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'Can you put a price on trauma?': Redress scheme for survivors of mother and baby homes ready

The Cabinet is set to sign off on the details of a long-awaited redress scheme later today.

Children's Minister Roderic O'Gorman (file photo)
Children's Minister Roderic O'Gorman (file photo)
Image: Alamy Stock Photo

THE CABINET IS due to sign off on a long-awaited redress plan for survivors of mother and baby homes and county homes today.

Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman is bringing the proposals to his Cabinet colleagues this morning ahead of an official announcement this afternoon.

Survivors are eagerly awaiting the details of the scheme after numerous delays. The plan was originally due to be finalised by the end of April.

The scheme is estimated to cost hundreds of millions of euro. O’Gorman has written to a number of religious orders involved in running the institutions, asking them to contribute to the fund.

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.

These recommendations have been sharply criticised by survivors, advocates and a number of legal experts. The Journal understands that the Government’s scheme will not uphold these recommendations.

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.”

In a letter to survivors, families and advocates on Friday, O’Gorman said the scheme would include financial payments and an enhanced medical card.

“The scheme will provide financial payments and a form of enhanced medical card to defined groups in acknowledgement of suffering experienced while resident in Mother and Baby and County Home Institutions,” he said.

“Once the details are approved by the Government, all the relevant information and related documents will be shared directly with you by email and published on my Department’s website.”

O’Gorman also said the “additional time needed to finalise Government’s deliberations on these complex issues is regretted and I want to reassure you that this will not cause a delay in the scheme opening up to applications”.

‘Learn from Magdalene mistakes’

The Clann Project, a survivor advocacy group, has called for the scheme to be inclusive of everyone who has been affected by the institutions.

In a statement, Clann’s Claire McGettrick and Maeve O’Rourke said the Government needs to “learn from the shortcomings” of the Magdalene Laundries scheme.

“A key question is whether the Government will learn from the shortcomings of the Magdalene Laundries scheme. The ‘enhanced healthcare’ must be in the form of the full HAA (Health Amendment Act) card recommended for Magdalene survivors by Mr Justice John Quirke in 2013.

“This card has never been given to Magdalene survivors, many of whom are in desperate need of health and social care services. This should be rectified and all survivors of the institutions given the full breadth of HAA benefits.”

The title of the 2017 report of Ombudsman Peter Tyndall’s review into the administration of the Magdalen Restorative Justice Scheme summed up the feeling of many stakeholders: Opportunity Lost.

The scope of this particular scheme was extended in 2018 to include women who worked in the laundries but were admitted to adjoining institutions. However, years later, some women are yet to receive compensation and medical support.

Clann’s statement added that the Government should not accept the findings of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes, as there are “grave concerns regarding its methods”.

The redress efforts should include access to records and inquests into women and children’s disappearances, they said.

“Citizenship rights must be given to people who were removed from the jurisdiction as children.

“As the UN Committee against Torture has told the government in the case of Elizabeth Coppin vs Ireland, acceptance of a payment must not preclude the right to take further legal action,” they stated.

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O’Gorman will also bring an “Action Plan for Survivors and Former Residents of Mother and Baby and County Home Institutions” to Cabinet for discussion today.

It outlines how the Government intends to meet the commitments that it made in response to the Commission’s final report.

“The plan takes account of the Commission’s recommendations as well as the expressed needs and concerns of survivors, former residents and their families,” O’Gorman said.

“While developing the Action Plan, and conscious of the need to move swiftly, we have also been working to progress priority actions. For each action, the plan will identify milestones and timelines, and set out progress to date and next steps.”

Anyone seeking information about the redress scheme should contact the Department on 01-6473200 (open from Monday to Friday, 9.30am to 5:30pm) or by email at motherandbabyhomes@equality.gov.ie.

About the author:

Órla Ryan

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