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'Pay us and acknowledge what happened': Mother and baby home survivors want compensation and a remembrance day

Some survivors have also called on the government to take legal action against the religious orders who ran the institutions if they refuse to pay financial compensation.

A picture from a mother and baby home is projected onto Sean Ross Abbey in Tipperary as part of the Herstory Light Show to mark St Brigid's Day in February.
A picture from a mother and baby home is projected onto Sean Ross Abbey in Tipperary as part of the Herstory Light Show to mark St Brigid's Day in February.
Image: Niall Carson/PA Wire/PA Images

SOME SURVIVORS OF mother and baby homes and county homes want financial compensation, access to medical care, counselling and housing supports as part of a redress scheme that will be drawn up by the government.

Others want a national day of remembrance to be established, as well as memorials at the sites of former institutions and a national archive where their personal stories can be accessed for educational and research purposes (once consent is given by individuals).

Some survivors have also called on the government to take legal action against the religious orders who ran the institutions if they refuse to pay financial compensation.

A number of religious orders have apologised for their role in running the institutions in question. The government has asked them to contribute to the redress fund.

“Engagement with religious orders is ongoing in relation to how they can contribute,” a spokesperson for the Department of Children told The Journal.

Many attendees at the meetings also stressed that adopted people need to get access to their birth certs and medical records as a matter of urgency.

In one of the meetings, it was suggested that a portion of the National Lottery’s fund typically reserved for charities be used to pay part of the financial compensation “to save the taxpayer”. Some attendees objected to this suggestion.

Redress means different things to different people, and a wide range of views have been expressed in the submissions.

In recent weeks, some 169 people attended 18 online meetings as part of the consultation process. More than 100 of these people were survivors, with the rest of the attendees identifying as survivors’ relatives or representatives.

A number of extra meetings were scheduled “to meet demand”, the Department of Children said. Over 250 written submissions were also received before the deadline last Wednesday.

The government hired OAK Consulting to oversee the consultation process at a cost of €20,000.

OAK facilitated the online meetings and will submit a report, which will include the suggestions made at the meetings and via the written submissions, to the department later this month.

There was controversy in March when The Journal revealed a data breach involving 18 people who attended two of the meetings. The department apologised at the time and said the measures were put in place to prevent the issue from recurring.

The department notified the Data Protection Commissioner (DPC) about the breach. A spokesperson for the DPC said: “We’ve received a breach notification from the Department of Children in relation to this and we are continuing to engage with them on the matter.”

What survivors want

The Journal has spoken to a number of people who attended the online meetings.

In general, there was a consensus that all survivors should receive some form of redress, regardless of how long they spent in an institution.

The consultation process was set up following the publication of the final report by the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes in January.

The report noted: “Any decision on financial redress is a matter for government. The Commission recognises that it is not possible to provide financial redress for all the wrongs that occurred in the past (or, indeed, that are currently occurring) …

Financial redress for past wrongs involves the present generation paying for the wrongs of earlier generations and it could be argued that this is unfair. However, while recognising that all wrongs cannot be put right and that some groups have received financial redress, the Commission considers that the State does have an obligation not to discriminate between people in similar situations.

The report stated that, because of the introduction of the Unmarried Mother’s Allowance in 1973 changed that, “women who entered mother and baby homes after 1973 do not have a case for financial redress”.

The Commission’s report also stated: “Women who spent lengthy periods (for example, in excess of six months) in mother and baby homes before 1974 should also be considered for redress along the lines of the Magdalene basic payment related to time spent. Six months has been selected as the cut-off date because it is the average length of time that women spent in mother and baby homes in other countries.”

Restricting financial redress to those who entered institutions before 1974 and spent more than six months there has been criticised by a number of survivors as unfair.

Many people believe that all survivors should receive some form of redress, regardless of  when they entered an institution and the length of time they spent there.

The report’s recommendations are not binding so the government can choose to ignore some or all of them if they see fit.

‘Anyone who stepped foot inside the door deserves redress’

A number of people who spoke to The Journal said preparing for the meetings, and taking part, was very stressful. Others described the process as difficult but cathartic, noting that speaking to other survivors was particularly helpful.

Linda*, one of the women who attended an online meeting, said “anyone who stepped foot within the door” of an institution should be compensated.

She said people who attended her meeting were “very strongly” against the Commission’s recommendation that people must have spent more than six months in an institution in order to get redress or a medical card.

Mary*, a survivor who attended a different meeting, said: “There should be no six-month rule, or a rule that you had to enter before 1973, to get a flat rate.

“I think we should get the same, more or less, as what the Magdalene Laundry survivors got, and maybe more depending on how long you spent [in the institution] and what happened to you while there.”

A number of the people we spoke to said survivors, both those living in Ireland and abroad, should get access to private healthcare paid for by the State.

Many survivors have health issues, including some long-term effects of being placed in vaccine trials without their consent in the past, and say access to private healthcare would improve their quality of life.

“A medical card is going to exclude survivors living in different countries. What the government needs to do now is put their hands in their pockets and actually pay out for survivors to have private healthcare,” Linda said.

