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Holly Cairns speaking in the Dáil today

'€5,000 for your child being taken? You would get multiples of that for a whiplash injury'

Opposition TDs have sharply criticised the Mother and Baby Homes redress scheme.

LAST UPDATE | 19 Oct 2022

OPPOSITION TDS ROUNDLY criticised the Government’s planned redress scheme for survivors of mother and baby homes and related institutions in the Dáil today.

The Social Democrats put forward a motion calling for the scheme to be extended, saying the current plan fails to consider human rights violations experienced by thousands of women and children who passed through the system.

Opposition TDs from every party, as well as independents, sharply criticised many elements of the scheme – in particular the exclusion of people who spent less than six month in an institution as a child.

Many TDs also hit out at the low levels of compensation due to be paid and the fact the scheme doesn’t adequately address the impact of issues such forced family separation, forced and illegal adoption, vaccine trials and racism.

Proposing the private members’ bill, Soc Dems TD Holly Cairns said that, alongside the Church, every Irish Government from the 1930s to the 1990s played a role in keeping the mother and baby home system up and running.

“On paper this Government looks like a different one … but it has ignored the pleas of survivors again and again,” she told the Dáil.

The Cork South-West TD said the assertion by the recent Commission of Investigation that society at large was to blame for the system is unfair.

If everyone is to blame, then no-one is to blame and survivors can never get justice. This allows you to push through a pathetic redress scheme that excludes so many survivors.

Mothers who spent less than three months in an institution will be eligible for the lowest amount: €5,000.

A number of women have told The Journal in the last week – since details of the scheme were confirmed – they will not apply for redress because the scheme is deeply unfair and excludes so many of their fellow survivors.

“Five grand for my son being stolen from me? What’s the point?,” one mother asked.

Cairns today said: “Some survivors will receive as little as €5,000 under current proposals, despite a lifetime of pain – you would get multiples of that for a whiplash injury.

“We want the Government to have the guts to stand up to the religious orders and pharmaceutical companies and demand substantial financial contributions for the role they played in the systematic abuse of innocent women and children.”

Under refined payment bands confirmed by the Government earlier this week, a person who spent between 180 and 360 days in an institution is entitled to €12,500, while people who spent 450 days are entitled to €15,000.

Cairns also said the fact that religious orders and pharmaceutical companies may not pay towards redress is deeply unfair (negotiations with the former are ongoing).

“Religious orders and pharmaceutical companies are allowed to get away with murder,” she said.

‘Beggars belief’

Her party colleague Róisín Shortall later said it “beggars belief” that religious orders may not pay towards the redress scheme, stating that a number of orders are yet to pay the agreed amounts to previous redress schemes dealing with other institutional abuse.

Noting the great wealth of many orders, she suggested that some of their property should be seized if they don’t pay.

Shortall said we “cannot come to terms with our history as a country without proper accountability”.

As previously reported by Noteworthy, religious congregations involved in historic abuse have sold over 75 properties worth a total of over €90 million since 2016. During this time, €27 million was paid to the State in redress by the same seven organisations.

Though most religious congregations have paid redress offered for institutional child abuse, there is still a shortfall of around €105 million.

Shortall noted that just 34,000 out of 58,000 survivors will be eligible for redress under the planned scheme, saying it doesn’t deal with the “devastating impact of forced family separation, forced adoption and boarding out”.

Cairns said many issues are yet to be investigated in detail including thousands of unexplained deaths, illegal adoption, racism and other forms of abuse.

She said the Government’s plan is “wrapped up in kind language but the core prejudice remains the same” – namely that the State does not trust or believe survivors.

Cairns said there is still time to change the scheme and urged Children’s Minister Roderic O’Gorman to do so. She called on him to “stand up for justice”, saying that if he doesn’t: “Your term in office will be marked as a disgrace.”

‘Above and beyond’

O’Gorman acknowledged the wrongdoings of State and Church in the past, and the abuse suffered. He defended the Government’s response to date, saying he has indeed listened to the needs of survivors.

He said the redress scheme goes “above and beyond” recommendations made by the Commission of Investigation and an interdepartmental group tasked with examining the topic.

Defending linking redress amounts to time spent in an institution, O’Gorman said the scheme will be non-adversarial because of this.

“No amount of redress can ever undo the hurt done,” he noted, but said the Government is trying to address people’s needs.

O’Gorman also noted that two significant pieces of legislation have been passed by the Government in recent months: The Birth Information and Tracing Act and the Institutional Burials Bill.

He said the former will finally allow adopted people to get access to their records, while the latter will result in the excavation of the site of a former mother and baby institution in Tuam in Co Galway – where around 800 children are believed to be buried.

It should be noted that the site of the former institution in Bessborough – where the burial place of over 850 children remains unknown – is not expected to be excavated under the new legislation, as some survivors and relatives had hoped.

The Soc Dems’ motion is calling for a redress scheme that does the following:

  • Recognises the full range of abuses and human rights violations in Mother and Baby Homes and related institutions, including those who suffered forced family separation, illegal adoption, and being boarded out
  • Removes the requirement for children to have spent at least six months in an institution
  • Removes the legal waiver that prevents survivors seeking further justice through the courts
  • Improves the proposed compensation rates and measures
  • Gives recognition for the different forms of abuse and human rights violations

The Government is not opposing the motion but it is not binding, meaning it may be ignored.

Speaking after the debate, Cairns said: “In allowing our motion to pass today, the Government is cynically trying to give the impression that it agrees with our proposals, while in reality we all know it fully intends to plough ahead with a miserly redress scheme that is deeply insulting to survivors and their families.

“The Government’s cowardly actions today will not be forgiven and will serve as a shameful legacy of its term in office.

“The Minister is deluded if he thinks this issue is just going to go away. I am determined to fight this so-called redress scheme, which ignores survivors’ needs and disregards human rights abuses, every step of the way.”

‘A cold-hearted accountant’

People Before Profit TD Bríd Smith said the redress scheme looks like “the work of a cold-hearted accountant whose job is to minimise cost for the State”.

Referencing the planned concrete levy that will be introduced next year to raise funds for the mica redress scheme, independent TD Seán Canney asked if a similar levy could be introduced to ensure pharmaceutical companies pay towards redress for people used in forced vaccine trials.

Echoing the comments of several other TDs, Sinn Féin’s Louise O’Reilly said the current redress scheme is designed to “limit cost” and for “political expediency”.

She told O’Gorman it’s not good enough to “stand here and say something is being done” when that something excludes thousands of survivors.

Independent TD Catherine Connolly said the redress scheme ignores the views of the United Nations, early trauma experts and survivors themselves – meaning all we are left with is “just figures”.

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.

Several 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.

A number of survivors are considering legal action if they remain excluded from the scheme.