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Roderic O'Gorman

Mother and Baby Homes: Survivors say redress scheme ignores the trauma of family separation

The controversial €800 million scheme was approved by the Cabinet today.

LAST UPDATE | Oct 11th 2022, 6:00 PM

Children Budget 003 Roderic O'Gorman, Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, pictured last month Sam Boal / Sam Boal / /

CABINET HAS SIGNED off on the Mother and Baby Institutions Payment Scheme, paving the way for it to be debated in the Oireachtas.

A memo was brought to Cabinet today by Children’s Minister Roderic O’Gorman, whose department is overseeing implementation of the redress scheme.

Under the latest proposals, there are refined payment bands. However, some survivors have criticised the fact many people remain excluded from the scheme or are only eligible for small amounts despite the lifelong trauma they have experienced.

The controversial scheme will be debated in the Dáil and Seanad in the coming weeks before a vote. The Government expects the scheme to cost about €800 million and be open to around 34,000 survivors.

The scheme is expected to open “as soon as possible” in 2023, missing a previous deadline of this year.

In a statement sent to survivors today, and seen by The Journal, O’Gorman said that “an important difference between the original rates approved by Government in November 2021 and the rates set out in the Bill today is that I have improved the overall approach by introducing more refined payment bands”.

“These more refined bands, which are defined by reference to days and are supplemented by additional quarterly rate bands, will serve to benefit applicants, particularly where they would have been at the upper end of a given annual band under the original proposals. They will smooth and narrow the gap between payment amounts for applicants, and increase fairness and transparency.

Many mothers and children spent time outside the institution, for example as a result of a hospital stay relating to pregnancy, childbirth, illness or infectious disease. I consider that it would be very unfair for a person’s period of residence (and associated payment) to be reduced because of hospitalisation which may have been caused by harsh institutional conditions.

“Therefore, another key improvement is that the Bill provides for periods of temporary absence of up to 180 days to be included when calculating the total duration of a person’s time in a relevant institution and their corresponding financial payment.”

The minister told survivors: “Now that Government has approved the Bill, the Bills Office in the Houses of the Oireachtas will prepare it for publication in the coming week. This will take the Bills Office a few days and we will email it to you once it is available.

“It is my intention to introduce this Bill to either Dáil or Seanad Éireann as soon as possible so that it can begin its journey through the legislative process, with Second Stage taking place in the week of the 24 October.”

O’Gorman added that the legislation will facilitate the establishment of an independent Executive Office, situated within his department, to administer the scheme.

“The scheme will take a holistic and non-adversarial approach to ensure that survivors and former residents are not re-traumatised by their engagement with it,” he said.

Some 19,000 people will also qualify for an enhanced medical card.

The minister said that survivors who now live overseas will qualify for a payment “on the same terms as individuals living in Ireland, and will have the choice to receive an enhanced medical card or a once-off payment of €3,000 in lieu of the card as a contribution towards their individual health needs”.

People still excluded

Since details of the scheme were announced last November, there has been much criticism of the fact it excludes people who were boarded out, a precursor to fostering, and those who spent less than six months in an institution as a child.

All mothers who spent time in an institution are entitled to a payment, which increases depending on the length of their stay.

Mothers who spent up to three months in an institution are entitled to €5,000 while those who spent up to six months are entitled to €10,000, for example.

The highest payment is €65,000 for women who spent more than 10 years in an institution. It should be noted that very few women will qualify for the upper level of payments.

According to the Commission’s final report, the average length of stay of mothers was 154 days – about five months.

Women who had to work while living in one of the institutions can also apply for a separate payment which starts at €1,500 and also increases based on their length of stay.

During a public consultation process carried out by Oak Consulting on behalf of the Government in 2021, most survivors said that length of stay was not a fair criteria upon which to calculate the amount of compensation a person is eligible for.

The Oak report states: “A number of key criteria were clearly identified which survivors stated should be used in assessing the amount of financial recognition. There was a recurring message expressed that these criteria would only be used to calculate payment above a minimum threshold/common experience payment.

“The common payment would be provided universally to all survivors, including those who spent any period of time in these institutions or were subject to forced adoption/fostering or boarding-out.”

