Taoiseach Micheál Martin (file photo) PA Images

Taoiseach rules out reopening redress scheme for mother and baby home survivors

A High Court ruling that found the Commission of Investigation acted unlawfully by denying fair procedure to survivors prompted calls for a review.

TAOISEACH MICHEÁL MARTIN has ruled out reopening the redress scheme for survivors of mother and baby homes.

The Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes acted unlawfully by denying fair procedure to the survivors, according to the outcome of a High Court case earlier this month -  prompting fresh calls for the scheme to be reviewed.

In a significant victory for the survivors on 17 December, the State admitted that the women are indeed identifiable in the final report and should have been given a right to reply to the sections relevant to them prior to the report’s publication.

Philomena Lee and Mary Harney are two of eight survivors of the institutions who took issue with the Commission’s final report and overall findings.

The women’s legal action proceeded as two test cases that would set a precedent for any future cases. Today’s settlement also extends to the six other cases.

However, the Taoiseach has said it is “not for Government to repudiate the report”, and said there are no plans at present to reopen the redress scheme.

Speaking to reporters before Christmas, Martin said: “The context of the High Court, that was about giving people access to the personal testimonies or the commission’s report in respect of them being satisfied with how their testimony was treated.

They weren’t given that access when they should have been given that access – that in itself doesn’t render the entire report itself flawed.

“In terms of the redress scheme, the redress scheme was not based on the commission report, it went beyond the commission, significantly beyond it in terms of some of the suggestions that were made by the commission.

“I would say it’s a very, very comprehensive redress scheme, it’s estimated to cost over €800 million.”

More consultation in 2022 

Asked to confirm that the Government does not intend to review the scheme, he replied: “Not at this stage, no. But obviously it now has to go to legislation so that could take the best part of 2022.

We will engage with the opposition and there will be consultation in relation to it and we will follow through and we will obviously take views and take people’s opinions on board as we go through the legislative process.

Under the current scheme, survivors of mother and baby institutions will be eligible for payments of between €5,000 and €65,000. However, most people did not spend enough time in an institution to qualify for the larger payments.

The scheme will provide financial payments and a form of enhanced medical card to “defined groups in acknowledgement of suffering experienced while resident” in a mother and baby institution or county institution.

Ex-gratia payments do not require the admittance of liability.

Some of the major sticking points for survivors include the fact that payments are linked to the amount of time a mother spent in an institution, and that children who spent fewer than six months in an institution are excluded from the scheme.

Children who were boarded out (fostered) are also not included in the scheme. Many survivors view these exclusions as a cost-cutting measure.

People who spent six months or more in an institution as a child will also be eligible for payment based on their length of stay, as long as they did not receive redress for that institution under the Residential Institutions Redress Scheme (RIRS).

Calls for the redress scheme to be reviewed intensified following the High Court announcement in December.

Information and Tracing Bill

Martin said the concerns over access to personal information would be addressed in the forthcoming Information and Tracing Bill.

“The main fundamental objective of many of those who were born in mother and baby homes is to have full, unfettered access to data pertaining to their records,” he said.

“That also will now happen and it’s groundbreaking legislation, the kind of legislation that in the past, the Oireachtas was told it couldn’t do. But it’s being done now.”

Martin said there are questions as to whether a commission of investigation is suitable for historical inquiries of this kind.

“A previous Government set up the commission of investigation,” he said.

“Whether that’s actually the ideal model for an inquiry of this kind, I think, experience will show maybe different models.

“We have found it very difficult as a society and historically to get the ideal model to investigate the past and different aspects of the past.

“We would have set up the Laffoy Commission, which became the Ryan Commission on industrial schools.

“We were hoping that we would have a therapeutic forum, but it became too adversarial, too legal and many survivors of industrial schools didn’t get the opportunity to tell their story in a therapeutic context. It was meant to be a healing forum at the time.

“And then with regard to mother and baby homes, the Commission of Investigation was set up originally to expedite, accelerate making inquiries and investigations more efficient.

“There were broader dimensions to this issue and there are broader dimensions to the mother and baby homes phenomenon, given its history, how it evolved from the poor houses to county homes right through the different decades.

“And whether the commission of investigation was the ideal remains to be seen.”

He added: “That’s not casting any aspersions on those who carried out the inquiry.

“They had to carry it out within the terms of references and within the law laid down by that commission.

“Once the commission of investigation is established it’s absolutely independent of any government and this report stands there.”

With reporting by Órla Ryan

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