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heated debate

Mother and Baby Homes: 'Morally obnoxious' and 'callous' redress scheme passes Dáil vote

There were heated exchanges in the Dáil this evening as members of the opposition warned that the Government will face legal action.

LAST UPDATE | 22 Feb 2023

THE GOVERNMENT’S MOTHER and Baby Home Redress Bill has passed through the Dáil after a vote on the legislation tonight.

The final vote was 73 in favour, 62 against. The Bill will now go to the Seanad for further debate.

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There were heated exchanges in the Dáil chamber this evening as members of the opposition warned that the Government will face future legal action from people who are excluded from the scheme.

Richard Boyd-Barrett labelled the scheme “morally obnoxious”, while Holly Cairns said it is “callous”. 

Many survivors, legal experts and members of the opposition have been very critical in recent months of the fact the scheme excludes people who spent less than six months in an institution as a child.

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Labour TD Seán Sherlock noted that the current scheme excludes about 24,000 survivors – about 40% of the overall number – and said the six-month rule is arbitrary.

“I also want to revisit the point that has been made umpteen times at this stage where we want to speak for the 40% of survivors who will not have eligibility for any redress by dint of the fact that they did not meet the six-month requirement.

“And we know on the basis of fairness and equity, that that six-month requirement is arbitrary and permits no consideration of the context of a person’s life.

The very fact that if a child is resident for 180 days that they receive a sum or have some eligibility for a scheme, but that anybody who was there less than six months get zero is completely unfair.

“And I have no doubt in my mind that this will have to be revisited again at some future date. And I’ve no doubt in my mind that this is an issue that will come before the courts, as sure as night follows day.

“I, at this 11th hour, ask the minister, please, to have regard for those babies, those people, those persons, those human beings who were resident for that period of time from from birth to six months to please be included in the scheme on the basis of fairness, justice, equity, so that the scheme can encompass more people,” Sherlock stated.

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Independent TD Danny Healy-Rae also stressed that future legal battles between excluded survivors and the State are inevitable, adding that the Government “won’t have a leg to stand on”.

A phone repeatedly went off during Healy-Rae’s contribution. When Sherlock interjected to ask for the phone to be turned off as he couldn’t hear Healy-Rae properly, the Kerry TD hit out at Sherlock for “interrupting” him.

People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd-Barrett, who was born in a mother and baby home, said the six-month rule is “morally obnoxious”.

He said he finds it “quite extraordinary” that despite the issue being consistently raised by survivors, politicians and thousands of members of the public via an email campaign, “we still have not got a reasonable, if any, justification from the Government as to why they have the arbitrary exclusion of six months”.

Children Minister Roderic O’Gorman has insisted that the Government is listening to survivors, noting the scheme will be non-adversarial. He and other government ministers have repeatedly defended the redress scheme, saying it is the largest initiative of its kind in the history of the Irish State.

‘Callous’

During the debate Social Democrats’ TD Holly Cairns reiterated that the six-month rule is “callous”.

“People who spent any time in a mother and baby home deserve reparations, I know that you know that we all know that,” Cairns told O’Gorman.

“Survivors have suffered long trauma because of forced family separation, the breaking of that bond between parent and child.

“Today, this Minister, this Government and every single Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Green Party backbencher, and a few independent TDs who quietly support them, will vote to exclude 40% of survivors.

“You will put on the record of the Dáil that survivors of illegal adoption, forced labour, illegal medical trials, forced family separation and sexual and emotional abuse deserve nothing.

“That will be your legacy when the history books of mother and baby homes are updated to cover this shameful scheme and those who supported it,” Cairns stated.

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She said that survivors and campaigners do not trust the Government.

“Why, for one second, should they trust anything that comes from this Government and from the State?

“Their lives have been shaped by abuse, human rights violations and suffering they endured in these institutions. A State-funded, Church-run system denied them some of the most basic dignities both in the homes and then for the rest of their lives.

“For decades, the Church and State have conspired to oppress survivors, deny their rights and make them fight tooth and nail for any progress. We’re talking about some of the worst crimes imaginable.

“I feel like I’ve said these words so many times in this chamber – forced family separation; incarceration; illegal adoptions; forced labour; illegal medical trials; denial of your dignity; and physical, emotional and sexual abuse all systematically targeted at the most vulnerable in society.”

Most amendments to the Bill put forward by the opposition were rejected. Several amendments – including extending the scheme to include all survivors – were rejected in a previous debate earlier this month.

Independent TD Catherine Connolly – who has consistently spoken out against the redress scheme, including earlier today – was unable to attend this evening’s debate as she is unwell, TD Thomas Pringle informed the chamber.

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