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A national memorial and health supports: Zappone offers new measures for survivors of Mother and Baby Homes

But the forum of former residents of these institutions that made recommendations are frustrated the government won’t publish its full report.

Image: MAXWELLS DUBLIN

THE GOVERNMENT WILL provide a series of measures to support former residents of Mother and Baby Homes, Minister for Children Katherine Zappone has said.

It comes in response to recommendations made to the government by a forum made up of former residents of such institutions. 

This will include a package of health and well-being supports, amendments to the government’s adoption Bill and funding for a series of memorials and events to honour and remember the mothers and children who lived in these institutions.

Zappone said this action comes on foot of a report from the forum of former residents, which was compiled using testimony from people who resided in these homes and made a number of recommendations on the supports that would benefit them.

“We now have the considered views of those most affected by our history in this area,” the minister said. “I am committed to moving forward, and I believe we can make real progress with the initiatives I am announcing today.”

However, while the government has published the recommendations in the report, it has not published the report in full on legal advice and members of the former residents forum told reporters today that they feel frustrated over this given the work that went into the report, and the personal stories that are contained within it.

Recommendations

The Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes, established by the government to provide a full account of what happened to women and children in these institutions during the period 1922 to 1998, was originally due to issue its final report this year but that has been delayed to February 2020.

Alongside this, the government set up a collaborative forum of former residents to work to bring forward recommendations on measures that could help people that resided in these institutions.

The forum delivered its report to the Department of Children in December 2018.

Among its suggestions are:

  • “A statement from government vindicating all citizens’ rights to their own identity irrespective of their status at birth.”
  • “Expert DNA testing to be made available free of charge to persons wishing to recover their identity.”
  • “Personal accounts from living mothers to be recorded to form part of a national collection of eye-witness accounts. This resource to be used in national educational programmes and permanent exhibitions.”
  • “Provide comprehensive health care to all survivors of Mother and Child Institutions.”
  • “Funding for academic research into the long term health effects and psychological impact of vaccine trials on survivors.”
  • “A national monument to commemorate, respect and honour mothers and children held in these Institutions.”
  • “An annual commemoration day to honour and remember all survivors of Mothers and Child Institutions.”

The context of the personal experiences of survivors of these institutions that helped to inform these recommendations is in the forum’s full report, but the legal advice given by the Attorney General advised it not be released until the full Commission report in 2020.

The chair on the forum’s sub-committee for memorialisation Samantha Long told reporters today that she hopes the report is published as soon as possible.

“There’s nothing to hide, and a lot to be educated about,” she said. “Narratives do need to be heard and explained to give a context. 

There has been a great sense of frustration, even over the last few days with the email threads that have been going around because there was so much work gone in to this by so many.

Fellow sub-committee chair Susan Lohan said that it was communicated to the forum at a late stage that the full report wouldn’t be issued.

“That [report] was delivered in September, yet we hadn’t heard back from the department until April,” she said. “Given the amount of time and effort put into this, and we had a mandate from Cabinet… it should have been foreseen that if there were to be a clash with work with the Commission of Investigation… I think that was unfortunate.”

However, members did welcome the measures outlined by Zappone today to act on some of the recommendations in the report. 

“I’m so thankful to Minister Zappone for listening to all of our recommendations,” Terri Harrison, a member of the forum, said. “I believe this is a way forward of exploring something that’s never been done before. It’s new to everybody. This day gives us great hope.

We are not survivors. We are surviving… when our children were taken from us, we had to learn to live with that. That’s what we do to this day. This is a day for us. 

Government action

Minister Zappone outlined today at an earlier press conference some of the measures that would progress through her department and across other government departments in the coming months to act on the forum’s recommendations. 

It includes Minister for Health Simon Harris establishing a working group to develop proposals for a package of health and well-being supports that will report to the government in September, with a view to those measures being funded in Budget 2020.

The Irish Research Council will be tasked with researching the use of terminology and language as recommended by the forum. 

In the area of memorials, Zappone accepted these recommendations almost in full, the group said.

The Children’s Minister said she will establish a scheme to fund permanent memorials in the locality of Mother and Baby Homes, provide financial support for annual commemorative events and create a working group to develop a national memorial.

“The Collaborative Forum emerged out of a recognised need to progress a number of key areas of concern for former residents,” Zappone said. “This new and innovative approach to dialogue empowers former residents to contribute actively to Government deliberations and action on matters of concern to them and their families.”

About the author:

Sean Murray

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