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redacted lives

'Five grand can't give me my son back': Mother and Baby Home survivors hit out at redress plans

The final episode of Redacted Lives explores redress and plans to finally excavate the site of the former mother and baby home in Tuam.


THE FINAL EPISODE of Redacted Lives, a six-part documentary series by The Journal about mother and baby homes, is out now.

The series follows the experiences of mothers who ended up in institutions because they became pregnant outside marriage, as well as people born into the system.

Tens of thousands of pregnant women and girls were sent to mother and baby homes in Ireland throughout the 20th century. Their children were usually adopted or sent to industrial schools – often without their mother’s consent.

Mother and baby homes existed in many countries but the proportion of unmarried mothers sent to institutions here is believed to have been the highest in the world.

Many women have tried to find their children over the years, but to no avail. Adopted people also struggled to find their parents, or information about their early life.

These people were silenced for decades – and when the State finally said it would investigate the system via a Commission of Investigation, many survivors felt that their experiences were dismissed and disregarded.

The Government has described its redress scheme for survivors of mother and baby homes and related institutions as the largest initiative of its kind in the history of the Irish State.

Around 34,000 people will be eligible to apply for redress under the scheme, which is estimated to cost around €800 million. However, some 24,000 survivors are excluded from the scheme.

It doesn’t include people who spent less than six months in an institution as a child. It also does not specifically cater to people who were boarded out as children, a precursor to fostering; people who were subjected to vaccine trials; and people who experienced racism or other discrimination in the system.

Under the scheme, all mothers who spent time in an institution are entitled to a payment, which increases depending on the length of their stay.

For example – mothers who spent up to three months in an institution are entitled to €5,000, while those who spent up to 12 months are entitled to around €12,500.

The highest payment is €65,000 for women who spent more than 10 years in an institution. It should be noted that very few women will qualify for the upper level of payments.

The Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes found that most mothers spent an average of five months in an institution.

ma old pic Maria Arbuckle pictured with her newborn son Paul in 1981 Maria Arbuckle Maria Arbuckle

Survivor Maria Arbuckle is among those who don’t plan to apply for redress. She’s not entitled to much compensation under the scheme, and says the low amounts on offer are insulting.

Maria told Redacted Lives:

Five grand isn’t going to change my life. My son being taken off me changed my life. Five grand can’t give that back to me.

She noted that basing redress on the length of time spent in an institution, rather than forced family separation and the trauma this causes, doesn’t make sense.

“If you were given birth [to] in one of the homes and as a baby you are taken out right up the day before that six month line, you’re not entitled to anything. But your trauma started from the minute your mother went in to one of the homes…

“Some people did have their babies there for a few weeks, I think, even up to months that they were there with their babies. And then they were taken away from them. So that bond was already done, the mother and baby bond is there from inside the womb. It doesn’t even start from outside, it starts from inside.”

IMG_7408 (2) Maria Arbuckle pictured in 2021 Órla Ryan Órla Ryan

There have been numerous calls, both nationally and internationally, for the redress scheme to be extended. The UN Human Rights Committee has criticised the Government’s approach and, closer to home, so has the Oireachtas Children’s Committee.

Anyone who takes part in the redress scheme also must sign a waiver saying they will not take future legal action against the State. Experts have warned that – unless the scheme is extended – yet more inquiries and legal battles seem somewhat inevitable.

Future legal action

Also in the final episode of Redacted Lives, Marguerite Penrose, who was born in St Patrick’s mother and baby institution in Dublin before being adopted, explains why she believes the State could face further legal action.

“Anybody that had to go to any form of institution, any mother or baby home, laundry, whatever it was, is entitled to be included. Probably a lot of people won’t take up the redress, they will choose not to, and they might independently take legal action…

The more people that are doing that, it makes other people think about it. I think you can’t exclude people because we’re going back to the same thing again, ‘Well, you’re not as important [as other survivors] because you were only there for six months’.

Mary Harney, who was born in Bessborough mother and baby institution before being sent to an industrial school, agrees.

Earlier in the series, Mary explained why she brought the State to court over the Commission’s findings and how it operated.

Her legal team successfully argued that she and others who were identifiable in the Commission’s final report should have been given a chance to read the sections related to them prior to publication and correct any inaccuracies.

In episode six, she told us that the eligibility criteria for the scheme, such as excluding people who spent less than six months in an institution as a child, is “total claptrap”.

“We had asked for an across-the-board, common payment, which should be provided to all survivors, including those who spent any period of time in the institution, or were subjected to forced adoption fostering or boarding out.

That’s what we asked for – a common payment. And the common payment is because we all went through the separation of, and the disappearance of, our family. We were forcibly separated, that’s against our human rights.

In a public consultation process carried out by Oak Consulting on behalf of the Government in 2021, most people who took part said that all survivors should receive a universal payment.

They concluded that although that length of stay could be used as one criteria by which to calculate any additional redress above this common payment, many other criteria were deemed more important – including forced family separation, psychological trauma, being subjected to a vaccine trial, and a lack of vetting of families who adopted or fostered children.

Speaking in episode six, human rights lawyer Dr Maeve O’Rourke said: “It is not fair to continue to require survivors to litigate, something that takes years, first and foremost. But also that adds unbearable stress to people who’ve already gone through the worst experiences many of us could ever imagine.

I think the exclusion of people who were separated from their mothers, before they were six months old, is appalling. It’s as if separation as a baby makes no difference to the rest of your life, or to the rest of your mother’s life.

“The absolutely central abuse in the mother and baby homes and the related adoption system was forced family separation.”

No matter what the Government does, it can never undo the damage the mother and baby home system caused. It cannot go back in time and reunite families; it cannot give mothers their children; it cannot repair broken bonds.

O’Gorman acknowledges this, but is keen to stress that the Government is trying to make amends.

He told Redacted Lives: “We are piece by piece trying to rectify parts of that history of the State. And it can’t all be done at once, and many bits of it can’t be rectified.

“I have to say, even in terms of the redress, what we’re bringing forward will not take away the harms that were done to so many people, but it is the State trying to rectify elements of this.

“And from redress, to access to information, to [excavation in] Tuam, to the records and memorial centre, I believe the State is very seriously and in a comprehensive way seeking to make good the damage that was done to these women to their children, though recognising nothing the State can do can ever fully undo it.”

As well as exploring redress, the last episode of Redacted Lives looks into access to records and plans to finally excavate the site of the former mother and baby home in Tuam where a significant amount of human remains were discovered.

Listeners will also hear from survivors we’ve spoken to throughout the series about their continued fight for justice and answers. 

Hear more in the final episode, A Living Wound.

Redacted Lives was created by the award-winning team of News Correspondent Órla Ryan, who has written extensively about mother and baby homes, producer Nicky Ryan, from the critically-acclaimed Stardust podcast, and executive producer Sinéad O’Carroll.

Subscribe to the series wherever you get your podcasts.

Subscribe now on:

If you passed through a mother and baby home or another institution and want to share your story, you can contact us in confidence by emailing

Redacted Lives is presented by Órla Ryan and produced by Nicky Ryan. Sineád O’Carroll is the executive producer.

Daragh Brophy and Christine Bohan were production supervisors.

Taz Kelleher is our sound engineer, and design is by Lorcan O’Reilly.

With thanks to Laura Byrne, Susan Daly, Adrian Acosta, Carl Kinsella and Jonathan McCrea.

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