The criteria survivors asked to be taken into account when calculating redress included forced family separation, psychological trauma and harm, being subjected to vaccine experiments, a lack of vetting of families who adopted or fostered children, and physical harm and injury.

Forced adoptions and the shadow of the Ryan Report

Terri Harrison, who was forced back from England to Ireland to give birth here in the 1970s, said she is deeply disappointed by today’s announcement.

She is strongly against excluding certain survivors and basing the redress amounts on a mother’s length of stay in an institution. She said the planned scheme ignores the ongoing impact of forced incarceration, forced adoption and family separation. 

Her son was adopted without her consent in 1973 and she has spent decades looking for him.

Harrison described the redress scheme as “window dressing”, saying it doesn’t acknowledge the fact women like her were “abducted” and “incarcerated” against their will.

“No amount of money could compensate anyone but wellbeing, care and respect can be measured,” she said.

Harrison is among the survivors contacting TDs and senators in a bid to get them to make amendments to the Bill before it is passed.

img_7019 Terri Harrison Órla Ryan Órla Ryan

Joe McManus, who spent his early years in St Patrick’s mother and baby institution in Dublin, believes many people are excluded from the new scheme, or only eligible for small amounts, in a bid to keep costs down.

Speaking to The Journal today, McManus said the final report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes, and its redress scheme, “is defined by those reports that went before it”.

The redress scheme set up following the Ryan Report – which detailed the endemic sexual and physical abuse in many industrials schools and reformatories – cost the State in the region of €1.5 billion.

McManus told us: “It’s just sad that the most important lesson learned by the State [after the Ryan Report] was not what could be done for the casualties of the process, but how they could limit the financial cost.

“I think the minister sees the metaphorical end in sight and wants to be remembered as a minister who got things done. No matter what the emotional cost.

“The more you read on the topic, the more you see the Department’s actions in trying to control expenditure.”

Calls to extend the scheme

There have been numerous calls, both nationally and internationally, for the redress scheme to be extended.

The United Nations Human Rights Committee and the Oireachtas Children’s Committee are among the high-profile groups calling for the scheme to be extended.

People who receive redress under the scheme will also have to sign a waiver saying they will not take future legal action against the State.

The UN Human Rights Committee and the Oireachtas Children’s Committee have also both called for this waiver to be scrapped, saying that survivors should be able to take legal action if they see fit.

As previously reported by The Journal, a number of survivors are considering legal action if they remain excluded from the scheme.

A number of other UN human rights experts have criticised the Government’s response to the “systemic racism” faced by mixed-race people who passed through State and religious-run institutions between the 1940s and 1990s.

As revealed by The Journal last month, these experts believe the Government has not sufficiently addressed this issue, and that its planned redress scheme is inadequate.

The UN rapporteurs initially raised their concerns with the Irish Government in April following a complaint made by Conrad Bryan, a member of the Association of Mixed Race Irish, in January.

Bryan (58) spent his early life in St Patrick’s mother and baby home in Dublin, before being sent to an industrial school.

People who previously received redress under the Residential Institutions Redress Scheme (RIRS) are also excluded from the upcoming scheme. This means that many people who passed through the mother and baby home system, including many mixed-race people, will not receive redress.

A footnote on the statement sent to some survivors today states: “A person who received a payment under the Residential Institutions Redress Scheme in relation to their experience in St. Patrick’s Institution cannot apply for a payment under the Mother and Baby Institutions Payment Scheme in respect of that same experience.”

Responding to today’s announcement, Bryan told us: “The devil is in the detail so the jury is still out, but I’m not hopeful based on this announcement.

“There is not enough information or detail [in O'Gorman's statement] and no mention of the legal waiver, nor any human rights violations such as racism. There are some minor changes, but no major improvements at all.”

Bryan said it is deeply unfair to exclude people who previously received redress as “human rights violations of racial discrimination” were not reflected in past schemes.

He added: “The scheme is still not recognising human rights law, especially in relation to the discriminatory exclusion of children who were less than six month in an institution. If they are breaking the periods into months then this is even further reason those who were less than six months should get paid for each month inside.”

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