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Children's Minister Roderic O'Gorman pictured in Government Buildings in May (file photo) Behal Photography

Mother and Baby Homes: 34,000 survivors eligible for compensation in €800m redress scheme

The Cabinet signed off on the details of a long-awaited redress scheme today.

THE GOVERNMENT HAS unveiled the details of an €800 million redress plan for 34,000 survivors of mother and baby homes and county homes.

The scheme will provide financial payments and a form of enhanced medical card to “defined groups in acknowledgement of suffering experienced while resident” in a mother and baby institution or county institution.

All mothers who spent time in a mother and baby institution will be eligible for a payment, which will increase based on their length of stay.

All children who spent six months or more in an institution will also be eligible for payment based on their length of stay, as long as they did not receive redress for that institution under the Residential Institutions Redress Scheme (RIRS).

Many survivors have this evening criticised this specific time limit, saying the length of time a child spent in an institution does not equate to the impact it had on their lives.

There is also an additional, work-related payment for women who undertook what might be termed commercial work. In terms of estimated number of beneficiaries, the Government said the scheme is the largest of its type in the history of the State.

The payments range from €5,000 for mothers who were in one of the institutions for less than three months, up to a maximum payment of €125,000 for those who spent more than 10 years in one of the institutions and qualify for the work-related payment. It should be noted that very few people are likely to qualify for the higher amounts.

An enhanced medical card will be available to anyone who spent more than six months in a relevant institution.

The Cabinet signed off on the details of the long-awaited scheme earlier today. People will be able to apply to the scheme next year.

Speaking at Government Buildings this afternoon, Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman said the scheme is a “significant milestone in the State’s acknowledgment of its past failures and of the needless suffering experienced by so many of its citizens.”

“I want to thank the survivors and their families who participated in the consultation process for the Scheme, both in Ireland and abroad. The depth of feeling shone through and is reflected in the proposals published today,” O’Gorman added.

Legal waiver

The minister noted that, unlike previous schemes, survivors won’t be “gagged” from talking about their experiences after they receive a payment.

However, survivors who receive payment will need to sign a legal waiver saying they won’t pursue legal action against the State.

The Government’s statement notes that this may disappoint some people, but should not be seen as the State’s “failure to take responsibility” or be “truly accountable”.

O’Gorman has written to a number of religious orders involved in running the institutions, asking them to contribute to the fund.

The minister said today that he has been in touch with religious congregations again in recent days, seeking a meeting to “begin the process of obtaining a substantial contribution” towards the redress scheme.

Six-month period

Following the announcement some survivors were unhappy that children need to have spent six months in institution to be eligible.

Speaking at a press conference, O’Gorman said children who were there for less than six months “wouldn’t remember their experiences”.

However, survivors pointed out that the impact on their lives doesn’t depend on their memory of time spent in an institution.

Beth Wallace, who is one of three siblings born in mother and baby homes, said the six-month rule shows “zero understanding of trauma and its long term effects, including the trauma of all infants separated from their mother, regardless of reason”.

In its final report in January, the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes recommended that women should have spent at least six months in an institution prior to 1974 – when the Unmarried Mothers’ Allowance came into effect – in order to be eligible for redress.

The report’s recommendations had been sharply criticised by survivors, advocates and a number of legal experts. The Government’s plan does not impose such time limits on those who can apply to the scheme.

Maria Arbuckle – who reunited with her son after almost four decades apart earlier this year – believes everyone who spent time in an institution should be compensated, but she’s not sure of how the size of the payments would or could be decided.

Arbuckle told The Journal: “I don’t know how they’re going to do it. How can you put a price on not seeing a child for 40 years? My mind boggles. How can they even come up with amounts? ‘Oh well, that person was in there for two weeks so we really shouldn’t give her a lot’.

“Two weeks and her baby was taken. The baby was still taken. It doesn’t matter how long she spent in the place, her baby was still basically stolen.

“When you steal something in a shop or anywhere else, you can get done for it. You’ll be arrested, you’ll be charged and you’ll be taken to court. These people never were. And basically that’s what they did, they stole the babies.”

With reporting by Céimin Burke

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