivors living abroad will be offered a one-off payment of €3,000 rather than an ongoing payment.

Bryan said, despite the setbacks with the forum, he hoped there would have been “some sort of success” by now “but, frankly speaking, there isn’t”.

“Certainly from my perspective as the chair of the health committee, I personally put in so much time into producing our chapter in that report, surveying survivors.

“It wasn’t just a talking shop amongst ourselves, I spent a lot of time crafting surveys and sending them out to survivors for their opinion on different aspects of their health needs. I got into a lot of detailed conversations with people.”

Bryan said he and other members of the sub-committee spoke to many survivors who experienced “real medical negligence” during their time in an institution, particularly mothers who did not receive medical support during birth.

“When you see what is being offered – that women who are in these institutions for less than six months don’t get a medical card – it’s frustrating.

It’s just unbelievable that any mother that was in an institution wouldn’t get a medical card given the impact of what happened in terms of her reproductive health, her physical health, and emotional or mental health.

“The impact of this is long lasting, I’ve been speaking with women who are elderly people and are still going to doctors with complications and problems. It’s quite upsetting in many ways.”

Bryan said a HAA card would provide survivors with more benefits and greater privacy as they could choose which doctor or pharmacy to attend. 

He said the €3,000 payment to survivors living abroad is “miserly” and “wouldn’t cover health insurance” for more than a couple of years.

“We specifically asked for health cover to the end of life,” he added.

“Justice doesn’t come cheap and I do feel the Government is trying to get it on the cheap.”

Dying without justice

Bryan never got to meet his own mother. He found out that she died in November 2020, just days after the Commission’s final report was submitted to the Government.

She never told people about her pregnancy or Conrad’s birth, carrying that secret with her all her life.

“My mother kept my birth a secret all her life and she died relatively young by today’s standards. The fact that she kept my birth a secret is symptomatic of a lot of mothers.

Many of them are still suffering in silence. They are afraid to go to the GP to explain what happened in the past. Some women are afraid to go into local hospitals or fear even being seen in pharmacies.

“As I was having these discussions with the mothers, my mind always went to my own mother, who I’d never met and I had hoped one day I would meet her. The last time I saw her, I was six months old.

“I thought perhaps that the work we were doing in the forum would help people like my mother. And then to find out that she had passed away just days after the [report was submitted] was upsetting, but it’s also the story of a lot of people in my situation.

“The mothers are aging and many of them are dying before they get any justice.”

When asked about Bryan’s departure form the forum, a spokesperson for the Department of Children said Minister O’Gorman “recognises the commitment of Mr Bryan to the work of the Collaborative Forum since its establishment, and in particular his valuable contribution to the sub-group on Health and Wellbeing Supports”.

They added that at his meeting with the forum in March, O’Gorman “acknowledged the achievement of all forum members in positively influencing the formulation of Government responses to the legacy of historic institutional and adoption practices”.

The spokesperson also noted: “Through extensive engagement with survivors, it was made clear that it is a priority that the Mother and Baby Institutions Payment Scheme be non-adversarial, simple and based on trust. This is what the proposals for the scheme seek to deliver.

“Through extensive and challenging deliberations, it was concluded that the only way of delivering this is through an approach that does not require applicants to bring forward evidence of abuse or harm suffered, risking further re-traumatisation. In line with the proposals for the scheme, expert or medical reports will not be required in order to demonstrate harm or injury suffered.

“As well as this key requirement that there should be a low burden of proof for survivors, the proposed approach to the scheme is notably less complex than an approach which relies on a more individualised assessment process. This will also allow for the scheme to be established more quickly and it means that the process of assessing applications can be notably quicker.”

In relation to the health benefits being offered in the redress scheme, the spokesperson said the plan “will be designed so that all those eligible to receive an enhanced medical card should have the option to receive one, even if they are not resident in Ireland”.

“This would mean that, while they are visiting Ireland or if they ever move back to Ireland, they can avail of health services here using the card which would be provided by the HSE. Alternatively, they can choose to receive a once-off payment of €3,000 in lieu of a card.

“This would be in recognition of, and as a contribution towards, their individual health needs. While acknowledging the challenge that health care costs can vary significantly across different individuals and different jurisdictions, a payment of €3,000 would represent a practical measure of acknowledgment for those who are living overseas and choose not to avail of the enhanced medical card.

“On balance and given the range of different health systems that operate across different jurisdictions, it is considered that the choice of opting for this flat payment in lieu of an enhanced medical card, represents the best available approach of recognising the health needs of those living overseas.”

Boarded out children

There have recently been calls for a new Commission of Investigation (COI) to be established to examine the experiences of people who were boarded out as children, if the redress scheme is not extended.

Speaking to The Journal last month, survivor James 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 scheme.

The COI into Mother and Baby Homes included a chapter on the experiences of boarded out children. It 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.

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. Many survivors believe many of the recommendations in this report have been largely ignored. 

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.”

Conrad said the fact that the current redress plan excludes boarded out children and those who spent less than six months in an institution is “ridiculous”.

“It’s terrible that certain groups have been left,” he added, noting the human rights violations these people suffered.

Bryan plans to compile the survey results into a report he will share with the Oireachtas Children’s Committee which is currently scrutinising the redress legislation.

“The committee is reviewing the Bill at the moment and they have put out a request for submissions. So I will send them a copy of the results of this survey because I think that would be helpful. I will send it to TDs as well, so they know what people’s views are.”

When asked for a comment on the exclusion of boarded out children from the redress scheme, a spokesperson for the Department of Children said: “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.

The survey on the redress scheme can be viewed here.

The Oireachtas Children’s Committee is also seeking submissions on the redress scheme. Submissions can be sent to The closing date is 1pm on Friday 6 May.

Anonymous telephone support is available for survivors of mother and baby homes and related institutions from Connect Counselling, a HSE-funded service. Freephone 1800 477 477 from 6pm to 10pm (seven days a week).