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President Higgins says State 'must bear primary responsibility' for mother and baby homes

Michael D Higgins issued a statement on the report published this week.

File image of President Michael D Higgins in 2018.
File image of President Michael D Higgins in 2018.
Image: RollingNews.ie

PRESIDENT MICHAEL D Higgins has said the State “must bear primary responsibility” for failing to support the tens of thousands of people who experienced mother and baby homes.

The long-awaited final report from the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation was released earlier this week.

In a statement, the president said he welcomed the publication of the report and said his thoughts are with those impacted by mother and baby homes.

He said the publication of the report is “not a conclusion, but an indication of the further work that is required to bring to light a fuller understanding of what occurred”. 

“It is the State that is charged with safeguarding the welfare of its most vulnerable citizens, and it is the State that must bear primary responsibility for failing to provide appropriate supports for these tens of thousands of young women and their children,” Higgins said.

It is important, too, to recognise, and with what consequences, how a newly independent State was captured by a judgemental, authoritarian version of Church/State relations that sought to be the sole and ultimate arbiter of morality.

“So also must those religious, social forces, and professions who rejected a role for the State in the protection of mothers and babies be accountable for the absence of respect for citizens’ rights that they allowed through their advocacy or collusion to prevail.”

The commission’s final report recommended that a State apology, redress and access should be given to survivors of the mother and baby homes operated in Ireland between 1922 and 1998.

The lengthy document confirmed that about 9,000 children died in the 18 homes under investigation – about 15% of all the children who were in the institutions.

Higgins said the statements from survivors of the homes included in the report should be given “appropriate attention”. 

“Those statements are such powerful revelations of a society, Church, a State and their institutions that contradict the traits of any real republic built on equal rights of citizens, care, true freedom, solidarity and compassion.

He said the focus now must be to “urgently meet the needs of, and address the concerns” of survivors and their families. 

“It is important, too, to recognise and belatedly thank those who through the decades urged investigation or sought the facts and who were ignored, including in more recent times those such as Catherine Corless,” he said.

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The commission that published the report was set up following claims that up to 800 babies were interred in an unmarked mass grave at a former Bon Secours home in Tuam, Co Galway – following on from extensive research carried out by Catherine Corless.

“It is not a matter of getting past it but of learning from it and changing,” President Higgins said.

The president described this as a “significant moment” for Irish citizens.

“For historians too, and other scholars, to address what has been perhaps an inadequate treatment in their disciplines of issues of social class and abuse of authority, of the consequences of the rights of property and status taking precedence over basic needs and human rights, all which added to such evasions and obstruction as to the truth of what happened.”

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