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redress scheme

'Mothers had their children ripped out of their arms': 24,000 people excluded from redress

The Mother and Baby Home redress scheme was sharply criticised by the opposition in the Dáil this evening.

LAST UPDATE | Feb 1st 2023, 9:00 PM

THE GOVERNMENT’S PLANNED redress scheme for survivors of mother and baby homes is an insult and “pits survivors against each other”, members of the opposition have said.

The scheme was debated in the Ðáil for over four hours this evening. The majority of amendments put forward by the opposition were rejected.

The Bill was expected to pass through the Dáil tonight but the vote was postponed after it took longer than planned to vote on the various amendments.

Around 34,000 people will be eligible to apply for redress under the scheme, which is estimated to cost around €800 million. However, some 24,000 survivors are excluded from the scheme.

It doesn’t include people who spent less than six months in an institution as a child.

The scheme also does not specifically cater to people who were boarded out as children, a precursor to fostering; people who were subjected to vaccine trials; and people who experienced racism or other discrimination in the system.

There have been repeated calls, nationally and internationally, for the scheme to be extended.

Screenshot 2023-02-01 16.26.48 Holly Cairns speaking in the Dáil this evening Oireachtas.ie Oireachtas.ie

Speaking during today’s debate, Social Democrats’ TD Holly Cairns said she was “genuinely struggling to find the words to describe how wrong this is… this redress scheme is more insulting than nothing”.

Cairns stated: “This is just a new form of abuse and I cannot even propose a meaningful amendment… The number of categories of survivors being excluded from the scheme is deliberate.”

Cairns noted that the United Nations Human Rights Committee has called for the redress scheme to be extended, as have thousands of members of the public via an email campaign.

She said the Government “know what the Irish people want, and they do not care”.

The denial of justice and disregard for survivors is startling. The minister is directly responsible for crafting and leading this process, but every Government backbencher and independents who quietly vote with them share culpability for this injustice.

Richard Boyd Barrett, who was born into a mother and baby institution, gave a very powerful speech during the debate.

The People Before Profit TD said the redress scheme should finally give people who passed through the mother and baby home system “the closure and the justice that they deserve” – but that’s not happening.

Boyd Barrett told Children’s Minister Roderic O’Gorman: “After all that they have suffered, all they have been through, all they have had to fight for, you should be, and this day should be the day when they get that closure and they get that justice.

“And instead, as you well know, they’re not going to get that.

And tens of thousands of people are going to feel excluded and insulted, and that the abuse and the suffering and the injustice they suffered at the hands of the Church and the State for decades and decades and decades continues.

Boyd Barrett said that thousands of people are being excluded from the scheme on “arbitrary grounds”.

The Dún Laoghaire TD said the scheme is “an insult to every mother and child who suffered separation, who were in the mother and baby homes, because it shows a singular failure by the Government to understand the crime and the abuse”.

He questioned how the Government devised “an arbitrary, unjustifiable scheme which includes some, excludes others, and that has a league table with a price tag on it which, if you like, commodifies your suffering”.

‘Shocking, perverted, twisted stuff’

Speaking about his own experience, he said: “I’m an adoptee, as you know. I was born in a mother and baby home, I was in a couple of them actually because I was sent off to England, ushered out, you know, out of sight, child of a fallen woman, illegitimate child – that’s how mothers and the children were characterised.

“And then brought back, I don’t even know how long I was in a mother and baby home.

I don’t know and it’s irrelevant whether you were one week, one day, six months or two years because the central crime the Church and State committed was the primal wound of separating a mother from their child – which has, from the minute that it happens, a lifelong effect on mother and child, a lifelong effect.

“It is the primal wound that begins on day one. In some cases, and I have to say, I always say it, my story turned out to be lucky. I eventually was reunited with my mother and I was adopted by a wonderful family.

“But the truth is – whether your story and what happened was terrible, and for some it was terrible, absolutely terrible all of their lives, they suffered all of their life because of that primal wound, inflicted by Church and State.

“But every one of them, whether they were boarded out, suffered abuse, mothers forced to work essentially as slaves, shamed all their life, the stigma of illegitimacy, whatever it was.

To a greater or lesser extent, everybody had a crime committed against them from day one, when they were torn of the arms of their mother or the mother had their child born out of their arms.

