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Local councils to apologise for their involvement in Ireland's mother and baby homes, says minister

There were emotional contributions by some TDs in the Dáil today.

CHILDREN’S MINISTER Roderic O’Gorman has told the Dáil he understands the disappointment of survivors of the mother and baby homes at the “language and tone” used in the executive summary of the report last week.

He also said that a number of local authorities are to make apologies for the role they played in the running of mother and baby homes in Ireland. 

The Commission of Investigation’s Report on Mother and Baby Homes was published last week.

Among the report’s findings were that at least 9,000 children died in the 18 homes under investigation by the commission.

The minister said “it is clear that survivors have been left disappointed by aspects of the report, particularly the tone and language used in the executive summary”.

“They have cited sections where a strictly legalistic approach is taken to describing the profoundly personal impacts of what happened within the institutions, as well as sections where the commission’s conclusion that it could not find evidence of what happened could be interpreted as a denial of the experiences of survivors.

“I understand that disappointment. As I stated yesterday in the Seanad, when I read the report the aspect that had the greatest impact on me was the chapter on the confidential committee (the committee that heard personal testimonies from surivors). It is the clearest possible account of the suffering of mothers and children. It tells of the lived experience of those who spent time in these institutions.

“It makes it clear that women were compelled by circumstances, over which they had no control and no choice, to put their children up for adoption. The words of the confidential committee represent the truth of what happened in these institutions over so many years,” he said.

The report illustrates the “gross dereliction of duty by the Irish State across decades”, he said.

Alice Litster scholarship

Serious concerns were brought to those in power, time and time again, he said, but no action was taken.

“Our own officials were flagging the conditions within these institutions, the high infant mortality rate and the poor health of children. There was not complete silence. Repeatedly, warnings were raised but they were ignored…

“Alice Litster was an inspector for the Department of Local Government for 30 years, between 1927 and 1957. From reading the chapters on the individual institutions, it is clear that Ms Litster tried valiantly to improve the conditions within them,” he said.

He said Litster was determined, and although few improvements were happening, she persevered.

“It is from her reports that we have undeniable evidence of the failure of the State to intervene, even after the horrors of these institutions were made known. Her efforts on behalf of the vulnerable mothers and children in these institutions should be remembered,” said the minister.

O’Gorman said he has written to the Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris and asked if he would consider naming a scholarship after Alice Litster, to mark her efforts to shine a light on what was happening in these institutions over many years.

The minister also said the report shows that local authorities were intrinsic to the running of these institutions, in terms of paying for many of the mothers that entered them.

He told the Dáil that a number of local authorities are currently considering making apologies for their involvement and maintenance of the system of treatment of women and children demonstrated in this report. 

“I think such steps are necessary and important,” he said.

Emotional contributions

There were some emotional contributions by TDs and ministers in the Dail today, with Minister of State Mary Butler stating that actions speak louder than words.

“An apology on its own is not good enough. So now these women need action. They need redress. They need recognition, and they need remembrance. But most of all, they need the records. And that is why the information and tracing legislation has be a priority.” she said.

Junior Minister Robert Troy said: “I often drove by a former home and Castlepollard in my own county, ignorantly never really thinking deeply enough of the history associated with buildings like this.”

He said behind those walls was hurt and humiliation, and where abuse was inflicted. He criticsed the leaking of the report before it was published and also how none of the survivors were sent hard copies of the report.

An emotional Sean Sherlock read some of the appalling inspection reports into the record. The Labour TD read paragraphs which detailed how babies in the homes had skin infections and green diarrhea.

He said survivors need to feel that the hurt they experienced is acknowledged.

Sinn Fein’s Mary Lou McDonald said survivors are aghast at how their testimonies have been treated, telling the Dail that they have been “selectively edited, paraphrased and used as quotes to summarise specific issues and points”.

She said survivors naturally assumed that their full testimonies would be included in the report, and they are justifiably appalled that this didn’t happen. McDonald said survivors are finding it very difficult to identify their own evidence.

Survivors must receive transparent transcripts of their own evidence, she said, adding: “This is absolutely unacceptable and it needs to be rectified now.”

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