Kathleen Funchion speaking in the Dáil today

Government told to sue religious orders, or seize their assets, if they refuse to pay redress

Kathleen Funchion said the fact that pharma companies will not pay towards redress, and that religious orders may not pay, is “absolutely disgusting”.

THE GOVERNMENT SHOULD consider suing religious orders and pharmaceutical companies if they refuse to pay towards the redress scheme for survivors of mother and baby homes and related institutions, the Dáil has heard.

Children’s Minister Roderic O’Gorman is currently in negotiations with a number of religious orders about their possible contributions to the scheme.

The Government’s planned scheme does not include a payment for people who were subjected to vaccine trials while living in an institution as a baby or a young child.

During a Dáil debate today, Sinn Féin TD Kathleen Funchion said the fact that pharmaceutical companies will not pay towards redress, and that religious orders may not pay, is “absolutely disgusting” given how wealthy both groups are.

If they refuse to contribute to the scheme, the Government should consider pursuing them in the courts and seizing their assets, Funchion said.

Social Democrats’ TD Holly Cairns echoed these sentiments, asking O’Gorman: “Why are religious orders and pharmaceutical companies not being held to account?”

Cairns said that some religious orders “profited from crimes, child labour and trafficking”. She added that if the Church refuses to pay redress, the Government should seize assets such as property.

“If a gang carried out these crimes, there would be no hesitation but because it’s the Church, the Government wouldn’t dare,” Cairns said.

She added that the Church should “hand over assets in contrition” due to their role in the mother and baby home system.

Minister O’Gorman previously told The Journal that he does not have the legal power to compel religious orders to contribute to the scheme.

In recent months the Government has held a number of meetings with the Bon Secours, the Daughters of Charity, the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, the Sisters of St John of God, the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, and the Sisters of Mercy, as well as the Legion of Mary, a lay organisation, about their possible contributions to the redress scheme.

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.

The Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes found that at least 13 vaccine trials were carried out on more than 43,000 children in Ireland from the 1930s to the 1970s.

At least 1,135 of these children were from institutions, while the rest were from the general population.

In a statement issued to the Sunday Times earlier this month, a spokesperson for GSK (a successor to Glaxo Wellcome) said it had no plans to provide financial compensation to people who were subjected to vaccine trials.

The spokesperson noted that the company “announced an enhanced information service in September 2021 for former residents of mother and baby homes regarding trials that took place between 1934 and 1973″.

“We do not propose additional reparations in response to the issues raised. We believe the measures outlined — to simplify the information request service and the publication of trial summary documents — represent the most valuable way to support those seeking further transparency regarding the trials,” they added.

Speaking in the Dáil today, O’Gorman said that only providing people with information – rather than compensation – is “not adequate”.

‘Shamefully minimal, exclusionary and insulting’

Cairns said the redress scheme doesn’t consider the “psychological impact” of losing a parent or a child, the “weight of never knowing what happened to your child”, and “intergenerational trauma” experienced by many families.

She said that no redress scheme could ever compensate people for the human rights abuses they endured but that the planned scheme is “shamefully minimal, exclusionary and insulting”.

All opposition TDs who spoke about the Bill today were heavily critical of it – in particular the exclusion of people who spent less than six months in an institution as a child, and those who were boarded out (a precursor to fostering).

Funchion, chairperson of the Oireachtas Children’s Committee, said that excluding these people is completely wrong.

“I just totally disagree with that,” Funchion said, adding that she and others will seek to have this element of the Bill amended during committee stage.

O’Gorman acknowledged that many people are excluded from the scheme but said they will be helped in other ways, such as by being granted access to records.

The minister admitted that the six-month time limit and the boarded out exclusion is “not a perfect solution”, but that it will make the scheme non-adversarial as people will only have to prove they were in an institution for a certain time period in order to get redress.

He said the Government is “under no illusion that any money could make up for” what happened to survivors.

“We cannot take that pain away and I’m truly for that,” O’Gorman said, but added that the Government will “ensure that such things never happen again”.

“There is no price [that could make up for what happened to people] and we all know that, but you shouldn’t start by excluding people,” Funchion said.

She suggested that the scheme should be changed to take survivors’ wishes into consideration.

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.

In a briefing document sent to TDs this week, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) highlighted a number of inadequacies with the planned scheme.

The group said the Bill “provides no compensation for forced and illegal adoptions, forced labour, unlawful vaccine trials, abuse as an adopted child, and death”.

The ICCL also said the scheme also fails to provide “compensation for discrimination whether based on gender, disability or race”.