“From day one, their lives and the lives they would have lived were taken from them because of the twisted perverted morality of Church and State that deemed some people ‘legitimate’ and some people ‘illegitimate’, and fallen women.

“I mean, shocking, perverted, twisted stuff and then we have a league table and arbitrary exclusions, a failure to acknowledge the individual’s specific suffering that some people may have suffered because of being boarded out, because of discrimination, because they were mixed race or whatever it is. It’s shocking and still no justification.”

‘An insult to survivors’

Kathleen Funchion, Sinn Féin TD and chairperson of the Oireachtas Children’s Committee, said the redress scheme “pits survivors against each other”.

Screenshot 2023-02-01 16.29.07 Kathleen Funchion speaking in the Dáil this evening Oireachtas.ie Oireachtas.ie

She said it makes no sense to exclude people who spent less than six month in an institution as a child.

We can’t quantify the horrors and the abuse and the just appalling treatment that were inflicted on women and children under the eyes of the State and the religious institutions.

Funchion said the scheme excludes about 40% of survivors, describing this as “very cynical” and “a cost-saving measure by the Government that can’t be dressed up in any other way”.

“It’s time to respect Mother and Baby Home survivors and their families. The scheme is an insult to survivors and totally fails to take into account their needs. This simply is not good enough. This Government has failed survivors time and time again. This has to stop.

“I know first-hand that survivors will be bitterly disappointed if this bill passes today. The Government must change the redress scheme to be fairer to them,” Funchion added.

Screenshot 2023-02-01 16.38.08 Bríd Smith speaking in the Dáil this evening Oireachtas.ie Oireachtas.ie

Echoing these comments, People Before Profit TD Bríd Smith said excluding so many survivors from the scheme doesn’t take into account the “trauma” of forced family separation.

She said the scheme “looks like it is the work of a cold-hearted accountant whose main job is to minimise the cost to the State”.

“The Government should hang its head in shame,” Smith added.

Labour TD Seán Sherlock said the Government “flawed” approach ignores the wishes of survivors, and “infantilises” and “patronises” them.

He stated that the six-month rule is deeply unfair and, if the Government does not amend this now, it will have to address the issue in years to come.

Referring to the nursing home costs scandal happening this week, Sherlock said a future Government “will be revisiting this, mark my words”.

“This will come back to haunt us, no doubt about it.”

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.

Trauma, not time

The Government has repeatedly defended the redress scheme, saying it is the largest initiative of its kind in the history of the Irish State.

Addressing the Dáil, Children’s Minister Roderic O’Gorman said he is “acutely aware” that no one scheme can adequately address the “pain suffered by survivors of these institutions”.

Defending the scheme, O’Gorman said it will be “non-adversarial” following learnings from previous redress schemes. 

He said the Government is committed to helping survivors, noting that the redress scheme is one part of a wider response which includes granting adopted people and others access to their personal records, and the excavation of the site of the former mother and baby home in Tuam in Co Galway.

Speaking to The Journal, survivor Mary Harney noted the widespread support of extending the scheme among members of the opposition.

Harney, who was born in Bessborough mother and baby institution before being sent to an industrial school, said: “The biggest issue – and they’ve all brought it up – is the separation of family.

It’s not how much time we spent in the institution, but the separation of family.

Harney said the Government’s stance of saying people who can’t apply for financial redress will get a different form of redress vis access to their personal records, is inadequate.

“They make it sound like the Birth Information and Tracing Act is a part of redress when it is not. It is the Government returning to us the human rights they took from us, which is the right to identity first enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

Harney noted that delays in granting people access to their own records – many people have been told they won’t receive their records until autumn 2023 – is “a debacle”.

“So we know they don’t keep their promises, we’ve always said we didn’t trust the Government,” Harney said.

She added that the fact survivors who apply for redress will have to sign a waiver saying they will not take future legal action against the State again infringes their constitutional legal rights.

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

For example – mothers who spent up to three months in an institution are entitled to €5,000, while those who spent up to 12 months are entitled to around €12,500.

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.

The Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes found that most mothers spent an average of five months in an institution.

There have been numerous calls, both nationally and internationally, for the redress scheme to be extended. The UN Human Rights Committee has criticised the Government’s approach and, closer to home, so has the Oireachtas Children’s Committee.

Experts have warned that – unless the scheme is extended – yet more inquiries and legal battles seem somewhat inevitable.

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