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'I apologise for the profound generational wrong': Taoiseach gives landmark apology to survivors of mother and baby homes

About 9,000 children died in the 18 homes under investigation.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin speaking at a press conference about the report yesterday.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin speaking at a press conference about the report yesterday.
Image: Julien Behal Photography/RollingNews.ie

TAOISEACH MICHEÁL MARTIN has delivered a landmark apology to the survivors of mother and baby homes and county homes.

The final report of the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation was published yesterday.

Speaking in the Dáil today, Martin said the report “lays bare the failure of the State”, adding: “On behalf of the Government, the State and its citizens, I apologise 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 stated: “As the Commission says plainly – ‘they should not have been there’.

“I apologise for the shame and stigma which they were subjected to and which, for some, remains a burden to this day.

In apologising, I want to emphasise that each of you were in an institution because of the wrongs of others. Each of you is blameless, each of you did nothing wrong and has nothing to be ashamed of.

“Each of you deserved so much better.

“The lack of respect for your fundamental dignity and rights as mothers and children who spent time in these institutions is humbly acknowledged and deeply regretted.

The Irish State, as the main funding authority for the majority of these institutions, had the ultimate ability to exert control over these institutions, in addition to its duty of care to protect citizens with a robust regulatory and inspection regime.

“This authority was not exerted and the State’s duty of care was not upheld.

“The State failed you, the mothers and children in these homes.”

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The Taoiseach added: “It is the duty of a republic to be willing to hold itself accountable, to be to willing to confront hard truths and except parts of our history which are deeply uncomfortable.

“This detailed and highly painful report is a moment for us as a society to recognise a profound failure of empathy, understanding and basic humanity over a very lengthy period.

“Its production has been possible because of the depth of courage shown by all those who shared their personal experiences with the commission.”

The Taoiseach said survivors’ testimony in the report is “often painful and distressing”.

“The most striking thing is the shame felt by women who became pregnant outside of marriage and the stigma that was so cruelly attached to their children.

“Testimonies from the women speak of the pressure to make sure that no one in their locality would find out about their pregnancy. One speaks of not being allowed to return to school after becoming pregnant because it would bring shame on the school.”

Martin read extracts from survivors’ testimony, including:

“I was treated like a second-class citizen by my family, society had an obsession with hiding everything.

‘Nobody will want you now’ said the mother of a witness, 14-years old when it was discovered that she was pregnant.

“‘Get her put away!’ were the words of a father of a 19-year old when told of her pregnancy.”

Martin noted that some of the pregnancies were as a result of rape and/or incest.

He continued: “Children born outside of marriage were stigmatised and were treated as outcasts in school and in wider society. Some children who were subsequently 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.”

9,000 deaths

The final report, spanning 2,865 pages, details the experiences of women and children who lived in 14 mother and baby homes and four county homes – a sample of the overall number of homes – between 1922 and 1998.

It confirms that about 9,000 children died in the 18 homes under investigation – about 15% of all the children who were in the institutions.

The report notes: “In the years before 1960 mother and baby homes did not save the lives of ‘illegitimate’ children; in fact, they appear to have significantly reduced their prospects of survival. The very high mortality rates were known to local and national authorities at the time and were recorded in official publications.”

Leo Varadkar has also apologised to survivors, and thanked them and Catherine Corless for their campaigning efforts.

“As Tanáiste, as a former Taoiseach, and as a member of the Government that established this Commission, I want to offer my own apology to the children who were hidden away, treated as a commodity, or as second-class citizens and to the mothers who for whom there was no other option but to give up their child.”

Varadkar said the report “shames” the entire Irish society.

“Woman pregnant outside of marriage, some very young, some victims of rape, were not supported by their families or by the father of the child.

“They were forced to turn to the Church and State for refuge, and while they got a refuge it was a cold and often cruel one.

“Church and State ran these homes together, operating hand in glove, equally culpable, and did so with the full knowledge and acquiescence of wider society.

“Church and State re-enforced social prejudice and judgement when they should have tried to change it,” the Tánaiste said.

Varadkar said that people in future decades “may look back at this time and look to our failings too”, adding that the report “should spur us on to do better in the years to come”. 

Today, we understand a little better the tears that were shed over many decades by those who were judged so harshly, by those who had their human rights taken away.

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“We cannot change the past, but we can rededicate ourselves to giving people their truth.” 

Children’s Minister Roderic O’Gorman said the relationship of trust between the State and mothers and children from the mother and baby homes “has been broken”.  

He said the details of compensation and redress will be worked on and a recommendation on this will be brought to the government by the end of April. 

O’Gorman said this will aim to “recompense for the impact of the State’s failings on the individual”. 

He said this process should “start the process of rebuilding a relationship with those [the State] has so badly let down”. 

The report confirmed that infant human remains were located during an excavation at Sean Ross home in Co Tipperary. These remains appear to have been buried in coffins, unlike the situation at Tuam in Co Galway where bodies were found in a chamber of a disused septic tank.

There has been a mixed reaction to the report – many survivors have been very critical of findings related to issues such as forced adoptions, abuse and who placed women in the homes.

About the author:

Órla Ryan

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