National remembrance day

Linda said many survivors want a national remembrance day to be established to remember all the people who spent time in mother and baby homes and similar institutions.

“There needs to be a day once a year, like the day to remember Holocaust survivors, where everyone can come together and remember their experiences and heal,” she said.

Linda added that the meeting she attended was cathartic for some people. She said attendees were grateful to be able to speak to “other people who have been through the same thing” because sometimes they feel “like a burden” to their families who may not fully “understand” what happened.

“The meeting was filled with such sadness but it was good in another way, there was an energy between us all, we understood each other,” Linda told us.

Mary, whose child was taken from her against her will after she gave birth in the 1960s, is among those calling for memorials to be erected at sites around the country “where babies died and women suffered”.

“I also want a national museum dedicated to our experiences so people remember what happened to us,” she said.

Mary said compensation needs to be paid urgently given the age of many survivors.

She said that if religious orders refuse to pay compensation, or delay the process, the State should pay survivors and then take legal action against the orders to recoup some of the costs.

“I don’t want any further delays. I believe the government should pay up. The government should pay us up now and be done with it, but in turn they should sue the Catholic Church for all that has been done in this country.

“Follow up with the Catholic Church but, in the meantime, we should be paid because if [the State] hadn’t colluded with the Catholic Church and paid the institutions it couldn’t have happened, they wouldn’t have kept us for nothing.”

‘Stressed up to my eyeballs’

Mary said she found the days leading up to the online meeting “very stressful”.

“I was stressed out for a few days beforehand, it was really very stressful. I know when I’m grinding my teeth at night I’m worried.

“I was a bit overwhelmed with it all, I was stressed up to my eyeballs for a few days because of it.”

Mary said she’s worried about how the suggestions she and others gave at the meetings will be presented to the government.

“I have grave reservations about the way they’re going to relay this to the government, I think they might misinterpret what we say. We won’t get to see report before it’s sent to the department.

“I’m not sure if it’s going to be a successful thing, I’m really very sceptical about it,” Mary said.

‘Complete abandonment’ 

Sharon*, who was born in a mother and baby home before being adopted, also raised concerns about how survivors’ suggestions will be presented to the government.

“We all have this absolute feeling of complete abandonment by the State by the Church,” she said.

Sharon said survivors are used to dealing with “spin doctors” and don’t want to be “fobbed off”. She said the people eligible for redress should not be “handpicked”.

“Are you going to handpick homes, just the way you handpicked cases to include in the final report?”

Sharon said that everyone who attended her meeting agreed that anyone who spent time in an institution should receive a flat rate of compensation, “whether you were a baby or a mother”.

She said putting a six-month time limit on it could “create division” among survivors.

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“The money needs to come now, or part of it. The government should start paying out and it’s up to the government to chase the Church. If the Church needs to be taken to court, the government should do this, not survivors,” she said.

We want to see the government making immediate interim payments, not making us wait five to 10 years.

Sharon also stressed that adopted people need to get access to their birth certs and medical records as a matter of urgency.

She said the government should also help survivors who are struggling to find permanent accommodation or buy a home.

“I want a home that will not be taken away from me so, for the first time in my life, I can sit still longer than 20 seconds and not be afraid that somebody is going to pull the chair from underneath me.

“That’s what our life has been like, all of our life. There is a sadness and a hurt that goes so deep it will never, ever, ever go away. But what will make it better is an acknowledgement that what happened to us was wrong.”

When asked about survivors’ suggestions and concerns, a spokesperson for the Department of Children said: “OAK is mandated to provide a report which will reflect the views and needs of survivors as authentically and honestly as possible.

“The Department has been closely involved in designing and managing the Consultation Process with OAK, who have been tasked with gathering views on what should be included in the Restorative Recognition Scheme.

“OAK will analyse the input they have received on what should be included in the Scheme, via submissions and the online consultation meetings, and prepare a report for the Interdepartmental Group (IDG) which was established to develop proposals for Government consideration. In due course, the report prepared by OAK will be published alongside the report of the IDG.”

The spokesperson said the department “fully appreciates and understands the urgency surrounding the establishment of a Restorative Recognition Scheme”.

When asked when the redress scheme will be run and running, the spokesperson said: “As the work of the IDG is currently ongoing, the specific details of the Restorative Recognition Scheme have not yet been decided.

“When this work is complete and Government has decided what format the Scheme should take, every effort will be made to advance its establishment as quickly as possible.”

Previous redress schemes

The redress scheme for survivors of abuse in industrial schools set up under the Residential Institutions Redress Act 2002 has cost over €1.25 billion – a multiple of the original estimate of €250 million – covering the compensation paid out, legal costs of applicants and administration costs.

More than 16,600 applications to the redress scheme were accepted, with 15,600 awards offered to survivors or their families.

Over €360 million has been paid by 18 congregations towards the 2002 redress scheme, but the vast majority of the money has been paid by the State.

Just over €32 million has been paid, to date, to more than 800 women who spent time in Magdalene Laundries under that particular redress scheme.

*Names have been changed to keep people anonymous

Information on the support services available for mother and baby homes survivors can be read here.

About the author:

Órla Ryan

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