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Tuesday 5 December 2023 Dublin: 5°C

'I was the child of a fallen woman': Boyd Barrett gives powerful speech in Mother & Baby debate

The TD said the mother and baby home system perpetrated “shocking, perverted, twisted stuff”.

RICHARD BOYD BARRETT gave a powerful speech in the Dáil last night during a debate on the redress scheme for survivors of mother and baby homes.

The scheme was debated for over four hours yesterday evening.

The majority of amendments put forward by the opposition were rejected and, as it stands, 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.

The scheme 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.

Opposition TDs from across the board called for the scheme to be extended to include all survivors.

Boyd Barrett, who was born into a mother and baby institution, gave a very powerful speech during the debate.

The People Before Profit TD said the redress scheme should finally give people who passed through the mother and baby home system “the closure and the justice that they deserve” – but that’s not happening.

Boyd Barrett told Children’s Minister Roderic O’Gorman: “After all that they have suffered, all they have been through, all they have had to fight for, you should be, and this day should be the day when they get that closure and they get that justice.

“And instead, as you well know, they’re not going to get that.

And tens of thousands of people are going to feel excluded and insulted, and that the abuse and the suffering and the injustice they suffered at the hands of the Church and the State for decades and decades and decades continues.

Boyd Barrett said that thousands of people are being excluded from the scheme on “arbitrary grounds”.

The Dún Laoghaire TD said the scheme is “an insult to every mother and child who suffered separation, who were in the mother and baby homes, because it shows a singular failure by the Government to understand the crime and the abuse”.

He questioned how the Government devised “an arbitrary, unjustifiable scheme which includes some, excludes others, and that has a league table with a price tag on it which, if you like, commodifies your suffering”.

‘Shocking, perverted, twisted stuff’

Speaking about his own experience, he said: “I’m an adoptee, as you know. I was born in a mother and baby home, I was in a couple of them actually because I was sent off to England, ushered out, you know, out of sight, child of a fallen woman, illegitimate child – that’s how mothers and the children were characterised.

“And then brought back, I don’t even know how long I was in a mother and baby home.

I don’t know and it’s irrelevant whether you were one week, one day, six months or two years because the central crime the Church and State committed was the primal wound of separating a mother from their child – which has, from the minute that it happens, a lifelong effect on mother and child, a lifelong effect.

“It is the primal wound that begins on day one. In some cases, and I have to say, I always say it, my story turned out to be lucky. I eventually was reunited with my mother and I was adopted by a wonderful family.

“But the truth is – whether your story and what happened was terrible, and for some it was terrible, absolutely terrible all of their lives, they suffered all of their life because of that primal wound, inflicted by Church and State.

“But every one of them, whether they were boarded out, suffered abuse, mothers forced to work essentially as slaves, shamed all their life, the stigma of illegitimacy, whatever it was.

To a greater or lesser extent, everybody had a crime committed against them from day one, when they were torn of the arms of their mother or the mother had their child born out of their arms.

“From day one, their lives and the lives they would have lived were taken from them because of the twisted perverted morality of Church and State that deemed some people ‘legitimate’ and some people ‘illegitimate’, and fallen women.

“I mean, shocking, perverted, twisted stuff and then we have a league table and arbitrary exclusions, a failure to acknowledge the individual’s specific suffering that some people may have suffered because of being boarded out, because of discrimination, because they were mixed race or whatever it is. It’s shocking and still no justification.”

Refugee protests

Referencing the anti-refugee and anti-migrant protests happening in Ireland in recent weeks, Boyd Barrett said women and children were abused by many Irish people and Irish institutions over the years. 

“I have to say, one of the particularly dark, terrible ironies of something else that’s going on at the moment, is there are very dark and sinister forces running around this city for the last few weeks, claiming utterly falsely that vulnerable, desperate immigrants and asylum seekers are a threat to women and children in this State because they are foreigners.

Well, actually, those people need look no further than this house – the political institution that is supposed to represent the Irish people – and the religious institutions, Irish religious institutions, Irish political institutions, that orchestrated decades and decades and decades of systematic abuse of mothers, of children.

“It is not poor, desperate immigrants or asylum seekers, but the State that is continuing to do this and insult and abuse those who suffered,” he said. 

Boyd Barrett appealed to the minister, even at this late stage, to consider amended the Bill. He also called on the Government to seize the assets of religious orders who refuse to pay redress to survivors.

“For God’s sake, do not negotiate with the religious organisations that were responsible. There is no negotiation required, take their assets off them and make them pay the redress… and compensation for the crimes that they committed. We shouldn’t be talking to them, we should be telling them.”

The Government has repeatedly defended the redress scheme, saying it is the largest initiative of its kind in the history of the Irish State and will cost around €800 million.

Addressing the Dáil, Children’s Minister Roderic O’Gorman said he is “acutely aware” that no one scheme can adequately address the “pain suffered by survivors of these institutions”.

He said the Government is committed to helping survivors, noting that the redress scheme is one part of a wider response which includes granting adopted people and others access to their personal records, and the excavation of the site of the former mother and baby home in Tuam in Co Galway.

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